Travel Technology

Minimalist Packing

I met a woman a few weeks ago who just got back from a trip to Europe. While she was in the Paris train station (near the end of her trip) all of her stuff was stolen. She just put her bags down for a minute while figuring out which train ticket to purchase, and someone came up from behind and grabbed them. Her passport, wallet, credit cards, cash, clothes, everything. She ended up spending 12 days in Paris getting it all sorted out before she could return to the United States. And she said the experience was transformative: having nothing in tow (and no money to spend) was liberating and now she wants to travel with as little luggage as possible.overstuffed suitcase

I’ve been on a trend towards less luggage myself over the past few years. I like traveling around, staying in one place only a night or two, which means packing and unpacking, and moving my stuff around a lot. The size and weight of luggage is especially important when using cheap transportation: local busses, ridesharing, flights with weight limits, and lots of walking. During my year of travel in 2013 I took a 32 liter pack along with a small bookbag size backpack. While this was small compared to what other people I met were carrying, I still felt overloaded when moving around. And the downside to small size is accessibility of stuff: it’s all jammed into a small space and so every night I’d have to take everything out to get at one clean shirt.

For my current trip I’m experimenting with bringing even less stuff but in a larger pack, and trying to work out the optimal ratio of clean clothes (I do like to be clean) to pack size and weight. I’m cutting out things I almost never wore, and upgrading a few items to be lighter and quicker to dry. I’m definitely sacrificing a bit of fashion. But I never was all that fashionable anyway. My goal is to fit everything (including my daypack) into one relatively small backpack but still have access to stuff without taking everything out.

What’s your optimal pack size and shape? Suitcase or backpack? Fashion or utility?


  • So how’s about an inventory: what made it onto the final packing list for that larger pack?

    Wanting to live more like you

    • Well, before giving my packing list for this trip let me say that I still think I have too much stuff with me. And a few items haven’t been necessary, but I was packing for a few different climates and also some gear for sports (rock climbing). With that said, here’s the list of clothes I brought, with some notes:

      3 pairs of shorts, one that covers my knees for temple wear – I think I’d cut this down to two next time, they are both synthetic and easy enough to wash at night and dry by morning (I brought a pair of these in grey and am absolutely in love with them as travel shorts: light weight, synthetic and super comfy. They even look pretty good, not like typical travel shorts:
      1 pair pants – nice enough to wear to a club, comfy enough to wear just to block mosquitoes
      1 pair hiking pants – these were a waste of space on this trip, but I do like to be prepared for serious hiking
      1 pair tights – I’m on the fence about these. Useful base layer if it’s cold, but I’m not much of a tights wearer. Ended up using these in the gym a few times and for travel wear on the airplane. In a colder climate these would be more useful.
      5 t-shirts + 1 tank top
      1 long sleeve button up shirt – good for sun protection, mosquito protection, and a bit fancier for dressing up
      5 pair underwear – synthetic material so I can wash every night if I want
      3 pair socks – light weight synthetic for quick dry (and hot weather)
      2 bras – also washable overnight
      Sandals that I wear every day and could be used for hiking (Tevas)
      Low profile light weight sneakers – I hardly use these, but it’s good to have backup closed toe foot wear
      Swim suit
      Quick dry towel
      Sarong – I rarely use this but it’s nice if I end up at a beach or just need a wrap
      Long sleeve sweatshirt – mostly used for cold transportation
      Light weight puffer – wouldn’t normally bring this but I knew I’d have some cold nights in Myanmar