Let's face it—nobody likes extra baggage! Traveling with just a backpack keeps you light on your feet, takes you further off the beaten path, and just makes life simpler. But just like everything else, minimalist travel takes a bit of trial and error—and a lot of discipline. After all, even the most experienced travelers fight the urge to overpack. Whether you are planning a weekend trip, a two-week trip, or a two-month trip, with a little know-how, you too can master the art of traveling with just one small bag.
The most critical thing about traveling with just a backpack is—you guessed it! The backpack. Traveling light is inexpensive, but this is not the time to go cheap. You don't want your only luggage to fall apart within the first few days of your adventure. Nor do you want a bag that you realize hurts your shoulders while you're still at the airport. For this reason, you'll want to physically try on a variety of backpacks instead of ordering one online and crossing your fingers. Bottom line: make sure you really love your backpack.
Base the size of your pack on your itinerary. If you'll only be away for a weekend, a 30-liter bag is fine, but go with 35 liters for a week-long trip. More than a week, and you'll want a 45-liter capacity. Bear in mind that the standard airline carry-on restriction only allows for 55 liters.
Whether you go with a backpack or a duffel bag depends on your personal preferences. Duffel bags can usually hold more, and they tend to wrinkle clothing less, but backpacks tend to be the more comfortable, versatile option, especially if you'll be carrying your luggage over long distances. One downside of backpacks? Sweaty backs, especially in hot climates.
Underwear, socks, T-shirts, medication, and any other essential items that you know you will definitely be using on your trip go in your backpack first. This will give you a clear idea of how much space you actually have for extras. If you run out of room while packing less essential things, you'll know which items to leave home.
When you're living out of a backpack, you need to be ruthless about choosing which items of clothing you haul around. Sure, we all love having wardrobe options. But have you noticed that you never wear every single item of clothing you pack in your suitcase? Don't pack for the "what-ifs." If you do run into a situation where you need a special clothing item, just buy it at your destination. Bonus: you now have a cool souvenir to take back with you!
When it comes to clothes, lighter is better. Not only does lightweight clothing take up less space, but it dries quicker on laundry day. Follow this tip even if you're headed to a cooler climate. Several layers of light clothing will actually keep you warmer than one thick layer of heavy clothing. As for outerwear, make sure you bring a packable down jacket instead of a regular coat.
When it comes to color, darker clothing is better than light-colored clothing. Not only are darker colors less likely to show stains, but they can more easily be dressed up or down. The key is versatility—pack simple, easy to wash, and wear clothing that you can easily mix and match. Leave the one-trick ponies of your wardrobe at home, as much as you love them.
If you're not sure how much of each type of clothing to pack, limit yourself to three of each. That means you only pack three pairs of jeans or bottoms, three T-shirts, three pairs of shorts, etc. You'll have one to wear today, a spare you can wear tomorrow and one that is being washed and dried.
Instead of folding your clothes, or worse, stuffing them into your backpack, simply roll them up. You'll be amazed at how much extra room you'll have in your bag after you do this. It also makes it much easier to find something without having to dump the entire contents of your bag out. Best of all, no wrinkles!
You don't want to spend half your trip rummaging through your bag to fish out what you need. That gets old pretty quick. A backpack with plenty of built-in interior pockets and compartments helps with organization. You might also want to look into packing cubes to keep your bag neat and tidy for the duration of your trip. Many seasoned travelers swear by them. If you don't want to bother with that, ziplock bags will usually do the trick.
Understandably, you're tempted to pack your holy grail shampoo. We've all been there. But unless you're going completely off the grid, you can free up a ridiculous amount of space by simply buying all your toiletries at your destination. Even the most seasoned minimalist travelers usually tote along a toothbrush, toothpaste, and antiperspirant—basic hygiene stuff—but any basic personal products you use at home are readily available all over the world. They might even be cheaper.
The key is to minimize everything you bring, both in size and in quantity. If you can access your favorite social media apps and the internet on your smartphone, you probably won't miss your laptop or tablet on your travels. And, unless you're a professional photographer, the camera on your phone can stand in just fine for your bulky DSLR and all those lenses. This rule applies to pretty much everything, from electronics to toiletries to clothing.
Your jeans and jacket take up the most space in your backpack, so wear them when you're on the move. Make sure you are also wearing the heaviest pair of shoes you've packed, like sneakers or hiking boots. Wearing your bulkiest clothing will lighten your load considerably. If it's too hot to wear your jacket, just tie it around the straps of your backpack or wear it around your waist.
Sure, having a shoe for every occasion is reassuring. But lugging around multiple pairs goes against the traveling light goal of backpack travel. Ideally, just bring one pair—and wear them. Make sure they're both comfortable enough for walking all day, but stylish enough to wear out for a casual meal. If you must bring a second pair, pack dressy but lightweight shoes that can be worn for a nice evening meal or a night out. Many places have dress codes, so having a formal option on hand might open you up to a few more activities on your travels. The exception to the two pair rule? A lightweight pair of flip-flops.
If you're staying at a hotel, you can obviously skip this tip—but microfiber travel towels are simply amazing. Not only are they lightweight and perfect for backpacks, they're just as absorbent as the fluffy bath towels you have at home. Plus, regular towels take forever to dry—and musty luggage is exactly what you want when you're living out of a backpack, right? Microfiber towels can even double as a beach towel if you find yourself in a tropical locale.