Get organised for your next trip with this minimalist travel packing list. Packing light is the way to travel. If you’re an eco-conscious traveller like us or trying to stop yourself from over-packing, then this minimalist travel packing list is for you.
Got a suitcase? Forget about it. Multiple backpacks? That’s a hassle. All that stuff you thought you needed in your backpack, you probably don’t. The more stuff you pack, the more you have to carry around and the heavier the burden. Packing lighter isn’t just about being a minimalist traveller, it’s about being ethical too. Packing less means you lower your carbon footprint and lessen your impact on the environment when you travel.
This minimalist travel packing list shows you how to travel the world with just one bag, how to avoid over-packing and how to pack smarter. Let’s go!
Minimalist Travel Packing List Contents
1. How to Travel the World With One Bag
2. How to Choose the Right Travel Backpack
3. The Best Travel Tech
4. Travel Clothing for Women
5. Travel Clothing for Men
6. Travel Essentials
7. Travel Toiletries
8. Books & Reading
9. Travel Packing Checklist
10. Printable Travel Packing Checklist
How to Travel the World With One Bag
When we moved to live and teach in Taiwan, we packed a big suitcase full of stuff that we just never used. All my sleeveless tops stayed at the back of my wardrobe, I only wore a formal dress once and my cool looking suede jacket was useless in rainy season and pointless in hot season. We had to post loads of clothes home before we went off backpacking at the end of our year there.
When we travelled Central America for a year it was a similar story. We took a small suitcase and a backpack. Everyone said it wasn’t enough for a year, but it turned out to be way too much. We left half of the stuff we packed at one of the places where we house sat in between backpacking trips. We later ended up posting some of those clothes home again.
Now, we use this minimalist travel packing list to travel with just one backpack each.
For us, checked-in luggage is a thing of the past. One carry-on bag is all you need. We’ve realised that when it comes to travelling, you don’t need as much stuff as you think you do. Naturally, it means making some brutal decisions about what not to pack and being smart about packing the items that you do need. That’s what led me to write up this minimalist travel packing list.
How to Choose the Right Travel Backpack
If you’re travelling with just one backpack, you need it to be 100% awesome. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing the best travel backpack, let’s run through them:
Size of Backpack
The golden rule of avoiding over-packing is to have the right size backpack. A backpack that’s too big will only lead you to pack more than you need, and one that’s too small will mean you end up carrying around a bunch of small bags like a pack-horse. Backpack sizes are measured in litres – referring to the volume that they contain. You can usually find the size in the product name or product description. Here’s a quick backpack size breakdown so you know what to look for:
|15-25 L||This size is really a daypack, although Luke has travelled with just a 25L Eastpak rucksack for a week-long break in Europe before now. Definitely too small for travelling the world though.|
|30-45 L||The travel backpack sweet spot.
Most people will think of this size backpack as being right for a short trip and many companies refer to them as weekend bags. Trust me though, if you’re determined to be a minimalist travel packer then this is all you need for travelling the world. The only exception here is if you’re heading into arctic climates where bulky cold weather clothing is going to be needed. Then you’re probably going to need the next size up.
30-45L backpacks are usually accepted as carry-on luggage, saving you both time and money.
|45-60 L||Like I said, if you’re travelling through some serious different climates or moving abroad for a year then you might want to consider travelling with a backpack of this size.|
|65-120 L||Stay away!! This backpack is huge, so unless you’re a super hardcore trekker or off mountaineering, then this is not for you. This size backpack is total overkill for the average backpacker.|
Minimalist travel packing involves organisation. The organiser in me makes me a big fan of backpacks with well-placed compartments. I want my laptop to be secured and always flat against my back, and I want an outside side pocket for my water bottle so I don’t have to be grappling around inside to find it (or risk having it leak on my electronics).
Oh my rainstorms, you will not believe how difficult it is to find a waterproof backpack. Travelling in countries which have a rainy season means that it’s impossible to avoid unpredictable rainstorms. We go crazy tucking our backpacks under our raincoats to protect our electronics and getting soaked in the process. I invested in a waterproof backpack cover some time ago. Unfortunately, this slowly destroyed my soul because although useful, it kept slipping off my rucksack and I could never manage to secure it in a way that would keep the whole bag protected. A backpack with a waterproof skin is a major priority for me now.
The Best Travel Backpacks & Luggage
1. Fjäll Räven Bergen (30L) – This backpack from Fjäll Räven is the best travel backpack. It’s fully waterproof, designed to withstand coastal weather. I can tell you I’ve tested it out during a cyclone storm that hit Guatemala and everything inside remained bone dry. Inside, there’s a structured laptop compartment and outside it has side compartments for water bottles. There is a ventilated back panel and waist straps to balance out the weight. Needless to say, I am in love with this travel backpack.
2. Eastpak Day Backpack (24L) – Luke swears by his unbreakable Eastpak rucksack. He’s had the same one for years and it’s survived carrying the world’s heaviest laptop and being zipped up until it’s practically busting at the seams. We carry this as our day rucksack around cities and out for hikes.
3. ZeroGrid Packing Cubes – Until recently, we used to just roll our clothes sausage shape style and stuff them into our rucksacks as tightly as we could. Now, we have an amazing set of compression packing cubes from Zero Grid. These packing cubes make minimalist travel packing a breeze because they’re lightweight, fit into any backpack or suitcase and they compress your clothing down so much more than the rolling method.
4. Eastpak Travel Pouch – This handy flat pouch is just the right size for keeping our passports, travel money and debit cards in. We use it to separate out our passport and travel documents for flights and train journeys. It slips into the front pocket of the Eastpak backpack, but can also be used as a bum-bag or clipped underneath your sweater for secrecy.
5. Karrimor Drybag (5L) –If we know that we’re heading to a country where we’ll likely be doing water-based activities, then we take a waterproof drybag to keep our phone and money in. It’s particularly useful if you’re out on a boat or at the beach. It’s also handy for using if you’re travelling during monsoon season or a rainy place as you can keep your electronics inside it in your usual day rucksack, so you don’t have to worry about them getting wet if you get caught in the rain.
Now you’ve got the backpack sorted, here’s our minimalist travel packing list so you know what we put in them.
Travel Tech and Camera
1. Asus Zenbook UX305 – This is best travel laptop we’ve ever had. I actually don’t even have words to express how much I appreciate having such a slim, lightweight and speedy laptop. Our laptop is by far our most important travel item because we use it for remote working and blogging every day. We both have an Asus Zenbook UX305 (I have a white one and Luke has a black one. It’s really lightweight at only 1.17kg and ultra-slim at 12mm thick, but it’s also really fast.
2. Arvok Laptop Case – I went for this laptop case because I wanted something well-padded and water resistant for travelling. It fits my Asus Zenbook plus mouse and slides into the laptop compartment of my Fjallraven backpack easily.
3. HP X1200 Wired Mouse – I’ve had this trusty mouse for over four years now. It’s small and really comfortable in my hand – everything you would want from a travel mouse. I still use a wired mouse because it means I never have to worry about the battery running out (and trying to find the right battery in a foreign country).
4. Canon 550D DSLR Digital Camera – The majority of the photos on this blog are taken with my Canon 550D. It’s an old model now and Canon has released newer versions since I bought this camera years ago. It’s been a great and reliable camera. The only downside is it’s quite bulky. I know that other travel photographers wouldn’t think it bulky but I prefer to have the lightest and most compact kit possible.
5. Fujifilm S8650 Bridge Digital Camera – If I was to get a new camera, then I’d definitely opt for a more compact bridge camera. Just before our trip to Thailand, Luke invested in a Fujifilm FinePix S8650. It’s amazing. It’s much lighter and more compact than my Canon and still takes awesome photos (all the photos in this blog post were taken with it).
6. Sandisk 8GB Memory Card – This is the memory card I use for my Canon 550D. It holds around 500 photos at a time and has never let me down.
7. USB Drive – If you plan on taking lots of travel photos, pack a USB drive. I back up all of my travel photos on a USB, just in case anything should ever happen to my camera or memory card.
8. Adaptor Plugs – Don’t forget your adaptor plugs. I just take two and attach them straight onto my laptop and phone chargers so that I can easily find them.
Minimalist Travel Clothing
Clothing is the area where most people struggle to pack like a minimalist. Ask yourself: will you wear this at least once per week for t-shirts and at three times per week for other clothing? If not, take it out.
Making smart decisions about the clothing that you buy also helps here. My advice is to take extra care to ensure you have clothing for bad weather – a good lightweight raincoat, a base layer and waterproof shoes. Get a raincoat and shoes you’re confident will last. Everything else can be replaced if it gets worn out.
The one in, one out rule. I strictly follow the one in, one out rule. By this I mean that I only buy clothing when travelling if I need to replace another item of clothing that is worn out. I avoid buying new clothes which then clog up my backpack. This rule helps me ensure I stick to my minimalist packing.
How Many Clothes to Pack
Pack enough clothes for just one week (and a spare pair of pants). At home, you probably wash your clothes about once a week and you can wash your clothes this often when you travel too. In Asia and Latin America, getting your laundry done is pretty cheap. In Europe, we tend to hand wash until we have an Airbnb apartment with a washing machine.
Women’s Travel Clothes
1. Helly Hansen Lightweight Rain Jacket – Don’t even think about travelling anywhere without a waterproof. I tell you now, it’s just not worth it. Getting caught in the rain without a waterproof is uncomfortable and a hassle. We’ve both got lightweight raincoats from Helly Hansen – you can check us out wearing them in Cornwall in this post. Ecologically safe apparel.
2. Fjallraven Women’s Fleece – This is my dream fleece. I’ve wanted it ever since I first saw it. I’m still using my old, beat-up fleece because I can’t bear the thought of throwing a decent item of clothing away and it still does the job. A good fleece will always be an essential part of my women’s travel packing list because getting cold can really ruin a travel experience! Partially made from recycled polyester.
3. Bamboo Baselayer – Good for both sun protection and keeping you warm, a baselayer offers good protection whatever the weather. I mostly wear my baselayer when hiking or on extra cold days as a thermal layer. I have a great baselayer from BAM Bamboo Clothing, which has thumb holes so you can keep your hands protected too. Environmentally-friendly clothing.
4. Sports Leggings – Leggings are my go-to for all physical activity and around-the-hostel comfort. I prefer leggings because they’re versatile, lightweight and good for both hot and cold climates. When my current pair wear out, I plan to replace them with an ethical brand like these ones.
5. Freya Active Soft Cup Sports Bra – Hands down my biggest travel packing mistake was not travelling with a good bra. Get yourself a supportive and comfortable bra. I travel with one everyday t-shirt bra and one super supportive Freya Active sports bra for hiking and intense exercise.
6. VivoBarefoot Women’s Running Shoes – These are the trainers I’m currently travelling with. The great thing about them is that they’re minimalist, really light and fold up easily. The downside is that they’re so thin that they’re not good for rough terrain. Stick with these for days out in the city and light walks. For hiking, you’ll need something a bit tougher. Vegan-friendly shoes. (Get $15 off Vivo Barefoot shoes here).
7. Cork Shoulder Bag – For days when you don’t need a rucksack or you’re just popping out for lunch, this cork shoulder bag from WeYounique is perfect. Much to my surprise, cork is super soft and bendy. Because of its softness, it’s easy to pack. The bag is handcrafted in the Algarve and the material is 100% vegan and sustainable.
Men’s Travel Clothes
1. Helly Hansen Men’s Rain Jacket – This sturdy but lightweight jacket has seen Luke through monsoon rainstorms, mountainous drizzle and hot weather showers. It’s super water protective and Luke has never got wet through it, no matter how heavy the rain. A definite must-have for a men’s travel packing list. Ecologically safe apparel.
2. Fjallraven Men’s Buck Fleece – Like mine, this is Luke’s dream fleece. Anyone who feels the cold will know that a fleece is a vital clothing item for any travel packing list. This one is an extra warm fleece complete with reinforced shoulders for carrying a backpack.
3. Bamboo Baselayer – Luke also has a baselayer from BAM Bamboo Clothing. The fabric is breathable, making this a really good choice for an underlayer for hiking, climbing and other activities. The bamboo material wicks away moisture, regulates body temperature and is naturally anti-bacterial. The baselayer also provides UV protection. Environmentally-friendly clothing.
4. Travel Security Belt – Unlike most money belts that you strap under your clothes, this travel security belt looks and functions just like an everyday belt. You can hide your money inside the back of the belt. It’s particularly useful when you’re travelling through airports or in busy cities and markets.
5. Patagonia Men’s UV Protection Hoody – If you’re as fair-skinned as Luke, then this will be your travel packing list #1. This UV protection hoody from Patagonia prevents sunburn and sun damage. It has a full hood which protects the face as well. The hoody is light and easy to fold up into a backpack when you’re not wearing it. Fairtrade certified.
6. Cork Wallet – This travel wallet is 100% vegan and made from sustainable cork. It’s thin, so easily fits into a pocket or travel belt. The wallet holds cards on the outside and cash in the middle. It looks stylish but is also sustainable and practical!
7. VivoBarefoot Hiking Shoes – Both study and light, these VivoBarefoot shoes were designed for hiking but are also perfect for city-based travel. They’re Luke’s only pair of travel shoes because they’re so comfortable and versatile that he doesn’t need anything else. Vegan-friendly shoes. (Get $15 off Vivo Barefoot shoes).
Eco-conscious travellers like us will definitely be thinking about how they can reduce their plastic waste while they’re travelling. You’d be surprised just how many plastic bottles and plastic bags you end up getting through when you’re travelling, and it’s all just killing the environment. These essentials are the practical items on my minimalist travel packing list and I’d never be caught without them:
1. Swiss Army Knife – The best present that I’ve ever received was this Swiss Army Knife. I get so much use out of it. It includes a knife, scissors, tweezers, toothpick, bottle opener, tin opener and corkscrew.Be careful in airport security if you don’t have checked-in luggage as you will not be able to take this through.
2. Reusable Sporks – You’re not going to be able to eat that lunch without a fork after all. Reusable sporks aren’t just for campers, they’re great for backpackers too. We have a pair of sporks that come in a protective case to stop them getting messy or germy.
3. Reusable Food Container – Avoid takeaway tubs or wrapping your lunch up in clingfilm or ziplock bags by keeping a reusable food container on you. They come in super handy if you need to take lunch out with you, either on a day trip or a long bus journey.
4. Collapsible Water Bottle – This water bottle holds 480ml of water and clips to the outside of your bag. When you’ve finished the water, simply roll it up until you can refill.
5. AeroPress Coffee Maker – Because why ever try to start the day without a coffee? AeroPress coffee makers are great because they’re portable, light and brew a good cup of coffee. All you need is ground coffee and hot water. I’m still looking for a more minimalist option for brewing coffee abroad.
6. Reusable Shopping Bag – We’ve all started carrying reusable bags and canvas bags around when we’re at home and there’s no reason not to carry them when travelling. You can all different designs of lightweight pack away bags that fold up into a tiny, compact square and clip onto your backpack. Luke and I carry two between us: one of keeping our dirty laundry in and another for when we’re out food shopping. An essential component for any eco-friendly and minimalist travel packing list.
Travel toiletries are something we try to keep as natural, eco-friendly and minimalist as possible. All of these toiletries always make our minimalist travel packing list, no matter which country we’re travelling to. I’d be absolutely lost without my quick-dry towel, natural deodorant and mooncup.
1. Biodegradable Bamboo Toothbrush – Throw away your toothbrush every 6 months? Us too. If you think about it, that’s a lot of toothbrushes and a lot of plastic waste. We’ve turned to biodegradable toothbrushes to avoid throwing away more plastic than necessary. They’re just as good as the normal toothbrush you’re used to.
2. Microfibre Travel Towel – Cumbersome towels are not the one, but if you’re staying in hostels rather than hotels or planning on hitting the beach, then grab yourself a microfibre travel towel. They’re lightweight, really compact and quick-drying.
3. Original Source Shower Gel – The thing I miss the most on the road is having amazing smelling shower gel. I always take an Original Source shower gel with me because it feels so good to smell nice at the end of a long, sweaty travel day. Even better, Original Source is vegan certified and they use recyclable bottles.
4. Shampoo Bar – More practical than carrying a bulky bottle is the shampoo bar. They last longer and take up much less space in your washbag. There are loads of different brands and scents, and we’re still in the process of trying them all out. So useful for minimalist travellers!
5. Faith in Nature Deodorant – When I read about all the nasty chemicals seeping into my pores from standard deodorant I was horrified. I made the switch to all-natural, organic deodorant. It took a little getting used to but it’s definitely worth it. Faith in Nature deodorants are paraben and alcohol-free and don’t contain aluminium chlorohydrate.
6. Mooncup – Hey ladies, if you’re still packing a heap of tampons into your luggage, you need to stop. Right now. When the tampon tax hit the news headlines in the UK, I finally got it together and started looking for an environmentally-friendly alternative to tampons. I found out about Mooncup, an eco-friendly alternative to tampons. It’s amazing. I would never ever even consider going back to using tampons now. You just pop it in (there’s a knack to getting it in and it takes a few times to get it right) and go. You can’t feel it at all and only need to empty and wash it out every 6-8 hours. I’ve worn mine whilst climbing mountains, swimming in the sea and cycling around cities. There are a couple of different brands of menstrual cups, but you can find Mooncups in most UK stores. If you haven’t got one, get one and don’t look back.
7. Organic Sun Lotion – When it comes to sun tan lotion and other products that you smear all over your body, I’m all for going organic and natural. This organic sunscreen provides UVA and UVB protection, suitable for sensitive skin and water repellent.
8. Natural Insect Repellent – We’ve experimented with different insect repellent brands and have mostly found that the natural ones perform as well as the ones containing DEET and other nasty chemicals. Natural insect repellents are usually lemon-based and made with other nice smelling natural ingredients.
There’s always going to be some dead time while you’re travelling. Whether that’s waiting around at a bus station, sitting on the train or whatever else. Books are essential for every travellers. The most practical travellers amongst us will definitely invest in a Kindle, like Luke has. There are some travellers like me though who just prefer having a book in your hand. If you’re like me, my advice is to keep one book on you and look out for book swaps and trades in hostels as you go.
1. Kindle E-Reader – Practical travellers will likely have already made the decision to invest in a Kindle. It’s light, easy to carry and you can have as many books as you desire without all the extra weight. It’s really a no-brainer.
2. Kindle Case – Electronics always get bumped around when you’re travelling. Don’t risk getting your screen broken: if you’re buying a Kindle, buy a case too.
3. The Lonely Planet Travel Anthology – This book is top of my travel reading list for 2017!
4. The Beach – One of my favourite books of all time and a lightweight read is Alex Garland’s The Beach. Set in Thailand, The Beach is the story of an English guy called Richard who discovers a secret beach, untouched by tourism. It’s a thrilling adventure novel, but at its heart also a thought-provoking critique of human nature and how we damage the world. The film is nowhere near as amazing as the book, so make sure you read it.
5. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Another of my favourite books of all time and a lightweight read is Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It’s the book that cult classic film Blade Runner was based on and one of the best novels you’ll ever read.
6. The Vegetarian – One of my newest favourite books and again a lightweight read Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. It won the Man Booker prize in 2016. Set in South Korea, the story follows a woman who makes almost unheard-of decision to go vegetarian in Korea. Her act is seen as one of subversion and the book illustrates how her life, relationships and own mind completely changes as a result.
A Complete Travel Packing Checklist
Luggage and Travel Bags
- Travel backpack
- Day backpack
- Packing cubes
- Drybag / waterproof bag
- Plane tickets and other transport tickets
- Personal ID, including a student ID card if relevant
- Travel money
- Debit/credit card
- Health insurance cards/documents
- Travel insurance info
- Reservations and itineraries
- Hotel/hostel contact information
- Emergency contacts and important addresses
- Rain jacket x1
- Fleece x1
- Light jumper x1
- Shirts/blouses x8
- Jeans x1
- Leggings x1
- Shorts x1
- Bra x2
- Underwear x8
- Socks x5
- Swimsuit x1
- Sleepwear x1
- Woolly hat
- Trainers x1
- Sandals x1
- Smartphone/mobile phone
- Digital camera
- Memory card
- USB flash drive
- Plug adapter
- Swiss army knife
- Reusable sporks
- Reusable food container
- Collapsible water bottle
- Reusable shopping bag
- Quick-dry travel towel
- Shampoo bar
- Shower gel / soap
- Mosquito spray
- Lip balm
- Nail clippers
- Motion sickness tablets
- Hand sanitiser
- Medicines specific to country of travel
Other travel items
- Travel games
- Yoga mat
That’s it. I can fit all of the things from this minimalist travel packing list into my 30L carry-on backpack and there’s nothing else that I need for travelling the world. If you’re an over-packer, then trust me when I say that you really won’t regret downsizing your rucksack and lightening your load. Carrying too many possessions around is more than just a physically heavy weight and you really don’t need half the stuff that you think you might. Run through this minimalist travel packing list and check your own list to see what you can cross off and take out.
What’s on your minimalist travel packing list? If you’ve got too much stuff, I’ll let you know ;)