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Minimalist Travel Packing: What are the Essentials?

Going on a trip and wondering how to get away with bringing less? Here’s our quick guide to traveling super light – we have put together an effective minimalist travel packing list and some general advice.

Minimalist travel packing - don't bring more than you need!

Bring less than you think you actually need!

The mere idea of travel puts many in a packing mood – before the trip even begins, we start thinking about what (and how much) to bring.

It’s temping to pack as much as humanly possible. After all, who wouldn’t want to be as comfortable as possible while on the road?

The irony of the situation is that bringing more stuff could actually make your trip worse. More luggage means worrying about keeping track of possessions, hauling massive suitcases, and (a relatively recent development) likely paying additional fees for checked bags.

Whether you’re traveling for a couple of days or half a year, here is some tried and tested packing advice for the minimalist traveler:

1.) There are two types of baggage: carry-on… or lost

Well, not always. There are many situations in which checking a bag in makes sense – especially when you are traveling with specialized gear/equipment that is not allowed in airplane cabins.

However, most travellers eventually discover the joys of bringing just a carry-on bag. It’s always with you, fits in tight spaces, and is generally light on the shoulders. Most importantly, it forces you to adopt the mentality of: less is more.

You will be surprised at how little you actually you need to bring with you. More on that in a second.

Here are a few bags that have become very popular* within the travel community:

The above are all high-quality products, with dependable construction. All were designed with the needs of the traveler in mind. While the Air Boss is somewhat more popular with business travellers (its a duffle bag), any of these will get the job done. Just pick one and be done with it!

2.) Bring less than what you think you need – and then cut that in half 

A good method is to lay everything out on a flat surface before you leave – and evaluate what you actually need. If all of it doesn’t comfortably fit into one carry-on bag… bring less!

The bare essentials are:

  • One or two t-shirts / undershirts
  • One or two long-sleeved shirts (depending on destination climate)
  • Two pairs of pants / trousers
  • A button-down shirt (essentially, something semi-formal)
  • Flip-flops (for indoor and beach use)
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Dress shoes / lace-ups (unless you’re on a specialized trip, such as a hiking expedition)
  • A toiletry kit with the basics
  • 5-7 pairs of socks/underwear
  • Swimwear (depending on your plans)
  • Windbreaker / thin fleece
  • Down jacket (only for extremely cold climates)
  • Waterproof shell (if you’re expecting heavy rain)
  • A phone that lets you swap out SIM cards (preferably, a smartphone)
  • All your travel documents (and photocopies of your passport)

Optional items: camera (with spare battery and memory card), laptop (with charger)

Travellers’ favourites: packing cubes (for making the most out of your carry-on), a locking carabiner (for securing bags to bus/train luggage racks), quick-try towel, an e-reader, notebook and pen, LED flashlight / headlamp, padlock

That’s pretty much it! The list will vary slightly for females, but the basic principle remains the same: bring less than what you think you need.

When choosing between items, opt for versatility and compactness. We recommend that you bring versatile clothing (for example, shirt that goes just as well with jeans or slacks).

3.) When in doubt, aim to BIT (Buy It There)

Don’t worry if you think you may have left something out (e.g. shaving cream/foam). Have faith in your own resourcefulness – if you truly need something, you will find a way to find it (and buy it) at your destination.

Money-saving tip: many hotels keep chargers/adapters/etc. that previous guests left behind. It never hurts to ask the front-desk for unclaimed items before going off and spending money on a new one.

4.) Don’t forget cash

Before you leave, make sure you have at least a small amount of cash (USD $200) in the destination currency.

If you know there will be ATMs upon arrival, that works too (especially if you can avoid withdrawal fees). ATMs often will have the best exchange rates (be wary of international currency exchange booths at airports and transport hubs).

Why is cash still king? There are many places (and businesses) that still don’t accept credit cards. Additionally, it removes the risk of credit/debit card fraud. Most importantly, cash still has a way of moving things along faster (in less developed economies).

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And that’s it! Bring less, clear your head, and have fun on the road!

Less baggage, more memories

How To Be Happy With What You Have (it’s simple, really)

If you’ve ever been outside, you’ll know that some people just seem to be happy all the timeAnd at first glance, it seems that those are the people who have the most – the most money, the most stuff, or simply more of everything. However, there are also a lot of people out there who seem to be satisfied no matter what – they have figured out that it’s important to be happy with what you have. And it’s no big secret as to how they do it.

The best way to be satisfied with your existing material possessions (and desire nothing more) is to want what you already have.

You may think this is a silly exercise. After all, doesn’t this mean that you have to trick yourself into thinking you’re satisfied? That deep down, you will still feel the urge to go out and acquire whatever you feel would make you happy – is it possible that suppressing this urge can somehow be helpful?

Turns out, it can be. While it may be uncomfortable at first (it will take a few months to adjust to this new way of thinking), the end result represents a major step towards inner peace.

It all begins by recognizing that everything you own is an absolute marvel of engineering and/or human labor.

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

To start building appreciation for what you already own, try to think about how it was originally made, and the journey it took before it became yours. Let’s take denim jeans, for example (just about everyone in the developed world owns a pair):

Be Happy With What You Have - even if you have very little

What if all you own is a pair of jeans?

  1. Jeans are made from cotton, which must first be grown and picked. Picking cotton by hand is tough, back-breaking work (luckily, most cotton is now picked by specialized machines).
  2. Bales of cotton are then transported to a factory where the cotton fibres are separated (seeds, leaves, and other plant parts must be first taken out). Each bale of cotton (~200kg) produces enough fibre for just over 300 pairs of jeans.
  3. The cotton is then turned into denim. This process consists of blending the cotton (to make it consistent), untangling the cotton and stretching it out. The cotton is spun, and is threaded around massive spindles. From here, the cotton is dyed. The thread is then treated with corn starch (to make it stiffer), and dried. In its final form, denim usually consists of a combination of 1 white cotton thread and 3 blue threads.
  4. The denim is then transported to the jean factory (the average pair of jeans is made from 15 pieces). The denim is stacked, a pattern is overlaid on top, and the sheets of material are precision cut. The individual pieces are then moved to the assembly line of (an army of) workers, where they are stitched together to assemble a pair of jeans.
  5. The jeans are then distressed, through a combination of sanding warm patches and grinding frayed edges into the denim. In some cases, a laser gun is used to heat the material to give the appearance of creasing. The jeans are tossed into large washing vats (with buckets of rocks) to add even more wear.
  6. Each pair is then washed, dried and prepared for transportation. A pair of jeans may (and often does) travel thousands of miles before it reaches its final retail location.
Be Happy With What You have - chances are, you're more fortunate than most

Denim jeans being assembled at a factory in Sri Lanka

You get the idea.

Jeans are just one example. The number of steps would be considerably greater for, say, even the simplest of modern digital cameras (or phones). Most electronic items today consist of individually sourced components, designed and rigorously tested to be functional for years (and under extreme conditions). We are literally surrounded by magic.

A lot of work goes into the creation of most things we own. And while many things are mass produced these days, this does not diminish the fact the attention and planning that went into designing and maintaining the manufacturing process.

This way of thinking will also help you realize that, for most product categories, we have long passed the “point of sufficiency.” That is – most things (e.g. cameras, laptop computers, music players, mobile phones, televisions) are beyond “good enough” for consumer purposes. Waiting impatiently for the next digital camera is a futile exercise if your ultimate goal is to become a better photographer – your best bet is to go out and do the most (e.g. take photos) with the gear you already have. Chances are, your existing equipment is just fine for the task.

It’s an important distinction between thinking like an “optimizer” and a “satisficer” – the former is never satisfied with the way things are and is constantly on the lookout for something that could bring in at least 1% more enjoyment, while the latter recognizes that training yourself to be satisfied with what you already have is a far better long-term strategy for happiness.

At the end of the day, to each his own. All I’m saying here is: don’t knock (this way of thinking) until you’ve tried it. 

Less optimizing, more satisficing

PS. This doesn’t mean you should not have any ambition or stop trying to make more money. It’s all just a part of a larger narrative – that you will likely find more enjoy in experiences (and creating) than in the never-ending race to own the latest and best of everything. In short: you can be rich and lead a simple lifestyle at the same time.