Packing Guide: How to Travel Like a Minimalist

Packing Guide: How to Travel Like a Minimalist
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3. 2. 1.

3 Weeks. 2 Countries. 1 Bag. I’m heading to Spain and Germany, and I’ll be channeling my inner minimalist and traveling with nothing more than a carry-on bag. Every time I do this, I’m reminded that I really don’t need as much as I think I do.

This really puts things into perspective when I think about how much I need in my everyday life. Do I need 20 tops in my closet when 10 would allow me to buy quality, ethically made items that last longer? Hmmm . . . Do I need those chips even though I know I can’t recycle the bag? Do I need 15 pairs of shoes when 5 well-made ones would do just fine? In a sustainable world, the answer is no, even though sometimes we want it to be yes.

Case and point: Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home only has a carry-on bag worth of clothes to begin with. When she travels, she doesn’t need to figure out what to pack since everything already fits in her bag. Personally, when I travel, I don’t want to deal with the hassle of carrying around a big piece of luggage, so I try to make it as minimal as possible. Hence why I’ve been able to go on several trips, spanning 5 days to a month, with just a carry-on bag.

PLUS: There’s the infamous 80-20 rule, which applies to, well . . . a lot of things, but in particular to our wardrobe. The 80-20 rule states that we use 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time. This is especially true when traveling, since we usually end up doing the same kinds of activities over and over again. Soooooo . . . if we only use 20% of our wardrobe, then we should be able to limit our packing to the core minimalist essentials and get by with no problem . . . right?

So here it is . . . My Minimalist Packing Guide:

In my previous posts, I shared my Zero Waste Travel Kit and Zero Waste Toiletry Kit, which help me to avoid waste when on vacation. For my upcoming trip, both of these will easily fit into my carry-on bag, along with all the clothes I need for 3 weeks. Here goes . . .


These are the 30 items that comprise my travel wardrobe (not including undies, socks, etc). Everything is multifunctional and can be mixed and matched with any of other items. This is key because if you have a top that only matches one pair of jeans, then it’s probably not the best item to pack.

30-item Minimalist Travel Wardrobe

Here’s the List of Everything that Goes into my Minimalist Travel Wardrobe:

  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 scarf
  • 6 shirts/tops
  • 3 long sleeve shirts
  • 2 sweaters
  • 2 jackets
  • 3 pairs of shoes
  • 8 pairs of socks
  • 20 pairs of undies (so I don’t have to do laundry while there 😉 )
  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 2 bras

Hmmm . . . What kinda shoes should I pack?

As long as I don’t have a special event or wedding to go to, I pack one pair of sandals, one pair of comfy slip-ons, and one pair of lightweight sneakers. I pack as many socks and undies as I can fit to avoid doing laundry while I’m away. If I’m going on a lengthier trip, as long as my socks are not legitimately dirty, I’ll air-dry them out and re-wear them again before washing them. I see you rolling your eyes over there . . . they’re just going on your feet!

3 Essential Pairs of Shoes for Traveling

A Word to the Wise: Minimize Bulky Items in your Carry-on Bag:

In order to fit as many goodies into my carry-on bag as possible, I try to wear the bulkiest items in transit. For example, on the plane, I’ll wear socks, sneakers, jeans, a hoodie, a jacket (depending on the weather), a long sleeve shirt, and a scarf. This also helps me to keep warm. I have a tendency to ALWAYS be cold, especially in planes.

We’re almost at the Grand Finale!

Here is what everything looks like when it’s ready to go in the carry-on bag. Packing Cubes are essential for keeping items organized and compressed. I got these fugly ones at my old job, but hey, I needed some anyway!

And are you ready for the wow factor? All of the clothes from the first picture are now in the packing cube on the bottom left of this photo (except for my PJ’s and what I’ll be wearing on the plane). Pretty impressive right? 

All items needed for a 3-week trip to Europe, all of which can all easily fit into a carry-on bag From left-to-right and top-to-bottom: (1) Small packing cube – socks, undies, bra, bathing suit; (2) Green bag – 2 pairs of shoes; (3) Electronics/Documents; (4) Large Packing Cube: clothes; (5) Zero Waste Toiletry Kit; (6) Zero Waste Travel Kit

Other Minimalist Packing Essentials:

Organization & Zero Waste:



  • sunglasses
  • passport
  • wallet
  • pen
  • sketchbook/notebook
  • ideally, at least $10 of local currency
  • credit card without international transaction fees
  • snacks/protein bars (in case of a hangry meltdown)

And now for the Grand Finale!

If you have any questions about how the heck I packed everything I need into a carry-on bag, drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.



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