The Minimalist’s Ultimate Guide to Travel: What NOT to Pack

You have to take that shirt.

You wear it almost every day. It’s your favorite one. It goes with everything.

And your favorite pair of jeans. How could you NOT take those? You live in them.

Everything is laid out in perfect stacks on the bed, travel bag nearby, its gaping maw wide open, laughing at you.

You look at your stuff. You look at your bag.

You look at your stuff. You look at your bag.

You do this two, three, four more times. Every time you look at your stuff, there’s more. Every time you look at your bag, it’s smaller. You wonder, how can I possibly pack everything into a carry-on bag? packing graphic

How many times have you traveled with an over-full bag—or, worse yet, multiple bags—because you just didn’t know how you’d feel each day/what the weather would be/which soirees you might be invited to, so you had to take several options?

Remember when you had to step aside at the airport check-in counter and try to get your checked bag under the weight limit? You were frustrated, not to mention embarrassed, at having to pull out your clothes and shampoo and shoes and try to figure out what you could take out and shove into your carry-on bag.

All that careful packing gone to waste, and when you arrived, everything was balled up and wrinkled and nothing was where you put it in all that careful packing you did to make sure everything fit.

You swore you would never over-pack again. Well, didn’t you?

So, how DO you decide what to take and, more importantly, what to leave behind?

Long-term-travel packing is an art. If you have ever packed a carry-on bag for a month in Europe, you know that you can’t be packing the night before you leave. When you’re traveling for an extended period of time, every single thing that makes it into your travel bag must be crucial to your travel needs.IMG_0659-0

The one and only time in the last thirty years I checked a bag was when I bought a giant suitcase to carry home all the beads I got at Mardi Gras. (Don’t ask me how I got all those beads.) I have pounds and pounds of truly awesome Mardi Gras beads that I’ve been giving away by the handfuls for years. Tip: leave your beads at Mardi Gras.

What to Leave Out

Here are some of the obvious things to leave out when you are packing to travel for a month or more:

  • Full-size toiletries
  • Books and magazines
  • Food
  • Valuable jewelry
  • Unnecessary gadgets
  • Three white shirts
  • Jeans

What?! JEANS?!! But I live in my jeans, you say.

Okay, there can be exceptions to bringing your favorite denim, but beware: jeans are heavy, not very comfortable in many situations such as long bus rides and monsoons, take forever to dry, and command a LOT of room in your bag. Only if you truly cannot live without your favorite jeans should you bring them, but I strongly recommend you consider something much more packable, versatile, and just as comfy.

Let’s look at the other things on the list.

Unless you use a prescription shampoo or moisturizer, you can buy toiletries pretty much anywhere you go. This includes shampoos and conditioners, face wash, body lotions, razors, make-up, and just about any other bathroom item you can name. Now, I am a loyal Aveda junkie, and I understand favorite products, but I cannot justify giving up precious packing space to full-size products, nor should you. Start with travel sizes and refill or replace as needed.

Books and magazines are heavy, take up space, and then you’re done with them. While a single travel guide, the best of the best for your needs, is okay, all other reading materials should be borrowed as you go or read on a tablet. I gave up carrying books when I got the first gen Kindle. Look at all that new space now!

What about bringing snack foods for flights or other long-distance travel? I agree with the concept, but I have known people to bring two weeks’ worth of snacks and other foods so they didn’t have to buy them along the way. This is a mistake for so many reasons: 1) space 2) we don’t need to go any further. Just don’t buy snacks at the most convenient (and therefore pricey) places as you travel. Go to a market or a food cart, just like the locals would do.

Valuable jewelry needs no explanation, yet I know people who refuse to leave their favorite pieces behind. While I won’t say this practice courts disaster, I will say it’s just not worth it. ‘Nuff said.

Unnecessary gadgets are items that duplicate what you are already packing, such as a Kindle and a tablet or an iPod and a smart phone. Consolidate your entertainment and other digital needs, and keep it simple. Don’t bring a cord for each device if they can share. And unless you are a professional photographer, you don’t need more than one camera. Even then, consider leaving the zoom lens home.

Packing three white shirts, or duplicates of ANY clothing items, is probably the most common no-no I see, even in the seasoned traveler. If you truly want minimalist travel, pare down to one sleeveless tank top, two short-sleeve shirts, and one long-sleeve shirt. If they all layer together well, you can at least create a few different looks. I recently backed an amazing new travel shirt on Kickstarter called Morf. It’s a shirt that morphs to “up to 24 different looks.”

I already addressed the jeans, and I get how hard not bringing them can be. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to reap the greater rewards of a lighter bag and more space. In my opinion, this one is worth it for the reasons I outlined above. But again, the exception is if you just live in your jeans and can’t imagine life without them. I realize this is the case for many world travelers, but I’m not one of them.

What Else?

Leave these at home:

  • A second coat
  • A second pair of sandals
  • Most hair accessories (simplify your hairstyle before you travel)
  • Blow dryer, extra hairbrush
  • Travel clothes iron
  • Any article of clothing that doesn’t go with everything else
  • “Just in case” items such as a beach towel
  • Beach toys and sports equipment
  • An “extra” anything: pair of shoes, sweater, toothbrush, towel
  • Cotton anything

I realize that cotton clothes are comfortable to wear, but they are not the friendliest of travelers. Cotton is a terrible insulator; it doesn’t wick moisture away from your skin, and it stays wet for a long time, whether from your sweat or a sudden downpour. And wet cotton is heavy, not to mention uncomfortable. (Um . . . jeans.)

To refine your list of what not to pack, do some research to see what medical items are easily available where you are going. Even though items such as aspirin, ointments, mosquito repellent, and clothes lines are tiny, they take up space in your bag. Besides, they are generally available in most countries. However, getting Neosporin in Denmark, for example, is impossible by all accounts. Be smart and do a little research on the availability of wound care items (gauze, first aid tape, wound ointment) in the countries on your list.

Oh, and that favorite shirt you wear almost every day? Take it, of course.

Advertisements

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laura Knapp
    Mar 10, 2015 @ 07:20:59

    Having just returned from 2 weeks in Mexico, let me add: only pack clothes that “breathe” well. (I packed a favorite tank that ended feeling sticky all day because it didn’t breath.) Also, I would pack at least one dress that compacts easily. One never knows when or where there might be an occasion that needs to be a bit dressy… I have one that doesn’t wrinkly and rolls up to about 3″x 4″ in my pack.

  2. Jessica Vineyard
    Mar 10, 2015 @ 07:45:24

    Great tips, Laura! Thank you!

  3. Heather Daylene Ayers
    Mar 10, 2015 @ 10:22:37

    Jessica, what in the world did you have to do to get all of those Mardi Gras beads, love?!? Oh, wait! I have been a AH3 runner with you. So I used to go on business trips where I invariably needed workout clothes, business suits, formal wear, and everything in between and I ended up becoming the Girl Scout of packing–always prepared. Unfortunately that also meant I traveled for weekend with two suitcases. After the pain of lugging those through airports (and no longer having the same ridiculous requirements) I have learned to scale down but it is a constant struggle. Good luck, girl!

  4. Jessica Vineyard
    Mar 10, 2015 @ 11:23:56

    Haha, Heather! And what happens at the hash stays at the hash! Good for you for paring down the necessities. Business travel can certainly require needs that are very different from long-term travel. Thank goodness clothes are being designed with multiple purposes in mind!

  5. donfitch
    Mar 10, 2015 @ 13:55:57

    I like my little sleep sack. It stuffs down to about the size of an orange, but provides a nice layer against insects and iffy bedding.

  6. Jessica Vineyard
    Mar 10, 2015 @ 13:59:06

    Don, YES! A sleep sack is a must! Nice one!

  7. Clif S.
    Mar 12, 2015 @ 15:08:15

    With airlines line spirit air, they allow a very very small bag for free, not even a carry on. It must fit under the seat. I recently bought such a suite case by travelon. this is the only bag that meets Spirit air’s size requirements:
    http://www.amazon.com/Travelon-Luggage-Underseat-Microfiber-Eggplant/dp/B004CK94CY/ref=sr_1_35?s=apparel&ie=UTF8&qid=1426201417&sr=1-35&keywords=travelon

    The airfare from Ft. Lauderdale Florida to Cartegena, Colombia was $89.00. But you have to be able to get everything in this bag. I’m traveling for three and a half months with this bag and guess what, I still don’t need all the thing I brought.

    I agree with Jessica, definitely no jeans. They are too bulky and take too long to air dry if you wash clothes by hand in your hotel sink or bathtub.

  8. Clif S.
    Mar 12, 2015 @ 15:11:07

    Also in central america there are two airlines like Spirit Air that offer $50 fares which is less expensive than taking at 28 hour bus across the country. They are Viva Colombia and Nature Air. You also need to have an under the seat bag. BTW, I put on my light weight nike jacket and load the pockets with food and drinks for the airplane ride.

  9. Jessica Vineyard
    Mar 12, 2015 @ 15:40:14

    Clif, that is a great travel tip! Actually, more than one. Thank you! Carry-on is absolutely the way to go.

  10. Jessica Vineyard
    Mar 12, 2015 @ 15:41:12

    It’s amazing how many small airlines there are that make puddle jumps and short trips and are quite affordable.

Please follow me at http://vagabondqueentravels.com/

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s