How to Travel with 1 Bag: The Minimalist Packing Guide

By thebeesabroad | Feb 6, 2020

Brady overlooking Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Brady overlooking Dutch Harbor, Alaska

I want you to imagine going on a two-week vacation with only one small travel bag. Ahhh!! Do you think you can do it?

You might be thinking, "No Freaking Way."

Sure, at first glance, it does seem a bit daunting and challenging. You might not think it's worth the trouble. However, going down to one small bag or suitcase is not as hard as it sounds. Plus, packing light can save you money when you travel, and it may even be safer.

Traveling light is one of the best ways to get around airports, planes, buses, and trains when they are crowded. If you're taking a long road trip, packing light is essential for maintaining your sanity, especially if you have kids! Or like us, you have two fur babies.

So how does one do it? What do you pack? What can you leave at home? Let's take a look at the ins and outs of how to travel with 1 bag: the minimalist packing guide.

What is Minimalist Packing?

It goes by many different names, minimalist travel, ultralight travel, freestyle travel. The names are different, but the concept is the same: Traveling to a destination with only a minimal number of items. Usually this means carrying only a backpack, carry-on, or messenger bag. Minimalist travel is not difficult; it just takes a little more planning, but it's worth it.

Growing up, I was the girl that packed my entire closet for every single trip. It was a pain!! Not only did I use a fraction of what I brought but coming home I had to unpack all of it. I quickly learned to stop packing like that when airlines started charging for checked bags.

I spent some time in Mexico and only traveled with a small carry-on bag. I was able to zip in and out at airports. I could use more public transportation because I didn't have 4 bags with me. Want to know the best part? I didn't even miss having extra clothes, shoes and jewelry.

Let's go over the benefits and draw backs of Minimalist Travel, what to pack and extra tips.

Benefits of Minimalist Travel

1. It's Easier

The biggest benefit of minimalist travel is that it's so much easier to get to and from your destination. Now you only have one bag to carry around vs lugging around several pieces of heavy luggage. You can move with ease around airports and public transit hubs. No more headaches trying to keep track of all your bags or finding a cart to push everything in. You can put your focus on your surroundings.

2. Flexibility

Travel plans are more flexible now that you only have 1 piece of luggage. For example, when most people travel, they have to check into their hotel or hostel in order to drop their luggage off. Even if you don't get a room yet, you still physically have to go to the location to have them hold your items. But if you only have one bag, you can do some sightseeing first on your way. Maybe grab something to eat hassle free.

3. Save Money

* Save on Baggage Fees

Airlines are charging a ridiculous amount these days for checked bags. Even if your international flight includes free checked bags, if you are flying inside that country, you still pay a fee. Now, as a minimalist traveler, your bag is small enough to carry on with you. You also avoid the stress of having to check your bag in, wait to get your bag, or having lost luggage.

* Save on Impulse Buys

Another money saving advantage is that you avoid pre-vacation purchases or during-vacation splurges. The last-minute purchases on a new outfit, new bag, or even new toiletries are fun, but that will add up quick.

And so many people go shopping on vacation. With minimalist travel, you most likely don't have as much room in your bag for extras. You'll spend less because you only buy a couple of items.

4. Less of a Target for Thieves

It's simple really, the less stuff you have, the less conspicuous you are. After all, you are immediately pegged as a tourist when you're walking down the street looking for a taxi or metro. You make it even more obvious when you are dragged 4 wheeled suitcases with you. However, if you are weaving in and out with a smaller bag, you're much less of a target.

Challenges You Face with Minimalist Traveling

Of course, there will be challenges. It's easy to come up with reasons as to why you need to load your suitcase.

1. I Might Need That

We completely understand, it can be difficult to know what you will need. Many people are fear-based packers. Which is why, planning is so important! Plan out your days, check the weather forecast and pack accordingly.

I might need that for my workouts. How many times have you packed a weeks’ worth of workout clothes and yoga mat with full expectations of actually using it? How often do you? If you do, congrats!! We actually do workout during our travels as well, but we've packed smarter. We pack less or pack clothes that we double as walking around clothes as well.

It's important to be honest with yourself when it comes to packing. What do I actually need for the activities I will be doing?

2. I Have a Huge Suitcase at Home, So Why Not Fill It Up?

The bigger the suitcase, the more you will add to it. You will come up with scenarios and fill up your bag with "just in case" items. After all, if you have the room, why not right?

If this is you, we are doing an intervention. Put away the large bag and invest in a smaller carry-on bag. You can even get one that doubles as a backpack. A smaller bag will naturally limit your choices. And you'll find that you will function just the same without a large bag.

3. Packing Procrastinators

Packing Procrastinators tend to pack way more than what they will need. Ultralight traveling requires thought and planning. When you don't plan, you end up packing too much or packing the wrong items. Start developing a packing plan well before your trip so you have plenty of time to adjust as needed.

Get Packing

What you choose to pack for your trip will depend on where you are going, time of year, and activities.

Bianca on a flight to the Philippines

Bianca on a flight to the Philippines

These are some guidelines for you to follow:

1. Choose Your Bag

We recommend a 22' carry-on bag, a backpack, or a cross-body messenger bag. Look carefully at a bag’s material and weight before choosing it for travel. A heavy canvas or leather bag might look stylish, but you’re the one who will be lugging around that extra weight. Pick out a lightweight bag.

  • Your bag needs to be one that is comfortable for you. Think about what is easiest for you to carry around with you. How do you want the weight distributed?

  • Think about your location. We base our bag choices on the locations we go to. Example: Will we be hiking? If yes, then naturally a backpack will be more fitting.

  • Use packing cubes to compress your items down and keep them organized.

Pro Tip: We always make a list of our must need items first and then decide what bag to bring with us.

2. Clothes

All your clothes need to work together to create several different outfits.

  • Keep similar color schemes. Colors should be more on the neutral side or complimentary to each other. I don't follow this rule very much since bright colors are my favorite. However, keeping prints to a minimum or making sure that the color schemes work with all of your pieces is key. For pants, always go dark. It will help conceal any dirt or stains until you can remove them.

  • Focus on layers. Layers give you greater flexibility. You can quickly mix and match items to create different looks. They also save space; pack several light items vs one bulky item. I love button up long sleeve shirts for layers. In warm weather, they double as a jacket at night and for cold weather, it's an extra layer of warmth.

  • Plan, plan, and plan some more. We always jot down these questions and really dive into them to insure we pack properly.
    1. How long are we traveling for?
    2. What is the weather like?
    3. What activities are we doing?

Pro Tip: Pack light t-shirts vs bulky ones. Don't pack items that easily wrinkle. Only pack one pair of Pajamas. Do not over pack shoes (2 different pairs are plenty).

  • Wash your clothes. Nobody enjoys washing their clothes on vacation but it's worth doing. We never use the hotel laundry services; they charge too much. If you just need to wash your items for one more use, hand washing is your best bet. Just wash and let it dry overnight. They make some super compact travel clothesline that may be worth the weight in your bag.

3. Accessories

Think about what you will be doing and what essential accessories you will need. Check out our full list here, but below are our top accessories we will not leave the house without.

  • Electronics. Our phones double as our main camera unless we need to take another one. We blog so naturally a laptop is almost always with us. Chargers, power bank, and a universal adapter are other electronics we never leave without.

  • Eye Mask and Travel Pillow. They are fantastic for longer flights, train rides, or buses. They will help you sleep or nap better.

  • Padlock. Get a TSA approved one. Make sure it's thin enough that it can fit through the zippers in your backpack. You also want it to fit through a locker in case you stay at a hostel or need to use a locker at a destination.

  • Water Bottle. Don't contribute to the plastic problem, save money on water, and stay hydrated. Staying hydrated will help reduce the effects of jet lag and gives you more energy. Consider a fold-able water bottle or a filtered water bottle depending on your travel location.

Bonus. Consider a universal sink plug with your travel clothes hanger if you plan on hand-washing some clothes.

Packing Tips

  • Roll, Don't Fold. Rolling your clothes will free up more space in your suitcase compared to folding them if you are not using a packing cube.

  • Lay Out Your Clothes Before You Pack. Always lay out your clothes before you pack. It's a great way to insure you pack what you actually need. It's a wonderful visual to help you plan. Remember, don't over pack. So, it's OK to put half of what you lay out back in the closet.

  • Pack For The Culture You Will Be Visiting. If you are traveling abroad, make sure you research the clothing worn in that destination. Show respect for the culture you're visiting and make adjustments to fit in with their expectations. Some places will not let you in if you are not dressed accordingly.

  • Be Smart With Your Extra Personal Bag. Airlines typically allow one carry-on item and one-person bag. Don't waste that on a small purse or a cheap duty-free bag. Choose a tote, draw string bag, or a smaller messenger bag. It can double as a purse for the ladies, beach bag etc. It's perfect for the essentials you may need on the flight.

  • Pack a Few Empty Baggies. They can help organize toiletries and prevent spills. Double as a snack bag, phone bag at the beach. Extra pastries from breakfast... possibilities are endless.

  • Keep Your Toiletries To A Minimum. All you really need is your toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and some face wipes to freshen up. I hardly even bring makeup on our travels anymore. Usually it's a tube of mascara and concealer that I can through into my bag very easily.

  • All hotels will be equipped with shampoo, body wash or soap bar, and lotion. Unless we are going to a hostel that won't provide those, we don't pack any. We also ask our Airbnb hosts if those items are provided before packing them.

Final Words

Minimalist packing will make your travel experience more enjoyable. How many times have we arrived at a destination with sore arms and backs? Or gotten home, and thought to ourselves "Why did I even pack this much?" We said no more to heavy suitcases and now you can too.

Do you currently pack too much when you leave home? Share your experiences and let us know if you will be trying out a minimalist packing style from now on! Already into minimalist packing? What are some of your essentials and tips?

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Written by thebeesabroad
Hi!! We are Bianca and Brady, and as you have probably already guessed we LOVE to TRAVEL. We run our Travel Blog and we have been exploring the world together since 2015. We have had some truly once in a life-time experiences; like 4 wheeling up and down rainy cliffs and mountains in Honduras, scuba diving in very cold water in the Pacific North West, cruising, swimming and trekking through Mexico, and getting married in the Dominican Republic, are just to name a few. Even our latest big adventure moving to Guam has been nothing short of exciting. Somehow we always manage to have a blast everywhere we go. We have a combined knack of g... Read more

There are 4 comments

Apr 1, 2020 at 12:56

That's amazing. Next time I travel only with 1 luggage bag.

Bianca Dasilva

Bianca Dasilva
Apr 2, 2020 at 04:04

Let us know how it goes!!

Feb 21, 2020 at 20:40

Since we retired six years ago we have traveled almost continuously. We travel with a hand luggage suitcase each, for trips of up to 3 months at a time. We often head off not having decided when we will return to the UK. As you say, it just takes some careful planning. We usually stay in apartments, not hotels, and choose ones with a washing machine and WiFi. We use public transport all the time. It's remarkably easy!


Feb 21, 2020 at 22:07

Nomadic pensioner, that’s so awesome!! It’s so much easier to travel light and carry a lot of luggage!! We try to do the same and wash clothes as needed!!

Thoughts? Questions?

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