Minimalist Packing for Normal People

Fred Perrotta

How is it that some people can barely fit everything into an 80L bag while others have room to spare in a 30L one?

Do these two travelers really need drastically different stuff? Probably not. They just think that they do.

Many travelers profess to want to embrace minimalism but find it impractical. Read on to find out how to pack to make minimalism work for you.

Extreme Minimalism: The No Baggage Challenge

To understand how to apply the principles of minimalism to our travels, let’s first take a look at an extreme case: the No-Baggage Challenge.

Travel writer Rolf Potts spent six weeks traveling around the world with only the clothes on his back and what he could fit in his pockets. While he wasn’t really cheating, I should point out that he was dressed entirely in SCOTTeVEST clothes, which come equipped with tons of extra storage space compared to most jackets, shirts, and pants.

While the challenge certainly proved its point, the average person will never travel like this. I know I won’t.

Being away from home can be tough, so why make it harder on yourself? The purpose of a pared down packing list should be to make your trip easier and less worrisome, not gross and uncomfortable.

Let’s apply the lessons of the No Baggage Challenge to a more reasonable packing list. First, where can we begin to lighten our load?

Where To Simplify Your Packing List

In the quest to minimize our packing list, we’ll have to make some sacrifices. Where to begin?

Clothing Options

First up is a change in strategy from bringing anything that you might wear to bringing only what you absolutely need.

Instead of a variety of outfit combinations, we’ll be bringing two of everything: one to wear until it’s dirty and another to change into. That’s it. One in use. One on standby.

Just make sure to bring neutral-colored clothes that look okay in any combination. Zebra stripes and 80s fluorescents can be left at home.


You only need enough toiletries to stay (relatively) clean. You don’t need to be “camera-ready” in the jungles of Vietnam. As long as you don’t stink, you’re okay.

This restriction means leaving behind the gizmos and elixirs you normally use. You’ll have to rely on your natural beauty and charming wit to seduce the locals.

The only hardware we’re allowing on this list is a toothbrush. As for liquids, you might not like my suggestion. We’ll get to that in the next section.


Obviously, you can’t include a computer on a super-minimalist packing list. For your computing needs, you can rent time at your hostel or an internet cafe instead of carrying your own computer or tablet.

You can also pick up a cheap phone and local SIM card at your destination. The card will need to be switched out as you travel between countries, so there’s no need to bring everything from home.

The one gadget worth making space for is an iPod Touch or unlocked iPhone. These electronic multi-tools can be used as mini computers whenever you have access to a WiFi network. You can even use the Skype app to connect with friends and family back home. Either Apple product can also replace most point and shoot cameras, notebooks, maps, books, and standalone mp3 players.

An iPod Touch or iPhone may be an indulgence on a minimalist packing list, but their usefulness and versatility vastly outweigh the additional baggage.

The Practical Minimalist Packing List

Ok, now it’s time for the easy-to-understand, if hard-to-implement, minimalist packing list. This isn’t extreme minimalism, but you’ll get 80% of the results with only 20% of the sacrifices.


  • 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 2 long sleeve shirts (optional for cooler climates)
  • 1 jacket (optional for cooler climates)
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 pair of shorts (optional for warmer climates)
  • 1 pair of shoes (boots, sneakers, or sandals depending on personal preference)
  • 2 pairs of underwear
  • 2 pairs of socks (if wearing boots or shoes)
  • 1 belt


  • 1 toothbrush
  • 1 bar or bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (used as a general purpose soap to wash your body, hair, and even clothes)
  • 1 travel toothpaste
  • 1 bar of deodorant

Done! Short, right?

At first glance, this list may look impossible. Keep in mind that you’ll still be clean, have clean clothes to wear, and have more than a week’s worth of outfit combinations. Plus, your bag will only contain (at the most) three shirts, a pair of pants, a pair of underwear, a pair of socks, and a small toiletry bag.

That’s light!

What If I Need Something Else?

You’ll inevitably need other things along the way, but they can be borrowed or purchased locally, often for much less than you would pay at home.

Consider these occasional shopping trips an opportunity for exploration and adventure.

Minimalist Packing: The Perfect Bag

News flash: If you’re a minimalist packer, you don’t need a maximum-sized carry on bag. Even if you’re only a minimalist packer on some of your trips, there’s no sense in putting your tiny bit of stuff into a bag that’s too big. What you need is a well designed minimalist bag to go with your light packing style.

Start with a small travel backpack then downsize even further to a personal item.


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