Minimalist travel is a hot topic today and there are a plethora of reasons to embrace traveling with less. As a self employed freelancer and travel addict, I typically spend a total of 2-3 months out of the year on the road, but very little of that travel is glamorous because I choose to travel cheap. I fly coach, pay for checked baggage, stay overnight in hostels and Airbnb rooms, and take public transit or carpool whenever I can. Thus, to avoid extra travel fees and make it less likely that I’ll lose items on the road, I’ve embraced minimalist travel packing and all of its ups and downs.
This post is aimed at recommending some of the best products and setups that I adopt today whenever I travel. Although this blog was originally published in March 2014, it has gone through several iterations as I’ve experimented with different products.
My goal with minimalist travel is to condense my items into two carry-on bags while still having room to bring enough technology with me to take memorable photos and work remotely on the road.
I tested this packing system on numerous trips to a variety of destinations including Belize, Mexico, Thailand, Hawaii, Sedona, New York, Montreal, California and more. The final setup is lightweight, containing mostly bare bone essentials, yet it allows for the carrying of a decent amount of photography gear as well. Let’s get started!
Most packing articles focus on baggage and technology. While we’ll definitely hit on both topics, I’m beginning this article with a strong emphasis on important travel documents. As I discovered in Thailand when I lost my passport, this is by far the most important thing you need when traveling. Thus, it’s important to always put your passport in a memorable place, which for me is around my neck in my Eagle Creek passport neck wallet. Made of silk material, this neck wallet won’t irritate your skin and the lanyard is long enough that you could also wear it across your body if it’s more comfortable. Above all, keep your passport near and dear to you at all times, or lock it up safely in your accommodations.
Speaking of lost passports, it’s also crucial to keep your proof of identity and citizenship records handy since these are the items you need if you lose a passport while traveling. While you probably shouldn’t carry these documents on you physically, make sure copies are scanned and stored online or someplace where you can access them in case of emergency.
Best Travel Baggage
My main travel luggage of choice was the Victorinox E-Motion 360 wheeled backpack and the Timbuk2 Q laptop backpack. Both are pretty compact and together make for a great carry-on luggage combination for flying. I had the good fortune of finding a barely used version of the Victorinox bag on sale at Goodwill for a whopping $20. It’s a great bag that can hold lots of gear and it gives you the option of wheeling it around when you’ve got smooth surfaces, or unzipping the backside to reveal shoulder and waist straps to easily carry the bag on your back. Unfortunately, the E-Motion bag has been discontinued by Victorinox, but the good news is that they have a new replacement bag that looks a bit more boxy, the Tourist series.
As for the Timbuk2 bag, I’ve had it for 3 years now and have written love stories about the Timbuk2 Q bag in past packing posts. This bag continues to be my favorite day trip bag. It has a great side compartment for holding a laptop or tablet, and the main pocket area is very roomy for carrying everything from power cords and chargers to extra clothing and toiletries for a day trip. Its versatility coupled with its stylish durability makes the Q bag a worthy purchase!
How to Pack Clothing
When it came to packing my bags, I split most things up according to function: the more expensive technology items went into the Timbuk2 day trip bag, while the clothing and toiletries went into the larger Victorinox bag. My logic is that if I do end up checking the Victorinox bag, the items that go in here are replaceable and not as important as those that go into the Timbuk2 bag.
To pack clothing and toiletries for these trips, I divided everything up according to its function and stuck them in bags. I used an Eagle Creek Pack-It Sac to store my bigger items, and Ziploc gallon sized plastic bags to carry everything else. If you’d rather not cheapskate it with plastic bags, there are also nice and rather affordable packing cube sets such as the ones pictured above that will do wonders for organizing and packing down your clothes.
Best Travel Clothing
When I travel, I bring as little clothing as possible: 3 pairs of shorts, 3 shirts, 1 long sleeve lightweight shirt, 1 fleece pullover jacket, 1 pair lightweight long pants, 1 bikini, 1 pair athletic shoes, and 1 pair of slippers. Even when heading to tropical countries, it’s important to bring lightweight pants and long sleeved shirts for those air conditioned bus rides, a sudden cold spell, and protection against bugs outdoors. Brand-wise, I’ve been preferring athletic clothes from Nike and Exofficio since their fabrics are lightweight yet strong, and very breathable and comfortable.
Best Travel Shoes
There are a TON of quality travel shoe brands and styles out there, but the ones I have found to be the most comfortable, durable, and stylish have been:
- Nike Free shoes in basic black as they are suitable for both active and dressy moments
- Fit Flop sandals, available in casual and dressy styles. These are SO comfortable.
Best Travel Underwear
The pieces of travel clothing I was most excited to try out on these trips were underwear. Some of my favorite travel and productivity bloggers have been talking about taking only 2 pairs of underwear on trips with them, and I was eager to give this a shot myself. Enter Exofficio’s Give ‘n Go briefs for men and women, and Exofficio sports bras. I never thought I’d fall in love with underwear, but these pieces are amazing. Lightweight, soft, comfortable, and (best of all) they dry overnight, meaning they can easily be washed and hung to dry each night. Two pairs of each will last you weeks or even months on the road.
Toiletries and Random Other Essentials
I’m an extremely low maintenance female; I could care less about fancy makeup and hair and skin products, so when I travel, the only bathroom essential item I can’t live without is my Tresemme hair conditioner, Cetaphil facial moisturizer, and my seemingly never-ending Crystal Body deodorant stick. These toiletry items all go into a hanging toiletries bag, which is the best invention ever as it allows you to hang the bag rather than set it down on a bathroom surface.
Best Insect Repellents
There are a few other small items that I think can make or break your trip, depending on your sensitivity to certain elements. If you’re headed somewhere hot and tropical, don’t forget to bring insect repellents. Procuring quality repellents at reasonable prices abroad can be luck of the draw, so I advise purchasing them at home and putting them in your suitcase. In terms of insect repellents, the best in my opinion is Herbal Armor, which is all natural with no offensive smell and does not leave your skin oily and gross. Second best bug repellant is good old DEET in case of extreme conditions. I’ve used Repel Sportsmen Max (available as spray, lotion, or wipes) in the jungles of various Central American countries, and it’s never failed me. Another essential is a tube of After Bite itch eraser to treat bug bites or rashes, as well as an insect head net. Yes, the head nets look ridiculous, but there’s nothing worse than having one lousy mosquito buzzing in your ear all night preventing you from falling asleep.
There are two indispensable financial items I never leave town without: Capital One Venture One credit card that has no foreign transaction fees and USAA debit card that reimburses all of the ATM surcharges I accumulate by using the ATMs of other banks. Neither of these two cards have annual fees and they both address two of the major ways travelers get charged fees. I would strongly recommend looking into these credit cards or ones that offer similar benefits.
Now let’s get to my favorite part: technology! During my trips to Belize and Thailand, I experimented with two different tech gear setups, and the one I have highlighted in the photo above was definitely the one that worked best for me. I’ve also written a past article on packing photography gear for travel that dive into more specifics.
Best Travel Camera Gear
I never thought I’d fall in love with a point and shoot camera again, but the Olympus Tough TG-2 has won me over. It’s compact, weatherproof, has the ability to shoot in aperture priority, and overall just creates awesome daytime images, making it a great day trip camera. For scenes with low light or variable light such as after sunset or shaded markets, I used my Canon 6D with a 50mm f/1.8 lens. I also brought along my 16-35mm f/2.8, thinking I would use it to shoot temples and star photos, but I ended up using that lens just once. The 50mm and point and shoot served my shooting needs just fine. I also experimented with a new tripod: the 3Pod P5CFH carbon fiber tripod by Adorama. It’s an incredible steal at $149.95 for a carbon fiber tripod that’s about the size of my forearm, with the ability to hold up to 20lbs. I admit, it’s not as steady and solid as my Benro Travel Flat Aluminum tripod, but it’s much better suited for travel. I used this tripod to shoot some awesome interiors and star photography in Belize; unfortunately the weather conditions didn’t allow for great night shooting in Thailand. However, the tripod is only 4 lbs and a compact 13.5 inches long, so it wasn’t a hassle to stick it in the bottom of my Victorinox bag just in case.
Best Travel Computers
In an ideal world, we’ll be able to ditch laptop computers and use tablets and mobile devices to do all of our work on. I tried this method out during my trip to Belize, leaving the laptop at home and traveling only with my Nexus 7 tablet. This is how I found out the unfortunate reality that despite the prevalence of tablets and apps out there, it’s still hard for most professionals to conduct business without a proper laptop. Thus, I end up bringing my laptop with me for most trips that exceed 5 days in length, and it ends up being a lifesaver lengthy airport layovers.
There are a ton of affordable laptops out there suitable for travel, but as an exclusive Apple computer user for my entire life, I’m dedicated to my MacBook Pro 15″ Retina display laptop for doing a majority of my photography, web design, and blog work. For those who don’t need robust computing power to operate big programs like Adobe PhotoShop, you could probably make do with a MacBook or MacBook Air as they’re definitely more travel friendly. Either way, I strongly recommend also investing in a rugged external hard drive if you travel with your laptop because you know, accidents happen.
Other Essential Travel Devices
In addition to camera gear and computers, having a Kindle Paperwhite is excellent for reading on the go. I also brought my trusty Anker Astro 3E portable charger to fuel my mobile devices on the road, my unlocked Motorola X smartphone, and a cheap LG international cell phone, the latter of which I didn’t even need thanks to T-Mobile’s free international data plans.
When you’re traveling solo, it’s best to keep your packing list to a minimum. Having fewer items makes for lighter baggage and decreases the likelihood that you’ll leave something behind or miss a connecting flight because your heavy bags slowed you down. If at all possible, I recommend condensing your travel baggage to just a large carry on.
“Evaluate your packing list and making sure you’re bringing things that you are 100% sure will be used at least 3 times.”
Do you have any minimalist travel packing tips? Please share them in the comments below!