There are a lot of reasons for minimal packing…
It will save you time: less time spent packing & unpacking, more time making memories!
It will save you stress: no need to worry about if everything will fit and less overwhelm figuring out what to wear once you are at your destination.
And, it might even save you money, particularly if you are traveling by plane, or if the train you’re taking charges for extra baggage.
BUT, it isn’t always easy to pack minimally and efficiently while also making sure you have what you need. So this guide will give you some tips and tricks!
1. A List Will Be Your Best Packing Friend
You might be thinking, ‘ugh, I don’t want to spend time on that’ but hear me out!
Spending a bit of time upfront on creating a list and then narrowing it down or adding to it will take far less time than the alternative.
If you don’t make a list, you might take everything you need out of your closet, then realize you don’t need certain things and have to spend all that time re-folding / re-hanging them.
And then, even after you pack, you may think of additional things you need or realize you don’t need something that’s already in the bottom of your suitcase and you’ll have to unpack and re-pack all over again.
It can really become quite a headache!
When you make a list, you can create a rough draft, then come back to it and realize ‘oh, I actually don’t need X’ and cross it off. Or realize that ‘hm, I actually will need Y for X occasion on my trip’ so you can add that to your list.
Once you’ve created a packing list you’re happy with, I HIGHLY recommend creating a template out of that list!
You can do this by just creating a Word, Pages or Google Docs document, depending on what software you have available to you.
Or, you can use a checklist / to-do style app to create a packing list that you can reference on your phone again and again.
If you want to get fancy, you can create an entire packing “project” in a project management software like Asana, Hive, or Trello.
I personally use Asana, since it’s something I already use regularly for my business. The basic version is completely free!
You can even create multiple lists, such as “Summer Trip Packing List” vs. “Winter Trip Packing List” or “Camping Packing List” vs. “City Travel Packing List”.
2. Plan Out Outfits
One of the most common things that leads to overpacking is that we bring everything we might possibly wear instead of what we KNOW that we are going to wear.
I can totally understand the hesitation to limit ourselves. We want choice and freedom to pick out our outfit when we are on a trip. But, you can do this without bringing a ton of stuff!
The key is to bring pieces that can be mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to pick a color palette to stick with. Note that this does NOT have to be all neutrals! Most people think that minimalism has to be just black and white or neutral hues — and it’s understandable why because that’s how it’s often portrayed — but that does not have to be the case.
As long as you are selecting colors that can all be worn with each other, it will be easy to mix up the combinations and stick to a minimal packing list. This post has tips for creating a closet color palette.
Another thing to keep in mind is proportions and silhouettes. Try to pick styles of items that can be easily interchangeable within a category.
For example, maybe the silhouette you’re picking is flowy bottoms and more form-fitting tops. Then you could pack flowy skirts, shorts, and dresses while sticking to more fitted shirts and tops.
Alternatively, you could pack looser shirts and more form-fitting shorts, pants, skirts, and dresses. You get the idea!
3. Be Intentional About Footwear
Shoes tend to contribute the most to both space and weight in luggage so this is a good area to be extra vigilant about.
As a general rule of thumb for longer trips, pick out one pair for walking and getting active in, one comfortable non-performance pair for casual occasions, and one fancier pair for going out at night.
This could look like sneakers, sandals, and wedges for a warmer weather trip.
Or, hiking boots, riding boots, and booties for a cooler weather trip.
Of course, this will vary widely depending on the type of trip you’re going on! If you’re camping in the woods, you probably can leave out the fancier pair of shoes. 🙂
You can also look for multi-functional footwear.
These eco-friendly plant-based shoes from Munjoi can be converted into sneakers, slides, mules, or sandals!
These would be perfect for trips where the weather might vary throughout your time there.
This is also where it comes in handy to have a color palette. If your clothing is all in a similar color family (hues, tones, or shades), then it will be simpler to select footwear that can go with anything you’re packing.
4. Pack Versatile and Multi-Purpose Items
Something that helps a lot with making outfit combinations is choosing versatile pieces that can be worn multiple ways.
For example, basic tees, a denim jacket, or a pair of black pants are pieces that can be easily dressed up or down.
Or, pieces that can actually be worn multiple ways, like a reversible top, a dress that can also be styled as a skirt, or a button-up shirt that can also be worn unbuttoned or tied at the bottom.
This tip also applies to toiletries! See if there are items that you can use for multiple functions.
I personally LOVE Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap because it can be diluted in different ways for very different purposes. You can use it as a facial cleanser, shampoo, makeup remover, body wash, laundry soap for hand washing, dish cleaner, and more.
Another idea is to find an all-purpose oil that’s both good for your hair and skin.
BB and CC creams like this one from 100% Pure are also versatile beauty products that can be your moisturizer, facial sunscreen, foundation — though they’re usually more like a light tint — and anti-aging cream.[Related: What Does Natural Skincare Mean? Plus 25 Brands to Trust]
And, you can get creative using items designed for one purpose in other ways.
One great example is using your conditioner as shaving cream as well!
5. Freshen Up Clothes On the Go
Another common reason for overpacking is packing extras of items in case they get dirty or smelly.
If you’re going on a longer term trip, a far more efficient way to prepare for this is to pack tools that will help you freshen up your clothes.
If you’ll have a washing machine at your destination or one of your locations, then packing a bit of natural laundry detergent might be a good idea.
You could even hand wash items if you don’t have an accessible washing machine.
But, if you don’t have a way to wash (or don’t want to spend the time washing clothes), there are also ways to freshen up clothes without washing them.
I have a guide to easy ways to get smells out of clothes without washing them. Of course not all of these ways will work on the go, but simply airing out your clothes before you put them back in your suitcase can help with faint odors.
You could also pack a miniature/travel-sized non-toxic air freshener spray.
6. Pack Fabrics That Won’t Stink!
Another thing to keep in mind is the TYPE of fabrics you’re packing. Some fabrics tend to start smelling faster than others.
Polyester has been found to hold on to smells the worst, while natural fabrics like cotton are a bit better, and wool is the best because it’s porous.
So, if you have merino wool, organic cotton, hemp, or linen clothing, that would be great to pack!
There are also specialized fabrics designed to minimize odors like SilverTech from Organic Basics.
7. Pack Efficiently in Your Bags
This tip isn’t so much about how to pack less as it is about how to pack better.
Once you’ve minimized the number of items you’re bringing, you probably still want to pack them efficiently.
There are a number of folding techniques you can use to ensure your clothes take up the least amount of space possible.
Lifehacker tested a bunch of different methods to see which ones worked best and found that a smart combination of various methods will lead to best results.
Bundle wrinkle-prone clothing, roll up other pieces of clothes to maximize space, use compression bags for bulkier items and throw in some packing cubes (these travel cubes are made from recycled polyester) to keep smaller items more organized.
8. Minimize Souvenirs
So, you’ve packed minimally on the way TO your vacation or adventure, but to make sure your luggage stays light on your way back, try to minimize or opt out of souvenirs.
The reason I say minimize instead of eliminate is because realistically, there may be a couple of really thoughtful items that you want to purchase as gifts or to commemorate your trip. And I don’t think that’s wrong — you don’t have to be extreme to be minimalist.
Of course, as a conscious lifestyle blogger, I’d advocate for only buying locally, sustainably, and ethically made pieces, and not those mass-manufactured souvenirs built to break.
You may see jewelry made with locally sourced natural materials by artisans in the community, for example. Or maybe there’s a neighborhood bakery with delicious treats you want to bring back home.
Something that may help is to set a budget or item allowance before your trip. This way, you can invest in something intentional without going overboard OR without feeling guilty!
My top tips for minimal packing are to:
- Have a packing list
- Plan out smart outfits in advance
- Be very intentional about footwear
- Pack versatile and multi-purpose items
- Prepare to freshen up clothes on the go
- Pick fabrics that won’t stink
- Pack efficiently in your bags
- Minimize or avoid souvenirs
Are there any other tips you’d add to this list?