minimalist packing tips

One of the most valuable takeaways I’ve gained from travel is how to pack light. In a crowded metropolis or old cobblestone street, there’s nothing more stressful than dragging a clumsy suitcase around while you try to find your way to a train or hostel. And checked baggage? Here’s what I think about spending an extra $60 on heavy stuff I have to carry on my back: farting noise. 

So after deciding on a spot for my next jaunt—southern Spain—the logical next move was to put these travel observations to work. Instead of my trendy, but oversized duffel, my trusty Patagonia backpack was the one accompanying me on this time. Equipped with convenient pouches and pockets, not to mention handles and backpack straps, this bag is damn near close to perfect. It’s unassuming and small but fully capable of pulling its weight. 

For me, packing has been marked by trial and error. Like that time I left my glasses at school while home for holiday break—it was dumb, but it never happened again. When it comes to traveling abroad, here are a few not-so-obvious things I’ve learned come in handy: 

  • A padlock – if you’re staying at a hostel, these should save you a little cash
  • Local adapter – it’s the digital age, you’re going to want to be charged up 
  • Portable charger – avoid wasting time charging by carrying backup energy 
  • Bandaids – I like to walk a lot so blisters are an inevitable souvenir
  • A printed address of the place you’re staying – because even with portable chargers, phones have been known to die

As I pack, I lay everything out on the bed. Googling local weather, I learn temperatures in Spain are predicted to be in the high 80s (amen). Dresses, shorts, and tank tops it is! I proceed to pack: 

  • 8 pairs of underwear (one more than I anticipate needing) 
  • 2 bras (one with padding and one without) 
  • A sweater, comfortable jeans, and long sleeve shirt for plane 
  • 2 tank tops 
  • Two pairs of shorts 
  • A white milkmaid dress
  • Pjs
  • Bikini 
  • Sneakers, sport shorts, t-shirt, sports bra, and ankle socks (I’ve been training for a half marathon and can’t stop, won’t stop!) 
  • Tevas (ugly, but essential for all the walking I plan to do)

The method to my approach is to create as many outfit combinations as possible, almost like a mini capsule wardrobe. To make this easy on myself, I mostly stick to essentials, like white or black tops, a classic fit jean (that I wear on the plane to save space!), and layering pieces. 

On trips where I’m walking a lot, I always end up groveling over packing comfortable shoes—believe it or not, but I do care about whether or not I look cute. Ultimately though, the Tevas win out. I’ve suffered one too many times from impractical shoes and I’m not out to make the same mistake again. 

After tying my running shoes to the outside of my bag, all of this fits very comfortably and gives me about five different outfits to choose from. Wardrobe? Check. I move on to necessaries: 

  • Passport
  • Earbuds for the plane TV & audio
  • Copies of my passport & license 
  • Phone charger
  • Cosmetic bag
    • Makeup 
    • Pads 
    • Comb 
    • Contacts 
    • Bar of soap 
    • Shampoo 

Nothing too special here, just enough to keep me looking like a human. Then it’s time for entertainment: 

  • Spanish phrasebook 
  • 2 paperback novels
  • iPad 

I don’t need much. Most days, I’m up at 7 AM and don’t come back to the hostel until 9 or 10PM. I end up finishing both books on the trip, mostly reading during meals, and leave them behind at hostels and train stations for someone else to pick up. 

Lastly, I make sure to add in my sustainable must-haves. After all, it’s kind of my thing: 

  • 1 Baggu
  • Travel coffee mug 
  • Bamboo silverware (Incudes a spork, fork, knife, and spoon!) 
  • Waterbottle 

The Baggu, I’ve found, is critical if I expect to bring back gifts for my family or any great thrift finds. It doesn’t add any extra weight and yet fits everything when I need it to. Out and about most days, I use my reusable silverware at nearly every meal and multiple times in the airport. They save so much plastic and are super easy to keep clean!

It’s not a science, but I do have this packing routine pretty much down to a T. It doesn’t always allow for much wiggle room but it’s everything I need to be comfortable. And that’s more than enough for me. 

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