I have discovered there are two packers in life. The minimalist packer and the maximalist packer. I am a minimalist. I have always been on the minimal side of things but the more years I travel the less I pack. Truth be told I am lazy. I can not be bothered carrying stuff around that won’t be used. We often travel for weeks at a time and to be carting a whole bunch of stuff around that hardly gets used is too much effort for me. Here is a run down on how we do it in our house and a few tips, if you feel now is the time to become a minimalist.

The minimalist bag

My bag of choice is a Victorinox Lexicon Global Carry On bag with only 2 wheels. It is hard to find good 2 wheeled luggage these days but as we travel on the train a lot I prefer it. The 4 wheeled bags skate all over the place on the train if you don’t manage to get a rack for them. It holds around 34 litres. Inside it has some packing dividers which I sometimes use and sometimes take out and leave at home depending on my needs for the trip.

 

 

Good quality two wheeled bags are hard to come by these days. I love my Victorinox one.

My children have had the small Fairfax roller bags from Pottery Barn Kids since the day they were born. They also have the two wheeled version because that was all that was available when I bought them. I am amazed how long they have lasted (and by the fact my kids don’t think they are now too cool for luggage with their name embroidered on it). We have a rule in our house that if you can walk you can pull your own case and these were easy for them to pull when they were little. We have found the small Fairfax cases to be excellent, they are a perfect size, easy to pull, robust and easy to clean.

 

My husband is a whole different kettle of fish. He likes the Northface Basecamp Duffle Bag. His is the Large 90 litre one (too big IMHO). He likes to be able to carry it on his back through train stations and airports. My back is not built for such things. Truly though I think he likes it because it makes him feel like a 21 year old backpacker, not a 50 year old father hauling a family around. He would say it is durable, waterproof, has space for a lot of stuff and is very easy to spot on a baggage carousel.

 

 

The versatile Northface Duffle Bag (makes you feel young even if you’re not).

None of our bags weighs more than around 12 kg and these days, they are just about always between 10 and 12 kg. 10 if we are heading to a summer destination and 12 if its winter. I have a few tricks to keep it light and a loose packing list that doesn’t change too much between the seasons but does have a few things added for winter. We usually still check all the bags because we are often on long haul flights and I would rather it was checked than we had to cart it between planes and around airports during layovers.

Top 6 packing tips for a minimalist

Skin coloured underwear – keeping it simple and it goes with whatever you are wearing over it. Just about all styles of underwear come in beige and it might not be the prettiest but it is the most practical for travel.

Icebreaker – this is not the cheapest but is amazing stuff. It is thin merino wool clothing from New Zealand. It packs down so well in a suitcase, you don’t have to worry about wrinkles, it’s warm and it’s easy to care for – you can wash it and hand it up and by morning it will be dry. You can get everything in Icebreaker – leggings, skirts, singlets, t-shirts, dresses, underwear. Icebreaker really helps keep your winter packing to a minimum.

Denim – you can wear denim for days, weeks, some may even say moths without having to wash it. Don’t get me wrong it gets dirty but to the untrained eye, it’s hard to tell just how grubby it is. You can hand wash it and even though it won’t become truly clean it is clean enough to wear anywhere. Today’s stretch denim isn’t so good because it does get stretched out and to make it fit well again you need to wash it but hand washing does the trick. Just make sure you wash it on a sunny day.

Travel size toiletries – always keep a stash of travel size toiletries on hand ready for when you need them. I always make sure there is travel size toothpaste and shampoo in the cupboard so I don’t have to go searching for it when its time to pack. The one-use size you get given by some brands as a sample is also ideal for weekend travel.

Wash everything – make sure everything is washed and ironed and folded by the day you want to pack. This means everything is an option for packing so you don’t have to ditch something because it’s not clean.

Shoes – this just might be the trickiest for a minimalist packer. It depends on what kind of a traveller you are on what kind of shoes you will need. For us we are walkers – we always walk a lot when we are away. I always take (& usually wear on the plane) a good pair of walking shoes. The season we are travelling to will dictate what they are. I often also pack a pair of ballet flats (for winter) or fancy leather flip flops (for summer) in case we go somewhere that requires more than just street shoes. That’s it only two pairs of shoes! Although I have been known to sneak in a pair of rubber flip flops in summer, bringing it to 3 pairs.

How to pack

For a minimalist packer with a decent bag, it really doesn’t matter how you pack as it will all fit in easily. No need to weigh up the pros and cons of folding versus rolling. The most important thing to keep in mind is toiletries if you are going to carry on your bag. Usually, you can only take 100ml of liquids in any one bottle. Be prepared and have them packed in a clear plastic bag for security to see easily and if possible pack them at the top of your case as it makes it far easier to fish them out when you are going through screening.

Packing list

I don’t find packing lists overly helpful because it depends a lot on where you are going and what type of trip you are going on. However, as a guide, I am going to give you the packing lists I use for kids. This is basically the same list I have used every summer for 13 years for all 3 of my kids. This is everything I take for 6-8 weeks in the sun.

Kids Summer Packing List

  • 5 pairs of underpants
  • 3 pairs of shorts (One should be denim.
  • 4 t-shirts (sometime I will take a couple of old ones that I know will get replaced along the way)
  • 1 long sleeved t-shirt
  • 1 thin long sleeved cotton cover-up
  • 2 swimsuits
  • 2 swim shirts
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 pair of sandals (Tevas, Birkenstocks or something similar)
  • Sand toy (a handleless shovel usually)
  • Toothbrush & Shampoo (I usually pack all the toothbrushes, toothpaste and shampoo together in one toilet bag)
  • Backpack with their Kindles, teddies, drawing sets and random bits they usually pick up along the way.
  • For my daughter, I would probably add in 2 or 3 sundresses or skirts and perhaps drop the shorts to 2 pairs.

Good luck to those of you out there who are keen to try the minimalist way of packing. Feel free to be ruthless and enjoy the freedom of traveling light.


Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.