Inside: Here you’ll find why and how to pack lightly + an inside look at what’s inside my backpack for my eight-day trip to Italy.
My sister called me up in April to ask, “If I buy your plane ticket, will you come with me to Italy?” My answer, of course, was exactly what you’d expect. “Yuuuuup!”
For the record, I’d have gone even if she didn’t pay my way, but shhhhh. Don’t tell her that. 😉 I did, however, give her one more stipulation. “I’ll go, but only if you agree to pack lightly. Carry ons only.” To which she very reluctantly agreed.
April has quickly turned to September, and we’re heading out on our eight-day adventure next week. I can’t believe it’s here!
Now you may be thinking, “Well that was rude. She’s buying your ticket and you’re telling her what she can pack?” Have no fear. I’m not just a bossy older sister, there’s also good reason for my insistency.
I used to travel with so much stuff. After becoming a minimalist almost six years ago, I started traveling with only a backpack, and haven’t checked a bag since! It’s been glorious.
Brace yourself. This article is a long one. Every time I talk about traveling lightly on Instagram, I get tons of questions. With every trip I take I mentally plan to share how I pull it off, but every single time the chaos of planning to leave takes over. This time, I’m on it.
In this article you’ll find:
- 3 Reasons to Pack Lightly
- My Preferred Backpack
- 5 Packing Tips to Help You Avoid Checking Bags
- Minimalist Travel Tips
- My Packing Itinerary
- My Packing List
- Q&As from Instagram
Feel free to skim ahead, save for later, refer back as needed or share your own travel tips and questions in the comments.
Okay, let’s do this.
Here are 3 Reasons to Pack Lightly
1. No Lost Luggage
Lost luggage claims have been on the rise. In fact, lost luggage is up 30% since 2019. I know all too well what it feels like to lose your luggage. I don’t know what it is about me, but my luggage used to get lost all the time.
Once, during a trip to Hawaii, my luggage was lost for two whole days. I spent two of my ten vacation days wearing tourist shop shorts with the word MAUI screen printed across the butt. Unfortunately, it still took me quite a few years to learn how to avoid this kind of travel stressor.
2. Less Stress
Not only does preventing lost luggage reduce stress but packing fewer items in general does as well. We often assume having more options at our disposal will simplify our lives. However, after a certain point, it tends to have the exact opposite effect. I’ve found traveling with a simpler wardrobe reduces decision fatigue and gives you less to manage before, during, and after your trip.
How many times have you packed far more outfits than you could ever even wear on your trip? Packing lightly isn’t about depriving yourself. You don’t have to wear the same outfit every single day. That is, unless you want to. It’s about bringing along only what you really need.
3. Cost Savings
Packing an overabundance of stuff doesn’t just affect which size bag you take; it can also cost you money. Here are some ways bringing more than you need on vacation adds up:
- For some airlines, checking bags costs an additional fee.
- The rental car you reserve needs to be large enough to hold your extra-large suitcases.
- We tend to view vacations as major events, in need of a new look. This often leads us to spend money on new clothes we probably don’t even need.
- Smaller bags give us natural boundaries and can help avoid impulse buying unnecessary souvenirs on our trips.
For More Read: 6 Convincing Reasons to Travel Like a Minimalist
My Preferred Backpack… (Not an Ad)
Personally, I prefer a backpack over a carry-on roller bag because it’s easier to navigate airports and train stations. Backpacks also leave my hands free to carry Starbucks and travel documents.
Another thing to keep in mind is if you happen to be boarding the plane toward the end of the line, airlines will occasionally require remaining travelers to check roller bags claiming overhead compartments have reached capacity. This has occurred on a number of my flights, but I’ve been able to avoid checking my bag every time because it was on my back.
My preferred pack is the Osprey Fairview 40. (Not an ad). I just love this little travel companion. The color is listed a misty grey but note it’s really more of an olive green. It has waist and chest buckles that help redistribute the weight during customs lines. But I find they easily tuck between my hips and the pack when I don’t need to buckle them.
Keep in mind, if you’ve never taken a trip with only a backpack before, I would suggest you practice doing so prior to investing in this more quality pack. I spent over two years traveling lightly with just a simple Swiss Army backpack I picked up at T.J.Maxx.
Remember, you can’t buy your way into the simple life. You must learn to eliminate the excess first.
For more, read: The Perfect Minimalist Backpack to Travel Lightly
5 Packing Tips to Help You Avoid Checking a Bag
1. Start Packing Early
When you put off packing until the last minute, you’ll inevitably move from strategic-packing to panic-packing. Every time I procrastinate the packing process, I pack more than I need. However, when you start laying out what you plan to bring days in advance, it gives you the opportunity to think it through. I like to start with a bit too much stuff and work my way down by asking myself of each item, “Am I really going to wear this?”
2. Pack a Capsule Wardrobe
Packing a capsule wardrobe is the MVP of traveling lightly. You don’t need to live every day with a capsule wardrobe to pack one when you travel. A capsule wardrobe is simply clothing that can all be mixed and matched and worn together.
Pack clothes that can be mixed and matched and worn together. Make sure all the tops you pack match the same pair of shoes. Bring neutral bottoms that match all your tops. This way you can mix it up with fewer items.
The best way to go about this is to stick to one color pallet. I always go with black, meaning I wear my black sandals or my black boots. From there I pack only clothes that match those shoes.
Just because you love a particular dress, doesn’t mean it needs to accompany you on this trip. If that dress forces you to pack a random pair of shoes you’ll only wear once, leave them both at home.
3. Be Realistic
Don’t bring running shoes if you aren’t 100% positive you’ll run on this trip. Don’t pack a yoga mat because you hope to start your new yoga practice on vacation. If you hate going out at night, don’t pack fancy “going out” clothes. Be realistic about who you are, how you spend your time, and what you’re actually going to do on this trip.
4. Book Accommodation with Laundry
We will not have easy access to laundry on this trip. (Below I share exactly what I am packing.)
When I travel with kids for extended periods of time, I always book an Airbnb, VRBO or hotel suite with laundry. Washing your clothes while traveling will cut what you need to bring in half.
5. Worst Case Scenario, You Can Buy What You Need.
Don’t misread me. I’m not suggesting you pack nothing and then buy whatever you need as if money grows on trees or is served as an aperitif. No. I’m saying, worst case scenario, if the meteorologist is way off, you can buy a scarf.
Last time we traveled to Florida for nine days, two of my kids ended up with strep throat. I had to buy Motrin, Tylenol, and a thermometer. Easy-peasy. Well, the strep throat part was far from easy. That was a giant pain, but we figured it out.
You don’t need to pack for every possible “what-if” scenario. You’re a tough cookie. If you find yourself in a pinch, you’ll figure it out too.
For more read: 8 Easy Steps to Pack Like a Minimalist Podcast episode 139 of the Minimal-ish Podcast: Traveling Lightly: Apply Minimalism to How We Travel with Rachelle Crawford
One to Two weeks Prior to Your Trip:
With one to two weeks to go, start evaluating and editing your fixed packing list. What is a fixed packing list? It’s a list of items you take on every vacation. I use the Google Keep app to house my fixed packing list. It includes items like contacts, phone charger, toothbrush, etc. During the two weeks leading up to this trip, I add items I want to take on this particular trip to the bottom of the list.
Use this time to start evaluating your capsule wardrobe too. Begin to think through your plans and what you’ll need. Ask yourself, what does the weather look like? Should I take an extra pair of pants or are shorts in order? Will we be swimming lots or only for a day? Do we have any excursions planned or fancy dinners, etc?
If you’re traveling with a family, make sure your kids’ travel clothes fit well. We often travel to warmer weather during the winter months. It’s important to pull out their summer clothing to make sure their shorts, bathing suits and summer sandals still fit before you’re heading to the airport.
5 Days to Go:
With roughly five days to go start tentatively packing. What I mean is, don’t actually pack. Instead, take a corner of your room and start laying out what you plan to take. This is the strategic packing that helps prevent panic packing. As we do laundry that week, I’ll add the items I think I’ll be taking. This allows me lots of time to edit what I’m bring along.
This is also the time to start evaluating the weather for your destination. Is it looking extra hot or cool? Should you consider packing an extra pair of pants.
If we are taking a family trip, I do this for each of my kids in their bedrooms as well. This allows us lots of time to hunt down the goggles and prune what we pack.
1 Day Before:
With just one day to go, it’s easy to feel compelled to add “what-if” items to your piles. Instead, this is the time to do the exact opposite. Get ruthlessly honest. Every now and then I’ll add an item at this point, but most of the time I’m removing clothes from my piles.
Look through what you intend to take. Do you have more t-shirts than you really need? Did you pack an extra pair of shorts or shoes you likely won’t even wear? Did you pack three dresses, but realize you’re not even sure you’ll want to wear one?
Night Before You Leave:
Finalize your capsule wardrobe, top off your travel sized toiletries and start putting your clothes into your luggage.
Go through your fixed packing list one last time to ensure you’ve packed the necessities. Obsessively check your bag to make sure your passport is accounted for. 😉 Remind yourself that money and a passport are all you truly need.
Once you’re all dressed and ready, go ahead and add the final items such as cell phone charger, make-up, curling iron, razor, toothbrush, etc. to your bag.
An Inside Look at What I Packed for 8 Days in Italy
On the plane I’ll be wearing jeans, chambray button up, gray T-shirt and leather Birkenstocks during the flight. Pretty much my usual. 😉 The list below does not include what I will be wearing when I leave.
*Please note that I may edit this list before or after my trip. I’m still two days from departure and may make some last minute decisions.
Jean shorts (May remove these).
Black tank with buttons
Plain black tank
Charcoal T-Shirt (Will likely remove this one).
1 long dress
7 pair of underwear
1 bathing suit
1 bathing suit cover
Pajamas and slippers. (Yes, I’ll pack slippers. I hate walking around barefoot unless I’m outdoors. I don’t know why).
Cardigan (Undecided. the weather is looking a little cooler than we expected)
Daily SPF face lotion
(Note these are all packed in travel sized, three ounce bottles.
Make-up: Mascara, concealer, powder, blush, eyeshadow, Burts Bees pomegranate Chapstick
Make-up remover wipes
Minimalist Travel Tips:
TSA Pre-check is a Must!
Part of me wants to keep this one a secret because if everybody does it, the lines will get longer and longer. Getting approved for TSA pre-check is a game changer. You don’t have to take your shoes off to go through security or pull your toiletries out of your bag.
If you’ve ever arrived at the airport to find everyone else in your town has planned a trip for the same date and time as you, you know how stressful that can be. You gave yourself what you thought was plenty of time to get through security, but thanks to the crazy long line, you just may miss your flight.
TSA pre-check eliminates this stress.
Choose unforgettable moments over forgettable mementos.
Instead of bringing each of my kids home a trinket, I now bring home unique pastries or candies for them to taste. It’s a fun surprise that doesn’t revolve around stuff. And this way they can experience a little bit of the culture as well.
Do Laundry Before Coming Home
This is when having access to laundry while traveling is particularly helpful. If your trip allows, do a load of laundry on our last day. This way when you arrive home, you can unpack your clothes directly into your drawers without the welcome home gift of doing laundry.
Use Your Trip to Help You Declutter Your Home
One of my favorite things do when I come home from any vacation is to evaluate the toiletries in my home. Think about it…
The toiletries you took on your trip are our most essential right? So, why do we feel the need to hold on to a closet full of them. Look through your cabinets and closets for toiletries you can eliminate. I find this strategy helps bring to light the items I’ve been holding on to for no good reason.
“Do you hand-wash your underwear?”
This is the question I get asked the most. People want to know how I handle my undergarments!
The answer is: no. If I do not have access to laundry while traveling, I simply bring enough underwear for every day. That said, I’ve never taken a thirty day remote camping trip. Obviously I wouldn’t pack thirty pairs of underwear if that were the case. I’d certainly hand wash underwear if I needed to. I just haven’t needed to as of yet.
Here’s my personal underwear packing rule: If we do have access to laundry, I pack four pairs of underwear wash clothes every three days.
“How do you pack toiletries? Do you buy them when you get to your destination?”
If it’s a toiletry our entire family needs, such as sunscreen, I’ll buy a large one when we arrive. Other that that, I pack our toiletries into 3oz. travel bottles. I bought my travel bottles at Target and have been using the same ones for years.
“With young kids, I was able to pack super lightly for a week, but found I needed the same amount of stuff for a weekend. Help!”
I’ve noticed this as well.
It seems like I pack the same amount of stuff when traveling as a family whether it’s a three day trip to Chicago or a nine day trip to Florida. The essentials are the same for both, and the longer trip may only include a few more articles of clothing.
Packing a capsule wardrobe for every family member helps keep the clothing to a minimum.
“How do you decide on clothes and toiletries”
I keep a very simple wardrobe and I don’t own toiletries that I don’t use regularly. Choosing what to take is a matter of packing the items I use. When it comes to deciding on clothing, I first assess the weather, then choose my favorites of my favorites. Living with a capsule wardrobe every day makes packing one even easier.
“Do you rewear your clothes?”
100%. I bring enough outfits to where if I spilled coffee all down the front of me one day, I wouldn’t be up a creek without a paddle. But I do rely heavily on my ability to rewear clothes.
Remember, Practice Makes Permanent
Traveling lightly gets easier and easier as you practice it and develop the habit of living every day lighter. When you’re used to living with fewer material possessions, traveling that same way becomes a no brainer. For me, traveling lightly today looks different than it did when I first went minimalist. Not only are my kids no longer toddlers, I’ve gained a lot of experience through trial and error in the process.
Consider the Season You are in
Keep in mind, the type of trip you’re taking and the season of life you’re in may make packing carry-ons only more difficult. If you’re heading to hunt in Alaska, odds are good you’re going to need to check your gear. If you’re traveling across the country with little ones who need strollers, carseats, and pack-n-plays, you may need to check these items. Skiing in Colorado? You can’t carry on your skis. Bringing a tuxedo and flower girl or bridesmaid dresses for a destination wedding you’re all in? This may make fitting everything into carry-ons impossible.
Don’t sweat. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to travel. These trips are meant to help simplify your workload and make your trip more enjoyable.
If you do find you need to check a bag or two, these tips will still help simplify your trip and leave you with fewer items to wash and put away when you return home.
If you’re interested in implementing the principles of living with less into your home as well is your travels, read: Messy Minimalism. Now available where books are sold… and borrowed. 😉
Messy Minimalism is a doable, grace-based approach to living a clutter free life. It frees you up to embrace the mess, live with less, and create an imperfectly perfect home for you.
Need Some Serious Decluttering Motivation?
Sign-up for my new, FREE 3 Day Email Series, Unstuck.
Here we will tackle 3 common decluttering obstacles so you can let go and get uncluttered for good. If you’ve ever gotten started and then gotten stuck, this FREE resource is for you!
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I do pack a small pharmacy in one pill bottle. You never need more than 10 Advils which leaves room for 10 of each of: Tylenol, Benedryl and Gravol. I use Ziploc bags to organize travel documents and a separate one for chargers. The key is to limit any trip to 2 pairs of shoes. When possible, I bring old items of clothes that I leave behind – ie: a bra that never fit well gets it’s last hurrah. My family of 4 have been packing with cabin luggage only for 8 years. It’s the most liberp
Yes! The fewer shoes the better! Great suggestions Dory. Thanks for sharing!
I would suggest taking stretchy slacks or zipoff pants or hiking pants instead of jeans. Jeans are bulky, heavy, and not very flexible.
Silvia, Good point! I totally planned on hiking in my shorts, but looking at the weather it appears it will be a bit cooler than I anticipated. I’m going to bring a pair of leggings instead of shorts. Thanks for the tip!
very clear and good article easy to understand. Thank you
Being TSA pre approved did not prevent me from taking off shoes or showing liquids bag! It just makes it easy to go through customs especially towards the USA.
Yes, it may depend on the countries you are flying through.
I’ve read quite a few of these types of articles. Yours was the best!
I’m so glad you found it helpful! Thanks for reading it. 🙂
where us the comment l posted a few days ago? l was disproving something you wrote, why not post it?
Like I mentioned in the article, I was leaving for Italy. I did not take my work with me or approve any comments while away. Had fun, but glad to be back home now. I did post your comment about getting liquids and shoes through TSA.
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