Minimalist Packing: All You Need You Can Fit in a Backpack

A little planning and a lot less struggle. KonMari your backpack.

What an adventure it was! I flew alone to Europe to meet my exchange group and explore Paris for 3 days, which was followed by a two week exchange trip in Lyon, France. After, I flew to Florence and spent two weeks touring Italy. We stayed in Airbnb’s and traveled by train, bus, metro, car, boat and foot. Eleven cities later, I learned one essential truth: the key to traveling is minimalist packing.

When I had two minutes to catch my connecting train, had a long trek from the house to the metro or I realized that the only way to the top floor of old European buildings is the stairs, I was grateful for my light load. 

Originally, for my month in Europe, I had a suitcase, a 40 liter backpack and a carry-on laptop bag. I was packing for different dress codes, temperatures and activities. Still, this was way too much.

My parents joined me in the middle of the trip. My dad stayed for a few days, and I sent a ton of stuff home with him, keeping only what I truly used and needed for the last two weeks.

There are major benefits to packing light. Fitting everything into a carry-on means you won’t have to wait for your checked bag at the end of the flight or run the risk of lost luggage. A lighter load makes transportation easier and increases mobility.

My favorite thing about packing light is actually the minimalist mindset. Less stuff = less options.

I brought a few choices that I really loved, and therefore, I couldn’t go wrong. It’s a satisfying feeling to make use of every item in your bag.

I have seen many YouTube videos about packing light. To me, these videos vs. true minimalist packing is like camping vs. glamping. There is a difference between packing less than what feels natural and packing what you truly need. I used to be the first type of traveler, but my month in Europe taught me how to become the latter. It taught me how the little unnecessary things can accumulate in a massive way.

minimalist packing

What you are probably overpacking:

Toiletries. I personally never pack soap. It is almost always provided where you stay, but in the case it isn’t, You can always use shampoo. I don’t pack shaving cream either. In addition to the risk of it exploding on the plane, It is unnecessary to have. I use my conditioner when shaving.

Lots of jewelry. I like to stick to my everyday bracelets, with a few necklace options and a ring or two, with one pair of earrings.

Makeup. With the exception of very formal events, I bring the bare minimum. I’m not a beauty queen in real life, and I tend to wear much less makeup when traveling. I stick to a concealer, mascara, eyeliner, eyebrow gel and 2 cream shadows. This takes up minimal space, is carry-on safe and doesn’t require any brushes.

Sunglasses. Why do I always want to bring my entire collection? Bring your favorite cheap pair.

Shoes. You need 2 (possibly 3) pairs of shoes. The first is your everyday walking shoes. The second is a nicer pair of shoes for events or dinner. The third can be either flip flops (for a beach vacation) or workout shoes (if you know you will use them).

Clothes. I found I only needed 5 days of outfits, maybe even less. Two dresses, three pairs of shorts, with about five tops was more than enough to provide diversity in my wardrobe. I could have made it with even less.

Entertainment. It can be digitized. Most airports have plugs, and many planes do too. As long as you charge your phone the night before, you should be okay. Regardless, it might be worthwhile to bring a portable charger in case these options are not available. On my iPad, I have books (downloaded from my online public library), downloaded movies and shows from Netflix, work for school on notability or google drive (just make sure it is offline), games and downloaded playlist on Spotify.

My favorite secret is to pack stuff to throw away.

This was originally suggested by a chaperone of my French exchange. She recommended bringing old clothes to wear in France and trash when new purchases fill up our suitcases. At first, I laughed at this. Why would I want to walk down the streets of Paris in clothes that I would not even wear in my hometown? However, the concept is actually very logical.

First, pack old comfy clothes to sleep in. You probably only need 2 changes, assuming you will re-wear and do laundry. If you expect to workout, old tops and leggings can serve as active wear. You probably own socks and underwear that are starting to wear, along with bras that don’t fit quite right. Bring them to trash. I also like to bring an old sweatshirt for loungewear/sleeping if the room is cold.

If you use a combination of these tips, you will create significant space for new purchases on your trip. You will be set for a trip of more motion and less back pain. Just remember the four essentials when leaving your house, hotel room or plane. Everything else can be bought or survived without.

1.Your phone and charger. 2. Forms of identification. 3. Tickets/itinerary for the day’s trip. 4. Money (usually more than you think you need).

If you have these basics, along with common sense, you are all set for a fantastic trip.

Bon voyage!



Also published on Medium.

Gabi Hanahan is a high school senior in Indianapolis, Indiana. She's an...