In this guide I will show you how to breathe through the anxiety, and pack only what you need.
My Version of Extreme Minimalist Travel
“Extreme Minimalist Travel” probably sounds… a bit extreme?
When it comes to packing and overpacking, it’s all pretty subjective.
I’ve read a minimalist packing list where the person suggested bringing enough socks and underwear for every day plus two! I wonder what maximalist packing would be to them?
On the flip side, there are people who can fit their whole life in an oversized handbag.
What I mean by extreme minimalist packing, is that we pack lighter than every other person that I personally know, and we even have a kid!
Benefits of Minimalist Travel
Slow travel and minimalism go hand in hand. It’s never about the “stuff,” it’s about the experience, and the experience can be a lot more pleasant with a lot less stuff.
The obvious benefit to packing light, is that you will save money on airfare, but once you start, you will be hooked!
Besides the savings there are a lot of other perks:
You can grab your carry on items from the overhead bins and stroll right out of the airport.
No more crowding around the baggage carousel waiting for your dented bags to come around. No fear of your luggage getting lost, and no more confusion over whether your bag is checked through to your destination or not.
You won’t need to have one person stay with the suitcases all the time.
You can go to the bathroom, buy a snack, or refill your water bottle, while keeping your belongings with you.
You will be comfortable doing a bit of sightseeing
If your flights arrive well before check in, or depart late in the day, sometimes you can get stuck carrying around everything that you packed. If you have packed light, you can still make the most of this time! Same goes for long layovers. It’s honestly so nice to be mobile.
Speaking of getting around:
It’s a million times better taking public transit without big suitcases.
If you’ve ever over packed, or pushed a crappy stroller around, you already know what that’s like. Suddenly you realize just how in-accessible the world is!
(Which is definitely an un-cool problem of it’s own.)
You can catch any old cab or uber
When you pack light, instead of having to wait longer and pay extra for a bigger vehicle, you can take whatever is available.
You can also rent the cheapest smallest car if you want to drive.
European compacts do NOT have the trunk space you would need for suitcases (sometimes they are even tight for backpacks! I’m looking at you Fiat!)
Squeezing into restaurants or cafes isn’t a problem when you pack carry-on only.
No strange looks as you try to muscle your suitcase against the table.
It’s a whole lot less to pack up when it’s time to move on!
Downsides Of Ultralight Travel
Honestly there isn’t much downside when it comes to minimalist packing.
Packing does take me longer while I agonize over each item and revisit my bag to pair down. My natural inclination is that of an overpacker (and overthinker) so you may not find that it takes longer.
As much as I feel good at packing light, it’s almost like I go in fresh every time! It’s silly actually.
The only other (tiny) downside, is that you may actually be a little heavier in the airport. If you are used to checking almost everything and carrying only a personal item, then for your layovers and wait times you will be carrying around slightly more.
Considering that for the rest of your trip you will be carrying considerably less, the airport, where you spend most of the time sitting, is where weight matters the least anyways.
You may think that a downside is not having everything you need, but I can tell you from experience that the only things I miss are ones that I forgot by accident.
As much as I take a while debating all of my clothing items, there is always something that I didn’t even wear!
To run you through how we pack light, I should first share what essential gear we have.
Best Travel Backpack
When I was hunting for THE perfect backpacks for our first carry on only trip, I did a TON of research. I first made a list of the things that were important to us in a travel backpack.
Requirements For Carry On Backpack
This is what we were looking for specifically, when trying to choose a good backpack:
- A “regular” backpack – We were not wanting big backpacker’s bags
- Top loading with secure closures
- Efficient with space
When I was researching for the perfect bag, I saw Herschel backpacks come up over and over again, specifically the Little America backpack.
Something you should know about me, is that I like to go my own way (I’m a bit obstinate that way) so when everyone seemed to have a Herschel backpack, I kind of didn’t want to buy one.
If you aren’t familiar with Herschel Little America backpacks, they check every box on the list above, while also being fairly stylish and coming in a range of colours and the occasional print.
Here is how Herschel stacked up:
- A “regular” backpack – We were not wanting big backpacker’s bags
Check! While the full size Little America bag is on the bigger side for say, going to work, it’s very much a “regular backpack.”
Check! This was very important to us, and should be to you too. The last thing you want is to be travelling light, but the bag you chose is uncomfortable, or even hurts you!
The Herschel backpacks have comfort straps and even padding against your back. Comfort is a 10/10.
Check? This is the only item where the backpack is just average. It’s not heavy by any means, but it’s not an ultralight nylon or anything travel specific.
- Top loading with secure closures
Check! A top loading backpack was something that I wanted because you can fit more items into it.
They are boxier and don’t have to be shaped to accommodate a zipper around the front.
They are also more secure because there is no free hanging zipper inviting pick pockets into your bag.
I am reasonably confident about the security of these particular bags because the top cinches tight with the drawstring, and then the flap closes over AND secures tightly with magnetic straps.
You can also stuff the top with clothes, in case sticky fingers do make it in before you notice.
- Efficient with space
Check! Thanks to both the boxy shape and the no frills interior, The Little America is just a wide open space, waiting for your travel gear!
It wasn’t on the list, but these backpacks also have a padded laptop sleeve inside, which is quite handy for a tablet.
What We Purchased
I just realized that I didn’t say it specifically, but yes, we bought Herschel backpacks.
They are on the pricier side for a “regular” backpack at about $110 for the full size, and $100 for mid-volume (slightly more for limited edition colours and prints.)
We got a full sized pack for Jason and a mid volume for me. If I could change one thing, it would be to buy two full sized backpacks and skip the mid size.
I thought the larger size would just be too big for me, but the outside size difference seems negligible now, compared to how much more we can fit in it.
(I may have also been swayed by the polka dot print, but you live and learn!)
Our Herschel backpacks have been very good to us! We have had them for 6 years (since before we were parents!) and they have seen us through all kinds of trips.
They honestly look brand new still, it’s crazy! (Especially considering I ran them through our airbnb dishwasher when we had a bed bug scare!)
I have since found another Herschel backpack in a discontinued “Dawson” style that is made from cotton.
It has the same general style as the Little America backpacks but with two pockets on the front and only one pullover buckle.
We brought it on our last trip instead of the mid volume Little America, and I have to say I love it!
It’s just a lightweight canvas backpack with a roomy interior. It’s so light and thin that you could even roll it up and pack it inside another bag.
To sum it up, I’m very glad we bought these backpacks, even if it wasn’t very original.
I think they have been perfect for our purposes and we use them a lot in regular life too.
They are a little pricey, but considering that we have used the full size about 100 times and will continue to do so, they are worth the investment.
I would, however, skip the mid-volume.
The good news for sustainability and your budget, is that you can quite often find used Herschel backpacks on Facebook marketplace or other buy and sell sites! So if you don’t care about brand new, set up an alert and see if you can get a deal.
Choosing a Carry On Suitcase
When it was just myself and Jason, we only brought the two backpacks and a small crossbody bag (for a day bag.) Then along came our daughter and we had to bulk up a bit!
I will confess that at first I thought checked bags were our life now, but we have improvised a lot and gotten back to a very manageable carry on only routine.
Now we do usually bring one rolling carry on suitcase along with the two backpacks.
The standard carry on size for most airlines is within 22” x 14” x 9” (56 cm x 36 cm x 23 cm) with the exception of Ryanair, who doesn’t include a suitcase in the base fare at all, only a personal item.
A suitcase that small can be hard to find!
I wasn’t able to find anything good on Amazon to link for you, but I often see a good selection of luggage at Winners/Marshalls (similar to TJ Maxx in the US.)
When choosing a carry on suitcase, I suggest choosing the smallest, hard shell, 4-wheeled suitcase that you can find (or at least within the dimensions above.)
If you can find a suitcase that is even a little smaller than the standard size, I think that would be a good idea, since the requirements always seem to get smaller.
Having four wheels is absolutely imperative! Once you’ve had luggage with four, you can never go back. They are just so much easier to manoeuvre around corners and over bumps, and they can even be pushed upright.
Spend the money and get four wheels!
Carry On vs. Personal Item
The standard carry on size for most airlines is within 22” x 14” x 9” (56 cm x 36 cm x 23 cm) with the exception of Ryanair, who doesn’t include a suitcase in the base fare at all, only a personal item.
Most airlines will allow you to bring one personal item in addition to your carry on bag. So what does that mean?
Can a backpack be a personal item?
Yes! If it’s small enough.
Personal item restrictions are not nearly as standardized as carry on bags.
Here is the range of dimensions amongst the different airlines:
- Height: 11.8″ to 18.5″ (30 cm to 47 cm) Most airlines go with 16″
- Width: 9.8″ to 15″ (25 cm to 38 cm) Most airlines are between 10″ – 12″
- Depth: 4″ to 9″ (10 cm to 22.8 cm) Most airlines say 6″
- Weight: Most airlines do not specify, the few that do say 11 pounds (5 kg.) (One has a 22lb limit, but I’m assuming that’s an outlier)
You can see that those dimensions vary wildly. The good news is that none of the carriers require the smallest dimensions in every category.
For example, Ryan Air is notoriously strict and their size is 15.7″ x 9.8″ x 7.9″ (40 cm x 25 cm x 20 cm.)
So while they are on the small side for width, they are average for height, and offer generous depth.
The only semi-standard size across the airlines is 16″ x 12″ x 6″ (40 cm x 30 cm x 15 cm) which is the max size listed for several different providers.
Aeroflot uses a different system entirely and says that all of the dimensions of your bag added together must be 31.5″ (80 cm) or less.
I actually think this is the best system and a good guide for us, since everything varies so much.
When I averaged the total dimensions of personal items across 20 airlines, I got 35″ (90 cm.)
Since the most common size (16″ x 12″ x 6″ – 40 cm x 30 cm x 15 cm) adds up to 34″ (86 cm) you should be reasonably safe using that as a guide.
To be sure it’s allowed, I would probably stick with the lower limit of 31.5″ (80 cm) since a few airlines use dimensions that add up to that.
Really though, I think it all comes down to being reasonable. Bring a purse, laptop bag, or small backpack that looks like something you would carry around with you.
If you aren’t pushing the limits with a big heavy bag, they are very unlikely to check it. Usually it’s a glance.
The bag that I have brought in the past is 13″ x 14″ x 4″ (33 cm x 35.5 cm x 10 cm) and it is a pretty roomy tote.
Some airlines have cut the amount of cabin baggage permitted on their lowest fare tier. To get the absolute cheapest flights, you could consider travelling with only a personal item.
Best Travel Packing Cubes
What Are Packing Cubes?
Packing cubes are a pretty common travel accessory these days, but just in case you don’t know, packing cubes are zippered nylon pouches in a blocky shape.
Think Ikea flat-packing, but for your clothes and accessories.
They keep your bag organized, but more importantly, they enable you to cram more things into a smaller space.
Most are actually rectangular, and not cubes.
Compression Packing Cubes
Contrary to what you may think (and what I thought) not all packing cubes are compressive cubes.
Sure they all do a little bit of compressing because you are manually stuffing things in, and then closing the zipper. There isn’t really anywhere for the clothes to expand.
However when you are looking to purchase packing cubes, true compression cubes will usually have a second closure so that you can zip up your items, compress, and then zip out that air.
On a lot of budget flights, your hand luggage weight limit is now 7kg (15.4 lbs.)
Which means that weight is far more important than space savings.
Obviously we want to be efficient, but compression packing cubes aren’t necessary.
Not only do the cubes themselves often weigh more because they have the second zipper, but you may not be able to take more clothes due to weight anyways, even if you could fit them.
What Style of Packing Cubes Are the Best?
If you are able to get the eBags, I prefer them slightly because I find the nylon just a tiny bit more flexible.
Other than that they are basically identical, and for some reason eBags are nearly impossible to get in Canada, which is why we have both.
Choose One Size
Most packing cubes come in sets of 3 – 4 in a mix of sizes. There are a couple reasons that I don’t like these.
(I have previously purchased a set of mixed size Sharper Image packing cubes, so I did actually try them.)
- One of the sizes is always too large if you are packing carry on only.
- Backpacks and suitcases aren’t a standard size, so the mix doesn’t always work well together.
There are a few reasons that the slim packing cubes are the best.
- They easily fit 3 across into almost any bag – The Herschel Little America backpack, other “large” backpacks, small carry on suitcases, or even a duffle bag
- The slimmer the packing cube the easier it is to compress and zip as you go
- Having a single small size makes everything fit predictably together
- They are one of the only sizes that are sold separately or in packs of 3 – 4
We have travelled extensively with the slim packing cubes, but I do want to try something a bit lighter.
While the eBags and Amazon Basics aren’t heavy by any means, they come in at 75 grams a piece, where the Eagle Creek tube cube weighs just 14 grams.
That may sound like splitting hairs, but considering that a t-shirt weighs only 130 – 180 grams, we could pack an extra item with the weight saved.
The Eagle Creek tube is a little smaller, but all nylon instead of having the mesh panels, so it could keep more air out. Unfortunately, they are also more expensive at about $16 – $18 each, and not available in multi packs.
I have bought the Eagle Creek medium sized cubes (because I found them on clearance) but I didn’t like the shape as much as the slim cubes.
They were incredibly light though. So I may have to try the tube cubes eventually!
How to Pack Clothes
Using the slim packing cubes is pretty easy. I know some people don’t stuff them out of fear that the zippers will break but:
- We’ve never broken a zipper or popped through the mesh,
- Stuffing is kind of the point.
To fit into the cube everything gets rolled tightly.
- Unzip the packing cube all the way
- Tuck the first roll snugly into the bottom
- Zip up just a tiny bit to hold it in place
- Pack in the next roll
- Zip up a little more and just keep repeating the process until the cube is full.
Afterwards, thanks to the double zippers, you can open just in the spots where there are gaps.
That way you can tuck socks, underwear, and other small items into the open spaces.
Because we only pack two cubes each, I don’t feel the need to designate what items go in each cube. It’s easy enough to see through the mesh and know where something is.
I don’t have a lot of hard and fast clothing rules, but one is no jeans!
They just do not pack well. There would be no point in putting them into the slim cubes because they would nearly fill the whole thing, and they wouldn’t compress beyond being rolled.
If you must bring jeans, folding them as flat as possible and place them loose in the bottom of the backpack. You could also tuck them down a side. Even packing them in the laptop sleeve would be a better use of space.
Other Packing Accessories
One more thing that we like to bring is a packable duffel bag.
It’s a just-in-case bag that we can either check if we buy something on our trip, or we can use if one of our other bags was to break.
It can also double as a reusable grocery bag, just make sure to keep it folded away until after you’ve paid!
(I doubt most stores will want a couple of foreigners suspiciously dragging a tote through their merchandise.)
We also have a handy little neoprene pouch that holds our passports, and a bit of cash and cards.
I haven’t been able to find another thing like it! If you can find something like this, then buy it! Even better if it’s in a bright colour so it’s easier to find in the bottom of your backpack.
The only other luggage type accessory we have is a bag bungee.
It works to bungee a purse or another small bag to the top of a rolling suitcase. Truth be told I only just bought it, but I can’t wait to use it! I am forever looping a bag over our suitcase handle and then having it flop off and pull the suitcase over.
How To Pack Light – Our Packing Hacks Revealed!
Okay, now you know what gear we use (two backpacks and one rolling suitcase.)
I actually think we might be able to get away with just two backpacks next time, because for our last trip our daughter still had a feeding tube. That entails bringing two cans of formula, a feeding pump, charger, and bags. (Which is actually quite a lot!)
This is how we used our carry on luggage combo the last time we went for a two week trip with the three of us:
- One of us wears a backpack and pulls the small rolling suitcase
- The other wears a backpack and pushes the stroller
This leaves both of us with one hand free for something else, which is often needed at the airport, because we will buy snacks and have those in a bag.
We also can hold our daughter’s hand if she doesn’t want to ride (which is actually nice sometimes because then the stroller becomes a luggage cart.)
At this age we don’t expect our daughter to carry anything because she won’t. (Or at least not reliably)
Technically we CAN bring one more carry-on and call the small backpack (the lightweight canvas one from Herschel) a personal item, but it works better for us to pair down.
Now for a rundown of how everything is packed into the bags.
Sharing is Caring
This is probably one of my best tips, and the one that allows us to pack very light.
When we travel we don’t have his and hers bags. We have only our bags. We bring one clear liquids bag for all of us, which goes in the top of the easiest to access bag for quick in/out at security (usually the smaller backpack.)
The backpacks are for items that might need to come out, regardless of who they belong to.
The nice thing about travelling with a small child is that one backpack can stay under the seat in front of her because she doesn’t use the legroom.
Putting It All Together
Typically we pack all of our clothes into the cubes, with the exception of men’s pants.
Usually that ends up being:
- Two cubes for me
- Two for the little
- One for Jason, and
- One mixed (for changes on the flight.)
The first cube is the change of clothes for each of us for the flight. It goes into the lighter backpack with the rest of the items that we want quick access to (that is the bag we keep under the seat.)
The lighter backpack contains:
- One change of clothes for each parent and two for the kiddo (one of which is jammies.)
- Any in flight entertainment we brought
- Charging cables and headphones
We do try to keep these items in just one bag, so that we don’t have to take both backpacks out of the overhead compartment.
Jason’s pants always get folded flat and placed in the bottom of the larger backpack. They just don’t fit nicely into the cubes. (If you are packing lightweight nylon or athletic fabrics then they would.)
Two cubes slide in lengthwise, one of mine and one of our daughter’s, in the larger backpack, and we add a shirt to go with the folded pants.
The backpack can fit three cubes, so there is room still on one side for our other items, such as: medication, hair brush, sandals, etc.
The other 3 cubes go in the rolling case and leave room on one side for the rest of our list.
I really do think we could get away with less next time, but we will find out!
With this system we can first use items out of the smaller backpack, in a pinch we each have more clothes in the second backpack, and hopefully we never need to retrieve the suitcase!
This also means that we can gate check the rolling suitcase if there isn’t room in the overhead bins, or if they ask for volunteers at the gate.
Easy Ways to Minimize Your Packing List
I mentioned earlier that I am an over packer at heart, so I understand the struggle of wanting to pack for every possible scenario and weather situation.
The most important thing to realize is that you will always pack to the size of your bag!
If you have a medium sized suitcase, you will fill it.
If you have a backpack, you will fill it.
If you bring only a purse, you WILL fill it.
If it helps, decide what to pack using a smaller bag and then transfer the items to a bigger one so that you still have some room.
(I’m lazy, and we don’t really buy souvenirs, so I don’t bother, but it does work.)
Re-Evaluate Heavy Items
I know this seems to go without saying, and you aren’t going to be packing an anvil, but take careful stock of just how much each item weighs.
Bring your lightest shoes, lightest shirts, lightest everything!
It might sound extreme, but the game of packing light is won by every single gram that you can shave off your kit.
Investing in a kitchen scale is a good idea. It helps put every item in perspective: “Is it worth bringing this item if it adds a pound?”
Considering you only have 15 to work with, maybe not.
If you are trying to decide between two items, weigh them!
Be realistic about how much of your routine you will even maintain on vacation.
It’s not the same as going to work every morning, and you probably don’t need all the things that you use at home.
Minimizing Beauty Products for Travel
Simplify your routine by eliminating straightening and curling tools if you can.
I have packed my straightener on a lot of trips thinking that I would style my hair for a night out and I never did.
Try out some air dry products and heatless curls.
Don’t pack a hairdryer as most hotels and even most private apartments will have one.
Pair down your makeup to bring only what you actually need.
Find a contour, highlight, blush, or bronzer (depending on what you use) that can double as an eyeshadow or vice versa.
Consider using only concealer instead of foundation.
Skip eyeliner, and bring a balm or moisturizing gloss instead of lipstick. (A balm is better because everyone can use it.)
Your Guide To Extreme Minimalist Liquids
I am OBSESSED with cutting back on liquids. They are heavy, usually oversized for a short trip, and have to fit into a very small bag.
Since we bring only one liquids bag for the three of us, you can bet I’m making every item count!
Consider substitutions for every liquid:
Tooth tablets instead of paste.
These ones are whitening, and come in a tin that you can reuse!
For kids, you may still have to bring a travel sized toothpaste if they are either picky about the flavour, or they are still at the age where they swallow a lot of it.
Bring shampoo and conditioner bars.
You can even cut them smaller because there’s no need to bring a lot.
Save skin care samples and minis for vacation.
This is two fold. Whenever I get skin care samples with an order, I save any serums and moisturizers that might be useful for an upcoming trip.
If I do use the product right away, I also save those handy dandy little containers!
This takes some planning ahead, but not only is it more sustainable than buying travel containers, I have found the sizes to be way smaller and more useful than the empty travel sets that you can buy.
Transfer foundation to a tiny container.
This goes with the tip above. For some reason we are all used to bringing smaller shampoos and conditioners but most people don’t portion out their makeup.
It’s a big deal for the liquids bag, especially because foundation bottles often waste a lot of space already – trying to look bigger than they are – and they are often glass, so both heavy and breakable.
I put my foundation into a small eye cream container. It’s easy enough to do. You probably have a good idea of how much you use per day when you do your makeup.
You could also bring a powder foundation instead, but those usually come in a big compact, so I feel like a tiny liquid is better for space.
I have skipped foundation entirely before and brought only concealer, but that’s a more expensive route.
Another tip that takes a little planning:
Buy the holiday sets of mascara minis at Christmas.
They are so handy! I actually use these all year long, and I love the space saving in my makeup bag.
I think you can actually get away with leaving mascara outside of the liquids bag. I have heard that from a number of people, but I prefer to be safe.
If the holidays are far away, Clinique, Clarins, Estee Lauder, and most other big brands, often promo mini gift sets with purchase that include a mascara (and other goodies perfect for travel!)
Not suggesting you should buy $65 of makeup to get a few trial sized items, but if you regularly purchase skin care products or makeup, keep it in the back of your mind.
I usually order online directly from the brand now to get better samples than I would if purchasing from Sephora.
If you plan ahead, you can stock up on skin care when you see a particularly useful offer!
Bring cornstarch instead of dry shampoo.
You can pack this into a little container or a reusable baggie.
I do usually label it because it’s a white powder, but security has never even looked twice at it.
You probably shouldn’t pack traditional dry shampoo regardless, because you aren’t supposed to pack aerosols.
It actually works quite well. It is a bit messier. I rub it between my hands and then run it through my roots.
I have pretty light hair so I don’t find the white cast bad. Brunettes can mix it with cocoa so it’s a little darker.
Baby wipes are my go-to for removing makeup, so I skip cleansers and toners.
If you’ve tried wipes and didn’t like them, try again with the Pampers sensitive wipes! (In the white and turquoise package.)
The sensitive wipes have aloe in them, so makeup comes right off, and they won’t dry out your skin.
(I have tried Huggies and other brands of sensitive wipes, but they aren’t as good at removing makeup.)
Bonus – you should really bring baby wipes anyways, because they are useful in a lot of situations.
If I’m going on a longer trip, I might bring a mini-scrub if I have one. My favourite is the Clinique 7-day scrub, and it often comes as a sample when I order from them.
Don’t forget to bring a travel sized deodorant!
I know I offered some interesting dry alternatives to other products, but I think we all know that alternative deodorant is pretty hit or miss! (Mostly miss.)
The good news is that stick deodorant is not considered a liquid.
The statement “liquids, creams, or gels” is a little confusing, but direct from the TSA: It is not a liquid.
Still heavy though, so do get travel sized.
Bring a stick SPF instead of liquid.
I LOVE the Attitude face stick.
I was worried that it would break me out, but it didn’t, and it is super moisturizing.
It’s also a mineral sunscreen, and reef safe!
I am very fair and have used it in Mexico, so I can say with certainty that it works!
I only bring this stick, and then buy a body sunscreen at our destination.
(With the exception of resorts, where they will charge you $30 USD for a bottle!!)
When we ran out of sunscreen once, I even used the stick for our shoulders and chests.
(If you were wondering, Yes, it was at a resort with $30 sunscreen.)
The best part is, it lasts forever!
Bring multi-use liquids.
Whenever possible, bring a liquid that you can use for a number of things. One of my favourites is the La Roche Posay Cicaplast B5 Balm.
I originally bought this on a recommendation for my face, and it is an amazing moisturizer, but you can also use it on your lips.
It is fragrance free and contains anti-bacterial ingredients, so you can use it on cuts, diaper rashes, burns, and insect bites!
It’s also not too expensive at $16 to use on your hands or body in a pinch. It’s a wonder cream. It comes in a 40 ml container, so it’s packable already.
Swap any liquid medications (like kid’s Advil and Tylenol) for the tablet counterpart.
I always bring these two because it would just be too disastrous to have our kiddo spike a fever in the middle of the night and either not know where to go, or not be able to get it.
Better safe than sorry!
I used to bring liquid Benadryl too, but our kiddo is big enough now for the tablets.
Gravol is another good kid’s med to pack, and it is available in tablets.
Pepto Bismol tabs are a good idea too, while we’re emptying the medicine cabinet.
If you need to bring liquid tylenol for kids, bring the concentrated drops for babies.
The concentrated Tylenol contains 80mg of medicine per 1 ml, and the regular kids formula is 160mg per 5 mls.
This means that you can still give it to bigger kids, just adjust the dose.
For example, if it says 7.5 ml regular tylenol for your child, then that would be 3 mls of the concentrated product. (7.5 mls regular Tylenol = 240mg of medicine. 240mg/80(per ml) = 3mls)
Obviously don’t do this if you aren’t comfortable doing the converting, and double check the concentrations on the packages in front of you.
This allows you to pack a 24ml bottle instead of a 100ml bottle.
Wondering about your Advil and Tylenol liqui-gels? TSA says: Not a liquid.
Contrary to popular belief, they also do not need to stay in their original containers, so pack these in whatever little package works for you. I have a small ibuprofen bottle that I add some acetaminophen to.
Buy a travel size contact lens solution, or fill a sterile travel container.
I have tried to refill my travel-sized contact lens solution before, but they are intentionally made so that you can’t remove the lid.
(I assume so that you will buy another one.)
So yes, I have poured contact lens solution into a clean glass container and then sat for quite a while trying to suck up the solution into the empty bottle.
I don’t know why I never thought to sterilize and fill a travel shampoo container, but that would be waaaay easier and work just as well. Definitely my plan for next time!
Make your own laundry soap sheets.
I always hated paying ridiculous amounts of money for tiny travel packs of laundry soap, so I switched to bringing pods, which are just too much soap for a sink of clothes!
I didn’t want to hassle with powdered detergents, since our washing machine at home couldn’t use the leftovers, so I made my own solution!
I made DIY travel laundry soap sheets with used dryer sheets, but any scraps of cloth would work.
- Fill a plate with liquid laundry detergent and soak your strips of cloth.
- Leave them to dry for about 24 hours on a baking sheet or parchment.
I stored mine in a plastic baggie, but since we’re trying to be sustainable here, they could really go in any lightweight container, or be wrapped in paper.
- To use, simply toss one in the sink with your clothes and water.
It actually worked so good!
Proud would be an understatement.
I originally used half of a sheet but that was more soap than I needed, so this time I cut them smaller. I could probably half this size again because they are so concentrated.
After it has been used, you can also dry the sheet, pack it up, and re-fill it next time.
The space savings are huge compared to pods or powdered detergent!
If there are any other liquids/gels that you are not sure about, you can actually ask TSA on the AskTSA Facebook page, or @AskTSA on Twitter and they will usually get back to you within a day!
Plan to Purchase Consumables
Not liquid specific, but there are some things that simply don’t need to be packed because they can be purchased in country.
If you are packing the liquid form, bring only one travel toothpaste and shampoo, you can always buy more.
Pack only enough diapers for the journey plus two or three, pack only a day or two of snacks for the kids, etc.
If there is anything that you can’t decide if you will need, ask yourself, “can I buy this if I need it?” and if the answer is yes, and the item is inexpensive, don’t bring it.
Bring Your Printed Itinerary
The list includes proof of onward travel, but I also like to bring a printed booking confirmation for our first accommodation (first page is fine, just name, address, and ideally a picture so you know what to look for.)
I also print directions if we are planning on walking from the airport, or taking a train from the airport and then walking.
Not only can you be asked for these things at customs, but phones die and public wifi can be unreliable, especially in the arrivals hall.
I just feel so much better when I physically have these items, and they often do come in handy.
Choosing Your Capsule Wardrobe
At the end of the day, only you know what items you like to wear the most, and what serves the best purpose for your activities, so put your own twist on it!
Here are some of my recommendations, just based on personal experience:
Invest in a packable puffer jacket.
Even if you are going somewhere warm, if you get a pack jacket that can fold into a tiny pouch, it is always an asset.
I will at least need a jacket on the plane if nowhere else. In a pinch, it will work in the rain too.
(Of course if you’re going somewhere where you need a rain coat, then bring one.)
Buy a pair of super light, knit sneakers with a foam sole.
Luckily they aren’t hard to find and most brands have a compressable knit sneaker in their collection.
For myself, I love the Skechers ultra flex. I’m bummed that the cool all white style that I have is no longer available, but black is fine too.
They are machine washable, have a memory foam insole, and weigh under 200 grams! (That’s less than two t-shirts!)
The men’s version has all the same features and weighs in at only 250 grams (still less than two t-shirts.)
I just wish they would update the sizes and colours. I don’t know if they are working on a new version or what, but no more black with black soles please Skechers!
(This is the link to the women’s white version on Amazon, but they only appear to have some wide sizes left. They are so cute. I even had several gen Z’s compliment them. Bring them back!)
The Nike Flyknit collection and the Adidas swift runs (both stylish sneakers available in Men’s and Women’s) are also super lightweight, although not quite as comfortable as the Skechers, and usually more expensive.
A good pair of light sneakers is a must-have!
Not only are they very packable, but they can be dressed up or down, take you all over the city, or even on a hike.
The only thing they don’t really do is rain, but they dry quickly too!
Make an effort to buy a stylish pair, because there is no room in our list for dressy shoes.
Be thoughtful about other shoes.
This is where your handy dandy kitchen scale will be helpful! Shoes can be surprisingly heavy! So before you commit to a pair of dino stompers, consider their weight.
Fall and winter can be hard, because you can’t really get away with only sneakers and sandals.
Try to pick water resistant boots that are short and light.
Spring and summer we each bring sneakers and a pair of sandals.
For women, If you have the room you could bring a pair of light flats, but you are probably better off bringing a pair of sandals that can be dressed up.
Ipanema are my go-to sandals for travel. They aren’t the very lightest, but they are comfortable jelly sandals and every year they make stylish designs that I like.
If you’re just going to go with flip flops, pick a neutral earth tone like taupe or bronze.
Those colours go with everything and look a little more expensive.
For men, a pair of clean looking slides or leather look flip flops would be a good choice to pair well with dressier outfits.
Shoes are one of the hardest things for me to pair down, because I would really like to bring rubber boots, cute summer heels, dressy flats, moto boots, and sandals.
I try to limit myself to two pairs.
Choose layers over sweaters.
I get that sweaters are smart and comfy, but they are hard to compress and just one item.
You will get more use out of a t-shirt with a flannel (or light shacket,) and if you are still cold, pack on more layers like a tank top, or your puffer jacket.
All of these items can be worn individually in many different combinations, and pack down small.
For women, pack mostly separates and avoid the urge to bring dresses. One summer dress would be fine, but they aren’t as versatile or practical as separates.
It can be easy to get carried away with “outfits” but try not to think of your pack wardrobe as being outfits, but rather items that all work well together.
Sure there can be an outlier or two, but for the most part, neutral neutral neutral. Don’t bring anything that only works with one other item.
I like clothes with personality and things that are different, but you know what I wear a lot?
My husband’s t-shirts.
I should just buy my own t-shirts, and stop pretending I want to wear a blouse and jeans.
Same goes for your travel wardrobe.
Instead of packing like every day will be a cruise on the Thames, pack like every day is a casual hike and you will go out to eat once.
This a much more realistic vision of how your clothes will be used.
Choose quick dry fabrics, and wrinkle resistant pieces.
If you’re doing laundry in the sink (you will be) not only is it hard to wring out the water like a washing machine, but everything will be hanging to dry.
In the cold or humidity, it will take a looong time.
Try to choose lightweight breathable fabrics that will dry quickly.
I think it goes without saying that you should choose things that don’t hold wrinkles too much, but in case it slipped your mind, I thought I would mention it.
I am not too picky about a few wrinkles honestly, it doesn’t matter too much to me if something is slightly wrinkly.
Pack an empty spray bottle to spritz wrinkled clothes with water, and a lot of the wrinkles will come right out.
You can also hang clothes in the bathroom while you shower and let the steam do the work.
Even if you can’t think of a situation where you would need swimmies, just bring them.
Also for men, it’s easier to substitute something else if the trunks are left behind.
For women, you may not be able to pass them off as clothes, but a swimsuit doesn’t take much room either.
If you wanted to, you could just bring a sports bra that looks the part, and a pair of quick drying run shorts.
I can’t tell you the number of times that Jason or I didn’t bring a swimsuit and then found out about a pool, or hot tub, or lake, or hot spring, etc.
It’s annoying to waste a travel afternoon hunting for swim wear.
I am honest with myself now, and I leave accessories at home for the most part. I don’t wear them in regular life so as much as they would spice up my outfits, I’m not going to suddenly become an accessory person during a 10 day vacation.
Bring whatever regular accessories you wear, and leave the experimental ones at home.
Speaking of accessories, don’t forget hair ties and bobby pins!
Here is a basic packing list of essential supplies and personal care items. The list of women’s and men’s travel clothing essentials are separated right after:
Basic Packing List (For Everyone)
- ID – Passport and Driver’s License
- Credit/Debit cards
- Small amount of cash
- Any other documentation required for your trip: We always bring at minimum, proof of onward travel or return flights.
- Wallet, purse, or waist pouch (fanny pack)
- Reusable bag for groceries (or packable tote)
- A few bags for trash or to separate dirty items
- Every day accessories – Watch, fitbit, hair elastics, masks, sunglasses, etc.
- Water bottle (with filter is handy)
- Baby wipes
- Laundry soap sheets (DIY)
Personal Care Items
- Toothpaste (or tablets)
- Skin care – Moisturizer, serum, treatment, cleanser, etc.
- Brush or comb
- Cornstarch (in place of dry shampoo)
- Styling products and/or leave-in treatments
- One or two bandaids
- Mini electric shaver or disposable razor (Yes, they’re allowed!)
- Nail clippers (also allowed)
- Tweezers (allowed)
- Over the counter painkillers
- Contact Lens Wearers:
- Contact lense solution (travel size)
- Lens case
- One pair of spare lenses
- Backup glasses
- Eyedrops (if needed)
- Laptop or tablet (if applicable)
- Charging cables
- Power converter
All seasons: Knit sneakers with foam sole
- Add sandals
- Add lightweight waterproof boots (short)
Shoulder season: Decide based on averages for the time. If unsure, err on the side of boots because sandals are much easier and cheaper to buy, and a minimal amount to add to your pack.
Can you tell I’ve lost or wrecked contact lenses before and not had backups? No bueno!
I was very surprised that nail clippers, tweezers, and razors are all allowed! I’m not sure where I’ve been, but I legitimately thought they weren’t.
I mentioned AskTSA in the minimizing liquids section, but you really can ask them about anything at all.
You can even take a picture and ask about your specific item! Crazy!
Wear Your Bulkier Items
This is an important tip, especially when it comes to footwear.
Don’t make the mistake of planning out your packing and accidentally bringing less versatile items on your body.
Your body is your free second carry-on.
Wear your bulkier pair of shoes, wear your bigger jacket, wear a t-shirt under a sweatshirt with your least compact pants.
Basically, try to choose an outfit that uses as many items at once as possible.
You will be glad for the layers in the airport and then on the much cooler flight.
Typically if we are bringing boots, they are worn to the airport because there just isn’t room to pack three pairs of boots, and you can always kick them off and be in sock feet on the actual flight.
A bonus to bringing a stroller if you have kids, is that you can toss coats and extra items on it at the airport.
Minimalist Travel Wardrobe For Men
Everything from the basic packing list, plus:
1 x Comfortable lightweight pants – Like these
1 x Lightweight athletic shorts \ one pair should double 1 x Nicer shorts / as swim trunks
3 x T-shirts
1 x Flannel (or warm button down – ideally something that can be dressed up)
Packable puffer jacket
Rain shell (If necessary for location)
2-3 pairs of socks
2-3 pairs of underwear
*cough* Rubbers *cough*
2 x Comfortable pants
1 x Thermal base bottoms
1 x Long sleeve T-shirt (still 2 x short sleeve)
Lightweight waterproof boots
Thermal base top
The Men’s packing list includes two pairs of shorts and only one pant.
This is because all the men I’ve spoken to prefer to wear shorts even into cooler weather. Since they pack much lighter, win-win!
There is no other reason, so if you prefer pants, pack those. (Still bring shorts for swimming.)
I did not include pj’s as most men don’t wear them. If you are hosteling and need them, and one of your shorts won’t suffice, remember to add a pair!
If you are planning to do serious hiking, you may want to consider hiking shoes, but if you can get away with the sneakers, do!
Minimalist Travel Wardrobe For Women
Everything from the basic packing list, plus:
(check the minimalist liquids guide to see where you can cut back)
Packable puffer jacket
Rain shell (If necessary for location)
2 x Leggings
1 x Cotton shorts (try to go comfy and stylish)
1 x Athletic shorts
2 – 3 x T-shirts (or other light comfortable top that goes with any bottoms)
2 x Tank tops
1 x light jacket/coat/shacket/flannel (ideally something that can be dressed up)
1 x Sleep romper
2 – 3 x Underwear
2 – 3 pairs of socks
1 x Sports bra
1 x Real Bra
1 x Bralette
1 x Swimsuit (Ideally a one piece that can be worn with shorts like a bodysuit, or a bikini that could double as bra and underwear. Try to make everything dual purpose!)
1 x Dressy joggers
1 x Jeggings (Keep them light! Can layer leggings under jeggings when it’s very cold)
1 – 2 x Long sleeve T-shirt (still 1 – 2 x short sleeve)
Lightweight waterproof boots
For this packing list, I assumed we are travelling in the summer or a warmer part of the shoulder seasons.
For a true fall or early spring list, I would swap the cotton shorts for some joggers that can be dressed up.
Lots of this is personal preference, so switch up items for things that you will use more.
(For the winter additions to the packing list, when I say jeggings, I mean zip fly jeans with a high stretch component. Not leggings printed like denim.)
It’s not strictly necessary, but I also like to cram in my Nike half zip. It’s flattering, packs small, and it’s warm.
For pj’s I only ever pack my raggedy old Jessica Simpson sleep romper. It’s a super lightweight quick drying fabric that packs into nothing.
I have never found anything else like it, so I keep wearing it even though it’s pretty ugly and getting a little sheer.
It has convinced me that a sleep romper is the way to go!
Here’s something lightweight that could work, albeit a little skimpy if you’re with the kids.
If you can’t find anything super duper light, you could also level up and find a regular romper that is comfy enough to sleep in. Two for one!
Socks & Undies
I don’t wear socks EVER, so I bring only one pair just in case.
Regular bras take up more space, so that’s why I only pack one. I like having a cotton bralette to wear when I don’t feel like putting on a real bra. I’m pretty busty, so wearing nothing isn’t that comfortable either.
If I have room I will bring a swim coverup.
I promise I’m not obsessed with rompers, but I have a funky floral one with flowy sleeves from Forever 21 (RIP Canadian Forever 21.)
It’s nice to take me to and from the beach with my swimsuit on, but still looks like regular clothes. This is a similar fit.
A sun dress would do just as well. I love maxi dresses, but they are a LOT of fabric, so think twice before you pack one.
Packing With Kids
If you read through the list of luggage that we bring and how we pack it, you will have noticed that our kiddo doesn’t get her own case.
If you want to pack light, no cutesy kid’s ride-on suitcases.
They look fun, but they are only practical for a short time at the airport and that’s about it.
For kids, I don’t have a specific packing list because younger kids will need a lot more clothes than older kids. Fortunately you can fit more when they are smaller, so it works out. I would pack to fill two cubes.
For little boys:
Buy some gender neutral pants from the girl’s section, or light joggers, in place of jeans and other pants.
Zara kids is an excellent place to buy needlessly gendered “girls” clothes that are packable. There is no reason that boys can’t have the lightweight fabrics that girls do. It’s infuriating.
Bring a stroller.
Just do. Until the kids no longer fit in it, just bring it. When you have a good travel stroller it really isn’t a pain to bring, and it’s free! We did try a trip without it recently, and while we may not have used it a lot, we did miss it, and at those times it is SUUUCH a pain.
Leave some room in your quick access bag for lots of snacks!
Just make sure they are allowed through customs at your destination if you have leftovers (or leave them on the plane.)
Cookies, crackers, muffins, croissants, and granola bars should all be fine. You can also bring dry baby cereal and make the kids oatmeal by buying drinkable yogurt after security.
Anti-Theft Bags and Your Security
Any time that you start researching a destination you will probably read warnings about petty theft.
Which “bags” the question (Dad joke): What do you need to keep yourself safe?
Anti Theft (Anti Slash) Gear
Anti theft backpacks and bags are usually made out of slash proof material and have locking zippers.
The straps are also cut proof, and on the inside of the bag there are several hidden pockets.
The idea being that if someone’s hand makes it into your bag they won’t grab anything important.
Pacsafe is a very popular anti theft backpack brand.
Anti theft cross body bags are the same idea. Cut proof and difficult to get into.
You can also purchase zipper locks and suitcase locks. If you aren’t checking your bag you don’t have to worry about non-TSA locks getting cut off, but if you want to use locks and check your bag, make sure it is an approved lock.
You’ve probably read that you should bring a money belt or money clip to keep your money and ID safe.
But how much of this stuff is necessary?
The Best Things in Life (and Pickpocket Prevention) Are Free
You do NOT need any special gear to keep your valuables safe. The best way to prevent theft is to always be aware of your surroundings.
Pickpocketing is petty crime that usually occurs in high tourist areas, crowded public spaces, and on public transit.
Twice I have caught someone with their hand reaching into my bag, and both times it was on an escalator!
Once at Gatwick airport arrivals, and once coming up from a metro in Porto.
Both times, I caught the person before they even got the zipper open.
Unfortunately you can’t take a break on vigilance. Had I been truly vigilant they wouldn’t have seen the opportunity to begin with, so don’t take this as me being cocky.
I am just saying that it does definitely happen, and you have to stay aware.
How to Keep Yourself Safe From Theft
I like the Herschel top loading backpacks with the flapover because I am reasonably confident that if I have clothes on top, cinch it closed tight, and secure the flap, that nobody will be able to get to valuables.
That is, unless they have a long time to work on it. (And we won’t be giving them that time.)
Don’t keep valuables in the outside pocket of your backpack, purse, or suitcase, EVER.
That’s where the thieves I encountered went both times.
Unlucky for them, I only keep hair ties in those pockets.
Similarly, don’t keep anything important in your pants pockets unless they are front pockets or cargo pockets, zippered, and you feel confident about monitoring them.
Minimize valuables full stop.
Don’t bring anything valuable that you don’t need. In my opinion, that includes wedding and engagement rings, but I get that most people feel differently.
Don’t keep all of your cards together.
Keep your driver’s license separate from your passport, keep your debit card separate from your credit card. That way you will still have money and a form of ID if someone gets into your bag.
Stand sideways on escalators
So that you can monitor who is behind you, and see anyone reaching for your bag. (Or just take it off. )
Hold your bag in front of you on transit
If you have to stand, try to do so with your back to a wall. If you can’t I usually wedge my bag between my feet so that I can still hang on and see it clearly.
You can also use the windows as a mirror to keep an eye on the people around you.
Don’t stand directly in front of anyone
Unless it’s unavoidable, like in a queue, when you should take your bag off and hold it in front (or stand sideways like on the escalator.)
Don’t stand right in front of someone in a crowd, and be aware if anyone slips in behind you.
If you are walking and someone seems too close, stop and let them go by.
Why Anti Theft Gear Isn’t the Answer
In my opinion, having an anti theft backpack just promotes a false sense of security.
I have seen people arguing that it’s good to have for peace of mind.
Nothing replaces common sense
Being at peace about your backpack being secure, is exactly when someone will get into it, or take it right off of you.
Backpacks with locking zippers are not impossible for thieves to open
Sure, they are more difficult, but you still can’t stand on a crowded metro for 30 minutes and ignore everything around you.
You still need to watch your pack carefully if you ever put it down, and you still need to carry it securely to prevent drive by snatchings.
They don’t prevent you from being robbed.
Isn’t that what we’re really afraid of?
If a crazy person with a boxcutter really wants your bag, they just might take it anyways.
I heard a very good point, which is that if someone has a knife and really wants your backpack, you would probably rather the bag be cut off than be held up by someone.
Antitheft bags are heavy.
A regular sized Pacsafe is nearly three times the weight of our go-to backpacks at 1.7 kg! (And that’s for a bag that won’t hold as much!)
Compare that to 680 grams of a regular backpack, and now I really don’t think it’s worth it.
Considering our ideal weight is within the 7 kg limit, I can’t imagine wasting 25% of our carry on limit, on the bag itself.
What about regular backpacks getting slashed?
I took to Reddit recently to ask if I was missing something.
I don’t know anybody who has had their bag slashed, or cut right off of them, but are there parts of the world that happens?
The answer is yes.. kind of.
I was able to find a few stories of people having their bags slashed and I can report that it is not in any specific part of the world.
London, Malaysia, Argentina, and China are the ones I remember, but basically, it could happen anywhere.
Of the thousands of travellers on Reddit, almost all of them reported that it had never happened to them OR any other traveller that they know.
For the handful of people I could find with a bag slashing story, only one had a bag slashed successfully while they had it on them.
That person was carrying a reusable grocery tote at the time, so naturally it caved to a box cutter, but the thief didn’t get anything of value.
For the other people, they all noticed at some point that there were slash marks on their bag, but the thief had not gotten through.
The only other person who reported having their bag successfully slashed, had it happen when they left their bag in the hotel room, so I’m not sure why the thieves slashed it at all.
The people who had their bags slashed unsuccessfully did not notice it when it was happening, and were carrying regular backpacks.
If you think about how many cuts it would take to get through the bottom of a backpack, it likely wouldn’t be quick.
It does make me think twice about my light cotton backpack, but even some thin cardboard in the bottom would probably prevent the already unlikely slash attack.
What Is At Risk?
Think about the absolute worst case scenario.
It’s not ideal, but after the initial panic, it’s more inconvenient than anything.
Let’s say you have your passport and all of your money stolen, you have no other ID, AND there is no embassy in the country you are in.
I promise, this has happened to people before you.
You would need to contact the nearest consulate or embassy to report your passport stolen, and ask for further instructions. In some cases they may issue special documentation so that you can at least board a flight back home.
In a country where there is an embassy, you can apply for a new passport at their office.
I know you will need to get your pictures taken, but ask them for further information about having the photos and application witnessed.
Before you leave (or even go do it now) snap a picture of your passport and email it to yourself.
You should also write down your debit and credit card numbers and keep them in a secure place at home, where a friend or family member can access them if you need them.
You may also be able to get money wired to you with just a picture of your ID, but it probably depends on how kind the agent is.
If you have no ID to collect money, ask a friend or family member to buy a prepaid Visa or Mastercard and provide you with the information.
Now you can at least buy food through a delivery service. You could also ask for gift cards to McDonalds or other places where you can just reload an app.
Someone at home could also book an AirBNB for you, which doesn’t physically need a card.
If you know someone that you trust in country, ask if you can PayPal them some money and they can withdraw it for you.
Of course planning ahead is always best!
So remember to split up your credit/debit cards and ID, and keep a digital copy of your passport picture page.
Never keep all of your payment methods and ID together. In the event that something does get lost or stolen, hopefully you will still have a payment card.
All this to say, that it is not the end of the world if you do become a victim of theft, and it is never 100% avoidable.
I think the benefit of carrying a regular backpack far outweighs the minimal (knock on wood) risk.
That’s it for this mega-sized minimalist packing post!
Let me know if there are any tips that you think I’ve missed!
Don’t Know Where You’re Going?