I once read a recommendation that you should never travel with anything that you wouldn’t mind loosing or having broken. Why would you ever want to own, let alone lug around something that you didn’t love? And why is it assumed that I am instantly a clumsy, forgetful person who looses things the moment I land in another country? It makes no sense to me. I recently read (OK, audiobook) Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I read it not because I need to declutter my home (as I’m travelling and don’t have one) but because her method and way of thinking really interested me and inspired me to maintain a more minimalist backpack. If you aren’t familiar with the KonMari method, it’s a very specific way of purging all of your belongings to be left with only what ‘sparks joy’. I think this is a beautiful perspective to have in such a materialistic world where we buy new things for the simple reason to have new things. Where it’s thought that buying more and better things makes you happier, more successful. For me, minimalism makes sense, it’s like saying ‘I need 50 things to allow me to live comfortably,’ compared to ‘I need 500 things to make me happy‘. Which would you prefer?
For some, minimalist travel means strictly carrying one weeks worth of clothing in neutral tones – and that’s OK. Some people love the freedom having a ‘uniform’ gives them. For me, minimalism means only owning what I love and use but not restricting myself for the sake of owning less. I own 12 shirts. I wear 12 shirts. Later I’ll talk about having an optimal 10 days worth of clothes, but I’m not going to throw two of my shirts away when I love and wear them just for the sake of it. I’ll also be covering how to easily realise what you need to pack and also how to easily discard items you may have accumulated but don’t use.
This is the easy bit because of course there are given items that will reside in your pack permanently, mine are:
– Laptop + charger + hard drive
– Phone + charger
– Camera kit + charger
– External battery pack
TOP TIP : Combine cables, don’t carry two if one fits multiple devices – I have one for my DSLR / GoPro / GoPro battery charger and one for my iPhone / iPad. If you’re travelling long term in a single country, consider buying a small USB hub when you arrive to save carrying multiple chunky adapters – you can always charge from your laptop until then.
There will also be important documents that you need to keep hard copies of, I keep an A5 zipped folder for these.
– Bank cards
– Sports licenses e.g. scuba diving certification cards
– Sim cards (if you have an iPhone don’t forget the sim card slot pokey thing – you definitely know what I mean).
Once I’m on the road I also use this file for things like warranties (hello, new DSLR) and medical bills (hello, trying to use new DSLR with a broken hand). However, there are also important documents that can be scanned/photographed and kept on a harddrive/Dropbox.
– Doctors notes (I keep six years worth online – not necessary for all but I have Arthritis and may need it if referred to a new Rheumatologist here in Australia)
– Passport photocopy
– Visa letters (hardcopy until entered the country)
TOP TIP : Keep a tiny notebook of important information e.g. insurance details, passport number and add to it as you travel. I transfer information from important letters such as my Tax File Number into this notepad and chuck away the original – that way I’m carrying less and don’t have to rifle through papers if I’m trying to find it.
Packing Your Minimalist Backpack
It’s easy when packing for a long trip to convince yourself that’s it’s OK to pack that extra shirt or five because it’s all you’ll have for 3 months/6 months/a year. But I can guarantee you, what you leave with wont be what you return home with. Everywhere in the world sells clothes, so don’t worry.
Pack around 7 days worth of ‘pub’ clothes
Pub clothes are what I’m calling everyday doing the shopping/sightseeing/going to the pub wear. I would never recommend packing more than this to begin with as, if you’re like me, your style will change as you travel and you don’t really know what you’ll want to be wearing.
Don’t pack an item if you wont need it for six months
You don’t want to be lugging around two chunky jumpers when you’re going to be in the tropics for the first six months of your trip – pack one thin jumper for the plane and chillier evenings and buy what you need when you need it.
This goes for bags too
I have a medium-sized, now very faded red backpack that is both my carry on, my day-to-day ‘hand’ bag and also what I use for grocery shopping. Remember there will be times that you’re leaving your main bag in places like bag holds in hostels but you want to keep your valuables on you – this is what I use this bag for too. Instead of a camera bag, I keep all of my DSLR and GoPro gear inside a padded cross-body bag (it has wolves on) that can also hold a cardigan and my other small necessities so I’m not faffing between bags when using my camera. It also means I can use it even when I don’t want to take my camera out but want a smaller bag than my rucksack that still holds a water bottle, cardigan etc.
Carry items that are multi-purposeful
I make it a point not to carry extra ‘indoors / pyjama’ clothes – everything I own I would (and do) wear outside. For ‘indoor’ wear I have some throw-over casual dresses that I also wear to the beach / pool / sauna / bed. I also own comfy loose white trousers that I’ve worn in bed but I could easily pair with a smarter jacket and wear out to dinner. Doing this is great because you never have clean clothes but ‘nothing to wear’.
‘But I already own it, why would I leave it behind if I might need it, I don’t want to spend money buying another’
This is especially relevant to clothes but most of the clothes I own now were given to me by friends or unloved hostel rejects (hello, favourite white shorts). I have practically a whole new wardrobe and have spent less than $150 (Australian) on clothing in the last seven months and most of that was stocking up on warmer pieces now I’m in Melbourne.
This is also relevant to more expensive items e.g. camera kit. If you’re only packing it because you might use it and you want to be on the safe side – put it down and remember things can always be posted. I’m about to give away 90% of my GoPro mounts because I never ever use them and I know when I packed them they were all in the might use them category. (Anyone in Melbourne want GoPro gear?)
Don’t cram your pack
Start your adventure with your backpack 80% full, you will inevitably add to your clothing at least – I’ve purchased a DSLR and hard drive during this trip and am currently looking for a quality water bottle to add to my permanent kit but am still only at around 90%. Also bear in mind that if you’re travelling, especially hostel to hostel, that you will have a few food items that will need to be carried – much easier if they all go in one bag.
Don’t pack travel-sized toiletries
Not only are they worse for the environment as there’s a whole lotta packaging and plastic for notta-lotta product, but if your pack is too heavy when it’s ‘full’, then your pack is too heavy. Of course this rule can’t really apply if you’re only taking carry on.
I also would recommend packing multi-functional items. Do you really need shaving cream? Could you use conditioner instead? I’m working towards creating a very minimal, multi-functional DIY cosmetics kit and at the moment I have a single small tub of product that I can use as deodorant, face scrub and toothpaste. Seriously. Stay tuned.
Purging Your Minimalist Backpack
If you have a full pack and ‘nothing to wear’, throw 70% of what you own away.
Working out what I do and don’t wear is easy for me because I physically interact with everything all the time as I’m unpacking / repacking, it’s not like when a t-shirt gets pushed to the back of the wardrobe and forgotten about. Just be honest. Will you actually wear it again during the trip?
Stick around 10 days worth of ‘pub’ clothes. Or don’t.
Even at home with my full wardrobe I find myself rotating around the same outfits over and over and having more only enables me to do washing less often which is silly. Sometimes I still wear a favourite dirty-but-not-too-dirty shirt over choosing a clean one I don’t like as much – and I know I’m not the only one. This is even sillier if you’re lugging everything around so if you’ve accumulated some pieces along the way but find others stay crumpled at the bottom of your bag – chuck it.
Once I’ve been away a while I’ve found having and maintaining around ten days worth of ‘pub’ clothes is ideal. I then have three smarter outfits as well as a two work shirts and some multi purposeful indoor / beach / bed / sauna wear (yes I’m fancy now and live in a building with a sauna). But that’s just me, if you find you don’t need that much, carry less. If you love and actively wear two weeks worth of clothes and are willing to carry every single piece you own then of course go ahead. But I find once I buy a new piece of clothing I inevitably stop wearing another as much and realising this making maintaining a minimalist backpack much easier.
Has your style changed?
When I was in Thailand / The Whitsundays I wore completely different things to what I wear now in Melbourne and so there’s no point in carrying around hippie pants if now you reach for jeans. You might love them but have they already served their purpose?
Go through your pack monthly or before a big move
This takes 10 minutes and can be done when packing – just take the time to really consider when you last used each item. Have you bought a newer, better version that you reach for more often?
If you truly, honestly love it, don’t give it away
I have a very sparkly sequin mermaid dress I was given by a friend to wear for my Airlie Beach leaving party. I don’t see myself wearing it maybe even ever again unless I happen to get invited to a second mermaid party (I’m in Melbourne, if you get wind hit me up). But there’s no way I’m going to throw it out so I say if you’re honestly willing to carry it, sacrifice a little space, a little weight and not because ‘ooh, but I might need it some day’ – keep it.
Interested in living with less?