I love clothes. Love them. Think about them, stress about them, dream about them all the time. It’s an obsession.
So when I told my friends and family I was packing for my year of travel in one backpack only, they were agog. Even more so when I got a little 35 liter Tortuga backpack, which is definitely the best minimalist travel backpack on the market.
How did lil clotheshorse me fit enough clothes for long-term travel into my lil bag? Here’s my list of minimalist travel essentials to help you pack light too.
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My Minimalist Travel Packing Essentials
A couple of things helped me fit everything I needed into my 35L travel backpack:
- Packing cubes (I live and die by these guys, and have for years) are the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s gift to all travelers. They keep you super organized, which my neurotic heart loves. Also if you roll your clothes and pop them in a cube, you can fit lots more in.
- Use loads of multi-purpose things, and buy all the packable coats Uniqlo sells. Those things are absolutely minimalist travel essentials – you can layer them easily and stow them away when they’re not needed.
- Do laundry all the time, everywhere, every day. Learn more in my guide to glam on the road.
Also the biggest way this works for me: I have almost no clothes at all. Here’s the full current minimalist travel packing list:
- Two black pairs of leggings (pants are the devil and I won’t put them on my body)
- One black short-sleeved dress in nice smell-resistant merino wool
- One grey skirt
- One grey linen top and one white linen cardigan (from Eileen Fisher who I love because I am old at heart)
- One silk tank top
- Three black merino sweaters: one short-sleeved, one long-sleeved, one cardigan
- One bright blue cashmere sweater
- One Uniqlo ultra-compact down jacket and one Cole Haan long packable raincoat (both black)
- One pair of grey sneakers and a pair of warm, waterproof black booties
- A thin silk bathrobe (the pockets here are important for hostel key cards on a midnight bathroom run) and ridiculous but comfy slippers, because I’m still a civilized human
- One linen scarf to shield me from the sun
- My prized possession, a vintage Fendi silk scarf
As you can see from my pictures, I wear a variation of the same outfit every single day. #glamour (peep the Fendi!)
Why did I do it?
I am already terribly, terribly bored of my clothes *dramatic sigh*. Especially being in Paris during fashion week, where the whole city is a glamorous catwalk and I’m sitting in the Ritz in a second-hand Athleta sweater (at least it’s cashmere!). Yes, I packed a few of my insecurities too.
But this trip isn’t about what I’m wearing. It’s about having the freedom as a solo traveler to do whatever I want, whenever I want to.
Also I know myself, and general human nature as well. Your stuff will expand to fill the space you have. Buying a larger backpack because you won’t fill it is wishful thinking – you totally will! And then you’ll resent lugging everything you own around uncomfortably.
Minimal stuff, maximal freedom
Traveling this light saves me baggage fees, backaches, and those awkward moments where you can’t stuff your bag in the overhead compartment on a plane and the flight attendant glares at you like you’re going to single-handedly bring the whole thing down mid-flight.
And having more stuff just weighs you down on the road. Every time I haul my tired, sweaty body with all my possessions strapped to it onto a small bus in rural Ireland or a packed train in Paris, I am so happy to have so little.
Update: after my year of travel was over, I created a complete list of the 10 things I couldn’t have lived without (and 5 things I didn’t need at all) to help you plan your own minimalist packing list!