~ or, how to pack everything you own into 2 carry-on bags, forever!
If you’re going to be a traveller with minimalist luggage, you can’t be a fashionista! Fortunately, I never was much of one. When we first started planning to travel full-time, keeping nothing in storage, I went through my cupboards and wardrobes many times, culling items. The first couple of passes were relatively easy. I was ruthless! If I hadn’t worn an item in a year, it was gone. If it definitely, positively, didn’t fit me, it was gone! Fancy cocktail dress, worn once, waiting for the next cocktail party? Gone!
After that it became a bit harder: do I need black trousers or dark blue? Could I fit both? No! Be ruthless! I don’t need heavy and bulky sweaters, think layers! A t-shirt under a shirt, with a sweatshirt on top, plus jacket and scarf, is warm enough, and the t-shirt and shirt can be worn separately as well. Use colours that work together. Don’t pack that top that only works with one pair of trousers, that you won’t wear with anything else! This is what I’ve ended up with:
Edited now, after we left New Zealand, and headed to warmer areas (Australia, SE Asia)
How many pairs of underwear do I need? I decided 7 works. I know some truly minimalist packers will laugh at me, and say 2 is plenty, but I’ve gone with
7 . Now 4 pairs, after the original 7 were worn out and I bought more, but didn’t want to get too many in case they didn’t work out! We did some research and some test runs on different brands for comfort and quick-dryability – important things to consider when you’re packing for light travel. I also have 4 pairs of short cotton socks for wearing with hiking shoes, plus one pair of knee length compression travel socks, that help prevent foot and ankle swelling when flying, and also help prevent DVT. Oh and 1 bra. It’s a pretty, lacey, underwired, flesh-coloured. I don’t wear bras much, so this is it! Found amazingly comfy sports-style bra in Sydney. Bought 4: nude, red, black, and black/white pattern. I decided I needed something to give me a bit more coverage for modesty in SE Asia!
1 pair dark blue cotton long trousers – can be rolled up and buttoned to become capri length. My go-to everyday and traveling trousers, comfy, but reasonably smart too. 1 pair black leggings. Useful to sleep in if it’s cold. Useful as under-layer if it’s cold, but again, not used much, might have to go.
1 pair lightweight, comfy pale beige capris. Smart enough for cities, comfy for all day, pack small. Need to find a replacement pair for when these wear out! Not wearing these at all, might ditch them.
1 pair long white cotton trousers. These are smart and comfy and turn elegant for evenings. I need to find another pair when they wear out! Found a super lightweight pair in Darwin.
2 pairs Now 1 pair! of lightweight, quick-dry zip-off bottom trousers. Hard-wearing, comfy, zip-off the legs to convert to shorts. Super-useful when we’ve been working on game reserves, in the rainforest, jungle etc. 1 pair blue stripey lightweight walking shorts.
1 pair quick-dry shorts. Good for dive boats and humid climates.
1 black cotton tank top. Useful to layer for extra warmth. 1 blue patterned comfy, slightly fancy t-shirt. My go-to top for travelling! 1 black/white patterned sleeveless crossover front top: fine for casual wear, can be dressed up with jewelry for evening.
1 chiffon layered blue/green patterned sleeveless top. A bit more evening-ish, but ok for daywear too.
Treated myself to an elegant black and white, thin, lightweight evening-ish top (but wearable in daytime too).
1 long-sleeved, thin silk chiffon blouse, very thin and light for packing, makes me feel good! 1 orange/blue thin cotton shirt – a new purchase. I think this will be useful, it’s casual, but looks smart with jewelry and my white trousers for evening.
1 thin grey knitted cardigan, with pointy hem edge. Not bulky to pack, a great extra layer of warmth, and just about elegant enough with the pointy hem for almost-evening wear! Very useful 🙂
2 lightweight, long sleeved, quick-dry shirts. Useful when working on game reserves and in the rainforest. Can be layered over tank tops for extra warmth. Long sleeves give protection from sun and insects.
1 old green sweatshirt. You know that lovely comfy sweatshirt, that’s not too thick and bulky? Yeah that one!
I’m not much of a dress person, so I only have two.
They’re both sundress style, with straps not sleeves. One is black/white pattern and floor length, one is orange/cream pattern, knee length. Both have a tiny bit of sparkle, so they are my evening dresses, for those rare occasions! But they’re also comfy and casual enough for daytime. They’re inexpensive, lightweight, knitted acrylic blends, and pack up small by twisting and rolling up. Drip dry, no iron. Nothing I own requires ironing!
I’ve now become a dress person! Found 4, thin, lightweight, floaty, printed, mid-calf length strappy cotton dresses in Darwin. Perfect for hot, humid climates.
2 Now 1 thin shawls for warmth and elegance for evening wear! One is silk/wool and packs small, the other is floaty chiffon and a bit sparkly and packs extremely small! They really help to make me feel dressier if I need to.
Also found a crochet cotton bolero cardi. It was only available in white, so I dyed it with strong tea. It’s my modesty cover-up for temple visits!
Shoes take up a lot of space and weight, so this is where it’s necessary to be really ruthless! I have:
1 pair Keens hiking shoes. Sturdy enough for hiking, not too clumpy for city walks. Comfy enough to wear all day. I do get tired of them, but they’re necessary!
1 pair Chaco sandals. Love these! Comfy and sturdy enough to walk in all day. Good for city streets and hiking where you don’t need closed shoes. They dry quickly if you use them in water, and they’re reasonably slimline to use as summer sandals even with dresses!
1 pair of Jenifer style Footzyfolds. Love these! They pack up really flat, but don’t make the mistake I did of keeping them packed in their folded mode, the soles cracked after a year 🙁 I’m going to have to get a replacement pair. They’re shiny enough to wear as evening shoes, but fine for daytime use too. Not super-sturdy for lots of walking, but good enough, and really comfy soles and inner soles.
Finally replaced my beloved but cracked Footzyfolds with generic grey ballerina flats.
Both Chacos and Footzyfolds are quite pricey, so I keep an eye out on clearance websites like Sierra Trading Post, where you can often find great deals.
I pair flipflops for the beach and garden.
I saw a great tip for packing shoes: use shower caps! Cheap, easy, takes hardly any extra space!
My Chinese slippers. I’ve been buying this style for 40 years, in Chinatowns in London, San Francisco and Italy. These wore out and I can’t find an exact replacement, but I will, somewhere!
Luckily they pack flat, and I love having the comfort of slippers and robe in the mornings and evenings.
Oh yes, and my Kimono-style Robe: fake silk, bright blue, really thin and lightweight. This has received admiring looks on African game reserves, and in the Galapagos. It was a freebie from a posh hotel years ago, when I was in the travel business! The robe had to go, to save space!
2 swimsuits. 1 thin pareo beach wrap.
Toiletry bag: I like this Eagle Creek bag, it has interior pockets and sections, and it fits what I need. I don’t use travel bottles for creams and shampoos. There’s no point buying stuff on the road, then decanting them, then what do you do with what’s left? I buy smaller bottles of lotions and shampoos that will fit in my toiletry bag.
2 1 microfibre towels: 1 large, 1 medium. They pack flat and reasonably small, dry fast and are much easier to dry between uses in a humid climate.
Thin, lightweight hooded rainjacket: packs small and light, useful in the rain, and also blocks wind, so it helps with warmth too,
Jewelry roll: I don’t have much, some dangly earrings for evening dress-up and a lovely sparkly glass bead necklace I fell in love with in Venice. This keeps items secure in their own little pack.
I have a sturdy, classic leather bag from Italy (of course!) that is not too big, but works for passport, wallet, tissues, phone etc. That was really too bulky to keep, and no longer a practical choice, but I didn’t want to ditch, so I mailed it to my mum in England, to keep it for me! I also have a small blue fabric bag, bought in the Galapagos, that is nice for casual use, or even as an evening bag. Fell apart, now replaced by gorgeous little embroidered fabric bag from Atauro Island.
i also decided to invest in a fancy little bag from Pacsafe, and I’ve tricked it out with safety items for my cell phone. Details and photos to come later!
I got this lightweight rucksack from Tom Bihn. It really is very lightweight, and packs very flat, and fits in my luggage when travelling, or I can use it as an additional carry-on or travel bag. This has been extremely useful as a day pack when hiking, or working on game reserves. Tom Bihn also has a great range of laptop bags, totes, travel bags, packing cubes.
Mosquito net: we bought one each (from Amazon) before we went to Africa, and although we didn’t use them there, we did use them (thankfully!) in Costa Rica, and will continue to pack them. Comes in its own packing bag. Yeah, still carrying it, but places we stay that need them, already have them, dammit!
Dive mask & snorkel, plus dive computer & dive torch: We used to have all our own dive gear, but gave it away to our favourite dive place in Belize, ReefCI. We kept our masks, because they’re personal, and it’s good to have one that fits. Many dive places now require a dive computer, and don’t provide one. Much easier than using tables!
Camera with underwater scuba case: rated to 150 feet. I had a Sealife that worked really well, but the humidity got to it in Costa Rica, and it died. Bought this Olympus Tough TG4, which is waterproof on its own, so it should be fine in humidity and rain, and even for snorkeling, and also has a scuba case. I love taking underwater photos and hope to keep improving. For now, we don’t have any additional lenses or external flash lights. For now.
Laptop: mine’s a Dell XPS12. Windows 8.1 and touchscreen. Had some issues at first, but Dell replaced the motherboard for free, and I just upgraded the SSD to give me more storage space. And I spilled water on it, saved in Brisbane. And it died again, resuscitated in Hanoi, but the screen has died finally. It’s going to get replaced in Singapore.
Kindle: I love books, and so a Kindle is vital! I don’t pay for any books though. I have free subscriptions to 2 websites: freebooksy.com and bookbub.com who send me daily lists of free books. Out of all the books they send, at least some are worth reading! You can also find most “classic” books in Kindle versions for free online. When I’ve been able to join a library, I can usually borrow library books on Kindle too.
Warm, wool, hip length jacket. This doesn’t fit in luggage, I carry this onto planes, trains etc. Finally replaced by a magenta pink two-in-one jacket. Can’t remember the brand right now, but I’ll find it and add a link. It’s a shell, and a separate fleece. Although it’s really too warm to use in Asia, I have used the shell on rainy days, and I’m keeping it, as it’ll be useful in England (coming soon).
Pair of lined suede gloves, warm and smart.
Pair of gardening gloves – very welcome when working on hands-on volunteer projects!
1 Panama hat: they’re made in Ecuador, not Panama! Great against the sun and pretty snazzy looking too! Rolls up tight for packing.
1 scruffy canvas bush hat, bought in South Africa. Packs flat. Face-net against mosquitos, packs up tiny, when you need it, you really need it!
Replaced by a very dishy little canvas number from Western Australia, with built-in fly/mosquito head net!
Travel sewing kit: very small, useful for loose buttons.
Small make-up bag: I don’t use much – mascara, concealer, eyebrow pencil, face powder, when I dress up!
Travel first aid kit: Chris actually carries this, but I don’t remember that we’ve used it yet!
Travel safe: made by Travelon, and Chris carries this. This is where passports, credit cards and spare cash go, when they’re not on our persons. It’s a stiff bag, with metal mesh inside, so it’s slashproof, and attaches by cable to an immoveable object like a bathroom pipe or bedframe. Places we stay don’t usually have a safe, and this is more secure than keeping things in a suitcase or pocket. I can’t remember where we found it, although I do remember we looked everywhere for the right thing! And now I can’t find it on Travelon’s site, or anywhere else. However, Pacsafe have 2 similar looking safes.
Electronic cables: to organise charging cables, I attached velcro ties, and wrote what item they belong to on the back, and they are stored rolled up in this little packing bag, together with travel adaptors and the baggage travel locks, when they’re not in use.
This is also where I keep my Headlamp. This one is by Black Diamond, bought through Amazon. It also has a red light, which is great for viewing animals at night. I would like it if I could find one where the on/off button is less sensitive, this one sometimes goes on when packed!
Washing line: I nearly forgot the washing line! There are lots of brands out there, this is the one we’ve just bought. This has been invaluable! It’s three strands of rubber plaited together. It’s pretty small for packing, but stretches to about 7 feet long.
There’s usually at least a couple of possible attachment points in bathrooms wherever we are, or if we have access to outdoors we’ll tie it to a couple of trees. Because of the plaited rubber, you don’t need clothes pegs, you just push a piece of fabric between the rubber, and it’s held in place. We deliberately kept only clothes that are lightweight and dry quickly, so this works really well. Unfortunately the first one we bought deteriorated quickly, as it was used in the African sun a lot, so we’ve just bought 2 new ones to keep us going.
When I look at this long list of items, I’m amazed that everything fits into 2 airline-type carry-on bags, but it really does!
Documents: they’re all digital! We scanned everything important, and keep copies on separate external drives, as well as on our laptops, and in the cloud. The only hard copies are passports and driving licenses.
Packing system: to roll or fold? I roll. I also love these Eagle Creek packing cubes for separating different types of clothing. (There are lots of brands of packing cubes around.) Tops in one, “working” clothes in another, “evening” clothes in the white one, underwear and socks in a small one. I find it really helps to keep things organized and saves space.
Music: Before we sold everything, I put all our CDs digitally on my laptop. Chris found some software and a little piece of hardware, that connected between the computer and the record player, and I could then play and digitally record all our vinyl. So now although we got rid of everything, we still have our music. My laptop has pretty decent speakers,
and we also have a small Fender travel amp/speaker, so we can use that if we want even more volume! Yes Chris has a speaker, he needs it for his guitar. Yes he kept a guitar, it’s a very neat travel guitar and it sounds great!
Click here for His Packing List!
Note: we weren’t paid to use or endorse any of these items. We researched and bought them ourselves. There are lots of great brands out there, but these are some we’ve used and that work for us.
Picture: No, not a photo of us, but the True Things drawing by Brian Andreas. Chris bought me this years ago as a birthday present, and it’s come to inspire us and symbolise what we try to do. I had it laminated, and it sits somewhere in every room we sleep in. The quotation is “they came to sit & dangle their feet off the edge of the world, and after awhile they forgot everything but the good and true things they would do someday.”
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