Nothing is worse than lugging around a heavy backpack for weeks on end. Or a suitcase. The horror.
On my first international trip to Italy, I packed 20kgs of stuff for three weeks. Flash forward to 2017, and I’ve just come back from a three-month trip with only an 8kg backpack.
In the consumer driven society we live in, it’s not unusual to feel attached to our stuff. Whether it’s from our electronics or clothes, the “I need this” thought often drives us into buying and packing more.
If you find yourself struggling to decide if an item REALLY needs to be packed, ask yourself these questions:
- Can the item be mixed matched for different looks?
- Is it easier to buy once I arrive?
- When was the last time I wore this?
- Is it an essential item?
After my trip to Ireland, Turkey, Georgia and Armenia with my lightest backpack yet, I’ve finally understood how little I need.
Want to reduce your load and keep your packing list to the absolute essentials?
Start with these minimalist backpacking tips to stop yourself from over packing on your next trip.
Table of Contents
Travel Bags and Gear
So after my first 3 or 4 trips abroad, I ditched check-in luggage and started limiting myself to carry-on only. Why? It’s a lot less hassle and stress. I don’t have to wait for my bag to pop out on the conveyor belt and I can get out of the airport in no time.
Backpacks and Carry-on Suitcases
First, make sure the bag will fit the carry-on limits and size restrictions for the airline. If you are going for a suitcase, I recommend finding the lightest one possible.
But if you are over 7kg and want to make sure you don’t get busted, check-in online. I’ve used this trick many a time to bypass the counter staff and get my 10kg backpack onto the plane without anyone batting an eyelash.
Having said that, I’m sure my sneaky ways will one day come back to bite me in the ass. So use this tip at your own peril.
For backpacks, I highly recommend choosing one from Cape Union Mart. I use a K-Way, and this is the closest one I could find to the backpack I have at the moment. I love it because there are pockets for literally everything and it even has a pouch for my laptop. This makes pulling it out for security checks SO much easier. #winning
Since most airlines allow you one carry-on bag and one personal item, I bring along a second smaller bag.
At the moment, I’m using a black backpack from H&M, but I’m in the market for a crossbody camera bag. I’d love to get my hands on one of these Gatta bags, that double as a stylish camera bag and handbag.
What I love about the crossbody style is that it’s also right in front of you the whole time and helps to prevent purse snatching or pickpocketing.
Other more affordable options that I have my eye on include Koolertron Waterproof Synthetic Leather Camera Bag and this waterproof messenger camera bag.
If you want to keep your backpack extra organised and free up space, you’ll love packing cubes. Dischem and Clicks sell them, but I’d avoid the latter if you are on a budget. Dischem’s range is a lot cheaper, and you don’t need to fork out hundreds of Rands for a square designed to hold your clothes.
But if buying some is out of your budget, don’t stress. It’s not essential, and there is always the rolling method.
Other bags for organisation
For my makeup and toiletries, I put everything in two clear sealable bags. These items usually go into my small bag pack to make security checks go faster and to keep them close if I need them on the plane.
The other bag I pack is a netted laundry bag. I use this to keep my dirty clothes separate and to make transporting my clothes to the washing machine at hostels less of a hassle.
Minimalist Backpacking Wardrobe
Believe it or not, but you don’t need a unique outfit for every day of your travels. The key is to choose items that you can mix and match to give you different looks. It’s also important to research the weather beforehand as well as any cultural dress codes you might need to abide by.
Dresses are amazing multifunction items, but the best part is that it’s just one thing and then and BAM you’re dressed. I would have loved to take one for my recent trip, but I haven’t managed to find that perfect travel dress- yet.
Instead, I stuck to a combo of jeans, leggings and harem pants. Most of my clothes are usually neutrals like black or white, and I pair them with bright, contrasting colours.
I’m definitely not the most fashionable travel blogger out there. I dress for comfort, and it would be a small form of torture to ask me to plan outfits for the perfect Instagram shot.
For my recent backpacking trip I packed the following for a winter and summer wardrobe:
- 1 x jeans
- 1 x black leggings
- 1 x harem pants
- 3 x tank tops
- 3 x long sleeve tops
My shopping weakness is shoes. I have a collection of beautiful heels that I don’t even wear, I’ve just hoarded them over the years.
While I haven’t bought any new heels in the last three years, the shoe section is still my greatest weakness in any shop.
So I can understand the pain when it comes to choosing one or two pairs of shoes for a trip.
The best way to get around this is to think about the activities you are going to be doing on your travels.
I knew I was going to be doing a lot of walking and hiking, so I packed my trusty pair of Jeep® GECKOs. While these shoes were sent to me as part of an influencer campaign, I’ve fallen in love with them. They are super comfortable, and I easily walked 10 km a day in them without a problem.
My second shoe choice was a pair of flats. I choose these for days where I wouldn’t be walking a lot or for adventures out on the town.
When packing your two pairs of shoes (yes, only two), always wear your heaviest on the plane. It will free up space and make your pack less heavy.
Beauty and Wellness Travel Essentials
After dwindling down your wardrobe to the bare minimum, the next struggle is toiletries. The good news is that it’s a lot more daunting than it actually is.
Skincare and Hair
Another one of my favourite products from Dischem is those travel sized bottles. I know these bottles look small, but I still had product left by the time I came back to South Africa.
I’d love to one way use a 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner, but I haven’t found any vegan options on the market in South Africa.
Most hotels and even hostels are starting to provide hair dryers to guests. Check with your accommodation beforehand or just let your hair air dry to avoid the extra weight.
Here’s everything I packed for my trip:
- 1 x travel-sized shampoo bottle
- 1 x travel-sized conditioner bottle
- 1 x moisturiser / sunscreen
- 1 x toner
- 1 x face wash
- 1 x body wash
The rule of thumb for packing makeup as a minimalist is to keep it down to your three must-have items.
For me, that’s my foundation, mascara and eyeliner. But for this trip, I did end up having more makeup than usual as I bought a Kat Von D eyeshadow palette and liquid lipstick while in Ireland.
When in Rome, you know?
Whenever I travel, I always like to make sure I have vitamin C on hand. I’m very susceptible to temperature changes, and I often get sick if I don’t stay at a consistent heat. Think of me as proof that reptilians exist.
To combat this, a bottle of Corenza C is always in my bag as well as a pack of Advil. I also carry fever blister balm as I’m prone to a breakout every couple of months.
If you’re going to have your period during your travels, pack enough tampons or pads. Or you could try those menstrual cups which are all the rage at the moment. They are more environmentally friendly, plus I hear you can keep one in for up to 12 hours which is ideal for travel.
Electronics and Tech
As a full-time freelance writer, I can’t go anywhere without my laptop. It’s rare for me not to be working even when I am travelling.
But if you aren’t like me, you shouldn’t need more than the following:
- Camera (I use a Canon D700) + tripod + lenses.
- Tablet or e-Reader
- Chargers and USB cords
- Converters / adapters
If you want to see everything that I packed on my last trip, watch the video below. Or download my Minimalist Backpacking List to keep at hand for your next trip!