Keep Things Simple, Travel Like a Minimalist

birds flying

In my article 8 Reasons Why More People Are Choosing to Live Minimally, I discussed about the benefits of minimalism, and why more people (including me) are gradually adopting the minimalist lifestyle. I don’t just adopt it to my everyday life, but also to my travels.

Individuals who are minimalists at home are usually minimalists on the road, too. I’m one of them! In this article, I’ll share with you why minimalist travel can add wonders to your journey, and how you can start travelling like a minimalist traveller.


First of all, let’s ask ourselves this question: Why travel like a minimalist?

Since packing has always been one of travellers’ biggest concerns before and during their travels, you’ll find tonnes of travel blogs out there sharing tips on how to pack light, or lighter. Whether it’s for a short or long-term trip, be it near or far, many people often find difficulties in deciding what to pack in their bags.

targus travel bag
When my friend from Ecuador noticed how small my bag (for a one-week trip to Jakarta) was, he was very surprised.

As seen on the picture above, the travel bag I carried with me during my last trip to Jakarta was basically a laptop bag, which I purchased from Targus not very long time ago. The bag is big enough to keep everything I needed for my one-week trip. I usually take it with me during my weekend trips around my home country.

When I travel, I always try not to overpack. I’ll only carry travel essentials that I’m sure I’ll be using. Many people think that travelling with just carry-on bags is rather challenging for long-term travellers, but that’s not always the case. While many of the long-term travellers I met in the past were minimalists themselves, some weren’t. You don’t have to be a minimalist to hate carrying heavy bags while you travel.

So how do these light packers get around with less? Well, they have to make a lot of sacrifices in order to travel light. These sacrifices don’t always make them feel uncomfortable, though.

This is how: They only bring clothes they really need, they mix and match their outfits, they get creative with things they still need and no longer need, and they take advantage of whatever alternatives they can find to help them travel light, or even lighter. Many of them also told me that they’ll always try to avoid cold climate countries whenever possible so they don’t always have to pack warm clothes. All these tricks somehow sound familiar to me.  

When we have fewer things in our bags, we have lesser weight to carry. The fewer valuables we travel with (especially the expensive ones), the less worried we become. Not only do unpacking and packing get easier, we can also move faster on the road.


You can start now!

While minimalist travel can be a rewarding experience, it can be a little overwhelming, especially for first-timers. Rather than rushing into it, take it slow. Do it step-by-step, just as how you’d slowly declutter your home. There’s no need to rush!  

a lonely traveller
Take one step at a time.

It’s important to understand that everyone has their own ways of doing things. Minimalists also have different ways of embracing minimalism. What’s minimalist to you isn’t always considered minimalist to other minimalist folks around you.

After all, minimalism is a tool used to help us identify the most important things and how they can add value to our lives. When it comes to travelling, most travellers search for moments that can add value to their journeys. In the end, it goes back to our individual experiences.

After realising how much I had “tortured my body from carrying unnecessary things in my backpack whenever I went travelling, I figured it’s time to make a change and start travelling with the things I really need only. You can travel happily with less, too.

Let’s start, shall we?

But before we do that, you must first explore your options, travel goals, and yourself. Only then will you be able to create an approach that will help you simplify your travels. Below are some tips on how you can travel light.


Pack fewer clothes

minimalist travel essentials
Only pack what you need (and will use) during your trip.

That also means you may have to wear the same pairs of clothes over and over again while you travel. But there’s no need to be ashamed of it. You’re going to move so often that no one would even remember what you’ve been wearing anyway. I also do it a lot when I travel, but only when I’m in places where I don’t sweat much. I change my clothes more often when I sweat more.

Okay, I’m not saying that you don’t have to wash your clothes at all. Please do. Being minimalist on the road doesn’t mean you need to be stinky around other people.

Do bear in mind that some people tend to sweat more than others. Therefore, it’s important that you choose the right kind of materials for the weather so you’ll not overpack your bag. That brings us to my next tip.


Choose your outfits wisely

Size, colour, shape – all those characteristics matter. For me, my bottom outfits are usually in dark colours while my tops are usually in light colours. I like wearing anything black as it can be easily matched with any other colours. 

Hitchhiking in Thailand
Hitchhiking in Thailand.

Clothes that are in darker colours don’t easily get dirty, too. I usually try avoiding dark-coloured tops when I’m in hotter countries as they’ll make me sweat faster. If I’m going to spend a lot of time under the sun, I prefer not to wear anything white as the colour will get yellowish after sometime. That happened to me before!

For the ladies, I recommend sport bras and loose singlets. I often wear them as I find them very comfortable and are especially great for hotter countries. I also like to wear them with my long-sleeved buttoned shirts that help protect me from the sun.

If you’re looking for lightweight travel clothing, perhaps you can try something made from merino wool. The fabric is great for both warm and cold weathers. Merino wool is breathable, temperature regulating and moisture wicking. It’s also odour-resistant; hence you can wear them even up to a week without having to worry if they’re going to stink or not. In addition, they don’t wrinkle at all.

I currently own a pair of black trousers and a long-sleeved top made from 100% merino wool. They’re so soft, warm and comfortable. Clothes made from merino wool may be quite expensive, but they’re worth spending on.

Travelling like a minimalist doesn’t mean you should only wear white and black colours, or plain-looking clothes. Go ahead and wear pink, or even clothes with colourful patterns if you like! In the end, your main goal is to make sure that your clothes don’t add too much weight to your bag.


Wear simple and practical footwear

What kind of footwear do you have for travelling? I know some people who only travel with just one pair of slippers – and that’s the only footwear they have, which they don’t even have to pack in their bag. As for me, I usually travel with one pair of slippers (or sandals) and one pair of shoes.

My previous travels taught me that it’s good to pack another extra pair of shoes, which can be used for adventurous activities. That means I’ll have to pack two types of footwear in my backpack.

Quechua trekking shoes
I wear these Quechua shoes for my outdoor activities.

Depending on the activities you’re going to do, you don’t always need more than one pair of shoes. It’s great if you can get something that’s suitable for any kind of activity. That way you can only keep one footwear in your bag while wearing the other. I suggest you wear your most bulky footwear and pack the lightest one in your backpack. That’ll help you save more space in your bag.

Since I strive to travel with less, I decide to just have two pairs of footwear for my travels: one pair of slippers and one pair of shoes, good enough for my adventures and occasional travel parties.

Optionally, you can get sandals that aren’t just pleasant for fancy occasions, but are also designed for heavy-duty activities, such as jungle trekking, climbing, and many more. These sandals, however, aren’t usually cheap. You won’t want to wear yours while you’re in the shower.

Yes, there are many guest houses that provide bathroom slippers, but bear in mind that not all of them (especially budget hotels) are always that generous. It’s better  to have your own.

If you’re fine with entering your guest house’s common bathroom without wearing any slippers, then you won’t even have to worry about this at all. I don’t recommend it, though. I don’t find it hygienic. Of course, that’s entirely up to you.


Bring what you’ll use only

Many minimalist individuals set some rules to their everyday living, including what should and should not be kept around the house. If something doesn’t get used within six months, it should be removed right away. Apply this rule to your travels, too. If you haven’t used the thing you’ve been keeping in your bag (such as your tent) after 6 months, let it go. There’s no reason to put extra weight to your bag.


Purging things that are never used in six months – is this “rule” okay for everyone, even while travelling?

The answer is: not always. Some travellers can’t afford to throw the things they have in their bags. It’s either they can’t afford to buy those things later when they finally really need them, or they’re sure they’re going to use them later although not so soon. Why spend money buying things you already have and will eventually use, especially when they’re still in good condition?

Most of the things we do are somewhat related to our fear and insecurity towards negative possibilities. We tend to always believe that we must always be prepared for everything, especially for our rainy days. That’s something I think we all can relate to. It’s a human thing.

Again, as travellers, we need to ask ourselves why we have those “extra” things in our backpacks, why we need them now, how they’ll impact us if we don’t have them anymore, and many other related questions. Of course, there are plenty of guides out there to help you decide on how to manage your things. Remember, in the end, only you know the answer to your problems.

What you have in your bag now are yours and what you want to do with them is entirely up to you. Rather than complaining about how heavy your backpack is, why not explore options to better manage your journey instead? I can assure you that packing the right and most important things only is helpful in reducing the burden that your shoulders are carrying.


Are you over packing your bags?

Many backpackers tend to over pack their backpacks with things they don’t even need or no longer need. Then they go around hoping to sell their unused items to travellers who might need them. The good thing about doing business with other travellers is you can usually get very good bargains from them. The deals get even better when these travellers desperately need to sell their things before leaving for another country. This clearly proves that people don’t want to carry too many (or unnecessary) things on any given day whenever possible!


Buy, sell, or trade your stuff while on the go

Likewise, let go of the things you no longer want or need. It’s understandable that finding buyers is not always easy. Even if you did find one, the buyer might not want to spend too much money on whatever it is you’re selling. You might even have to sell your things at extremely lower prices.

If you can’t find anyone to buy your things, perhaps you can donate them to charity, give them to other travellers who might need them, or even ship them back home. However, the latter suggestion is usually costly.

donation drop box
A donation box in Mid Valley, KL.

If you buy souvenirs for your friends and family along the way, go to the post office to mail your gifts just as long as they’re not more than what you can afford. Otherwise, you’ll have to walk everywhere with your souvenirs until you finally give them to whoever they are meant for.

If you ask me, I rarely spend money on souvenirs. Also, people seldom ask me to get them anything, and I always choose not to ask them if they want anything from the place I’m visiting. Unless I’m seeing them in a specific place where I can personally hand it over to them. People who don’t know me well enough might just think I’m a cheapskate.

Tip: Instead of buying souvenirs for your loved ones, perhaps give them something you found from the countries you visited.

blue bird feather
This is a blue bird feather, which was given by my friend Francois. I super love it.

For bookworms on the go, you can leave your books somewhere after you’re done reading them. I left mine at the guest houses I visited. As paper books can add significant amount of weight to your baggage, I highly recommend travellers who love to read (and want to go green) to opt for a kindle instead. Not only is it lightweight, but it can also store hundreds of books, all in one place. Also, e-books are usually a lot cheaper than paper books.

Note: There are some people who prefer paper books to a kindle. I have many friends who are like that. They like to hold and feel their paper books. They also don’t have to rely on electricity in order to read. On the other hand, the kindle has its own advantages, too. It doesn’t need a lot of energy in order to operate, which also means frequent charging isn’t required. Furthermore, you can also use it to read in the dark. With paper books, however, you’ll need a torch light, lamp, or a headlamp in order to read in the dark. Just a friendly reminder: reading in the dark is not healthy for the eyes!

The gingerbread house novel
This is one of my favourite horror novels, written by a talented Swedish author. I read it during my road trip to Thailand.

 As mentioned earlier, paper books are usually more expensive than e-books, and they definitely weigh more, too. When I was travelling in Thailand, I had two paper books with me. They weren’t very heavy, but they surely added more weight to my bag. Since I was aware of that, I was always trying to speed up my reading. I admit that at one point I spent too much time reading instead of interacting with the people around me. All I wanted to do was complete my reading, and then leave it somewhere so I can reduce the weight of my bag. If I had a kindle, that didn’t have to happen.


Carry lightweight gadgets

If you can travel for a week without having to work at all, leave your laptop behind. There’s no reason for you to bring it with you while you’re on a vacation. If you’re travelling for a much longer period and you need to work while on the go, perhaps take a lightweight laptop with you. An 11-inch laptop usually weighs around 1kg only. With a smaller, lightweight laptop, you can have more space in your bag, and reduce its weight.

travel laptops
Big or small? That really depends on what you need it for.

Otherwise, do everything with your smartphone, or a table if any. Your smartphone can do so much for you, from booking flights and hotels to keeping your travel details. You can also make it your camera or notebook.


Choose the right gadgets to suit your travel needs

Unless you’re working for National Geographic, or you’re a travel photographer aspiring to be the next top-notch photographer, even an avid blogger specialising in travel photography, there’s no need to carry a big DSLR camera that usually comes with some other parts used to enhance your pictures. A small, lightweight digital camera is good enough to capture the things and moment you want to remember. Of course, it’s entirely up to you to choose whatever camera you like.

travel power bank
I know I need a power bank… all the time.

Do you really need a tripod and a selfie stick? For some people, these things are very important. What about a 15-inch laptop? Do you really need that? Could you downsize it to a smaller laptop instead? Maybe not, especially if you’re a “digital nomad” specialising in graphic design. If you’re a programmer, you might be able to get away with a tiny laptop. My Russian friend programmed his game app while travelling. I thought that was pretty cool. I never knew even such a small laptop like the one he has is able to do that.

Again, it goes back to what you want to achieve from your travels.


Only keep apps that regularly serve you

The main reasons people are downsizing their bag size is because the more weight they carry, the slower they move on the road. Whatever gadget you’re bringing with you, make sure it serves its purpose.

Just because your phone has all the space you can have, doesn’t mean you should overload it with apps that you don’t even frequently use or use at all. When you make room for your smartphone to “breathe”, it’ll function faster and more efficiently, and so will you.

I have all kinds of apps on my smartphone,m from apps that help me stay connected with people to apps that help me book my hotels and flights. These are some of the apps I’m currently using:

Communication – WhatsApp, Gmail, Line, Skype, FB messenger, Instagram. Snapchat and Slack

News – Twitter and Google

Transportation – Uber and Grab

Entertainment – YouTube, Ketchapp

Travel booking – Traveloka

Navigation – and Google Map

useful mobile apps
Some of the apps I’m currently using.

The apps I have are very helpful for my travels, and I bet you can find at least one of them in another traveller’s smartphone. I also use Docs by Google to edit my write-ups when I’m not at my desk. For money management, I’m currently using Money Lover to easily record and track my expenses.

Other apps that are popular among travellers are Tinder (to meet people), Couchsurfing (to meet the locals), Airbnb (to book homestays), TripAdvisor (to get travel advices and recommendations) and Skyscanner (to book flights). Some of these apps, however, have some downsides for you to consider.


Reconsider everything you’ll be taking with you

Whatever you decide to pack for your travels, make sure they’re able to fulfil your travel needs. Minimalist travelling doesn’t always mean you have to travel with one small backpack. It doesn’t always mean you need to wear the same pairs of clothes every day. The size of your backpack may be different from others due to various reasons. Everyone has different needs.

Osprey escapist 28L
I’m escaping into more new adventures with my 25L Osprey Escapist.

I travel with a 25L Osprey backpack. For many, that’s pretty small. In fact, I’m taking it with me to New Zealand this year, sometime before winter. Since I’m extremely petite, my clothes are pretty small in size. Of course, I have my own ways of packing my things, which I’ll share with you in another article.

Previously, I was travelling with a 30L Quechua hiking bag. I liked it a lot, but I decided to not travel with it for my upcoming travel. Minimalist travellers usually go for backpacks that range from 18L to 32L. There are individuals who are a lot bigger than me who only travel with 28L backpacks. My Russian friend, Rustam, also travels with a small backpack, and it looks pretty much like a school bag. You can travel with a small backpack, too. Of course, it all comes down to what best suits you and your travels.

a simply travel bag
Everything Rustam needs for his travels is right in this bag.

I have yet to travel with just one or two sets of clothing while doing a long-term travel. Maybe someday. In order to save more space in my backpack, I always try using things that can help me multitask, or things that serve many different purposes. For example, I wear a scarf in order to protect myself from the sun or from the cold, which can also be used as a towel. I have some friends who don’t even use a towel to dry themselves after a bath. Have you done that, too?

Since I don’t always put on makeup, I don’t really care if I have it or not. Personal care and hygiene products, however, are a must-have.

For those who travel with wheeled travel bags, I haven’t forgotten about you. Minimalist travellers don’t just travel with backpacks. Some of them prefer wheeled bags for many different reasons. I’ve got a friend who only travels with a wheeled travel bag because she’s suffering from a back problem. Just because she travels with a wheeled travel bag, doesn’t mean her bag is overloaded with “useless” things.

a red luggage bag
I turned my wheeled travel bag into a storage place for things I was planning on donating to a local charity in my home country.

Okay, wheeled travel bags have their own disadvantages. The weight of your wheeled travel bag is something you need to watch out. Backpacks are likely to win over wheeled travel bags in situations where you’re forced to run at the airport to catch your flight, or when you need to go up and down the stairs, Plus, you can’t put it on your lap when you’re on planes, buses or trains. You see, thefts can happen on public transports (especially when you’re sleeping), even on planes! No joke. Try google it up.


Travel items that are worth carrying

Everyone has different needs, and what’s important to me might not be important to others. That’s why it’s important to ask ourselves again what items we really need to make our travel experience better. Keep whatever you need only.

travel essentials
I’m taking these travel items with me to my next destination.

Besides the scarf/bandanna, I’m also a big fan of the sarong. This multi-purpose item can be used as a pillow sheet, headscarf, towel, a blanket, and the list goes on. I love keeping rubber bands in my backpack. They don’t take too much space after all. I use rubber bands for many things, including my clothes. After rolling my clothes, I use rubber bands to tie them. I do this to make them fit better in my backpack.

Quechua Waterproof Bsag
These waterproof bags by Quechua are great for keeping clothes and electronics.

Resealable poly bags are awesome, too. They can be used to keep all kinds of things, be it food or travel items. These waterproof bags also make a good protection for my valuables when I’m at the beach, whenever I’m doing water sports, or on a rainy day.

I don’t usually prepare everything in advance. I don’t pack pack a bottle of shampoo, sunblock or soap from home. I buy them when I get to my destination. However, if I’m travelling to a remote area, I’ll pack them before I get there. If I have leftovers, I keep them for my next trip. If I know that I’ll be staying in a guest house where toiletries will be provided, I don’t buy them at all. I just take whatever I find in my guest room and use it.

As a budget traveller, I don’t waste what I pay for. Some guest houses or budget hotels provide toilet papers, cotton buds, toothpastes, and many other essentials. Even if I don’t use all the toiletries given to me, I’ll take them with me simply because I consider them as necessities. I prefer bar soaps than bottled shower gels as they last longer and are more travel-friendly.

I hope these tips are helpful to you. Go ahead and look for more tips on how to travel minimally. The internet has an abundant amount of useful resources for travellers who want to start travelling with less. Don’t be afraid to create your own hacks, too. Happy travel.

The Walking Writer

An ENTP who’s always thirsty for new adventures. Apart from music and writing, I’m also passionate about travel, art and entrepreneurship.