Extreme Light Travel


My new, super-light luggage!

A 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 can read about it in detail in my earlier post, but generally it contains a packing cube of clothing, a toiletry bag, and odds and ends like guidebooks, energy bars, camera, iPod Touch, umbrella, etc. in the pockets. After years of overseas travel, I had this system down to a science.

Now that I live in England, however, I’ve been spending a lot of long weekends visiting European cities. And truth be told, my little carry-on is simply too big for these quick jaunts!

In order to maximize our travel time, my husband and I usually book a very early flight the day we arrive, and a very late flight the day we leave. Therefore, we often wind up carrying our bags for much of the first and last days. (Sure, we could leave them at the hotel, but we don’t like to “waste” time going back to get them if we have a full schedule.)

My objective, then, was to pare down my luggage to the size of a large purse. That way, I could enjoy sites, shops, restaurants, and walks without the carry-on on my back.

[EDIT: For those who have asked about my new bag (pictured above), it’s available on Amazon (affiliate link).]

My strategy: for a 2-day trip, I don’t pack a change of clothes; for 3 days, it depends on the itinerary; for 4-5 days, one change. This system might not be for everyone, but it works for me. (I have no problem doing laundry in the hotel sink if necessary.)

Therefore, my packing cube contains (at most) one pair of pants, one top, pajamas, underwear, and socks. For 2-3 day trips, I skip the cube altogether, and stuff the pajamas, underwear, and socks in a large ziplock bag.

I never worry about packing shoes, since I only travel with the ones on my feet.

The contents of my toiletry bag remained much the same; however, I’ve been able to reduce it to half the size by “miniaturizing” as much as possible. I never take soap, shampoo, or conditioner, and I use travel or sample sizes of everything else.

When I arrive at the hotel, I dump the toiletry bag and clothes, and use the bag as a purse (eliminating the need to pack an additional “day” bag).

I’ve tested my new system of “extreme light travel” on a few trips now; and I’m happy to say, it’s worked like a dream!

It’s amazing how lightly you can travel if you want to. Now, if I could only pare down to what fits in my coat pockets… :-)

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113 comments to Extreme Light Travel

  • Meg

    That’s an awfully small bag. I can back pack it but for three months I am quite impressed you were able to make it with just that little satchel. Good luck with the coat pocket challenge. I would love to read about that! My goal for my big trip (one year) is a 75 L backpack, much different then what you have going on here. But I like the it can work.

  • mary

    It is impressive how light you can travel. Thanks for the tips. I only wished everybody would read your post about how to pack since I often notice so many travelers seem to carry their entire “house” of stuff with them!

  • Robyn

    I’m currently packing for a four-day trip, but with a baby along. I was feeling proud of myself for getting everything into our carry-ons, but now I’m wondering if there’s anything else I could do without. Guess I’ll check again!

  • Airy

    This was very inspiring to read. Having traveled so often in my life, I’ve tried my best to pack light. When I’m visiting friends for a long weekend, I usually take one small bag and I’m quite happy with that. Unfortunately, more often than not it seems, my really big trips usually entail moving – so there are times where I have to hop from one country to another with all my worldly possessions. This process has helped me prioritize my belongings and understand what I really need as opposed to what I just want. But still… it’s really difficult to manage.

    I’m planning another big trip that is coming up in a few months – I’m moving from Brazil to the United States. Once again, it is me vs. my possessions when it comes to packing. However, after reading this post and your “What’s in my suitcase” post, I’ve decided to take a new approach. Before I pack, before I even *look* at my belongings, I have sat down and made a list divided into categories such as “check in bag” “carry on bag” “toiletries” where I have listed from memory what I would imagine packing in those bags when it comes time to prepare. I listed only what I felt was necessary and I had to do this without even glancing over my belongings.

    So now, when I begin packing, I’m going to go through that list one item at a time. Whenever I encounter an item I didn’t put in my list but that I’m thinking about packing, I will set it aside to evaluate *why* I forgot about listing this item and whether or not it really is that important to have in my new life. Hopefully, this process will work for me. I’ve done the list, but I haven’t started on the second stage yet. Wish me luck. :)

  • Lolly

    This is so inspiring! I went on a one week trip last year with a small/medium suitcase and thinking back with all the lugging and pulling, it was a real pain. I cannot wait to go on another trip and see how small and light I could pack now that I’ve got the minimalist principles in check.

  • Clarissa

    I always, always, always overpack. I always, always, always regret it. It’s heavy and bulky. Reading this made me realize there is a lot I am stuffing into that suitcase that I don’t really need. Definitely glad I read this, it’s food for thought.

  • gabriella

    Can’t wait to read your book.

  • Kat

    My husband & I generally share a single duffle bag to pack when we go on a trip, and that includes packing 2-3 pairs of jeans each. I never have to worry about needing more than that. My middle daughter used to do competitive cheerleading. When we would go to 2-3 day competitions, we shared that same duffel bag (not a huge one either, just a medium sized one). All the other moms/families were amazed that we could pack so lightly. In that bag were all the clothes for both of us for the weekend, snacks/drinks to avoid overpriced hotel fare, toiletries, the rollers, hairspray & tons of makeup required for competition, etc. She carried her competition shoes & uniform in a tiny string backpack the team used for the purpose, and I carried my small purse. I was amazed that the other families packed so much. A family of 4 might have 6 large bags, tons of hanging clothes, and misc small bags. It was so nice not to have to wait on luggage carts, struggle to get so many bags into the hotel, elevator, etc. We also didn’t load up at the vendor stalls either, I would let my daughter pick one item, usually a shirt with the competition info on it that she would later wear for practices. I never needed anything myself.

  • […] information on minimalist travel check out these posts at Zen Habits and Miss Minimalist. My efforts look pretty weak compared to these two, but you start where you are right? Share […]

  • Dante Iscariot

    I envy your ability to take so little. When I travel I have to worry about taking my insulin, spare needles, insulin pen, my blood tester, and sugar tablets, at the minimum, aside from the regular clothes and so on.

    One quick question: In your book and in your blog you keep mentioning “packing cubes”, I don’t understand what you mean by that. What do you use, for example, to separate your categories? I’d like to adopt a similar system, I’ve bought some small draw string bags to separate my mobile phone, ipod, camera, and other bits from my medicine, but your bag looks so much neater and more easily accessible than mine. Would appreciate a little guidance. Cheers.

    • JMK

      Just go on Google and do a search for packing cubes. Virtually every travel or luggage related site will have some.
      They are just small zippered pouches (cubes/rectangles), usually with some mesh for ventilation and/or clear on one side to let you see what’s inside. I find them very useful when using an unstructured bag (knapsack or duffle bag), but when I travel with a carry on bag I just use one for toiletries and roll all my clothing. In a structured suitcase I don’t find them as big an advantage because everything seems to stay in place.

  • Tony

    Great blog. I’m a minimalist traveller, though not as minimalist as you (yet). Can you talk about the need to pack pyjamas? Our family strategy on trips is to sleep in a t-shirt. So we each have designated sleep-T-shirt that gets all wrinkled, but who cares. If I or my son and I are sleeping in dormitory style accommodations or other group sleeping arrangements, we’ll put use our swim shorts as “pyjama bottoms”. So I’m wondering given what you have cut out of your luggage, why the luxury of pyjamas?

  • […] has enabled me to travel the world with a tiny bag, immersing myself in the local culture instead of looking (and feeling) like a […]

  • greenleaves

    Thanks for this post! I’ve been moving countries many times and learn to live and travel lighter and lighter. Since last year I’ve been very much inspired by the minimalist community out there and although I’ve never had much “stuff” I’ve been minimizing even more. Every single item serves a purpose…and must be awesome! I have a hobby which unfortunately requires a lot of gear, mountaineering and sport climbing, but even then I try to buy the lightest gear possible. And traveling light is essential on the mountain. Every pound slows you down. I wished I could convince by boyfriend one day that he doesn’t have to change socks and shirt every single day when traveling…though, to be fair, he usually carries the luggage…Packing cubes are amazing, I’ve been using them for years now and they’re a great storage solution when you stay at friends place and you don’t want your stuff lying around everywhere.

  • Blaze

    I’m heading out in a couple of days on a cruise with several girlfriends. They’re all bringing multiple bags and can’t fathom how I intend to last 11 days with only a small carry on bag. I’m sure taking too many shoes explains a large part of the space they think they require. I’m wearing my slip on sneakers, and packing flip flops and one pair of dress shoes for all the evenings. If this were a family vacation, I’d be skipping the dress shoes.

    I’ve vowed to myself not to tease them about the amount of luggage they are taking, and perhaps just letting them see what is possible will help them rethink what’s truly necessary. It will be annoying though for me to wait through the airport line so they can all check their luggage, and then wait for them to (hopefully) show up at the other end.

  • Kizumma

    Looked up your Puma bag on Amazon and it says its no longer available. Nevertheless, I wish listed it…just in case. I tried looking for it elsewhere online but to no avail. Do have another recommendation for something similar? I absolutely LOVE your bag!!!

  • […] to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life and it’s smart and gentle. After reading her Extreme Light Travel routine though, my little backpack is starting to look like a little much. Maybe I’ll lose […]

  • […] doch zu wenig. Mal sehen, wie ich es auf meinem Kurztrip nach Hamburg nächste Woche mache…Miss Minimalist hat auch ein paar Tipps zum Thema […]

  • BCDen

    For a bag very similar in size and structure to the one Miss M has consider the following offer from Baggallini:
    I ran accross this one while looking for a similar one to the Puma.


    You are one in a million! I am trying out a ChicoBag Sidekick Shopping Bag! Two [2] ounces!

    Big enough for a change of clothes, my medicines, toilet items, my hand laundry kit and some small “tool” items. Long straps means it can be carried cross body.

    I put the small items into gallon size baggies. Cheap. Durable. Nearly weightless. A 2.5 gallon baggie keeps my clothes neat. I like to stuff my pockets with small items too.

    At first I felt funny traveling with so little but each trip confirmed that all I really needed weighs about six pounds and fits in one cheap light weight bag!

    Travel light! Have more fun!

  • Tina

    I have always travelled with very little except for one bad experience when I listened to my husband and took a huge suitcase I could barely control. I usually take a little detergent in case something gets spilled on and we have gone to laundromats on long trips. When our kids were little we would go on long car trips and take very little and do laundry when we needed it.

  • Tina

    We went to Europe for 11 days, 8 days we were on a cruise around the Mediterranean. I took a carryon bag and a tote for my medicines. My husband took a slightly larger bag as he carries a CPAP machine and medicine. We both packed small umbrellas. We watched people bring huge suitcases or 2 large suitcases each. I won a T shirt and some other door prizes and we don’t buy souvenirs. Then I went to the east coast for a week with an overnight bag. I was staying at my brother’s house, so there were laundry facilities. I never take more than I can carry on an escalator.

  • […] are many sites online that discuss packing. Miss Minimalist does a great run down of minimal packing, and, sigh, I remember those days when I could shove […]

  • […] de bien o mejor con “solo” 30 objetos. Pongo la palabra solo entre comillas porqué hay gente que viaja con menos y de la que aún tengo mucho que […]

  • Tina

    I just had 15 people over for a party. I am 66 and my husband is 68. My adult children lent me some folding chairs and a folding table. We pulled the dining room table out as far as it would go. The guest of honor supplied food and plates, cups, and silverware. I have trays and other serving pieces. A cousin brought a coffee maker. We used my kitchen counters and kitchen table to serve buffet style. If you keep your counters clear and possessions to a minimum you can use your space anyway you want.

  • […] are links to our favorite blogs for ultralight packing women. To start us out, I must share this blog post from Miss Minimalist and this blog post from Big Red Kitchen that inspired me to start traveling […]

  • […] Minimalist – Her post on traveling with just a large purse got me started on this ultralight packing […]

  • […] Minimalist – Her post on traveling with just a large purse got me started on this ultralight packing […]

  • Eva

    Wow cant believe how minimal you travel ! Respect ! I just googled how to pack light… we travel with our office to Stockholm for 2 days… yes only 2 days! We arrive first day early and leave second day late. So the clothes for the first day we already wear and need just one night outfit to go out fancy and one outfit for the other day. We travel with 12 ladies and everyone is kinda freaking out knowing we are just allowed to bring handluggage ;)

  • I used to go to conferences for work. I would take an overnight bag and a tote bag. The conferences lasted 2-3 days. Some people took big 24″ suitcases and dressed up for dinner every night. I noticed some people spent a lot of money on alcoholic drinks, fancy appetizers, etc. People make very odd choices.

  • Mike

    Re: packing for business trips. I was in Germany near Köln for two weeks a couple of years ago, and I fit everything that I had into one (stuffed) backpack. Not the type of “mountaineering” pack with an internal frame and all that, mind you; merely a backpack that can expand as needed. I fit outfits for 10 business days + one weekend, and my large laptop + power lead + mouse, into that backpack. By that point, I already had some experience travelling around Europe; my sig other and I did a two-week tour of several EU capitals with just a backpack and a carryon-size roller bag each. Nowadays, we’d shrink that down even further. I like to roll my clothes when packing as they take up far less space when rolled vs. laid flat in a bag. They also tend to stay in place, and not get many wrinkles, when rolled.

    Speaking of insulin: my s.o. is a type 1 diabetic, so I know rather well the necessities of travelling with vials, syringes, infusion sets, BG checker, test strips, glucose tabs, and more. It does account for a fair amount of space in the luggage, and I’d never tell anyone – let along my s.o. – to bring less supplies than they’re comfortable taking. I do suggest reducing the packaging around each item as much as possible. Insulin vials need to be kept cold, so they need to be wrapped in a cooler pack; the other supplies, not so much. Try packing the sugar tablets in a clear plastic bag so that they conform to the available space in your cube or pack, and they’ll be easy to identify in the security line. Also carry a written note from your MD which states that you’re a diabetic and need your supplies (and the MD’s name, phone number, office address, and signature). My experience is that my s.o. is always flagged for enhanced screening due to their insulin pump. The note from their MD does speed things along, and thankfully, we haven’t yet missed a flight due to it.

  • […] could also take advice from Miss Minimalist, who never takes extra shoes other than the ones she’s […]

  • […] could also take advice from Miss Minimalist, who never takes extra shoes other than the ones she’s […]

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