August 01 2018
Whether it’s a weekend trip or a six-month sabbatical, minimalist packing is the holy grail of travel. When you add adventure, multiple seasons, and an uncertain itinerary to the mix, winnowing your essentials down to just a daypack is a daunting goal.
Don’t despair! Once you master minimalist packing for a one week trip, you can bring the same gear on for a longer or open-ended itinerary. Just understand that during extended trips, hand-washing laundry in the sink will be an essential part of your evening routine.
The contents of your pack can be broken down into four categories, and we have optimization ideas for each.
- Survival basics (like great walking shoes or a water filtration device)
- Communication devices
- Mid- and base-layers that are packed in duplicates (one shirt to wear, one in the bag as back-up)
- And a way to keep clean
If you can stay hydrated, warm, dry, and keep walking, you can push through almost any travel setback.
Note: if your worst-case scenario is more serious than physical discomfort, we suggest an emergency evacuation service like Ubimodo.
Make sure you have a way to drink clean water, no matter what. Here are three great options, in ascending order of ease of use:
- Iodine tablets, or a tiny bottle of crystalized iodine (cheaper and with an indefinite shelf life)
- For an instant source of safe water, Lifestraw comes in both original straw and bottle versions
- Matador Hydrolite Hydration Backpack filters water hands-free as you drink and packs down to the size of a water bottle when not in use
A lightweight, weather-resistant jacket is a necessity for almost every trip.
- The Prana Zion Jacket is water resistant and functional enough for a hike, or can be dressed up for dinner
- The SCOTTeVEST Pack-It Jacket is waterproof and stowable, and the SCOTTeVEST 8-pocket system allows you to stash gear in your jacket
A really big scarf can make the most basic outfit admirably Eurotrash, helping you fit in almost anywhere. It will also keep you warm, and function as an eye shade or pillow. Instead of a solid, look for a pattern in neutral colors. It will show less wear when you also use it to:
- Filter silt out of standing water
- Protect your face during a windstorm
- Make a sling or an emergency bandage
Check out more ideas from expertvagabond.com, but beware, wearing a Shemagh (Keffiyeh) could be considered cultural appropriation.
Shoes that go the distance are another travel necessity. Pro tip: pick your footwear first, and then don’t pack anything that doesn’t match them.
- Blundstones have street style, and can also be worn on a hike. To save space, wear them on the plane with compression socks
- Attractive, walkable sandals such as OluKai leather flip flops take up almost no space and can be dressed up with linen slacks or chinos
Stay in touch
You’ve made sure to unlock your phone, and you’ll pick up SIM cards as you go. Here are a few more items to consider:
- If you’re working on the road, the best way to ensure you stay connected is an international MiFi device like the Skyroam Solis, which also doubles as a powerbank
- If you’re on an extended jaunt, consider a global adaptor like the Worldwide Adaptor from Go Travel
- Keep your phone safe in a light weight, inexpensive waterproof pouch that’s photo, video, and touchscreen usable
Minimal mid- and base-layers
When choosing your middle- and base-layers, follow three rules.
- Don’t pack more than two of anything, one to wear and one in your pack as a back-up. That means only two shirts, two pants, two pairs of undies, etc. You’ll be rinsing clothes in the sink every night, but it’s worth it
- Pick pieces that can do double duty. For example, swim trunks can be worn on a hike, yoga pants can make-do as pajamas
- Make sure you can construct one really great outfit. Because you never know.
Some clothing items to try:
- The lululemon ABC Pant Classic is a wicking performance dress pants
- Vacay Costa Rica 2-Piece Dress is a tank plus a modest floor-length skirt
- Gap Zip-Off Khakis in Slim Fit are the only convertible pants we’ve found that don’t look all shlumpadinka
Wow, you clean up nice
Solutions for washing clothes and hobo showers are crucial for extended travel. Your minimal packing list necessitates a lot of hand-laundry, and extended travel is often unexpectedly social, with dinner invitations materializing out of thin air.
- No, you don’t need to pack a travel steamer. Misting your clothes with a fold-flat spray bottle will help wrinkles shake out. And the spray feels great when you need to take a hobo shower over the sink
- Speaking of showering, the nanofiber Matador NanoDry Trek Towel (Small) packs down so small you can use it as a key chain. At 2 oz, it’s less than half the weight of conventional microfiber travel towels
- While many hardcore minimalists recommend Bronner’s Soaps, experiment before you go. Some people find the bar soap works better as a shampoo than the liquid soap (store bar soap in the dry-through, leak-proof FlatPak™ Soap Bar Case)
- If you don’t want to use Dr. Bronners for everything, there is no shame in packing tiny versions of your favorite products. FlatPak™ Toiletry Bottle 3-Pack can hold anything, including toothpaste
- Travelon TSA Compliant 2-Pk Laundry Soap Sheets weigh even less than Dr. Bronner’s, and are ideal for giving your clothes a quick rinse in the sink
With a little planning you can be ready to hop the next flight, train or rickshaw with just the pack on your back. Think function and style and you’ll be ready to say yes to any invitation or adventure that comes your way.
For this post Matador is indebted to the experience of documentary filmmaker and intrepid traveler Amy Yap Day. Amy’s professional portfolio can be found on ezidays.com.