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How to Travel Like a Minimalist

From packing light to streamlining your itinerary, here’s how to cut out the excess and have your best trip yet

Mandy Ferreira

Leave the jam-packed luggage and overflowing itinerary behind and instead hone in on the essentials for a less stressful trip. You don’t have to stay in austere hotels or purchase specific products to travel like a minimalist. While the right gear and packing light can keep your bag’s weight at a minimum and get you out the door faster, it’s not just about what you bring. Instead, it’s about freeing up space in your bag and in your day so you can travel with ease no matter your destination.

Packing Light in a Single Carry-On Bag

Say goodbye to exorbitant bag fees, long waits to check or retrieve baggage, and the stress of lost luggage. You can’t beat the convenience and simplicity of a single rolling bag or comfortable backpack, especially if you are flying. Pack the items you will need during the flight in a separate small bag that can stow under the seat inside your suitcase. Quickly pull this smaller bag out of your luggage at the gate when you’re ready to board and tuck it back in when you land to keep your hands free at the airport.

Going on a road trip? While you can technically fill the whole car, limiting each passenger to a single bag will streamline your journey and make loading and unloading at each stop a breeze. A tote bag, small backpack, or weekender are great for 2-3 night stays. Otherwise, your normal carry-on bag will fit everything you need.

More: Make the most of any bag with these packing hacks

Make a Packing List, and Cross Items Off

Never unpack unused items again. Make a list of everything you want to bring, and promptly remove 25-50 percent of it. Cross off everything that isn’t essential, like that extra pair of shoes and any unnecessary duplicates. If you still have space once everything you truly need is packed, you can sneak in something extra. Don’t forget, you can always rent, borrow, or buy when you get there.

Extend Your Wears

While it’s not advisable to rewear your underwear, most clothes can be worn at least twice before they need a wash. Some clothing made for travel can go even longer thanks to antibacterial fabric. For long trips, pack 5-7 days worth of clothing and do laundry as needed at your vacation rental or a local laundromat, or use the hotel’s washing service.

Bring Double-Duty Items

Make the most of your space with items that pull their weight. Look for essentials that have more than one purpose. A Turkish travel towel can also be used as a scarf or wrap, a pillow, and a beach or park blanket upon arrival. A container of snacks on the plane can be refilled with leftovers or things to munch on while you sightsee. Also, consider clothing that can be worn more than one way.

Dress in Layers

Instead of bringing items that only work at the extremes, bring clothing that can be worn together or taken off to better suit the weather. The longer your trip or the more destinations, the more important it is to pack items that can easily be layered to fit any climate. Think a light sweater that can be worn by itself or under a jacket, dresses that can be paired with pants or leggings, and tops that can stand alone or slip under everything you brought.

Mix and Match

While it can be helpful to preplan outfits, it’s more important that you can mix and match the items in your suitcase in multiple ways. For shorter trips, try bringing a single pair of bottoms and mixing up your top each day. Don’t bring anything that can only be worn with one other item (unless you need something fancy for an important event).

Create a Personal Care or Makeup Capsule

Do you really want to do a lengthy beauty routine while on vacation? Bring the basics, but leave the rest behind. If you typically wear makeup daily, consider bringing just tinted sunscreen or foundation, mascara, and a lip color. While any trip is fair game, beach vacations are the perfect time to go makeup-free and leave it all at home. Not only will a personal care capsule save space, it will also get you out the door and exploring faster.

Be Honest with Yourself

You won’t get to those four books on your weekend getaway, and the shoes that kill your feet aren’t going to magically feel like clouds in Cabo. Same for travel plans. Keep in mind the pace you like to travel, the amount of time you have, and how you felt on your last trip when planning your itinerary. Brutal honesty with a dash of reality will save you space and sanity.

Pick 1-2 Main Activities or Sights for Each Day

No matter how long your trip, you won’t be able to fit in everything. Pick the most important things you want to see or do and divide them up by day. This allows you to slow down, cuts out FOMO, and gives you permission to take your time. You can always go other places if time permits, but limiting yourself will prevent you from feeling like you didn’t fit enough in or leave you disappointed when you couldn’t make it to every sight in the city.

Schedule Down Time

Whether you are trying to see every statue in Rome or discover the best beer in Portland, your trip will be significantly more enjoyable if you give yourself–and your family!–time to relax. Rest in the city park, spend the afternoon at the beach, or lounge in your gorgeous Airbnb.

Embrace Airplane Mode

Unplug to stay fully present in the moment and better immerse yourself in the culture and attractions around you. Whether you are traveling stateside or in another country, turn your phone onto airplane mode to cut out the distractions. If you have a dedicated camera, leave your phone behind or keep it in your bag. Worried about navigating? Preload your destinations on Google Maps when you have wifi or service to use offline, or go old-school and ask locals for directions or advice instead of Yelping every restaurant in a 20-block radius once hanger strikes.