Tips and Tricks for Minimalist Packing and Planning
Have you ever been at the airport and you see someone carrying an irrational amount of stuff, whether it’s luggage, souvenirs or duty-free goodies? There’s nothing like discovering your own reaction to someone else’s over-indulgence or over-consumption and starting your promise to yourself to never be ‘that person.’
When preparing for travel, we often go into “what if” mode: “What if I lose all my socks?” “What if I run out of shampoo?” “What if I can’t find my favorite brand of deodorant in Nicaragua?”
Chances are that when you travel, something will go wrong. No trip is perfect, but you can pack ‘minimalistically’ to cover all your bases. Once you start packing and traveling as a minimalist, you’ll discover how your stresses are eased, your decisions are fewer and your freedom is enhanced.
Selecting a small sample of travel clothes to wear every day.
Recently, we traveled long-term for nearly 10 months. We were fortunate to be able to fly back to NJ, where all our ‘stuff’ was living, and switch out some clothes for others depending on the climate of our next destination, but overall, we found out one thing: after our third return home to see family before heading to Asia, we packed way less than when we had first set out for our summer in Europe.
By our seventh month, Dan was carrying a 40L backpack and had chosen to take around seven shirts in total. For our trip to Myanmar (Burma), I brought only three dresses, and washed them when we did laundry every four to five days.
With selecting a small sample of clothes (let’s face it - everyone only wears 20% of their entire wardrobe on average anyway) and doing laundry every few days, we had fewer choices to make between wearing this-or-that. Most of Dan’s shirts are black, so they always match what he wears on the bottom, and he has one sweater that matches all his black tops.
The best part about these minimalist clothes choices were that choosing any one shirt or dress was as good as choosing any other, and the decisions of ‘what to wear today’ were quick and simple.
Have an item for a single use, like shoes: gym, everyday, running.
There are a few routes to take when choosing something like travel shoes. You can choose to have your shoes be versatile and multi-use, or determine your needs, and choose very strategically for something that has one use and is very good at serving its purpose.
In this way, Dan and I choose something like shoes to serve specific purposes. For Dan, it’s gym (flat-bottomed athletic shoes like these Reebok CrossFit sneakers), running shoes (Saucony for men) and everyday Birkenstocks (unisex). For me, it’s everyday walking (Birkenstocks), running (New Balance sneakers), looking decent (black ballet flats) and beach/shower (lightweight flip flops).
Travel minimalism means only buying useful things during trips.
We don’t buy souvenirs because we like our memories to exist in our minds. The things we’ve bought when we’ve traveled are items that we can count on one hand. In Vietnam, we bought a cutting board, two bowl-sized Tupperwares, a wooden rice paddle, two metal spoons and five sets of chopsticks as a pack. For other useful things, Becca bought a raincoat, Dan got some new Bluetooth headphones, we got some nail files and Becca got plastic sandals for rainy days.
If you only buy useful things during trips, those same things will keep serving you, whereas ‘souvenirs’ sit in collections.
How can I pack less?
After four weeks in Vietnam, I realized I had a tank top I hadn’t worn at all. While it took up the size of only a little square in my packing cube, I realized that I didn’t need it, if I wasn’t wearing it.
Revisit everything you packed after a week
If you are traveling long term and revisit everything in your bag, assess after one week and then after two weeks if you’ve touched and utilized everything taking up space in your luggage. If not, is it time to donate it to the hostel you’re staying at, or to a local who’s more in need of it than you are?
Lose the snack bars, and gain space back in your bag.
On our trip to Europe, we took lots of snack bars and started off with a whole heap of them, in case of this, in case of that, in case of a bus ride, etc. By our seventh to ninth months, we traveled with zero types of backup foods, and instead, bought local snacks as needed.
Given, Vietnamese stale banana chips are not half as delicious nor nutritious as a GoMacro bar (YUM), but after we consumed the banana chips during a bus ride to Sapa, they no longer took up space in our luggage nor in our Airbnb.
Use the minimalist mindset to maximize your experience.
In the same way that over-packing can weigh you down, over-planning can make you cringe. It goes without saying that plans are meant to be disrupted, broken or re-planned, so while a planning skeleton where to stay and when to be there is good, a minute-by-minute plan is excessive and stressful.
Plan the essentials, especially during high season, like bus tickets, flights, train rides and hotels, and leave other activities up to chance unless they require pre-booking. Don’t worry, be happy!
You don’t need to do it all when you travel.
Minimalism can mean minimizing your travel appetite. To enjoy a place or a country, you can enjoy a region and still feel good about the trip you took.
A case in point is when I went to Guatemala with a friend in 2015. I wanted to score all the major landmarks “in case I never got back to Guatemala.”
During a trip of nine days, we spent four of them on long-haul bus rides of eight to 14 hours. This means we only got to experience Guatemala every other day of the trip! Nonsense!
We skipped some sights in some regions, didn’t have time to hike around Antigua and skipped Xela in order to get out to Lanquin and Flores, which were all in different corners of a country where roads don’t allow buses to go all too fast.
Had we gone with a more minimalist approach, like exploring a region more heavily, we could have enjoyed more of Guatemala and less of its buses.