How to Pack Less: Minimalist Travel Packing List

We’ve written blogs about how to pack for South America, Belize and Thailand, but today we’re homing in on the refined art of minimalist packing.

Packing for a trip can be a head-scratching nightmare that either goes on for months prior to your trip or is thrown together in the wee hours of the night before departure. We’ve said before at Kosan, we believe in packing as little as possible for your journey, while still being insanely prepared and not sacrificing anything you might need. Like a well-mixed martini, it’s part art, part science, and part discipline. We’re still working at mastering that balance each and every time we prepare to board a plane.

That said, we do have decades of combined experience globetrotting with rarely more than a carry-on. So with that, we’ll take a crack at sharing what we have learned thus far.

Getting Your Head Around Minimalist Packing

To begin, you’ll have to make a mental shift about choosing between what you want to bring and what you actually need to bring on your trip. We mean really need–which, when it comes to travel, is always a LOT less you think–especially if you’re only going on a beach holiday.

In order to kickstart your mindset to minimalist packing, we’ll list the benefits of packing light:

  1. It’s lighter (okay, that’s obvious), which means it’s easier to carry.
  2. No baggage fees for carry-on bags; lower/fewer fees for checked baggage under the weight limit. Skip the baggage claim queue–which means you’ll be on the road exploring the country more quickly.
  3. Less stuff to lose = less to worry about.

Here’s our step-by-step process of how to pack less:

Step 1: Buy a smaller bag.

It’s human nature to fill the bag you have. Thus, when you pull out the honking minibar-sized roller you’ve had since forever, you’ll naturally dump most of your wardrobe into it.

Solve that problem by buying a smaller bag, one that’s around 35 litres.  Weight requirements vary from airline to airline, and some will make you put it on the scales. But generally, go for 15-22lbs (7kgs-10kgs). Weigh it before you get to the airport. Dimension restrictions also vary, but typically: 22” long x 14” wide x 9” deep.

At first, you’ll look at the bag and think: How in the hell will I pack for a 3-month backpacking trip through Southeast Asia with that thing? But trust us, once you’ve completed the said trip, you’ll probably realize you didn’t even need everything you did pack.

Pro Tip: If this isn’t your first rodeo, then you may already have a packing list. Each time you travel (be it a weekend getaway or long-haul adventure), keep notes on what you didn’t, or rarely, used; assess whether there are smaller, or more versatile, alternatives to what you brought.

Step 2: Planning

Packing begins with planning. When planning, we look at the following things:

  1. Typical rainfall for the time of year you’re going
  2. Daytime & nighttime temperatures
  3. The likelihood of a lot of air conditioning, or not.
  4. Number of days away
  5. Any scheduled events/activities that require specific clothing or gear
  6. Malaria zones
  7. Cultural norms
  8. Religious customs and traditional attire

Pro Tip: Buy it there (BIT). Simply put, if you don’t think you’ll need something, don’t pack it; if you end up needing it, just buy it there. Why? It’s often cheaper and readily available. Need gear for monsoon season? Chances are the locals do too, and they likely aren’t going to pay whatever it costs in your country. Also, give yourself a chance to self-discovery by purchasing local items you can explore another side of your true spirit and personality. Buying articles like ethnic clothing and jewelry is a great way to support local artisans.

Outline your essentials.

  1. Passport and photocopy of passport
  2. Credit cards, debit card & cash
  3. Phone and phone charger
  4. Rain jacket
  5. Sweater
  6. Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, floss, etc.) Although you can get these things just about anywhere in a pinch, save yourself the headache and potential cost of making purchases in an airport, train station, or hotel where you’ll pay a premium.

Pro Tip: I have a toiletry kit and an extra outfit in my travel bag at all times so I’m ready to go if anything comes up on the spur of the moment.

Step 3: Color Palettes & Fabrics

When you buy clothes, in general, buy colours that coordinate well with each other so, when it comes to packing, you won’t be scratching your head wondering what to wear with what. Ensure any item can be worn with everything you have. Having two colours is best; add a colour that “pops” to complement your attire (you’re allowed a few outlier cheat items). Neutral colours like black, grey, and heather are always good. There are great tools to help harmonize your palette like this colour generator: https://coolors.co/c8c8c8-b3b3b3-bbb891-dc965a-242325

Pro Tip: Pick quality fabrics for your garments. Ensure they are breathable, durable, lightweight, moisture-wicking, non-wrinkle and anti-odour. You can always layer for warmth.

Step 4: No matter how long you’re going to be away, pack for a week; The Rule: 6+1

That’s right. You really only need about 6 days worth of outfits. You can wash clothes on the 7th day. And to be clear, 6 days worth of outfits doesn’t necessarily mean 6 outfits. It means 6 looks. You may have 1 pair of pants or shorts that you wear 3x each. Or a dress you wear 2-3 times one week. Example: 4 clothing items covering 6 days

  • Day 1 – 1 pair shorts + 1 T-shirt or tank top
  • Day 2 – travel dress
  • Day 3 – 1 pair shorts + T-shirt & button-down shirt
  • Day 4 – 1 pair pants + button-down shirt (sleeves rolled up)
  • Day 5 – 1 pair shorts + button-down shirt
  • Day 6 – travel dress
  • Day 7 – travel-day outfit

Adding in 1 long-sleeve shirt, 1 additional dress or skirt, 1 sweater, 1 extra t-shirt or tank top, 1 pair of comfy clothes, 1 swim/beach outfit, and a second dress + workout clothes, and and a bathing suit, you can see how only a handful of pieces can literally cover more than a week’s worth of outfits.

The extra outfit is for specials events (like a wedding), activities, or the plane. Always wear your heaviest/bulkiest outfits on the plane ( e.g., jackets and sweaters).

Pro Tip: There are multiple ways to wash your clothes while you travel. One simple way is just to use some soap while you’re in the shower, then hang them to dry. Another is a laundromat (you just might meet locals there). And, finally, there are often laundry facilities and/or services at the hostel or nearby in the neighbourhood. Just ask!

Step 5: Lay It All Out

Below, you’ll find our recommended packing list, but we know you’ll throw in a few extra items just out of habit.

Lay it all out on your bed; even for a minimalist packer, it probably still looks like a lot!

  • Get rid of the blow dryer–hotels and AirBnBs have them. At hostels, you can borrow one
  • Get rid of at least ½ the make-up
  • Get rid of the beard trimmer; either grow it or get a clean shave when you’re there
  • Get rid of that extra outfit you packed!

Now that it’s laid out, put the items into packing cubes.

You should only need 2 large cubes, 1 small cube, and 1 or 2 shoe bags. An additional packing tool is a shirt folder–helps keep shirts and delicate items wrinkle free.

  • Roll larger pants, shirts and dresses into large cube #1.
  • Roll gym, beach and comfy clothes in large cube #2.
  • Roll underwear and socks in small cube #1.
  • Shoes into the shoe bag (but wear your heaviest pair while in transit).
  • If you have a rain jacket, stuff it into a “just-in-case” compartment on the exterior of your bag.
  • Electronics should go into the various organizers.
  • Remember to wear those heavier clothes.

And that’ll just about do it …

Essential Minimalist Packing Techniques

 

As the expression goes: “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” And there is also more than one way to pack a bag.

Your options include:

  • The Cube
  • The Fold
  • The Stuff
  • The Roll
  • The Bundle

Our preference? The Cube. It keeps everything organized and allows you to pack (and unpack) in a hurry.

The Minimalist Packing List for Men

Warm Weather (option for cool nights)

Underlayer – LAYER 1

  • 1 packing cube
  • 4 pairs of underwear – no-stink/quick-dry
  • 4 pairs of socks – no-show or hiking
  • 1 pair of swim/gym shorts
  • 2 tank tops
  • 1 polo T-shirt
  • 1 long-sleeve shirt (can be thermal)
  • 1 T-shirt – performance

Clothing – LAYER 2

  • 1 long sleeve – layering/sun protection/cooling/breathable
  • 1 long sleeve – Henley layering/sun protection
  • 2 short sleeve – button-down
  • 1-2 pairs travel trousers
  • 1 pair casual shorts
  • 1 lightweight sweater
  • 2-3 T-shirts

Outer Layer – LAYER 3

  • 1 lightweight windbreaker or poncho
  • 1 down vest (optional)
  • 1 travel blazer (optional)
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 beanie/toque

Footwear

  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 pair of boots
  • 1 pair of running/casual shoes

The Minimalist Packing List for Women

Warm Weather (option for cool nights)

Underlayer – LAYER 1

  • 6 pairs of underwear
  • 2 bras
  • 1 sports bra
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of leggings

Clothing – LAYER 2

  • 3 T-shirts/short-sleeve tops
  • 3 tank tops/sleeveless tops
  • 1-2 long-sleeve shirts (include 1 thermal)
  • 1 lightweight sweater
  • 1 cardigan or blazer
  • 1 button-down shirt
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 skirt
  • 2 travel dresses
  • 2 pairs of  shorts
  • 2 pairs of pants

Outer Layer – LAYER 3

  • 1 rain jacket/windbreaker
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 bandana
  • 1 down vest (optional)

Footwear

  • 1 pair flip flops
  • 1 pair running shoes
  • 1 pair loafers/boots
  • 1 pair wedges/espadrilles/flats

The Minimalist Packing List: Accessories and Extras

  • laptop or iPad (or both)
  • guidebook
  • journal
  • Grid-It organizer for cords
  • iPhone case (waterproof option)
  • mini waterproof bag (just in case)
  • headphones
  • universal adapter and charger (includes USB)
  • neck pillow
  • sunglasses
  • notepad
  • toiletries
  • passport holder
  • money belt (actual belt) or bra clip
  • flashlight

How to Truly Pack Less

In saying all of this…

Bring everything you want, if that’s what makes you happy. We’ve seen plenty of travellers with framed photographs of loved ones, their favourite pillow, widgets, gadgets, stuffies, and more. So, we’ll say it again, bring what makes you happy. We don’t believe the experience of a place is subject to what’s in your suitcase. If it truly does make you happy, and you have no worries, fears or struggles carrying those items around, just bring it.

Never underestimate the power of proper packing. Before you have even begun your journey, it can shape your experience. Will you be open? Prepared? Willing? Will you accept the lessons that are thrown at you?

No word of a lie, on every extended trip we’ve gone on (in which we’ve overpacked), we’ve always either given extra clothes away or sent them home, to lighten the load and make room for the new.

Packing right gives you every reason to open your mind before you’ve even opened your bag.

For other information about minimalism, check out: World Traveler, Colin Wright from Exile Lifestyle. He travels the world full time with just two carry-ons; Ryan and Matt, from The Minimalists, essentially ignited an entire movement on living with less; Marie Kondo has an entire book and professional service to help people learn how to declutter.