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. 

sustainability in flight

There are few places I love more than Logan International Airport in Boston. From family visits to my first international solo trip, Logan and other airports have become a sort of escape room for me—a Platform 9 ¾ to my constantly itching travel bug.  

But like any traveler, I have gripes, the biggest being how hard airports and airlines make it to avoid plastic. Whether its a cruelly early flight time, limited room in a carry-on, or 10+ hours on a plane, flying poses a challenge to those of us trying to reduce our footprint. Fortunately, with a little planning and a few travel essentials, I’ve found simple ways to fly around the obstacles.

Reusable Water Bottles:

If there’s still any question: Yes, you can bring a water bottle on a plane, just make sure its empty before going through security. Sadly, many airlines still don’t offer recycling and that means any plastic or aluminum you use will likely be thrown out. Fortunately in 2019, bottle filling stations are all over airports. I’ve also found flight attendants are happy to give your bottle a refill while they’re handing out beverages, all you have to do is ask.

Canteens or Coffee Cups:

For me, travel doesn’t happen without a generous serving of caffeine. But if I used a disposable cup every time I dosed up, I’d throw out three to five cups per trip, and that’s not counting the coffee I’d drink once I arrived at my final destination. So instead, I carry a Joco travel mug that I clean after every use, dry, and store in my carry-on. If you’re a cold brew or smoothy feign, remember there are great tumblers available with reusable straws so you can continue to indulge, plastic-free. 

Cutlery  

Available at specialty grocery stores and online shops, like the Package Free Store, you can find sporks and other travel cutlery in a range of designs and materials. I love my bamboo model by U-Konserve. Although it doesn’t include a knife, the spork has been a real lifesaver for a 24/7 grazer, like myself. Plus, it’s never once been an issue going through security.      

Tupperware

Depending on how long I’m traveling, I’ll usually pack at least one tupperware container. If I’m gone less than a week, I prefer to bring a takeaway tub I have lying around the house so I can just recycle it when its empty. But for anything longer than a week, I take something more sturdy. Aside from being convenient, carrying a salad or pre-made meal also means I can steer clear of any unhealthy or questionable airline meals.

Tote bags

The modern-day bag lady, I don’t soar at any altitude without a tote. With great options, like Baggu, taking up less space than a wallet, there’s really no reason to not bring a bag along. Even if you don’t need it in-flight, I guarantee you’ll find a use for it when you land.

Bulk snacks

Cookies. Candy. Chips. On a daily basis, these snacks are hard to resist, and for whatever reason, they become ever harder to avoid at 50,000 feet above the ground. So before you step foot in the airport, swing by your neighborhood grocer to stock up on fruit, bulk nuts, and other package-free snackables to avoid plastic and, more important, hanger.

Happy flying,

A