Pack like a Pro: 6 Steps to Becoming a Minimalist Traveler

Want to learn how to live out of carry-on luggage only? Not for a trip, but for long-term travel? This post is for you!

First things first – I don’t openly identify as a minimalist because I like to avoid the eye rolls that inevitably ensue.  It’s cool – I do the same thing when people tell me they’re “going gluten-free” or that “cross-fit changed their life”.

I get it. Minimalists are kind of annoying.

So let’s get two things straight here.

  1. Stuff is great! Seriously – I love stuff.
  2. Modern minimalism is a privilege. Most of the world doesn’t have the luxury of choice like we do. The ability to choose exactly which things you’d like to have and not have is in a blessing for which we should be insanely grateful. All minimalists or minimalists-to-be should keep this in mind before jumping on their high-horses.

With that out of the way, let’s get on to the fun stuff!

How to pack like a minimalist traveler

Minimalism came easy for me because of two things:

  1. I’m a tiny little girl who can’t lift anything remotely heavy
  2. I’m a programmer, and I love organizing things

But even I messed up when I first started.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Minimalism is a process and a mindset, not a specific lifestyle.

So how do you do it? I’m not about to tell you “you don’t need this!” or “what are you taking that for?!” because the only person who can decide what you need and don’t need is YOU.

These are the steps to packing minimally in a way that fits your lifestyle, so have fun with it!

Step 1: Purge everything you own

This is the hardest step. When you’re just getting started, you’ll be tempted to just pack from what you already own. But the problem is you probably already own too much stuff.

To be clear, when I say “too much stuff”, I’m not saying this from a hoity-toity snobby perspective. I mean that you probably have stuff that doesn’t add value to your life, and simply adds to the clutter. What might be super useful to me, might be meaningless to you. The point here is to simply strip away the inessential or anything that you don’t love.

So go do that now! It will feel awesome, promise.

Step 2: Pack your shit

Step 2 is fun and fairly easy. If you already have some carry on luggage that you think you can fit your life into, give it a shot. But if you find that you need a full-sized suitcase, go for it!

Some of you might be eyeing me suspiciously when I say that you are allowed to use a full-sized suitcase in this minimalism training. Stick with me though, because the next step is…

Step 3: Suffer

You heard me, mortal.

Lug that mountain of stuff up and down stairs, go on a few trips with it. Suffer the weight of all that crap you packed. SUFFAHHH.

This step is only kind of a joke. I don’t think you can really appreciate minimalism until you experience the pain of managing so much stuff (travel expedites this process).

Lots of people shy away from minimalism because they think it’s some sick form of joy-deprivation, but it is so not. It’s about getting crystal clear on what really makes you happy and eliminating choices that simply drain your energy.

When you give yourself permission to screw up minimalism, you give yourself the space to feel what feels right and what feels wrong. This is part of the process, and it might suck a little, but it’ll make the next step SUPER easy.

Step 4: Temporary and Tiny purges

When I moved to Japan (my first stop on my nomad travels of 2017) it was the middle of winter. Being from Texas, I wimp out when it gets colder than 70 degrees F, so I was prepared with bulky winter clothes.

But as time went on, I realized that I had clothes that I wasn’t wearing but once a week at most. So instead of immediately tossing the stuff (I did like them!) I put them in my closet away from my dresser. If I really wanted them after a couple of weeks, I could add them back, but if not, out they went!

Step 5: Replace big stuff with small stuff

I don’t know if it’s kosher in the minimalist community to suggest that you go and buy stuff, but whatever! *Sassy finger snap*

The more I started purging during my trip, I realized that I might be able to get rid of my big-ass suitcase. This made me giddy beyond words, so I started to think, how else could I reduce the size of my stuff?

Oh duh, just use smaller things.

It started with things like my backpack: I had this big fat backpack with tons of padding and pockets and it looks super fancy. But it was big on me (remember, I’m “fun-sized”!) and it was hurting my back, so I replaced it with a smaller, simpler one. It didn’t have as many pockets, but I didn’t miss them. I simply learned to carry fewer things.

But I didn’t stop with just bags. I replaced my bulky winter jacket with a down jacket from Uniqlo that folds into a super tiny pack. Magic! I replaced some of my make-up with smaller pieces. I bought a smaller toothbrush. So much fun! I got kind of obsessive with it honestly.

Step 6: Repack and repack and repack

I love organizing stuff. I love putting things in containers and figuring out how to put things that fit in 3 baggies into just one baggie.

You want to make sure that you’re optimizing your space and ensuring that your stuff has room to breathe (and, you know, not break). So you need to repack your stuff a few times to get it right! You’ll probably end up doing some extra purging here as well.

This is probably the funnest part of the minimalist packing process. You get to be an engineer! It’s problem solving, and it’s fun to sort out how to best fit your stuff into your stuff.

So grab a beer and go to town on this last step! It’s a blast.

My Results: Before and After

Over the course of less than a month I reduced the amount of stuff I used enormously. I started noticing more and more things that I didn’t need. It became a game. How much could I get rid of or replace with something smaller?

The results were pretty astonishing.

I thought I had packed minimally when I left the States. I’d whittled it down to one large suitcase and a backpack. I was preparing for all the weathers, not just tropical beach weather, and for an indefinite amount of time (at least a year), so I figured getting a giant suitcase was totally reasonable, right?

My big-ass luggage

But one short month (less?) I was able to reduce the stuff I owned down to carry-on only luggage. I replaced my suitcase with a duffle bag and replaced my backpack with a smaller one.

Here’s my most recent set up:

My tiny luggage!

I’d reduced my total volume by more than half.

Pretty big change! I have a feeling I’ll want to switch to a small four-wheel carry-on suitcase eventually, but I already had the collapsible duffle bag so I figured I’d give it a try before spending more money on another suitcase.

Can you go even more minimal? Hell yeah you can! I have friends that swear by living out of a single backpack. They made videos about minimalist packing for guys and for gals, so check those out too!

Don’t worry about being a “real minimalist”

I have to include this in the post because whenever you talk about minimalism, everybody’s insecurities come out of the woodwork.

“Real minimalist”. This is a made-up term that people use when they don’t feel like they’re living up to someone else’s minimalist standards.

It’s super impressive when you meet someone who can carry their life on their back, but it doesn’t make you less incredible of a person because they live with fewer things than you. Besides, most of the time these “intimidating minimalists” don’t give a crap about how much stuff you have! They aren’t judging you. So stop worrying about it. :)

Just remember that there is no one-size-fits all when it comes to minimalism, so get inspired by all this, but trust your own judgement and trust that if you’re wrong, time and experience will teach you.

Got tips to share?

Got some awesome tips on how to live more minimally?

Share your tips in the comments below! Did I leave out a step? What do you guys think of packing minimally?