6 packing hacks that let you travel light with minimal sacrifices

Photo: Angelo Amboldi/Flickr

If you are heading to the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York or Milan this fall, or you’re Kate Middleton on a three-week royal tour, stop reading now. All non-fashionistas/princesses, hi! Let’s talk about minimalist packing.

First, a quick primer on travel minimalism in general: done right, it’s not about living on a mountaintop with only seven worldly possessions. Minimalism is about limiting what’s secondary (and tertiary, and, um, whatever comes after that) so we can focus on what brings us the most joy, happiness, relaxation, awe, pulled pork sandwiches, concerts in the park, or whatever it is we’re looking for. Travel minimalism isn’t just about packing light. It’s about packing light in order to focus on the experience of travel.

Here are six tips:

  1. Wear and toss. You’re probably going to end up buying a pair of leather boots in Italy or a handmade silk dress in Vietnam, so rather than adding to your already overstuffed luggage, save some space by throwing out a couple T-shirts and those shoes you wore though past the soles. Or, better yet…
  2. Wear and donate. Before I left Kenya, I befriended a local man with 13 younger brothers and sisters. The day I left for Spain, I gave him everything but two outfits. I’m not sure which one of us was more thrilled. Additionally, tour companies, like Backroads, along with hotels, hostels, and even cruise ships now accept donations of gently used clothing and shoes(especially in developing countries). Be sure to check before you go.
  3. Shop for travel. If you travel frequently, create a travel minimalism stash. Buy a second set of airline-friendly toiletries and have them packed in advance. Shop for a few signature pieces that roll up easily and don’t wrinkle. Buy super-thin layers you can trade out (or wash in the sink overnight). That way, you only need one or two outer layers (shirts, sweaters, etc.) that require very little laundering. No one but your thankful chiropractor will care that you’ve worn the same 2-4 outfits for two weeks.
  4. But items with multiple uses: an indispensable travel dress for day, night, or work; a sturdy pair of hiking sandals you can wear to the beach; yoga pants dressy enough for a meeting, but comfy enough for sleeping on a 14-hour plane ride; a sarong that can cover your shoulders in a religious setting, serve as a beach towel or skirt, cover your hair if you’re sans hair dryer, or even work as a bag to hold the rest of your stuff.
  5. Don’t be afraid of laundry. I’ve paid under $10 everywhere from Guatemala to Uganda (about $20-$40 in developed countries) to have my clothes laundered outside of pricey business hotels. When available, I’ve done it myself for even less. The best part? Spend two hours in a laundromat as a foreigner, and I can almost guarantee you’ll have at least one memorable cultural exchange. Of course, if you’re on a short business trip, you can always use DUFL to launder, ship and press your clothes.
  6. Pick your splurges carefully. Again, minimalism is all about shedding what you don’t love to focus on what you do. While we want you to be less encumbered — literally — and open to new experiences when you’re traveling, we know keeping grounded will help you do that. Does that mean you bring your favorite polka-dotted rain boots? Books made from real trees? An acoustic guitar?  Your teddy bear? If that’s what makes you happy — but then put on a slightly wrinkled shirt you wore two days ago, get out, and explore.

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