Minimalist Packing: How to Embrace Traveling With Less

Jessie Beck

When I studied abroad for a year in Malta, I had ridiculous things in my bag — at least five books, too many pairs of shoes, kitchen supplies, a light quilt. Immediately, I regretted it. I could feel how my stuff was costing me money, flexibility, and time. Did I really need any of it so badly I was willing to spend $50 on taxis? Skip the post study abroad trip because it would be too cumbersome? Wait by the luggage carousel and slowly trudge out of the airport to meet my parents?

No, I didn’t. After that, I resolved never to check luggage again; to never take a taxi or avoid extending a trip because of my bags, and to embrace minimalist packing. I’m fortunate enough to have also found a tribe of travelers who feel the same about packing at Tortuga. What about you? Are you looking to ditch the lugged luggage pain? To embrace a mindset of minimalist packing and travel?

Whether you’re trying minimalist packing for the first time or simply trying to get better at it, here are our best tips from our packing lists over the years.

Embrace the Mentality of Minimalist Packing

Read more: How to Embrace Minimalist Travel and Pack Less

“To be a minimalist packer, you first have to become comfortable with simplicity and separate the ‘want’ from the ‘need’ in your life and travels.”

Minimalist packing is just as much a mindset as it is a skill. Packing less means adopting a morning routine with fewer products, buying clothing that works with your existing wardrobe, choosing workouts requiring less gear — just generally learning how to live with less stuff. For most North Americans, that contradicts the consumerist society we were raised in.

Choose a Smaller Bag

Read more: Minimalist Packing: How Low Can You Go?

Hands down, the most effective minimalist packing tip is to get a smaller bag. We all feel compelled to fill our bags — no matter how big or small — but choosing a smaller bag will help you restrict what you pack.

“Packing light… can look different from person to person and trip to trip,” but anyone can pack less by getting a smaller bag.

The Outbreaker collection was designed specifically for people who are committed to packing in carry on only bags. With two sizes of travel backpacks, plus the duffle to choose from, you can step down to carry on, or further reduce your bag size and go truly minimalist by traveling only with a personal item.

Pack for One Week

Read more: How to Pack Light for a Week

Pack your bag as though you’re traveling for no more than a week, even if your trip is longer — and that doesn’t mean bringing seven outfits. Keep it simple.

“You definitely do not need everything hanging in your closet, or even everything you might wear in a normal week at home.” If you’re traveling for longer, feel free to pack an extra book or a slightly larger bar of soap for washing your dirty laundry but, otherwise, you won’t need anything more. You’re done.

Minimalist Travel Wardrobe: Simple, Versatile, Mix & Match

Read more: Minimalist Travel Clothing Packing List: 6 Cities, 25 Days, 2 Outfits

This past winter, “I traveled to 6 cities for 25 days with only 2 outfits. Best yet, I built it from my existing wardrobe and it took up about half a duffle bag. At the end of my travels, I never felt like I’d been unprepared for weather or the types of activities I wanted to do.”

How did I travel with so little? By creating a minimalist travel wardrobe out of simple, versatile, and mix-and-matchable clothing. Layers were key, as was choosing items I love to wear at home — so I didn’t grow tired of my limited set of fashion choices.

Build a Travel Capsule Wardrobe for Quick Packing

Read more: How to Build a Travel Capsule Wardrobe

“A capsule wardrobe is a collection of basic, functional clothing that will not go out of style. Each item should be functional and be compatible with the rest of the wardrobe. Think staples, not this season’s must have’s.”

If you want to take your minimalist travel wardrobe a step further, build a travel capsule wardrobe. It’ll help you spend less time thinking about what to pack. Again, stick to pieces that are easy to match and layer, and clothing that you love.

Limit Yourself to One or Two Pairs of Shoes

Read more: The Best TSA Friendly Shoes

Shoes are bulky and can easily steal away a large portion of your bag’s space. Keep it simple and stick to two versatile pairs at most. At Tortuga, we’re huge fans of these options:

  • Boat shoes
  • Cross-trainers
  • Toms Flats
  • Sandals
  • Espadrilles

Hiking boots, on the other hand, aren’t so minimalist friendly.

Keep Beauty Supplies Ultra Light

Read more: Beauty Light: Travel Beauty Tips for Light Packers

“If you’re used to a little primping at home, entering the world in the same grubby outfit, with the same ponytail and no-makeup face, makes you feel like you’re not yourself. On the other extreme, packing every beauty product you’ve ever owned or think you may need isn’t a practical use of space either.”

Instead, stick to the absolute essentials for makeup and beauty products Keep them as small as possible (you’d be surprised at how long 2oz of frizz serum can last). Learn a few hairstyles you can do without many tools and products (thank you Pinterest). Oh, and ladies: think about investing in a menstrual cup or other reusable feminine hygiene products.

Consolidate Electronics

Read more: What Not to Pack

“Do you need your phone, laptop, tablet, and Kindle? Only bring one or two devices. Even your phone is powerful enough to accomplish most tasks.” Bonus points if your electronics can share a single charger.

For me, I typically bring my phone and DSLR, or my laptop and phone. When traveling with my partner, he’ll bring the camera, I’ll bring the laptop and we’ll each have our phones. I know it’s a copout, but if you’re traveling with a significant other, coordinate your packing lists and bring even less in each person’s bag.

Digitize Everything You Can

Read more: The Best Travel Apps to Download Before You Leave

These days, you will find an app for anything you need. Thanks to technology, your phone and apps can replace a bunch of things that used to be packing essentials: your guidebook, foldable maps, camera, leisure books, travel journal, and calling cards (remember those?) for phoning home.

Embrace technology and digitize everything you’re able and willing to. (If typing out your travel journal on a smartphone sounds shitty, no worries. Pack that moleskine.)

Limit Your “Just in Case” Items

Read more: 7 Secrets to Packing Light

Packing light requires sacrifices. You can’t bring [items] for every possible situation. You should only bring what you [need] on the average day.“

For most travelers, you’ll be able to borrow or buy anything you don’t bring while you’re on the road. Don’t panic, there is shampoo in other countries if you run out!

Minimalist Packing: For Europe, Asia, Latin America, & Beyond

If you need a packing list for a specific destination — or just want to see how others have nailed their minimalist packing lists — take a look at these or search here. The Tortuga team has compiled carry on only packing lists for many destinations and situations.

Just a small sampling of the destination packing lists:


Minimalist packing takes sacrifice and work, but don’t worry — you’ll get there. You don’t even have to try all of these tips at once. Start with one and work your way down the list:

  • Embrace the mentality of needing less stuff
  • Get a smaller bag
  • Pack for no longer than a week
  • Keep your minimalist travel wardrobe simple, versatile, and layerable
  • Create a travel capsule wardrobe to pack up faster
  • Try not to pack more than two pairs of shoes
  • While you shouldn’t feel like you have to avoid beauty products, stick to essentials and keep them small
  • Consolidate your electronics and digitize as much as you can
  • Limit your just in case items
  • When in doubt, look to other minimalist packing lists for inspiration

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