The art of minimalist backpacking is just as much about your attitude as what you pack. Here are 10 handy tips to help you lighten your load next time you travel.
This guest post comes courtesy of Danny, a travel enthusiast who’s determined to make the most of his life. He’s just set up a new blog to help others do the same! Check it out at wisehealthynwealthy.com.
The first time I went travelling I filled a 70L backpack.
…And a 20L daypack.
…And carried a plastic bag with my hiking boots in it.
…Not forgetting the food cooler bag I had as well.
Needless to say, lugging all that around like an overladen mule wasn’t a highlight of the trip! In fact, it was totally unsustainable – after a while I sold, gifted, and left behind heaps of the stuff I’d brought.
That first experience of long-term travel was a definite insight into the physical and practical pain of over packing! Since then, I’ve set about trying to master the art of minimalist backpacking instead.
In every trip that’s followed, I’ve tried to strip back my pack more and more.
These days, I travel full-time and fit everything (just about) into a 50L backpack that weighs 14kg!
It’s hard to overstate the difference it makes to the experience; I fully recommend the minimalist’s approach to packing to anyone hitting the road.
Want some tips on how to do it? Read on for 10 minimalist backpacking tips I wish I’d had before I first went travelling!
A quick note on minimalist backpacking
Of course, there’s more to minimalist backpacking than a light pack and minimal possessions.
For me, at least, it’s more of a mind-set.
It’s about entering into your travels with a devotion to simplicity. It’s about pure and simple freedom; you aren’t weighed down by the burden on your back, which liberates your body and spirit.
As always, having less stuff makes it easier to prioritise your experience of life. You aren’t distracted by materials, which helps you to focus on the process of exploration instead.
It just so happens that taking less stuff is a core part of the endeavour!
…Which leads me back to the main point of the piece. In the next section I’ll go through 10 tips that should help anyone cut back and pack light.
10 minimalist backpacking tips to help you pack light every time
1. Change your relationship with stuff
I think this tip is the one that can make the most difference to your packing.
Basically, minimalist backpacking demands a different outlook to possessions than the one most of us are brought up with. Our society is inherently materialistic – we have this idea that owning lots of stuff will make us happy.
But that idea just doesn’t fit with minimalist packing! Being successful here requires a ‘less is most definitely more’ approach to life.
The basic rule of thumb is that everything in your pack must be something you couldn’t do without. But that’s different for everyone. And, in our society, we’re taught that owning stuff is important.
Start weaning yourself off that idea. Try detaching your self-image and self-esteem from the clothes in your closet, and the car on your driveway.
Magic happens when you realise that possessing material stuff really isn’t important. You can (and are more likely to) be happy without it. Having fewer possessions is liberating and far simpler by nature.
At a very fundamental level, you’ve literally got less to worry about.
2. Buy a smaller backpack
This is the piece of advice I needed before I went travelling: Buy a smaller backpack!
You’ll almost always fill the space you have at your disposal. It’s like having a massive house – you’ll keep buying and acquiring things until each room is filled.
By contrast, a small backpack puts a very tangible ceiling on what you can take travelling. This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to stop over-packing.
Ready to downsize your luggage? Check out these awesome minimalist backpacks.
3. Sell your stuff
Another way to prevent over-packing is to have fewer things from the outset.
Packing is far harder when you’ve got tonnes of things to choose from. By contrast, I sold and gave away all of my things last year, so packing light was a breeze… I just took with me everything I had left!
Selling your stuff before you start packing serves a dual purpose. First, it narrows down your selection, making it easier to settle on what to pack. Second, it narrows down your selection, meaning you literally haven’t got as much to take.
Nicely, it also provides some extra money to take travelling.
4. Be brutal (make it a game)
Treat your minimalist backpacking like a game.
Ask yourself: What’s the minimal viable amount of stuff I can take with me? From there, cull, cull and keep culling until you’re left with a threadbare, minimal backpack.
Be brutal with yourself. If you find yourself packing for possible eventualities (“But what if ‘X’ happens, and I need ‘Y’ to blah blah blah…”).
You’d be surprised how little you actually need on the road.
I left home with 2 pairs of socks, 5 pairs of underwear, 6 t-shirts, a shirt, 2 warmer tops, 1 pair of jeans, 3 pairs of shorts (one for hiking, another for running, and one ‘trendy’ pair), swim shorts, rain jacket, walking shoes, flip-flops, some ‘going out’ shoes (that I rarely use and could probably throw out), a cap (that I lost in Thailand), a camera, a laptop, a small first-aid kit, a travel towel, and a book.
I could definitely get by with less.
In fact, I was a little disappointed that that list went on for so long…
5. Don’t listen to your mum
My mum is my minimalist backpacking nemesis.
I love her, but if I took everything travelling that she wanted me to, I’d need a Sherpa to help me get around.
Mums are protective by nature, meaning they want you to stay safe and be covered for all eventualities on the road. The problem is that it just isn’t feasible – especially when you’re trying to cut down on your gear.
Obviously, this tip is very much tongue-in-cheek! But there’s still something to be said for a) sticking to your guns and not letting others influence your ‘less is more’ packing, and b) accepting the fact sacrifice is involved. You can’t take everything that might, at some point in time, come in handy.
6. Travel to warmer countries
Choose your countries wisely.
Anywhere that gets seriously cold and wet is problematic! Suddenly, you’re forced to carry a bunch of bulky cold-weather gear to keep your warm. Hoodies, jumpers, jackets, sturdy shoes and long trousers all take up tonnes of room.
Chasing the sun is a great way to travel lighter. At the end of the day, you walk around in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops most of the time.
Take a couple of spare shirts and some sun cream and you’re good to go!
7. Go easy on the souvenirs
Don’t buy too much stuff while you’re travelling.
I mean, it’s literally the opposite of the whole ‘minimalist travelling’ buzz we’re after.
Remember the whole ‘let’s change our relationship with possessions’ thing I mentioned at the start? Well, it extends to being on the road as well.
I know it’s hard when you’re in a new country and surrounded by interesting market stands full of stuff you want to buy. You see something cool and/or want to get gifts for people back home.
There’s nothing wrong with buying gifts if you’re headed home soon!
But, if you’re travelling for longer, the last thing you want is to be ferrying around a bunch of stuff you’re not actually using.
If you do end up acquiring anything, try taking a ‘one in, one out’ approach. Tell yourself that for everything new you buy, you have to throw something else out.
That way you prevent your pack getting steadily bigger and bigger.
8. Make everything match
Here’s a clothing-related tip: Only pack shoes and clothes that all, in one combination or another, work together/match.
You might love that bright yellow t-shirt. But if it doesn’t match with your favourite orange shorts, then you’re less likely to wear it. You end up carrying stuff that you never use, which is never great.
Pack a travel wardrobe that allows you to wear any combination of clothes. You know that you can grab any pair of shorts and a t-shirt, or skirt and blouse, and feel comfortable and stylish.
Read next: My favourite sustainable travel clothing brands.
9. Start minimal, add when necessary
Remember that you can almost always find the things you need when you get to a country.
Equally, the clothing options you find in a new place are generally more-suited to the climate there anyway. For instance, go to a market in Southeast Asia and everything is lightweight and airy- perfect for the hot and humid weather.
Even better, it’s always at discount prices.
This fact means you can pack the lightest bag possible in the knowledge you can just plug any gaps as you go (if you need to).
Finally, minimalist backpacking takes practice.
I’ve made progress with the more travelling that I’ve done, but I’m still no expert!
If you’re determined to pack light for a long-term trip, then take some trial runs first. Go away for a week with a similar pack-full of stuff, and see how you go.
Go away for a month, and see how you go; run through different iterations of a potential backpack. For one thing, you’ll get more used to travelling with fewer possessions. More importantly, though, you’ll begin to hone down on what you actually need to take.
Time to master minimalist backpacking
Minimalist backpacking makes a mighty difference to how much you enjoy any reasonable stint on the road.
It’s more comfortable and easier to get around. More than that, though, it makes you realise how little you need to be happy, and helps you enter into the experience without the burden (literal and figurative) of a pack-full of things.
Hopefully the tips in this post will help you cut back on the things in your pack with greater ease. Good luck!