Extreme minimalist travel might sound like an extreme. When this term gets mentioned, many people imagine hippy backpackers that travel around with ragged clothes and hitchhike on the road. However, this couldn’t be further away from the truth. Ultra-minimalist traveling is not a struggle but a concept that many savvy travelers adopt to make their travel adventures stress-free and more enjoyable. In other words, traveling with way less is about taking only the things you absolutely need and experiencing new destinations while feeling as light as a feather without feeling the burden of unnecessary things.
In this post, we’ll teach you everything there is to know about extreme minimalism while traveling. But since there are many misconceptions about this, let’s start from the beginning…
What is Extreme Minimalist Travel Exactly?
To put it simply, extreme minimalist travel is packing the absolute minimum you need to explore a new destination comfortably. The goal is to trim the unnecessary things and only pack the essentials. However, there’s no set of rules for this type of travel. Extreme minimalist travel is subjective and the approach that might work for me, might not work for you and vice versa. For example, if you ask me, extreme minimalism in traveling is to only travel with a backpack that’s not bigger than the airplane’s overhead compartment.
In its essence, the goal of extreme minimalism is to make you get rid of anything that will be unnecessary for your journey. This can include an additional set of clothes, unnecessary accessories, and cosmetics, bulky technological devices that you likely won’t need, etc. When you think about it carefully, traveling with a big suitcase is one of the biggest problems people face. There’s nothing worse than trying to make your way through a crowded airport while dragging two large strollers behind you…
The 3 Golden Rules Of Travel Minimalism
As we previously mentioned, different people might define ultra-minimalist travel in a different way, but I think all of us can agree that extreme minimalist travel is the most liberating way to move around the world. To try to explain the essence of travel minimalism, we have three golden rules of travel minimalism.
1. Carry fewer things.
2. Aim to reduce weight, not usefulness– when faced with two options, always choose the one that is lighter, has a better design (that can make it fit in your backpack better), or both.
3. Strive to optimize for comfort and design– always pack comfortable and simple clothes and accessories that don’t take a lot of space and can be used in multiple different situations.
It’s A Process
No person is born as a minimalist and you won’t know how liberating minimalist travel feels like until you try it. But just like everything else in life, becoming a travel minimalist is a process. When I first started traveling, I was the exact opposite of a minimalist. I used to overpack, taking things that I wouldn’t need on a trip in a hundred years just but I thought (at the time) I should have them just in case. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started avoiding these packing mistakes and traveling with only one backpack no matter where I go.
Throughout the years, the things that I would take in my backpack would also decrease until the point that I was better off with an even smaller backpack. What I’m trying to say here is that extreme minimalist travel is a process and it might take you at least a few trips until you get to understand what kind of traveler you are and what kind of things you deem to be essential for your trip. So, don’t try to under-pack just for the sake of being a minimalist. Just keep traveling with an open mind and trust the process.
How To Choose The Important Items?
The hardest part about minimalist travel is figuring out exactly what you need. And there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. I suggest you start by thinking about what resources you’ll already have at your destination and seeing what can you eliminate from your packing list.
For example, if you’re staying in a nice hotel with a washing machine, you don’t need to bring many clothes, just wash the few pieces that you take with you. Also, is it necessary that you take your own soap and shampoo when you’ll have these resources at your disposal in your hotel room? Last but not least, think about ways to make the most out of the space you have in your bag/backpack by rearranging the things inside.
How Much Stuff Can I Take?
Well, there’s no exact answer to this question but for practical sake, let’s stick to the allowed luggage by airlines. Legacy airlines will allow you to take between 20 and 30 kg of luggage without being charged extra while most budget airlines will allow between 10 and 15 kg without being charged extra. But if you want to be an extreme minimalist traveler, you should aim to travel with only a carry-on bag.
In most cases, the carry-on should not exceed 7 kg. Personally, I like using this backpack– it has the right dimensions to fit in the overhead compartment and is surprisingly compact for its size. If you want to measure the weight of your bag before leaving, you can get a handheld scale or a kitchen scale to make sure your backpack doesn’t exceed the limit.
How To Simplify Your Packing List
Minimizing your packing list is all about making some sacrifices. But where to begin?
For starters, you should change your mindset from packing clothes that you might wear to only packing clothes you absolutely need. Instead of packing a variety of outfit combinations, pack only two/three of everything and make sure your clothes follow a color panel and can be easily combined with each other.
Again, take only things you will absolutely need. One doesn’t need to be “camera-ready” when exploring the jungles or climbing a mountain (but this doesn’t mean you should neglect travel hygiene like some travelers might tell you). You don’t need all the elixirs and gadgets you’re using at home; after all, you’re on vacation and in its definition vacation should be as stress-free as possible.
Most minimalist travel bags usually come with a laptop sleeve but I’d recommend taking a laptop only if you need it for work. If you need it for leisure, I wouldn’t bother bringing a laptop at all. If you’re traveling to experience places and people and don’t need technology devices for work, you’ll probably survive with just a smartphone.
With that being said, one of the most important things about extreme minimalist travel is…
Having a reliable, durable, and compact backpack is crucial for travel minimalists. Your backpack has to be lightweight, yet big enough to fit your belongings but still small enough for the airplane overhead compartment. This also makes your airport experience a lot less stressful because you don’t have to drag your big bag through the luggage section and you don’t have to wait to claim your luggage after your flight.
Here, I’ll share my opinion about a few great minimalistic backpacks that I used in the past.
Fjallraven Re-Kanken backpack is one of my favorite lightweight backpacks. It’s made of very light materials but it’s very durable and has the capacity to hold many things including a laptop. Granted, its square shape is not very typical but this unusual design maximizes space and is an epiphany of the second golden rule of extreme minimalist travel (Aim to reduce weight, not usefulness).
Herschel packable casual daypack is another durable and lightweight backpack rolled up into its internal self-storage pocket. All these characteristics make it a perfect daypack that you can use for shorter vacations, and even backpacking trips.
Matador Freefly 16 is a state-of-the-art ultra-minimalist backpack that can fit up to 16 liters while having a weight of only 10 ounces. You can use the backpack’s full capacity if you’re taking a longer trip or going camping but even if you don’t need that many things, you can always use only a portion of its capacity and the backpack still won’t look like it’s half empty.
Osprey Ultralight– Osprey is a big name in the travel industry and one of the most famous backpack manufacturers and this particular model is one of my favorites. I’ve had it for more than 3 years and the backpack still looks like it’s brand new. It can fit up to 18 liters, it has 3 exterior pockets and an air mesh harness that makes it stick comfortably to your back regardless of the weight you’re carrying.
Last but not least, when trying to travel as an extreme minimalist, you might want to consider carrying a fanny pack where you can store your most important items. My personal choice is the Moce Ultralight Waterproof Fanny Pack. It’s compact, very secure, and completely waterproof.
Organizing Your Backpack
Once you get the right minimalist backpack, the next thing you should do is to organize it in a convenient way. Here’s how I usually organize the space in my backpack.
I use the main compartment for my clothes and a laptop (when the backpack doesn’t have a laptop compartment). I keep my toiletries and phone and camera charger in the upper center pocket. The lower center pocket is always for small accessories like headphones, earplugs, keys, etc. In the lower compartment, I usually keep a rain jacket and a wool buff (if necessary). Last but not least, the side pockets are for things like sunglasses, sunscreen, a collapsible water bottle, and other accessories I’d need for that particular trip.
However, when looking at this, it’s important to remember that what works for me, might not work for you. If after this, you are still convinced that extreme minimalist travel will leave you dirty, cold, and underprepared, I challenge you to try it at least once. I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised.
My Packing Strategy
Here’s my packing strategy in a nutshell: if I’m going on a 2-3-day trip, I pack only one pair of spare clothes (this includes a T-Shirt, pair of pants/shorts, a pair of underwear, and a pair of socks). For a trip that lasts 4-7 days, I pack two pairs of spare clothes, and for trips longer than that, I pack three pairs of spare clothes, and maybe pajamas.
I only use packing cubes or ziplock bags if I take longer trips. I usually travel with only the shoes on my feet but for certain circumstances (i.e. trekking or going to a place with a significantly different climate) I pack an extra pair. As for toiletries bags, I take only the absolutely necessary things, and even when I do, I miniaturize by pouring everything in very small bottles.
Adjusting The Packing List For Your Current Trip
In addition to some of the rules we mentioned here, you should always base your approach on the destination you’re planning to visit. You’ll require a very different packing list for a beach holiday, a city break, and a hiking trip. Also, think carefully about which items are absolutely necessary and which items can you buy for a cheap price at your destination (i.e. an umbrella, nail clippers, etc.).
But the foundation of extreme minimalist travel lies in thorough research. Researching about your destination before traveling and understanding the seasonal weather patterns is very important. If possible, also try to talk to some locals or friends/family who have traveled to the same destination in the past to get some useful tips.
Last but not least, don’t forget that minimalism puts heavy emphasis on experiences over consumption. So, just stay away from the tourist trap areas and souvenir shopping arcades, explore the new destination and try to make the most out of your trip.
From Regular To Extreme Travel Minimalism
In case it wasn’t clear until now, extreme minimalism travel is a term used to describe a type of traveler who goes to the extremes. When I use this term, I usually refer to people who go on a holiday with one backpack without taking extra day bags or a large suitcase for a multi-week long trip.
Some important things to think about before trying to travel like this is how often do you need to change clothes when traveling to X destination, how much can you reuse things (i.e. toiletries), and how much can you rely on other resources (i.e. hotel shampoo, shower gel, towels, etc.).
Some ultra-minimalist travelers might suggest you wear the same clothes for up to 3 days but not everything you hear from this group of travelers will be good advice. Personally, I like traveling with 3s (i.e. 3 T-shirts, 1 long pant, 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of shorts, 3 pairs of underwear, etc.) so that I can wear one, have a back-up, and wash another when it gets dirty.
When researching about extreme minimalism travel, you might come across some extreme cases, like Rolf Potts’ “No Baggage Challenge”. This traveler traveled around the world for six weeks without any kind of baggage. But it should be noted that he was entirely dressed in SCOTTeVEST clothes that have dozens of pockets. Even though traveling like this is possible, it’s safe to assume the average person will never travel like this. Extreme minimalism is about making your vacation stress-free and more enjoyable but taking things to the far extreme (like in the above-mentioned case) is not a good choice either.
Benefits Of Extreme Minimalism
To summarize, the main benefits of extreme minimalism travel are as follows:
- Less hassle and stress compared to carrying (and waiting for) a big suitcase at the airport/bus/train station.
- Learning how to get rid of unnecessary things in life, not only when it comes to traveling but in general too.
- Taking fewer things means you don’t have to pay additional fees for your baggage, making your trip less expensive. Also, this means you won’t have to buy as many new things for your trip as you usually might which can also positively affect your budget. After all, experiences bring much more happiness than possessions.
- Bringing fewer things means fewer things to worry about.
- The lighter your load, the less of a physical toll it will take.
- Travel minimalism also makes you much more mobile and flexible when it comes to exploring new destinations.
- Your footprint- as you may or may not know, travel consumerism and waste permanently affects the environment. One suitcase might not make much difference but I firmly believe that positive changes come from the choices we all make on a daily basis.
Drawbacks Of Extreme Minimalism
We sure covered a lot of benefits so far but, just like anything else in life, extreme minimalist travel has its drawbacks.
- The largest one is probably not having a lot of room in your bag to take some extra clothes, especially when traveling to colder destinations.
- If you don’t do your research properly, you might not take things that you actually need for your trip.
- As a beginner, you might forget some things that you actually need and might even spend more when traveling but as you become a seasoned traveler, these mistakes will decrease with time.
- You might raise a few eyebrows by other travelers at airports or other public places.
- Minimalism can affect you negatively too. If you find yourself counting your things all the time, this might have happened to you.
- Often, explaining your minimalist approach to travel might be difficult when interacting with people with closed minds.
To summarize, extreme minimalist travel is a process that can help you become not only a better and more relaxed traveler but also a happier person in life. Travel minimalism can help you get rid of all the unnecessary things in your life and help you grow by making you work with what you’ve got.
What do you think about the idea of extreme minimalist travel? Did you ever try to travel with nothing but your backpack? Is this something you see yourself doing? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
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