Packing Tips for Traveling like a Minimalist

When I was in my early 20’s, I took a nightmare trip through Spain (we weren’t even supposed to be in Spain!!!) with too much luggage, more than I could carry myself, and no help. I barely remember that trip because I was so exhausted, lugging unwanted bags through crowded public transportation, just because I had made poor choices at home. Do you remember the 1980’s when everything was bigger, especially big luggage? That bag might have weighed more than I did. I’ve since learned that if I can easily carry my own suitcase, even though I don’t always have to, the trip will be much more fun.

These days, less is definitely more when it comes to travel, and not just because traveling with just a carry-on will save you money with the airlines. I took just one carry-on suitcase for a month in Paris. My daughter did the same. We came home with the same amount of bags. We’ve done the same thing through Australia and New Zealand. By now, I’m not afraid to travel with next to nothing in my luggage, and I’m loving it!

Do you want to enjoy your next long trip more? Here are tips that work for any trip:


Packing Tips for Traveling like a Minimalist


Wear black. As a bona fide color-lover, this one is hard for me. Really, really hard. But let’s face it, no one is ever going to remember that you wore black pants, top and sweater. They might, however, remember that gorgeous scarf, wrap or statement necklace that you wore over the top of your black outfit. If you can’t abide by black, then substitute all-blue outfits. Navy and dark blues tend to work with almost every other color. Play down your color, and let the locals shine.

wear black when traveling

Limit the shoes to two pair…preferably one that you wear on the plane, and one that you pack. Three pair max!!! This takes time to settle on the right shoes, and should be done well before your trip. Months before, not days before. You should own several shoes that you would love to wear every day! Finding comfy shoes is not so hard. Finding comfy shoes that go from casual to dressy is harder. This picture was taken before my foot surgery, and I was wearing the ugliest (and most comfortable) shoes that I own. And you know what, looking back on this trip to Sydney two years later, I don’t even remember the shoes AT ALL!! I was just glad to be there. So don’t stress about the shoes, people!

shoes to wear traveling


Buy smart. Dresses in technical (part spandex) fabric are ideal. They provide one whole outfit in about the space that you would use for a shirt. They can be rolled without fear of wrinkling. They can be washed in the hotel sink, and will dry overnight hanging in the shower. They can be dressed up with a cardigan or a scarf and become an entirely different outfit. They can be layered with leggings, and take you to a different climate. This dress below was one of my favorite travel dresses ever. It was part spandex, washed and dried like a dream, was easy to layer under t-shirts and sweaters.

dresses to wear for travel(Chateau de Fontainebleu)

With very few exceptions, don’t buy special “travel” gear. It usually costs 2-3x more, and will usually have some annoying feature. Choose clothes that you already own and love. T-shirts and jeans are now worn throughout the world. You won’t stick out (Unless you wear sweats. Don’t. Just don’t). If you must buy new things before you go, buy items for your trip that you would love to wear any day. There’s no point in spending a lot of money on clothes that you will never, ever wear at home, and will only have to store as clutter.

Take only clothes that don’t wrinkle. Your wardrobe probably already has plenty of these items, since to many garments are made with part spandex or it’s cousins. There is no point at all in worrying about ironing. Give it the old crush test. Crush a handful in your fist. If it wrinkles easily, choose another item.

Try the Crush Test to avoid packing mistakes

Use packing cubes. I resisted packing cubes for a long time because they seemed to defy the laws of physics. Why add more bulk to my luggage if I couldn’t wear them? But they are magical! They allow you to roll, stuff, and shove as many clothes as possible into a tiny cube, effectively squeezing excess air out. They are much, much better than plastic bags, as they don’t require special squeezing maneuvers, allow air to circulate, and are more flexible than plastic bags. You can pack strategically, and just remove the clothes you need for each day. More importantly, packing cubes allow you to keep the inside of your suitcase organized, which is key if, like me, you have the annoying habit of needing to rummage around in your suitcase while you are at the airport or in a cab. Everything stays put, instead of spilling out for all to see. Lightweight nylon + mesh zipper cubes from Ikea are my favorite so far.  Seriously, these are wonderful! And the price is right at about $8.

packing light with packing cubes

Tame the tech. Most people go globe trotting with just a phone and a charger these days. Unless someone is paying you, leave the heavy camera, lenses, and other heavy accessories at home. Don’t bring a Kindle; just add the Kindle app to your phone or tablet. Don’t bring a white noise machine, calculator, or anything else that needs juice. But do your homework ahead of time and buy a charger and an international data plan. I am just about resigned to leave my “big girl camera” at home for my next trip. Carrying just that few extra pounds around my neck and shoulders really puts a strain on the back.

Want to pack stylish without sacrificing? Go with the 5-4-3-2-1 plan. I wrote about this when I returned from Paris (with my single carry-on bag), and it’s an easy formula to remember.

  • 5 shirts
  • 4 bottoms (jeans, black slacks, skirt, capris or a dress)
  • 3 pair of shoes
  • 2 sweaters
  • 1 mid-weight leather or denim jacket (even in the summer)

Substitute within a category if needed, but keep your stash to just 15 items. Yup, 15! The trick is to make sure that everything, and I mean everything, can work together!

[bctt tweet=”Want to pack stylish without sacrificing? Go with the 5-4-3-2-1 plan. I wrote about this when I returned from Paris (with my single carry-on bag), and it’s an easy formula to remember.” username=”DarlaDeMorrow”]

One last tip…plan for rain. I mean, rain happens almost everywhere, and why let a trip of a lifetime be ruined for lack of a little plastic? I’ve been researching raincoats, and just received what I think may be the perfect travel raincoat. (affiliate link) It is super lightweight, looks good, has a hood with a drawstring, so it has a chance of staying on my head in a heavy storm, and comes in it’s own fabric pouch. Since I’ve seen it with my own eyes and tried it on, I can recommend it to you. I might fortify it with some waterproofing spray before I really need to use it. And yes, I did get the leopard print coat. I know, I know, everyone wears black when traveling.

But I. Just. Can’t.

When you feel the urge to throw those “just in case” items in at the last minute, remind yourself that you are stealing opportunities from your future self to bring home some really great souvenirs. Leave some room in your suitcase when you leave.

There you have it. Which minimalist travel and packing strategy are you going to try on your next trip?
Do you have a packing tip I need to know about?

This Post Has One Comment

  1. PamLovesBooks

    well who doesnt love saying “floofy”?

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