This post first appeared on http://darentsmith.com/travel/ and is summarized here with Daren’s permission.
In case you were wondering, I’m now an authority on minimalist travel. My wife and I just returned from a 2-week trip to Europe through Italy and Barcelona. Just six months ago we did a week-long trip to Paris. I do a decent amount of travel for work as well as a film producer, and often spend a weekend to two-weeks on the road flying from city to city.
Needless to say I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time—and too many late nights—researching everything about minimalist style travel. In the age of the internet, that makes me an expert.
This is the post I wished existed, so I decided to write it. This is not a “here’s what products and brands to buy” post with a thousand affiliate links. This post is what I believe are some basic, universal principles to packing and traveling light, getting the most out of the gear you bring, and to having an incredible time traveling. Some of my own opinions will be sprinkled in, so, as they say, your mileage may vary.
These aren’t in any order, they’re just what I believe and what I’ve found to be true from my personal experience and reading dozens of blog posts from other travelers and “digital nomads” across the web. I’m looking for principles that improve both the comfort of travel as well as the “happiness quotient”, so things that make the trip more enjoyable.
1. Your “Stuff” Will Fit Whatever Size Luggage You Bring (so choose a smaller bag for minimalist travel)
I am constantly amazed to see people getting off the plane and loading this kind of luggage into a taxi to get to their hotel:
Now, that works for some people, but think of how inefficient and cumbersome that is to travel with. I’m all about showing up 40 minutes before my flight, zooming through TSA PreCheck (which is absolutely worth the $85 for 5 years price point), and walking onto the plane.
No checked bags, no paper tickets, nothing. I’ve also never lost a carry-on due to my bags getting redirected or left behind…
I’m assuming you’re like me and are trying to find some minimal, easy solutions to traveling a better way, so here’s what I’ve found when it comes to luggage:
Decide what kind of “bag” you want
There are a ton of options, everything from carry-on size suitcases to duffel bags to travel backpacks to backpacking backpacks.
I prefer the single bag method, with a small day-pack tucked inside for when I arrive. On this most recent trip we used the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L pack (more about packing sizes – and bags – below), and it was more than enough room for two weeks worth of clothes, a camelback day pack, an extra pair of shoes, my camera with a decent-size lens, and some protein bars.
2. Don’t Bring Cotton Clothing.
Just to test out this theory I brought one cotton henley shirt on this trip along with 3 other “smart wool” long-sleeve shirts. The difference was shocking.
Cotton absorbs moisture (and therefore odor) and doesn’t breathe well. Wool in all it’s varieties is the opposite. It breathes well, keeps you warm if necessary, and doesn’t retain moisture or odor.
I could wear a smart wool shirt for 2 days and not smell or feel gross. Amazing. It also washes easily in a sink and dries in a matter of hours.
You don’t need to go out and buy the $150 merino wool shirt that every other blogger is telling you to buy. Yes, I’m sure merino wool is 10X more awesome, but I went and bought some smart wool shirts at WAL-MART of all places for $5 a piece and they are GREAT. They look good, are fitted, and work just as well for my purposes.
Same goes with socks. Find some light or mid-weight wool hiking socks and thank me later. They’re super comfy, don’t smell, and wash and dry very easily.
3. That said, Jeans are Just Fine.
Everyone and their mom has a recommendation for the perfect travel pant.
Sure, there are features for these other pants that make them “better” for travel, like waterproof material or hidden pockets. But guess what? Jeans are super comfortable, you don’t have to wash them, they fit nicely, and they look good on the trail or at a nice restaurant. You don’t need to go spend $200 on “travel pants”. Just take a favorite pair of dark jeans and you’re good to go.
4. Bring a Day Pack With a Bladder.
I can’t stand the kind of bags with no support that can compact down into the palm of your hand.
I have a 10-year old camelback that holds a 3 liter bladder of water and has some pockets for stuff and it’s perfect. You don’t need to go get a new one, just find a small enough backpack or messenger bag that can fit water, your camera, batteries, a light coat, and some snacks and you’re good to go.
Oh, and drink the water. Lots of it. It will help you sleep better and prevent any dehydration from all the walking around you’ll be doing.
5. You Don’t Need To Buy New Stuff If You Already Have It.
I’ve said this a few times but it’s worth getting it’s own sub-heading. You’ll have a ton of FOMO (fear of missing out) from reading all these other blogs about how much stuff they bring with them that you don’t have.
That’s why I stay away from Pinterest…
Just look around for something similar. If you don’t have wool shirts or socks, sure, go spend $50 and buy 3 shirts and 2 pairs of socks. Done. It’s maybe the only thing worth spending a little money on because of how much better it is and how it affects the happiness quotient of your trip.
You don’t need a new backpack if you have one that will work.
You don’t need new pants.
You don’t need a new camera.
Bring what you have, see how it goes, then make changes for your next trip. Start with the thing that bugged you the most and work up from there.
6. Melatonin Helps You Fall Asleep.
If you’re going overseas you’re going to be on basically an opposite schedule. Paris and Rome were both 8 hours ahead of my normal time in Utah.
Figure out how to stay awake or fall asleep on the plane ride over the ocean, depending on the time you land and whether you should be waking up or going to sleep, and then either take some caffeine or some melatonin to help. Either way, drink lots of water as that tends to help with the jet lag as well.
Your first night or two may be hard to fall asleep, so bring some 1mg or 3mg tablets of melatonin and take one before going to bed. They work like a charm.
7. Bring A Battery Case For Your Phone
If you’re planning on using your phone for everything from directions to pictures to audio guides and searching for restaurants, you’ll likely burn through your battery in a matter of hours.
Get a phone case with a battery in it that can charge your phone while in your pocket. For iPads or kindles get a usb battery charger and let it charge in your bag.
I like the Mophie Juice Packs but the Apple brand ones work as well, and the Anker battery packs have been solid for me for years now.
8. Bring A Camera
Now, you don’t need to bring anything more than your phone. I’ve taken great pictures with just my iPhone.
Use Google Maps Abroad
I love Apple maps and I default to it on my iPhone while at home or in most states, but Google maps are just better for some of the big cities and especially abroad.
For booth trips I started out using Apple maps only to be led to a completely wrong location, and recently missing a great reservation I found because it led me in the opposite direction.
I don’t know why it is, but Google is just better abroad, and has transit info for most major cities overseas. While in Paris, Rome, and Barcelona, I could easily get step by step directions for the metro that were very clear.
Walk as much as possible, and use the metro for longer trips. There’s no reason to take a taxi all over the place. They’re expensive and you don’t get to experience the people, the culture, or get to snap pictures along the way.
What are your favorite principles and tips for lightweight, happy traveling? Share yours in the comments.