Minimalist Travel: What’s in My Suitcase

In response to my Traveling Light post last week, I received several requests that I list the contents of my carry-on. I’m happy to oblige, as I think we’d all be happier travelers with much less stuff. :-)

Furthermore, my minimalist packing system is no secret—in fact, there’s a certain security official at London Heathrow who could have written this post for me, given the 20 minutes he spent unpacking and inspecting the entire contents while I was trying to make a connecting flight to Venice. (Note: if you don’t want to treat airport security, and dozens of strangers, to an intimate look inside your perfectly packed bag, don’t bring a spork on an international flight.)

The list below covers what I pack for a trip of about 10-14 days (the typical length of my overseas travel). However, I’d pack the exact same stuff if I were traveling for 3 months (I’d just wash more often). For shorter trips and domestic travel, I pack less; and for overnight or two-day trips, I often take nothing more than a large purse.

Because I don’t like to have loose items in my suitcase, I pack almost everything into two “holders”: clothes in a packing cube, and toiletries and miscellaneous items in a large rectangular toiletry bag:

My suitcase: the Outdoor Products Essential Carryon

My suitcase: the Outdoor Products Essential Carryon

So here you have it—the contents of my minimalist suitcase:

What I’m wearing on flight/travel day:
Black pants (lightweight, straight leg pair that can be dressed up or down)
Lightweight top
Lightweight silk cardigan
Underwear
Bra
Socks
Shoes
(This is all I need for an overnight trip, along with some toiletries in my purse—I have no qualms about wearing the same thing the next day.)

In the packing cube:
Black pants (so that makes two pairs total, counting the ones I’m wearing)
Black nylon skirt (long or short, depending on season and itinerary—I’ll often skip this if we’re unlikely to go to a “fancy” restaurant during the trip)
Two or three tops in different colors (in lightweight, packable materials)
Lightweight pajamas
5 pairs of underwear
1 bra
2 pairs of socks
lightweight silk scarf (this folds to practically nothing, and dresses up any outfit)

For winter travel/colder climates: If I’m going somewhere cold, I’ll also include silk long johns—they’re extremely lightweight, take up next to no space, and eliminate the need for bulkier clothing. I’ll also pack one heavier sweater or jacket, and either wear it or lay it across the top of my packing cube and toiletry bag.

A note on shoes: Most of the time I travel with only the shoes I’m wearing (my pair of choice is comfortable for walking, but also appropriate for a nice restaurant). But if I’m bringing a skirt (which means a more formal dinner or activity is on the agenda), I’ll slip in a little pair of ballet flats or dressy sandals.

In toiletry bag:
Travel toothbrush
Small toothpaste
Small plastic bottle of facial cleanser
Moisturizer (with SPF)
Powder compact
Lip balm/lipstick
Tiny tube of blush
Small travel brush
Comb
Travel-size pump hairspray
Razor
One or two travel packets of laundry detergent (the key to traveling light!)
Travel clothesline
Lightweight, super-absorbent towel
A handful of band-aids
A few ziplock bags
For foreign travel: Small packs/bottles of Immodium, Pepto Bismol (caplets), and Advil (you can’t buy ibuprofen off the shelf in some countries). Though they take up some space, I find it’s easier to have these things on hand than try to request them from a foreign pharmacy, or decipher labels in a foreign language.
Titanium cup (not every hotel provides mugs for coffee/tea)
A couple of tea bags
Spork (great for picnics and eating grocery store fare) (Warning: for domestic flights only—my last one was confiscated by the above-mentioned security official.)

Note: I don’t travel with soap, shampoo, or conditioner; I use whatever’s provided at the hotels in which I’m staying. First, because I *hate* worrying about liquids spilling in my bag, and second, because the hotel provisions are usually more luxurious than whatever I would bring. :-)

Other stuff:
Travel umbrella
Paper confirmations of flight, hotel, train, museum reservations (better to have them than not—my husband spent a morning in Rome looking for somewhere to print off our Vatican reservations)
Photocopy of passport (for foreign travel)
Lightweight nylon purse (used as a day bag), holding the following:
A couple of power bars
Small hand sanitizer or wipes
Small foldable rain poncho (for unexpected downpours)
Passport, drivers license, credit card, debit card, cash
Money belt (for foreign travel)
Book (for long flights or train rides)
Ipod and earbuds (for long flights or train rides)
Cell phone
Camera and extra battery
Maps and *pages* (I tear them out) of guidebooks that relate to where I’m going

You can see from my clothes list that I’ll wear the same outfit multiple times during the trip. Of course, nobody knows (or notices) this other than my husband—and it’s perfectly fine with him.

Everyone has different needs and preferences—this is simply what works for me. I wouldn’t call this ultra-minimalist, as I could certainly get by with less. I’ve included some things that would be considered luxuries or “just-in-cases” (like medicines, titanium cup, iPod, etc). But from my experience, this is the stuff that meets all my anticipated needs, and provides me with a nice level of comfort during my trip.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!

97 comments to Minimalist Travel: What’s in My Suitcase

  • kris

    Fun to read your packing list! (And also very helpful.)

    Would love to hear more about your shoes, the ones you describe as “comfortable for walking, but also appropriate for a nice restaurant.”

    Thanks!

  • Michelle

    What a great list! I have to say my one terror in packing light would be that whatever I washed didn’t dry by the next day… and I’ve have to travel on with damp stuff in my bag or (gulp!) wear it. I guess if it’s nylon or similar fabric it would dry quickly, especially in those sometimes overheated hotel rooms.

    Kris (above), I’m interested in the shoes too – maybe a pair of comfy mary janes?

    I laughed about the spork being confiscated. I can’t survive without my nail clippers and tweezers!

  • miss minimalist

    Hi kris and Michelle!

    When DH and I travel, we walk EVERYWHERE–we’re usually on our feet from the time we leave our hotel in the morning until we return at night. So I needed a *really* comfortable walking shoe. For the last few years, I’ve been wearing the Merrell Spire Stretch:

    http://www.merrell.com/US/en-us/ViewProduct.mvc.aspx/10445W/0/Womens/Spire-Stretch?galleryId=W-F

    They may not be the most stylish shoes in the world, but they’re unbelievably comfortable and actually look quite nice with long pants (and they’re much more attractive than sneakers or hiking shoes for going out to dinner!). I’ve walked all over the UK, Europe, and Japan in them. :-)

    The only problem is that they don’t work with skirts. Therefore, I’ve been thinking of replacing them with the very cute Merrell Brio:

    http://www.merrell.com/US/en-us/ViewProduct.mvc.aspx/18194W/0/Womens/Brio?galleryId=W-F

    If your itinerary doesn’t involve walking 10 hours a day, the Brio looks like an ideal travel shoe (I’m just not sure it offers the same footbed support as the Spire Stretch).

    Michelle, most of my clothes are pretty quick-drying, so the clothesline is usually sufficient. I’ve also used the hotel hairdryer when necessary. Jeans can be a problem, though; DH had to transport a very wet pair from Paris to London–where he was thrilled to find a heated towel rack in our hotel room (the best travel clothes dryer!).

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David@thegoodhuman and miss minimalist, miss minimalist. miss minimalist said: Like to travel light? Take a peek inside my minimalist suitcase: http://bit.ly/2hbmmx […]

  • Love the clothesline idea! I’ve rigged up some pretty wacky situations using lamp stands and whatever else I can find to hang with wet clothes over–not such a good deal.

    What do you use to wash your cup? Just a little smidge of dish detergent…or maybe shampoo?

    Sounds like you have this traveling thing under control!!

    Kris
    Working hard at http://www.sccworlds.com

  • nicole 86

    Just two pants don’t seem enough. Here ( in France ) hotels don’t provide hair dryer, so I wouldn’t dare to wash anything other than underwear or socks if I am leaving the day after.

    I didn’t know if these shoes are available in France, they seem really comfortable and nice. I would have a try if I found them.

  • miss minimalist

    Actually, a super-absorbent towel helps the drying process along nicely (I completely forgot to put this on my list, as DH usually carries them–I’ll go back and add it!).

    This is what we use:
    http://www.rei.com/product/783560

    So after washing your clothes in the bathtub or sink, ROLL the items in the towel while wringing out the excess water. Believe it or not, this gets them about 50% dry. Then hang them overnight on the clothesline (bring the twisty kind so you don’t need clips–like this: http://www.rei.com/product/765732). Then use the hairdryer (if available) if anything’s still damp.

    As nicole 86 points out, if you’re staying someplace more than one night, it can help to wash larger items earlier in your stay (just to be on the safe side).

    Another Kris, LOL–we used to do the same before discovering the clothesline! I usually use just a bit of hand soap for my cup.

  • miss minimalist

    nicole 86, I’ve never felt that I needed any more than two pairs of pants–you can only wear one pair at a time, after all!

    That said, my pajama pants are a stretchy-knit, yoga-type pant–so they can fill in as street clothes in an emergency. :-) They’re also good for lounging around the hotel.

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by missminimalist: Like to travel light? Take a peek inside my minimalist suitcase: http://bit.ly/2hbmmx

  • nicole 86

    Many thanks for the towel tip. Great point !

  • […] lost 110,200 jobs during the past year Minimalist Travel: What’s in My Suitcase (Source: […]

  • hi,

    i just found your blog and love it. i’m so inspired to purge more from my life. i just thought i’d add this for your travel tips. most people can hardly believe that your shampoo can be used as a body wash and vice versa. hair and skin have the same ph. i’m an esthetician for aveda and i can assure you this is true. so, in a pinch you only need to bring one.

    ~janet

  • miss minimalist

    That’s a great tip, Janet–thanks so much for sharing it! I’m a big fan of multi-functional items. :-)

  • Tradd

    Thanks for the very helpful and detailed post! I’m going to Russia for 7-10 days next summer, and I’m going carry-on only. I’ve never traveled outside of North America before, so I’ll take any help I can get. I did order the carry-on bag you have and am waiting for it to arrive.

    Shampoo can also be used to wash your clothes! I will sometimes handwash lingerie while I’m in the shower and just use my shampoo. It works well. So, when I go to Russia, I will be filling a small bottle with shampoo and using that for three uses: hair, body, and clothes!

    I’ve been told that even though I’ll be St. Petersburg and Moscow, I shouldn’t count on hotels providing toiletries. I’m getting my short hair cut so I don’t have to worry about toting a hair dryer. I will be traveling with several native Russian speakers, so buying anything if needed will be easier. :)

  • miss minimalist

    Hi Tradd–I’m glad you found the information useful! I think you’ll love the carry-on bag. Great tip on using shampoo to wash clothes; I’m running low on little laundry packets, and think I’ll try this on my next trip.

    You’re lucky to be traveling with native speakers. When I bought toothpaste in Tokyo, I had to rely on the pictures on the packaging–and hoped I wasn’t buying some sort of cream or ointment!

  • […] often take long flights and train rides, and relish those hours of uninterrupted reading time. But I travel carryon only, so the weight and volume of books always presented a problem. The titles I took on a trip would be […]

  • […] instead of a traditional wedding, we eloped and got married in Iceland. Now, as many of you know, I’m an inveterate carry-on traveler—and I was not about to make an exception for this occasion (especially considering the dilemma […]

  • […] sink) during the trip. If you’d like a peek inside my carry-on, please see my previous post Minimalist Travel: What’s in My Suitcase. I can’t emphasize how wonderful it is to travel with the lightest load […]

  • Amanda

    There’s a line of body products called “c. Booth” that has a bodywash/shampoo product. I use the acai-scented one at the gym. I have very fine hair that doesn’t do well with most products (they’re too heavy), but this stuff worked really well. I’m bringing it with me the next time I travel as I really dislike bringing lots of toiletries. I’m sure you could use it to wash clothes as well.

  • Tradd

    What about these for something a little more dressy? I’m ordering them tonight!

    http://www.zappos.com/merrell-spire-emme-black-leather

    • miss minimalist

      Tradd, I would *love* to know what you think of these! I’ve had my eye on them for awhile, as I’d love to find a travel shoe that works with skirts and dresses. Please keep me updated! :-)

      • reeder

        I have those shoes! If I walk for longer distances in them, my arches tend to hurt. So they’re not perfect for my feet but I have flat fleet. I also tried a pair of ecco flats and the toe tends to be a bit tight.

  • […] few months ago, I wrote about the contents of my carry-on (Minimalist Travel: What’s in My Suitcase). This is the only bag I travel with, whether I’m going away for one week or three months. You […]

  • great info…saw your comment on NY Times article too. :)
    Love your thoughts on my portapocket detachable/interchangeable strap-on carrying case system. it’s super-lightweight and can act as your cell phone holder, camera case, passport sleeve, money belt, ipod holder, etc depending on which way you’ve got it set up at any given time.
    you can wear it under your skirt on your thigh, calf, or ankle, or at your waist or arm, too. demo here: http://bit.ly/2tSWiY
    Offers a lot of versatility & multi-functionality in a streamlined pkg.
    happy travels to you! :)

    • miss minimalist

      Very interesting product, kendra! I like how it can be worn either over or under clothing, and think it would be a great alternative to a purse when you’re only carrying a few small things.

  • I am hoping to do something similar for a six week trip around Switzerland and Germany in the Summer, however my bags will be a bit bigger for two reasons. Firstly there is my off-sider, who is a six year old boy. And they get dirty so easily that it is better to take extra clothes because I don’t plan on washing every day! Secondly, we are taking gifts for friends and families that are hosting us, so that is going to take up a lot of room!
    But I love your system. We don’t fly, we go by train, but the idea of having less luggage to ‘lug’ around still applies (though flying means no waiting at those baggage carousels).

    • miss minimalist

      Hi Natalia! It sounds like you have a wonderful travel companion — and yes, it’s certainly understandable you’d need a little more luggage. :-) I’m enjoying your blog; congratulations on being chosen for the Lonely Planet program! :-)

  • Chester

    I like your list =) I love traveling carry on size too. Here is another mug option, X MUG –
    http://www.rei.com/product/787278
    And you mentioned your Spork got confiscated? Is it because it was metal or plastic? If it was metal, this is the one I use. http://www.rei.com/product/765204.

  • Kathryn Fenner

    Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Castile Soap–it’s gentle enough for my sensitive skin and fine hair and it rinses out of clothing easily. If you get the peppermint one, you can brush your teeth with it, but I take fluoride toothpaste!

    It’s ultra concentrated (but not thickened — be careful), so you can meet TSA requirements of less than 3 oz. and have enough for a fairly long trip!

    It’s available at most health food stores, and several Targets carry it, now, too.

    Pajamas–I usually wear a t-shirt and knit pants or shorts, but they are bulky–I think I might invest in a nice travel pair!

    • miss minimalist

      Great tip, Kathryn — thanks! I *love* multi-purpose products like this. Good to know that a small, TSA-approved amount goes a long way. :-)

  • Al

    Hey there Miss M: I have only just discovered your work! It looks grand :)

    May I ask how much this carryon would weigh (approximately)? I tend to pack a similar amount of items, and am almost always on the too-heavy-for-carryon cusp … so I was just curious!

    • miss minimalist

      Hi Al! When I first started traveling with this bag, I borrowed a luggage scale from a friend to weigh it (when packed for a 2-week trip). At that time, it clocked in just under 10 pounds. I think I’ve lightened my load a little more since then — maybe enough to shave off another pound or two. (The bag itself is very lightweight.)

      When I pack for shorter trips (less than a week), I take a bag that’s the size of a large purse; I can’t imagine it weighs any more than 5 pounds.

  • sandi

    If only one could travel so light with children. Could you also please tell us more about your pajamas? Brand etc? Thanks!

    • miss minimalist

      Yes, sandi, it would be quite a challenge to pack this light with children! For pajamas, I wear a very lightweight t-shirt and knit pants (winter), or a cami and shorts (summer).

  • sharon

    Hi,
    I love your blog!
    I have been an international flight attendant for 33 years & have the minimal amount in my suitcase at all times. I would add a very small portable umbrella, as it’s worth the weight on nasty days.
    I do carry my own small containers of shampoo, conditioners, etc safely in zip lock bags. I bring the small shampoos from the hotels home & donate them to charitable “pantries”.

    • miss minimalist

      Thanks, sharon — what a fabulous job you have! I’m with you on the small umbrella; in fact, since I moved to the UK, it’s usually with me at all times. :-)

  • Kathryn Fenner

    I bought a vivid blue (my favorite color) DKNY rain shell from Nordstrom last year–It folds into itself and becomes a pouch on a shoulder strap. The single-breasted belted trench style looks dressy enough for the city and it has a hood, so I don’t need to carry an extra umbrella. It’s super lightweight, so I don’t get sweaty, but you can always layer if you need to. It’s made of a nice silky poplin material that’s very soft, not crunchy-rustling.

    I wonder if they still make them.

  • Great article, especially because I’m a big fan of minimalist travel. I love to bring a bar of Dr. Bronner peppermint soap, much easier to carry on plane. Also, what kind of suitcase do you use, it looks easier than a large backpack. Thanks.

  • Ann

    Love your site! And love traveling light! I use Burts Bees Radiance Exfoliating Body Bar. I have dry skin. I can use it on my face, my body, my hair, and as a laundry detergent. It’s awesome! The first soap bar, actually, that I have been able to use on my skin that doesn’t leave it feeling dry and tight. I use the day lotion with SPF as well.

  • I tried some of your ideas on a recent trip out of state and they really worked! I didn’t feel deprived at all, and it was nice not to haul around a big suitcase. Thanks for the tips!

  • […] you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I like to travel light. I take a small carry-on bag for long trips, and nothing but a large purse for anything under a […]

  • CoCoYoYo

    Glad to have stumbled upon your packing list and blog! Always looking for tips and tricks regarding packing light AND simplifying life :) Looking forward to reading more.

  • SUE

    I’m wondering about clothes being wrinkled from being packed into a suitcase. How do cope with this? I am one of those people who takes an iron with me when I travel, (which is not often or far, fortunately).

  • CoCoYoYo

    SUE, I’ve had success with rolling my clothes when packing and using the bundle technique. Admittedly my clothes and travel destinations are not of the fancy, dressy variety (for the most part) so I can make do with either packing technique and a 3oz bottle of Downy Wrinkle Release. Check out onebag and one bag, one world for more packing/travel tips.

  • […] light on a completely different level.  Check out how she travels with just one bag on her blog http://www.missminimalist.com (check out her travel […]

  • GulfCoastCCK

    I love your list! I totally get the IDEA of what types of clothes and shoes you should bring for travel, but I can never seem to find the actual items when I am shopping. I would love to see examples, picture or links to the types of pants and shirts you like to buy and wear. I have some great travel dresses for warm weather, but totally fall short when packing for any weather that isn’t hot.

  • Hilary

    I’m really enjoying reading your blog – getting encouragement and ideas all through! I’ve already said goodbye to two sets of china. It feels great and I am spurred on to more!

    I want to respond to those who are asking for clothing ideas for travel. My husband and I travelled to Italy last year during August when it was very hot. Travelling in summer certainly helps to lighten the load! We each had one carry on for a two week trip and it worked beautifully. The line of clothing I found is called Zynergy at Chico’s. The pants are very lightweight and easily dried overnight. They also have jackets and vests and tshirts. Another tip is to buy travel undergarments which are designed to wash and dry quickly and easily. With a few detergent packets we were able to wash out things at night and they were dry in the morning. Also found some great tips and shopped for some very useful travel items (clothesline, etc) at http://www.ricksteves.com Hope that helps someone!

  • […] Minimalist Travel: What’s in My Suitcase: I received several requests that I list the contents of my carry-on. I’m happy to oblige, as I think we’d all be happier travelers with much less stuff…The list below covers what I pack for a trip of about 10-14 days (the typical length of my overseas travel). However, I’d pack the exact same stuff if I were traveling for 3 months… {read more} […]

  • Simple Zen

    Hey What about us Guys! What does your other half take?

  • Do you have any favorite brand of non wrinkling travel clothing (pants, skirts etc)?? I’m searching for some! But I want more ‘city’ type gear, and most of the stuff I’m finding is active outdoor safari type stuff. Thanks!

    • Jenny

      Travel Smith has some excellent things dressier clothes that don’t wrinkle much. I’ve also had good luck looking for some lighter weight stuff and just spritzing it with water and hanging it up in the bathroom when I take a shower. The wrinkles generally just fall out.

  • […] Minimalist Travel: What’s in My Suitcase by Miss Minimalist […]

  • […] Suggested Reading for traveling with less: From Zen Habits Another from Zen Habits From EverydayMinimalist From MissMinimalist […]

  • […] Ireland (which I am sure I will post about before and after!), and I am getting pretty jazzed about minimalist packing.  I usually only travel with a carry on, but I would still like to minimize the amount of Stuff I […]

  • […] now, I am working toward packing a minimal amount of clothes.  Inspired by Rick Steves, Francine Jay, and Karol Gadja, I am already planning my packing list for our trip.  Having done a basic amount […]

  • Simple Zen

    .. and the next time my wife says women can’t pack light ..

  • tami

    I would also include a small package of baby wipes.

  • Gin

    You need an iphone (or other smart phone) – your cell phone, ipod and kindle in one!

  • OMG, faboo post! I’m going to the Dominican in 13 days, and I’m going batty on how to pack lightly so I don’t have to check any baggage! This helps so much!

    xx

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