Travel Like a Minimalist

Travel is booming. It seems as though most of us are happy to be able to move about, visit friends, revisit familiar destinations, and strike out to explore new locations. While the traveling is fun, it can also be tiring, especially when we are dragging around a lot of our belongings and responsibilities. This past week at Minimal Quest – a monthly virtual meetup to discuss organizing and minimalism – we talked about ideas for how to travel like a minimalist. Would you like to travel lighter this year? If so, here are a few ideas.

Use a Packing List

Start with a basic packing list. Download the template, and then customize the list for each type of trip you take (e.g., ski trip, beach vacation, weekend getaway, holiday trip, visit to the kids, etc.). Save each new list in a folder entitled “Packing Lists.”

Shoes add bulk, so select one color scheme (e.g., blue, black, or brown), and pack as few shoes as possible. For instance, one for sightseeing and one for restaurants. Another way to reduce bulk is to pack a few basic garments that can be worn repeatedly, such as blue or black pants.  Use smaller, lightweight accessories to provide variety. Remember, you are there to travel, not put on a fashion show. The less you bring, the easier your trip will be.

Make Reservations in Advance

Nothing ruins a vacation like showing up only to discover that you can’t see or do what you planned because everything is booked, full, under construction, or otherwise unavailable. Secure spots for meals, activities, shows, childcare, etc. before you travel.

Additionally, start early arranging care for your home, plants, and pets. Kennels, pet sitters, and other similar suppliers are also very busy right now.

Manage Expectations Back Home

It is harder than ever to truly escape the demands of daily life. Smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other technology have led to many leading a life that is perpetually “on call.” To travel like a minimalist, you want to minimize these obligations so you can focus your attention on the trip.

Therefore, it is important to communicate with friends, family, and work regarding:

  • when you will be gone
  • if you will be reachable
  • which communication tools you will be checking (i.e., emails, texts, voicemails, Whatsapp™, etc.)
  • when/how often you will be checking messages

Setting an “away message” is another way to remind people that they shouldn’t expect to get a quick reply. If possible, add an extra day of blackout after you return to grocery shop, answer emails, do laundry, etc.

Carry a Few Small, Helpful Items

Minimalist travel isn’t only about bringing less, it is also about bringing what you need to minimize aggravation and stress. In addition to clothing and personal care items, remember:

  • Small bills for tipping (don’t rely on being able to get change right away)
  • A portable battery charger for electronics (this can be a lifesaver if you are out and about all day)
  • A zip-top bag for receipts (offload receipts into this bag at the end of each day so you aren’t carrying around a lot of bulky paper)
  • Printed copies of tickets and travel documents (in case you lose Wi-fi or the venue requires printed tickets)
  • A refillable water bottle (it isn’t always easy to find a vendor, and staying hydrated will help you enjoy your trip)
Unpack When You First Arrive

It is tempting to hop right into fun activities when you arrive at a vacation destination, but your visit will be smoother if you take a few minutes up front to establish order. Establishing “homes” for the items you brought will enable you to find them quickly and reliably for the duration of your visit. Since you are in a new setting, it is easy to put things down and then be unable to remember where they are. You don’t want to waste precious vacation time trying to find what you need. In addition to clothing, choose locations for:

  • Electronics & charging
  • Keys
  • Glasses/sunglasses
  • Important papers and travel documents
  • Loose change
  • Toiletries
  • Valuables
  • Dirty Laundry
  • Keepsakes
Be Mindful About Souvenirs

Buying souvenirs is optional. It is possible have a great vacation without buying anything at all! If you enjoy bringing souvenirs home, before purchasing, clarify how you will get items home, where you will store them upon your return, and how you will use them. Many items we buy while traveling are trinkets that end up collecting dust. Sometimes, we make an impulse purchase and then realize we cannot carry the item on an airplane or that it is going to cost a lot of money to get it shipped home.

As a general rule of thumb, select items that you will use.

Some examples of “useful” souvenirs include:

  • Artwork, particularly for a location you determine in advance
  • Holiday decorations that you take out and enjoy every year
  • Clothing and accessories that you will wear
  • Food items you can eat and enjoy (although be careful about transportation restrictions, especially if you are bringing items in from another country)
  • Items for entertaining (e.g., coasters, platters, utensils, etc.)
  • Pieces that will become part of a collection

Additionally, while gifts are lovely, be mindful about what you give to someone else. Remember that they were not on the trip and might not have the same emotional attachment to an item that you do.

*     *     *

Before you head home, remember to check your vacation spot to avoid leaving items behind. Also, use any waiting or travel time you might have to get a jumpstart on re-entry.

Do you have any travel plans in the upcoming months? Do you travel like a minimalist?

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20 thoughts on “Travel Like a Minimalist”

    1. I love having a collection of packing lists. It makes the whole process so much easier. I hate starting over each time, trying to re-figure out what I need to bring!

  1. This is a wonderful post, Seana. I love your tips regarding technology and advance planning. We are all too reachable and it’s difficult to truly relax on vacation if you continually find yourself responding to incoming messages. Setting guidelines for when you will reply to messages as well as how often you are checking in is a great idea. As for advance planning, I love your suggestion for making reservations both at home and at your destination. When I travel, I also book Josie into her boarding location plus I arrange for my plants to be watered.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…Reasons To Organize Your Closet With A Professional OrganizerMy Profile

    1. It’s been surprising to find out how quickly the boarding places book up! More than one of my friends has found this to be an unexpected “pain point” in their vacation planning. One person I know had been planning on a sitter who turned out to be busy, and they had to cancel their vacation. That’s not a fun surprise!

    1. I love both of these, Janet. My younger daughter collects postcards, and my older daughter collects magnets. Both have been easy to display, and to switch out periodically. Lapel pins are fun – I haven’t seen many of those. Does he wear them?

  2. Great tips! I love that you created this travel tips post with a minimalist spin. I like to carry an extra collapsible bag if I buy gifts for someone. I also use compression bags to separate clothing, they also help keep dirty clothes away from clean ones and they fit in the bag more easily. We are taking a cruise with the family this year, so I will use this list when I make my packing/to-do list.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…61 Positive Affirmations To Start Your DayMy Profile

  3. Hi Seana, A topic close to my heart – we are currently traveling in Morocco at the moment. Some great tips here for anyone planning a trip.

    As you said, I definitely would recommend booking in advance for any popular attractions or tours, we are seeing places booked up much faster than before. I think the changes in ticketing and entry procedures that occurred during the COVID-19 has now made it so much more essential to book in advance. For example, at least in Europe, places like the Louvre and Vatican Museums are already seeing some dates book up 2 months in advance. We’ve never seen places book up this far in advance making it harder to be more flexible when traveling if you want to make sure you get to visit the big attractions.
    Jessica recently posted…15 Best Travel Journals for Travelers – Guide to Choosing the Perfect Travel JournalMy Profile

    1. Great feedback from the front lines! I’m hearing this sporadically from various people. On a recent trip to St. Croix, we had trouble getting dinner reservations, and that has never happened before. Someone in our group shared that they had been disappointed on a trip because a site wouldn’t accept their etickets, so that’s why I suggested have printed copies. If there was ever a time to plan, I guess it is now!

      Have fun in Morocco!!

  4. I love this topic, even though I’m not a minimalist, nor am I remotely minimalist when I travel. I follow almost all of this advice, however, and I love your infographic! I honestly don’t know how anyone travels without a packing list; how else do you know you’ve put everything back for the return trip? I have a default packing list for NAPO conference, divided by which items go in which designated packing cubes; the only things that ever change are when I sub out new outfits for those no longer making the cut. I have a similar list for non-conference domestic travel and one for international travel that made my trips to Italy and the UK pretty much problem free.

    And gracious yes, having a buffer day where nobody *really* knows you’re back ensures you can rest from your travels and get all those essential tasks completed. Great post! Every traveler should read this!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Privacy in Your Home Office: From Reality to FantasyMy Profile

    1. My packing lists keep me sane! I’m holding a recovery day after the Summit this year. I need to write in my planner, “Seana, do NOT book this! LOL”

  5. Great ideas. I recently traveled to a location we have visited many times only to find out that many restaurants had closed and the remaining ones were booked. We managed to get a few reservations but next year we will make reservations before we go. All those suggestions are helpful.


  6. Packing lists can be really helpful, especially if you travel the same place or type of place often. Don’t try to remember everything if you can write it down and save that brain space for enjoying your trip.
    Janet Schiesl recently posted…Our Favorite AppsMy Profile

    1. I’m about to travel by myself with one bag – it sure is easier than it was when I had littles! At the same time, this is a business trip, so it isn’t quite as much fun. I was in an airport awhile ago and saw a young couple with a baby and a LOT of gear. It reminded me how much you need to bring when you have babies. Seasons of life…

  7. I like having a bunch of packing lists. It makes the whole process much simpler. I don’t like starting from scratch every time, trying to remember what I should bring!

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