Traveling Light: What’s in My Bag?

I’ve long been intrigued by what people have with them when they travel. I’ve probably read every packing list posted on the internet (and spent WAY too many hours doing so). I figure, if I’m so intrigued, there must be others out there who are just as curious. And since I travel with less than many, but not all, of the lists I’ve seen, perhaps my list can be inspiring to those hoping to travel light. Thanks to Pairs Well With for suggesting I write about simplicity “as it pertains to travel”. I expect to have more posts of this type soon. 🙂

Packing is simple: the less you pack, the more freedom you have. Own less, live more – the basic philosophy of a minimalist.

I love being able to wander around a city with my backpack and not be completely exhausted. I love haphazardly throwing my bag over one shoulder, tossing it in the overhead storage on buses and planes, and being able to pack up all my stuff in under 5 minutes.

I’ve traveled extensively (school holidays and long weekends) in the past 4 years, but have only been traveling continuously (what some might call a round-the-world-trip) for about 3 months. What I pack will most definitely change as I learn about what works for me and what is needed in the places I go. My basic philosophy will probably stay the same: take less, be comfortable, pack for you:

  • Take less. Wear more. Wash more. You don’t need to wash after every wear – only when it’s dirty and/or stinky. You can pick up almost anything on the road (probably for cheaper than in your home country).
  • Be comfortable. Don’t travel with clothes you wouldn’t normally wear at home. You won’t wear them traveling, either.
  • Pack for you. Packing will be different for everyone. Some people need medication or would prefer to take a small first aid kit with them, for example. No two people will travel with the exact same items.

I could go on about the best materials for travel clothes, great backpacks, and other general travel and packing tips, but you can find lots of that online already. I’m just here to give you another example of minimal travel. More of my personal philosophy and travel style will be evident in my comments throughout.


The photo above? That’s everything I have and intend to keep in my backpack for at least another couple weeks. So what’s all there? You can read everything below, skim the left column, or skip ahead to a specific section:

Things I Wear

Other Body Things

Tech Stuff


Official Stuff

Things I Wear                                                                                                                                                          
Jeans Jeans is a debatable issue. They are heavy, take up space, and take forever to dry. I think I have these – they aren’t as heavy as “regular” jeans, dry a little faster, and are ridiculously comfortable. I wear them almost every single day so long as I’m not in a crazy-humid climate. Of course, they won’t come to SE Asia with me. 
Athletic pants/capris I found these Columbia pants on sale a few days before I hit to road. And I am SO glad I did! They are incredibly comfortable, water-resistant, and have sun protection. But most importantly, they look good! The zippered butt pocket is hidden, as are the buttons for rolling them up into 3/4 length capris. I expect I could wear these in most any situation I find myself in while traveling (including if I get a temporary teaching job and need to look professional).
(Shorts) I think I’ll ditch these soon. I haven’t worn them for quite some and in many countries, the locals don’t wear shorts. I like to blend in when traveling, so I don’t expect they’ll get much wear. I do hope to find a pair of shorts that can double as swim shorts, since I carry those anyway.
Tank tops (2) Both are loose-fitting because I hate the feeling of sweat soaking into my shirt. Both are fairly nice so that I never worry about looking cheap or under dressed. At the same time, I would be comfortable wearing these tops for a day hike. I hope to eventually find one that looks nice and is better suited for athletic activities (I just didn’t own anything of the sort yet).
T-shirt Given the dislike I mentioned above, it follows that I don’t like t-shirts because the armpit soaks up the sweat (which is uncomfortable, looks bad, and gets stinky faster). The latter problem could be avoided with a merino wool shirt, but I don’t feel the need to invest yet. I just took a basic cotton shirt from my normal wardrobe. I normally wear this in slightly colder weather or for modesty.
Dress I LOVE having a dress. Just throw it on and go. Obviously sleeveless is what I like. Looks nice, is breathable, and super simple. For me, my dress must go to the knees, which makes me more comfortable and is more modest for countries whose social norms require that.
Athletic outfit: jogging capris and tank top If I didn’t jog, I wouldn’t have these (though one of my tank tops would be more athletic, less “nice”). I wear the capris almost exclusively for jogging, and the tank top for other sweaty activities, too.
Icebreaker Crave Hooded Sweater This sweater is absolutely amazing!!! At 160USD, it’s not cheap, but I wear it ALL the time. It keeps me warm in the cold, cool in the heat, and looks great! Pair this with my jeans and I look pretty good (for a minimalist traveler). The best part? It NEVER stinks! I do think a fleece is warmer, but I like that this is more versatile.
Lightweight jacket wind-resistant, water-resistant, intentionally not water-proof. A cheap poncho or garbage bag will serve that purpose if needed. So far, the lack of water-proofness hasn’t been a problem.
Scarf A scarf can be used to add style to an outfit, to keep warm when it’s a little chilly, as a towel or sarong on the beach, and probably more, too. I have a neutral color that goes with all my clothes and is dark enough that dirt and stains won’t show easily.
Bathing suit 1. halter bikini top with a flat back (not tied) so I can wear it under shirts without an awkward bulge (alternatively, I could wear my sports bra as a bathing suit top)

2. board shorts that are conservative enough to wear around town (where shorts are socially acceptable)

Bra (1)

Sports bra (1)

When washing one, wear the other.
Underwear (3 pair) I recommend ExOfficio. Wash daily/bi-daily (aaaand with the anti-bacterialness of these, you could get away with wearing them more than once).
Socks (1 pair) midweight socks, made partly from wool. I used a permanent marker to black out the branding on the toes so I can wear these with my sandals if need be and look slightly less dorky than I would have without the marker (not to mention I won’t be a huge walking advertisement).

I might add a lightweight running sock soon. With two pairs, one can be used to help keep hands warm (instead of buying gloves). Only lightweight socks will fit under my Merrell shoes.

Shoes (2 pair) Xero shoes are my everyday shoes. Enough protection from glass, rocks, etc. But I’m essentially walking barefoot and love it!

Merrell Pace Glove are my go-to for more intense hikes, climbing on rocks, and jogging. I was disappointed that the 3rd generation has this horrible rubber thing that appears to provide support (which completely goes against the barefoot philosophy), but I still use them because they’re soooo comfortable and are pretty close to barefoot shoes.

Temporary additions I picked up a pair of fleece-lined tights and a hat in Wyoming for a week camping in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I ditched them after the parks. $20 very well spent.
Long-sleeve shirt: I should have one, but don’t Despite numerous occasions saying, “I would really like a long-sleeve shirt right now,” I haven’t yet purchased one. I think I’d like to get a Merino wool base layer, but am not prepared to spend the money. I’ll pick something up when absolutely necessary (I imagine it’ll be soon since neither my sweater nor my jacket are very warm without proper layers).

Other Body Things


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Bar soap I use this for washing clothes, too, when no detergent is available.
Lafes crystal deodorant stick This little thing is pretty great. If you’re unfamiliar with crystal deodorant, it’s an anti-bacterial stone, so it doesn’t stop the sweat or make you smell nice – just stops bacteria from growing (which is what stinks). Lasts forever, too!!
Razor and blades …because I’m not quite that hippie… yet!
Toothbrush and toothpaste …though I am considering switching over to something simpler like baking soda (which is great to have for deodorizing anyway).
Comb + hard bristle brush At home, I had a wooden boar bristle brush. Since I use only water to wash my hair, I’ve found this is pretty important to distribute the oils from the roots to tips of the hair. When I have soft water and good pressure, I find this isn’t really necessary. But for hard water and/or low pressure, I’ve picked up a plastic brush with nylon bristles – easier for washing and it’s quite slim so fits nicely in my bag.
Tweezers, nail clippers/file
Diva Cup I switched to the cup because it would be so much easier than tampons/pads when traveling. But then I thought about how much better it is for the environment, my wallet, and my lady parts. Here are some more reasons the cup is great.
Corn starch If I’m having a little grease and, for whatever reason, can’t wash it, corn starch will soak up that oil right away. I have blonde hair, so the white powder is fine for me. For darker hair colors, I’ve heard coco powder works well. Any powder, I suppose.
Make-up Mascara, brown eye powder, angle brush to apply powder as liner, AND an eyebrow pencil (to keep things looking normal as I patiently wait (read: naively hope) for my over plucked brows to grow back. For months now, I’ve used only the latter. I think I’ll ditch the rest if I don’t find the desire to use them soon.
Burt’s Bees hand suave I got this as a gift – an amazingly compact little container for when I’m in super dry places. My hands don’t do well with dry air.
Burt’s Bees lip balm Again, for those dry places. I use it sparingly, but it’s good to have if my lips get really dry (especially because I have a bad habit of picking at the dry skin!)
Earrings I wear the same pearls almost every day. But I have a few pairs of dangly earrings for when I want to look a little nicer (city travel).
Hair clips/bobby pins These are a necessity. I really dislike hair falling in my face.
Head band thingy Whaddaya call those things? It’s a headband that I fold up when I want to wear it as such, but it can stretch out to cover more of the head or be worn as a neck-warmer. I also use it as an eye mask. It has kind of an athletic look – I’d like to find something similar that could be worn with a nicer outfit to look more stylish (and still cover my greasy or flat hair).
PackTowl I’m pretty sure I have size medium. It’s big enough to wear on my head when my hair is wet, but doesn’t take up much space at all. I roll wet clothes in it, squeeze, and hang – works like magic!

Tech Stuff


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iPhone + charger I use my phone as a camera, note taking app, flashlight, map, music player, and so much more. If it weren’t for writing and watching videos on bus rides, I could survive with just this.
Computer + charger Not wanting to travel with an expensive new MacBook (I was in need of a new computer anyway), I bought the Acer Switch 10. It’s not the best computer, but it does what I need it to. It was really cheap, it’s super lightweight, has a touch screen, and converts to a tablet (or I can turn the screen around, which is great for transit when the computer is on my lap or a tray table).
Extra storage devices Because the computer only has 64GB of storage, I have an SD card that I keep in the computer. I use it mostly for music so that my music is always accessible. I have an external hard drive for videos and to backup anything I have on my computer (although most of what I do is or can be online so it’s really not necessary). I do have a USB flash drive, but I don’t think I need it (or I could use that instead of the hard drive – this system isn’t perfect yet).
eReader + charger I love having a selection of books on such a small device. I find it easier to hold than a regular book, and the lit screen means I don’t need to worry about a reading light when sleeping in dorms. The eReader is definitely not necessary – you could use real books or a phone – but for the space it takes, I think it’s totally worth it!
Universal travel adaptor I picked this up for about 10CAD in Italy last year.
Earphones I’m considering getting noise-cancelling headphones to double as ear plugs.

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Food I pretty much always have a bag of trail mix or some other snack that keeps forever and can’t get squished. Also, a jar of peanut butter (grab a banana and you’ve got a delicious, nutritious, and simple snack.
Deck of cards Always.
Purse and clutch The purse is just big enough for my computer and scarf. It collapses nicely so I could stuff it into my backpack if I don’t want to carry it. But I pretty much always carry it for easy access to money, eReader, phone, etc. The straps can be adjusted so I can wear it cross-body or over-the-shoulder. The clutch isn’t necessary but I use it for my nail clippers, corn starch, etc. If I ever do need to look a little nicer (my purse is quite casual), I have this. It takes up very little extra space.
Ear plugs …for noisy hostel dorms. I intend to inquire into noise-cancelling headphones to replace these.
Sunglasses I only wear these when driving, and maybe if I ever lay on a beach, I would use them. I ditched the big, bulky case so they’ll probably break soon, at which point I’ll just replace them when I drive or go to a beach.
Notebook and pen Nothing fancy. I picked up the notebook when I bought the fleece pants because I knew my laptop wouldn’t have enough charge while camping. I’ve kept it because it’s nice to have paper to organize my thoughts (I find that the phone stunts my creativity). My pen has 4 colors and a pencil as well. This is important to me (again, the organizing thoughts). I know – I’m weird.
Moist towelettes These are great for a quick clean when no water is available. A camping must-have (although I didn’t get these until after my camping trip… go figure). Also convenient for regular travel.
Spork Never be without a spork! This one actually works well as a spoon!
Collapsible water bottle Lightweight, folds when empty (or partially empty). What more could you ask for?
Day pack I have a simple nylon bag from an airport store. I recently replaced it with a better (though bigger) one from Eddie Bauer. It is almost as big as my actual bag, but small enough that I feel better using it for a day pack. My only beef with this is the bright colors. One day, I’ll get a travel pack that doubles as the perfect day pack, too.
Small padlock For hostel lockers. I could use it to lock my bag zippers together, too, if I wanted some extra security while out and about, on a bus, etc.
Mini LED light



I currently have both but don’t need either. The headlamp was won in a family gift exchange game and the other magically appeared before my eyes one day. So I figured I’ll take ’em both with me and see which, if any, I use. I know I was wanting a headlamp while camping last month, so I imagine I might use it again.
Whistle …so that I feel a little extra safe walking alone (at night).
Ziploc bags I keep a few small sized bags to fill with snacks when I’ll be out all day. Large bags are great for a wet bathing suit, shoes, and washing clothes (though I’ve never had trouble with washing in the sink or shower). The mid sized bags I use to put clean underwear/socks, my bathing suit (since it’s so rarely used right now, it’s nice to have it packed airtight), and chargers. These are just the ideas I have right now – these bags are good for so much more.

Official Stuff

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The basics Passport, access to money (credit and/or debit card, cash, etc.), (international) driver’s license (if you plan on driving or just for extra I.D.), copy of passport

As needed: travel vaccine record, visas

Credit cards and cash I just got the Marriott Rewards Visa card from Chase. It has no foreign transaction fees (so I just get charged extra for using it abroad) and I get points every time I use it. The welcome reward is enough for a few free nights at a Marriott hotel. The first year fee is waved, but after the first year I’ll need to decide if it’s worthwhile to keep. Aside from that, I keep an extra credit card hidden away in my bag, along with some extra USD.
Fake card(s) I read about this recently – keeping an expired or deactivated credit card in an easy-to-find-place for thieves. My card was recently compromised and thus deactivated. I think I’ll keep it around!


What would you add or take away from this list?



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