How to Pack Minimally

Learning how to pack minimally is an essential skill that helps to take some of the stress out of traveling. Read this list of 7 easy tips to get you on your way to packing simply and traveling light!

A few belongings in a canvas bag is often all you need. This really is how to pack minimally

7. Visually Map out the Contents of your Bags

When packing minimally, it’s a good idea to think through what you’ll pack before you actually start putting items in bags. That way, you’ll more easily be able to avoid packing unnecessary extra items. You can also quickly replace things that would otherwise have been tucked at the bottom of a suitcase.

One way to do this is by making a packing list several days in advance. This will enable you to mull over what you’re taking without the inconvenience of packing suitcases too early. Packing too soon means that you inevitably need to unpack and then repack a toothbrush or phone charger while you’re still at home.

Another way to approach this is to find a surface that you won’t need for a day or two and lay out your suitcase’s contents on it. You can then add and remove things easily in advance of your trip.

6. Come Prepared to Hand-Wash your Clothes

A great way to save space is by washing and reusing the clothes that you bring. Pack some travel laundry detergent, fill a sink half full with water and carefully scrub your used clothes. Check out this step-by-step guide to get to grips with how best to hand wash different materials.

Look out for cleaning products specifically made for hand washing, as these will be kinder on your skin. Alternatively, bring plastic washing-up gloves to use while scrubbing your clothes. This is especially important if you have sensitive skin.

If you plan to hand wash your clothes, it’s important to follow our next step:

5. Choose Clothes that are Easy to Wash and Dry Quickly

Clothes made of man-made fibers like polyester tend to cling on to smells for longer. This means that they take longer to wash effectively and can retain odours even after cleaning. 

Wool is one of the best options you can find because not only is it easy to remove stains from (with gentle washing in warm water) but it also dries very quickly.

Cotton, on the other hand, is much trickier to wash, with a significant risk of stretching or shrinking even at low temperatures.

Note that, if you’re camping, it’s also a good idea to avoid cotton due to how poor it is at wicking (i.e absorbing moisture away from your skin). When wet, the material quickly loses its insulative properties, making you much colder much quicker. This can lead to hypothermia when you’re out in the wild.

A duffel bag by a chair.

4. Pack Minimally by Rolling Clothes

Rolling clothes up has two main benefits for minimal packing. First, it allows you to fit more clothes in a smaller amount of space by removing air pockets and creases that would otherwise take up space. 

Secondly, it allows you to see exactly what you have packed at a glance when you open up your bag. Rather than sifting through clothes laid on top of one another to find what you’re looking for, you can instantly pick out the right item.

3. Pack Multipurpose Items

Wherever possible, remember to pack things that have more than one function. Seasoned campers often preach this rule when they’re teaching how to pack minimally. 

If you’re on a hike, this can be fairly easy to work out. A wood knife, after a good clean, can double as a cooking knife. Trekking poles make perfectly good tent poles. Tent tarps can easily become groundsheets or rain ponchos (see this article on tarp camping for more advice on picking the best tarp). An extra-thick sweater doubles as a great pillow.

If you’re on a city break, it can be a bit harder to get the most functionality out of your equipment. 

An obvious example would be technology. Your smartphone can easily replace your camera and kindle if you’re not going to be heavily using those items. 

You could also take combined shampoo/shower gel products to avoid bringing that extra bottle. Another option is to bring electrical items that can use the same charger (e.g. with USB-C ports), for example.

Neatly folded clothes in a suitcase. This traveler has clearly learned how to pack minimally.

2. Plan Out Combinations of Clothes

One mistake that people often make is thinking in terms of individual outfits, without thinking about how your entire travel wardrobe will fit together. 

This means that you can easily end up doubling the amount you take because a skirt that goes with a blouse you’ve already worn doesn’t suit anything else that you’ve taken.

A good way of avoiding this issue is by sticking to a single colour palette and not taking many patterned items. Avoid loud colours and clothes with patterns that clash easily. You’ll be able to pair your clothes easily and maximise the space in your baggage.

1. Wear Extra Clothes While Travelling

Finally, a really easy way of saving space in your bags is … by not packing things in them in the first place! Instead of stuffing a sweater and an extra pair of socks into your suitcase, why not wear them, if it’s comfortable to do so? 

Obviously, if you’re traveling in summer it may not be possible to wear too much. However, there’s always the option of wearing an open button-up shirt outside a T-shirt, for example. This sort of thing can often considerably increase the amount of items you can take, while reducing potential baggage costs on flights and the like.

NOTE: If you’re going to be spending a significant amount of time outdoors, you should always take more than you think you will need. For tips on how to stay warm on a camping or hiking trip, read this handy guide on how cold is too cold for camping.

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