Minimalist Travel

Simplicity /
Favorite Posts

My family and I travel a fair amount.  Some of my travel each year is done for work, primarily for my “day job.”  Since I started learning about minimalism many years ago, I have always been eager to apply my minimalist knowledge to our travels.  In the past, I’ve been only marginally successful.

We do most of our family travel via our motorhome now.  Car and motorhome travel lends itself to maximizing, not minimizing, packing.  If it fits in the car, take it!  Efficiency is not a primary goal.  However, on most recent trips, I’ve started challenging myself to pack lighter.

My work trips are another matter.  Invariably, they involve plane travel, and that means packing light is imperative.  Typically, I am gone for five to seven days on these trips, so I usually check a larger suitcase and carry on a purse or backpack.  I am working while I’m on these trips, of course, so I need files, books, and computers as well as my clothes.

I am annoyed when I have to pay a fee to check a bag, and even more annoyed when my bag doesn’t make it to the destination.  As a result, I’ve learned to try to pack only carry-on luggage.  For me, this means the biggest carry-on technically allowed and a backpack stuffed to the hilt with a small purse inside.

Large carry-ons are unwieldy and depending on your clout with the airline or luck of the draw, if you aren’t in an early boarding group, you are out of luck for getting that sucker in an overhead bin.  This means gate-checking your bag (if you are lucky), or else the bag gets checked through, which entirely defeats the purpose of bringing the carry-on in the first place.

All of these travel challenges cause me stress, and reducing my stress is my primary goal in creating a simpler life.  When my most recent work trip was coming up, I decided to challenge myself.  Not only would I get everything I needed into carry-on luggage, I’d pack everything in my adorable, extra small rolling bag.

My husband said, “There is NO WAY you are going to get all your stuff in that bag.”  That did it. The challenge was on, and I was determined to make it happen.  He offered up his much larger, but more tactical and masculine looking bag.  I said, “Thanks, but we’ll see,” and I set to work.

The nitty-gritty details

I began pulling out all the clothing I would need.  I would be traveling on Sunday and the following Friday, there were business meetings Monday through Thursday all day long, and there were two evening functions requiring a dressier option.  The meetings were identified as “business casual,” which I’ll admit, I interpret broadly.  After all, I work in Asheville, NC, not New York City.

Including the outfit I planned to wear on the plane, here is what I took:

  • 3 pairs of dressy capri pants
  • 4 tank tops – 2 black, 1 navy, 1 turquoise
  • 3 layering tops – 2 summer sweaters, 1 lightweight jacket
  • 1 black pencil skirt with a dressy top
  • 1 calf-length black dress with a decorative metal belt
  • Undergarments (but no socks)
  • Black dressy Birkenstock sandals (and by dressy, I merely mean “not ratty”)
  • Black dressy summer sandals
  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 1 cream colored pashmina scarf/wrap because the meeting rooms are freezing
  • Cosmetics bag and Ziploc with liquid cosmetics
  • Curling iron (I’m not a girly-girl, but I do have to represent!)
  • Lint brush, and a box with my dressy jewelry for my evening wear
  • Small purse for use at evening events
  • Umbrella
  • 2 pairs of eyeglasses in cases
  • Work files and a notepad in the upper pocket of the suitcase
open suitcase with a pair of shoes in it
Small inside of suitcase, shoes for reference!

When it was time to pack, I laid everything out on the sofa after neatly folding all the clothes into rectangular shaped little packets.  At first glance, I figured there was no way all of it would make it into the suitcase.  I had to pare down a few of my work files to be able to zip the suitcase.

personal items laid out for packing
All the items to go into the suitcase

On the plane, I wore one pair of capris, a tank, a summer sweater, and my Birkenstock sandals.  In my work purse I carried my computer, a book for the plane, and usual purse stuff (albeit a vastly pared down version).

Even though there was space in my purse, I wanted it to be as light as possible, so I dumped everything out and added back only the absolute necessities.  The remainder of my purse contents I left behind in a bag, so I could add everything back later.

Final analysis

You can guess the end of the story – it all fit.  I got to crow about it to my dear husband, and I took a picture and showed all my work colleagues, too.  I posted about it in a minimalism Facebook group, receiving lots of interest and comments.  So, I thought giving more details with pictures might help or inspire you.  I took the contents pictures before I repacked to come home.

small packed suitcase
Everything fit!

I provided pictures, so you can see the bag and contents. Feel free to marvel at my masterful packing, I don’t mind.  I also don’t mind if you think this is no big deal, because you’ve seen better.  So have I.  But for me, it was a big accomplishment.  I set out to do it, and I made it happen!

Could I have gotten by on less?  Yes!  I hadn’t read the information carefully, or I would have known that one of the dinner events was also “business casual,” so I could have left the pencil skirt and blouse at home.  I didn’t wear it.

The dimensions of my bag are 16” x 14” x 7”, which is considerably smaller (mostly in length) than the standard carry-on size.  The bag itself weighs 7.5 pounds.  Fully loaded, it was 23 pounds.  I found it to be fairly heavy given its size, so my next challenge is to lighten my load even more.

Last, but not least, since this IS a blog about personal finance as well as simple living, I saved $25 by avoiding checking a bag.  Icing on the cake.

Do you have ninja-like minimalist packing skills?  Share your tips below, because now I’m hooked!






2 responses to “Minimalist Travel

  1. That was a nice write-up, Dawn. We love seeing others embracing simpler travel.

    While not necessarily ninja-like, we highly recommend using packing cubes. They help you organize everything and they promote smart packing. Plus, they seemingly expand limited bag space. We encourage everyone to check out all the options out there now.

    Secondly, we recommend replacing many of your cleaning products with a high quality, multi-purpose castile soap. This stuff is amazing! We use it to clean dishes, clothes, and even ourselves. A small bottle replaces all kinds of different products. Definitely worth a look.

    In any case, always think multi-use and look for smaller, lighter alternatives to things you already have. It will take some time, but anyone can become a minimalist traveler.


    1. Hi MJ, thanks for visiting and commenting! Oh yes, I am definitely a newbie at minimalist travel, so I appreciate your tips. It has made the past couple of plane trips more interesting by forcing me to be selective and careful. Appreciate your stopping by – I’ll be sure to check out your site! ~Dawn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *