The Complete Minimalist Travel Guide

The Complete Minimalist Travel Guide

December 22, 2020

When was the first time you asked yourself “why am I schlepping around all this gear”?

Was it after an argument at check-in, when you were certain your ticket included hold-luggage? Maybe it was during an hour-long carpool with your oversized duffel-bag resting painfully on your lap. Or perhaps it was after the death stares from all those commuters on that rush hour metro you forced you and your luggage onto.   

If any of these ring true, then it sounds like you’ve had your eureka moment. Minimalist travel starts with a mindset, the realization that less is definitely more; more freedom to go where you want, when you want.

The endpoint of minimalist travel is fitting everything you need to live and work on the road into one carry-on sized bag. This can seem way too daunting at first, impossible even, but when done right, the sacrifices are surprisingly small.

To help you get to the endpoint of one bag travel, we’ve written this how to guide to minimalist travel, which includes:

  • The minimalist traveler lifestyle
  • The one bag travel packing guide
  • How to travel stress-free

Section 1 - The Minimalist Traveler Lifestyle 

"Everything you own must be able to fit inside one suitcase; then your mind might be free."

-Charles Bukowski

What you gain with less stuff

Whether you’re traveling, working, or combining both, life on the road requires plenty of discipline. You’re forced to optimize your time as efficiently as possible. What was once a dead hour spent browsing the airport book store before a flight can become a productive unit of work.

And minimalist travel and one bag living can become the perfect foundation for optimizing your life when traveling. Still having doubts? Well, here’s what can be gained by embracing this lifestyle:

The ultimate time-saver

Time is the most valuable commodity when you’re traveling. Your time is always finite, but your options seem infinite. Now imagine all the corners you can cut traveling with just one bag. No bag drop queues. No waiting at baggage claim. No last-minute suitcase packing. No returning to your hotel to pick up left luggage.   

Boost your productivity

Remember those tweets from Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg showing their wardrobes full of just one outfit? Well, as Obama said in his owns words:

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits, I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” 

Okay, so running a business or freelancing on the road isn’t comparable to being leader of the free world. But wearing similar clothes every day is a habit that many successful people stick to. And moreover, having fewer possessions means you have fewer things to worry about or to distract you.

Stay organized

Unzip your bag, and there are all of your clothes at a glance. Reach into the back and slide out your laptop. Go into the front pocket and pull out your sunglasses, plug adapter and notebook. The beauty of minimalist travel is that everything has its place. This makes juggling a tight schedule, deadlines or activities on the go so much easier.

Move freely

Fit onto the most crowded metros even during rush hour. Jump into a cab without the driver having to pop the trunk. Wander around the city when you first arrive somewhere, instead of making a beeline for your hotel. Making the switch to one easy-to-travel bag after all those years will feel like soaring above the crowd - trust us!

The Rules To Live By

Minimalist travel is as much a state of mind as it is a way to travel. Okay, this sounds a little corny, but if you approach it with the wrong mindset you may find it hard to adjust to this lifestyle. So here are the rules to live by:

  • Quality over quantity. Minimalist travel is about owning fewer but higher quality things. You could be wearing the same clothes week in, week out, for months at a time, so they have to be good quality to last the distance.
  • Carry no more than a week. Have roughly enough clothes to last a week without doing laundry. And bear in mind you may be wearing t-shirts and underwear more than once (we explain how you can do this without turning stale in the next section).
  • Items should have more than one use. Items should be chosen based on their versatility. An oxford shirt that can be worn to meetings, meals out and dates. Boots that are just as comfortable wandering around the city as much as they are on a hike. A t-shirt you can wear jogging or on the beach. 
  • Leave space for the unexpected. It seems to be human nature to try and fill every last bit of space when packing, especially when it’s a small bag. But you need to resist this urge. Leave about one-fifth empty, for the bits you’ll undoubtedly accumulate along the way. And this brings us onto our final point.
  • Be ruthlessly unsentimental. For the mementos you do acquire, make sure you really want them. One of the things we love most about minimalist travel is that it puts the brakes on our consumerist impulses. Those ponchos or boomerangs you may have squandered your money on now become carefully considered purchases. So every time you’re considering a purchase, ask yourself: do I need it and will I use it?

Section 2 - The Minimalist Packing List

"The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less."


How to choose the perfect one bag travel backpack

It all starts with the bag. Once you know the physical limit of what you can carry, you can start choosing your must-have items. So here’s what to look for when choosing the perfect one bag travel backpack:

  • You’re looking for a purposefully designed backpack, which is small enough to be permitted as carry-on luggage by most airlines.
  • It shouldn’t have wheels. This adds unnecessary weight and if it’s too heavy to carry on your back then you’ve packed too much.
  • Don’t go bigger than a 55 liter capacity, or 60 liters at the very most. Most major airlines should permit this as carry-on (although budget airline limits may be smaller).
  • More extreme minimalist travelers often have much smaller bags, sometimes as low as 20 liters. But if you’re an entry-level minimalist, you may not be ready for this level of sacrifice just yet!
  • It should have a front or rear clam shell opening, like a suitcase, as well as a top opening, so avoid large day packs that only have top openings. Easy access is fundamental to successful one bag travel. 
  • You want quality, lightweight construction. Remember - minimalist travel is about buying fewer but higher quality things. This all starts with the bag. See it as an investment that will be central to your daily life, which will last for many years. It’s almost like buying a car, getting one that just feels right for you is vital.
  • There should be dedicated storage for all the tech you carry with you, so this usually excludes hiking bags. 

Check out Pillowpak, our super lightweight 55L minimalist travel bag that’s small enough to qualify as carry-on, but large enough for your minimalist packing needs.

Minimalist packing - how to pack light

After you’ve chosen the perfect minimalist backpack, now comes the slightly more difficult task of minimalist packing. You need to approach packing for minimalist travel with a utilitarian mindset. Resist all those hardwired urges that have become ingrained throughout years of regular travel. To help you get started, here are some sworn by one bag travel hacks.

Clothing and footwear

  • You need to build a travel capsule wardrobe. This is a small collection of timeless and good quality clothes which can be easily paired. Staples include a pair of jeans and slacks in muted tones such as gray and navy, a few quality cotton t-shirts, an oxford shirt or two that can be worn casual or more formal, a merino sweater, and a water-resistant jacket.
  • When it comes to underwear, take up to seven pairs of underwear and four pairs of socks. Or if you’re prepared to wear the same undies twice between washes, get four pairs made from antimicrobial fabric. This material helps to keep things fresh, so you don’t feel like you’re reliving your college years. And definitely buy antimicrobial socks. Most minimalist travelers will get a few wears out of their socks between washes.
  • With footwear, the holy grail of minimalist travel is having just a single pair of shoes. So these need to be comfortable around the city, durable for hiking and stylish enough for nights out. A quality pair of boots, such as Timberland, could be a good choice. Also pack a good quality lightweight pair of sandals. Even if you’re not planning on hitting the beach, they always come in handy and take up barely any space.   
  • What about a hobby that requires specific clothing, such as running or working out? Okay, so this is where the idealism of one bag travel can start to conflict with reality. But there are still plenty of creative workarounds you can find. Ultra-lightweight running shoes are a good solution if you’re going to be taking part in any sports. They add barely any weight and you can roll clothes into them, such as running tops and shorts.
  • Now your clothing list is starting to take shape, you need to consider how you’re going to pack these. Packing cubes are the answer. They’re perfect for separating tops, bottoms , underwear and footwear, and help take your organization to the next level.   

And the rest

  • Next up is toiletries. This is where you can save a lot of space without sacrificing anything. Buy travel-sized versions of all your regular products. Or if you prefer, buy good quality 100ml travel bottles and pour your products into these.
  • With the exception of a notepad, don’t bother carrying around books. They’re unnecessary weight. Invest in a lightweight eReader instead.
  • There are going to be times when you want to carry a smaller pack with you, such as on a day hike. So pack an ultralight stuff bag. You can easily find stuff bags that weigh less than 3.5 ounces, which when unpacked can hold up to 20 liters.

Minimalist Travel Packing List

This is a good all-rounder one bag travel packing list. This would be for a warmer climate, so not so many outer layers are included:

Clothes, footwear and accessories: 

  • Pair of boots
  • Pair of lightweight casual sneakers, such as Converse, or ultra-lightweight running shoes (optional)
  • Pair of sandals
  • 4-7 pairs of underwear (depending on whether they’re antimicrobial or not)
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • Pair of jeans and/or pair of slacks
  • Bathing suit
  • Pair of casual shorts
  • Belt
  • 3 t-shirts
  • Oxford shirt
  • Merino wool pullover or hoodie
  • Waterproof/resistant jacket 
  • Packable down jacket (if the climate requires a warm jacket)
  • Scarf 
  • Baseball cap
  • Sunglasses


  • Toiletry bag
  • Lotions and skin care
  • Razors or beard trimmer
  • Hygiene products
  • Microfiber towel (optional - if you’re planning beach trips)


  • Laptop 
  • eReader
  • Power bank
  • Universal plug adapter
  • Point and shoot camera (optional)


  • Notepad and pen
  • Pack of cards
  • Small first aid kit

Section 3 - How to Travel Stress-Free

Minimalist travel is ultimately about traveling as easy and as stress-free as possible. And this doesn’t stop with simply throwing out the clutter from your suitcase. In fact, there are plenty of traveler tools and resources you can take advantage of.

The Best Apps for Minimalist Travel

Optimize your minimalist travel experience with these apps:

  • Citymapper: Trying to get your head around a city’s public transport network can drain many hours from your schedule. Thankfully, Citymapper clears up the confusion and provides real-time mapping of all the routes near to you.  
  • Calm: Even minimalist travelers suffer from the occasional outburst of travel-induced stress. So regain your composure with Calm, a meditation and sleep app that helps to boost your mindfulness.
  • Great for both rural and urban environments when you don’t have mobile data. Simply download the map of your local area when connected to wi-fi and you’ll be able to access your precise location and a detailed map of the area, even when you have no signal.   
  • Happycow: If you’re a vegetarian, vegan or have other dietary requirements then finding a suitable restaurant in an unfamiliar city can take hours. Thankfully Happycow solves that problem by showing you restaurants in your areas that match your needs.   

Easily Access Co-Working Spaces

Coffee shop working is fine for checking your emails and sending a few Slack messages. However, if you need to get down to some serious business, such as a morning full of back-to-back Zoom meetings, then a co-working space is a much better option and a very wise investment.

When it comes to finding spaces near you, provides a pretty definitive list, along with pricing, features, and opening hours.

If you want to save money on the day rate offered by individual spaces, then there are a number of membership options available that give you access to 100s or 1000s of locations across the world. These include:

And for more details on working on the go, read our minimalist business travel packing guide.

Sharpen Up Your Digital Nomad Skills 

Talking of working on the go, it can be tough at times. Half the challenge is hustling for new business. So sharpen up your remote working skills with online learning platforms including:

In Conclusion  

So there you have it. If you’re thinking of making the switch to minimalist travel, the rewards are obvious. One bag travel can liberate your day-to-day existence when you’re on the road. And now you know what needs to go in your one bag travel packing list and how to choose the perfect one bag travel backpack for you. 

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