When you’re crammed into a commuter train in Paris with your husband, four kids and mom in tow, you really appreciate minimalist packing.
And when the doors open and you have one minute to push your way out at your stop and all you have to do is roll out your small travel suitcase, it helps to eliminate the stress of getting everyone in the party off the train.
Especially when you realize your husband didn’t make it out and now you’ve got to track him down. Yeah, that was fun …
I’ve been practicing packing minimally for several years now and all I’ve experienced from it are benefits.
It’s cheaper, easier and in the worst-case scenario you lose everything, there’s not much to replace (I’m still traumatized from a trip I took at 16).
Alternately, if you pack minimally and realize you’ve forgotten something crucial, buying it at your destination and bringing it home isn’t a big deal.
So before I jump into ways to travel minimally, let’s look at why it’s a good idea in the first place.
Reasons to pack minimally
Less to carry around during travel: I like to keep things simple as much as possible and trying to corral multiple pieces of large luggage does not qualify. When you travel minimally, it’s super easy to pack, get in and out of the car and navigate an airport/plane.
No need to spend money checking bags: I’m a bit of a cheapskate and refuse to pay to check my bags. The only time I ever check luggage is if I’m traveling overseas (only the return trip), but I’ve already booked a ticket that allows for one free checked bag. I pretty much buy wine/booze to bring home every time, so this is a must.
I also hate checking bags because when I was 16 we went to visit my family in Mexico and my very large suitcase was lost for several days. When it was finally recovered, half of my stuff was missing. I’m still traumatized.
What I do love doing, however, is taking the free option to check a bag at the gate if the plane is crowded. It gives me peace of mind that it’s going right on the plane and I’ll get it immediately and it’s, well, free.
Packing/unpacking is quick and easy: Being able to pack for a trip in 10 minutes is awesome. I like to imagine a scenario where I’m invited on a last-minute trip somewhere exotic and I need to throw things in my bag and be ready for when my friend speeds up to my driveway.
In reality, being able to do this is amazing because I have four children and if we’re traveling somewhere together, guess where all my energy is going?
Being able to unpack in the same amount of time when I get home is a great way to reduce clutter and helps me to recover from my trip faster.
Let’s get to the tips, shall we?
Minimalist packing tips
So how do you make packing minimally easy peasy? These are my top tips:
1. Small luggage
This might seem like a no-brainer, but when you set limits for yourself in advance with the size of your luggage, it forces you to keep things minimal. When I travel overseas, I use my hard shell carry-on suitcase that will fit in overhead bins and I take my large leather purse (thank you, ThredUp) as my personal item.
I’m able to easily fit my laptop, notebook, and any other items that won’t fit in my suitcase in there.
When I go on a weekend trip, I pack everything in my awesome leather weekender bag my husband bought me from Kodiak leather. After a few trips, I’ve finally nailed down exactly what I need to take and what needs to stay home (hint: less shoes).
My leather purse still goes with me and I throw extra layers in there so they’re easy to access.
2. Less shoes
Speaking of shoes, they tend to take up the bulk of the space whenever I travel. This is why I try super hard to limit how many I take. I confess this is the hardest thing for me because I will still “what if” myself.
That said, I’ve been limiting myself to a pair of boots and running shoes for short trips in cold weather. And sometimes I’ll throw my Tieks in there, since they take up so little space.
For longer trips, I try to limit myself to three pairs of shoes. If I’m flying, I make sure to have easy to slip off/on shoes for the plane ride. And since I’ve got these laces in the majority of my shoes, it’s pretty easy.
3. Packing note
It may sound extremely nerdy, but I have a master packing list saved as a note on my iPhone and I use it ALL THE TIME. I’m so extra that I have separate packing notes for Europe and Costa Rica.
Wow. That is nerdy.
But also super helpful.
I keep that packing list updated with the things I commonly take – I tend to take the same things for a 2-day trip as I do a 10-day one – and make notes after my trip about what I could have left behind and what I wish I had taken.
4. Check the weather
Also a no-brainer, but I think we sometimes get on autopilot with packing and end up taking things we don’t need and forgetting the things we do.
For longer trips, I start planning out what I’m taking according to my master list, but once I get within two weeks of my trip, I start checking the 10-day weather forecast of where we’re going and adjust accordingly.
It’s a lot easier to do this with short trips.
5. Wear the bulkiest things
When I’m traveling, I wear my bulkiest items on the actual day of travel. That means jeans, sweater, wool trench coat, boots, etc. I know some people think that’s uncomfortable and prefer to travel in “comfy” clothes, but I loathe going out in sweats or leggings and am actually more uncomfortable in those.
Also, leggings take up less space in my luggage than jeans, so I’d rather save that space and wear the jeans. If I take a couple coats, I wear the bulkiest one and pack the one that packs the best.
Do you have any tips to share? Drop them in the comments.