The Best Ways To Travel Like a Minimalist

Ditch the baggage and enjoy the stuff that matters with these adventure hacks

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Photo by Timo Stern on Unsplash

When it comes to traveling, many are searching for new ways to minimize their travel footprint and focus more on the freedom to enjoy the adventure. The best way to achieve this is to analyze what you think you really need.

I recently took a very spontaneous road trip across the country from Seattle to Atlanta. The trip was more or less a business trip (if you count transporting an awesome service-dog as business), so I hopped on board as a chance to visit parts of the US that I’d never seen. It seemed like a great travel opp with one caveat:

I was given one day’s notice.

Luckily, since I frequently fly back and forth from South Florida (where I live), to Atlanta (where my kids live), I’ve become very savvy in learning to travel as minimalistic as possible. The following are some of the best tactics I’ve used to experience the ultimate freedom in my adventures, and travel like a minimalist boss.

Start with the luggage

Being unemployed was the catalyst for my minimalist life. With very little money, I was forced to purchase the cheapest airfare when flying to Atlanta to see my kids. This meant I would be charged out the wazoo for a simple carry-on. In a stubborn effort to avoid getting screwed with the luggage fees which would negate my savings, I challenged myself to carry only the essentials in a single backpack.

I purchased one just large enough to accommodate:

  • my laptop
  • two changes of clothes
  • my wallet/passport
  • phone
  • chargers
  • basic toiletries

Since I was flying between my two homes (where I live and where my family lives), I told myself I could purchase (from Goodwill) or borrow (from my daughters) anything that i needed while I was there.

That plan works perfectly if you’re traveling for a short stay, but if you’re traveling for a longer stent, you can upgrade to a backpack plus a small rolling carry on. Just keep in mind that the more space you have available to fill, the more your mind will try to convince you that you need to fill up the unused space.

Force yourself to limit that space.

Another upside: Not having to waste time waiting at the luggage carousel. Ugh.

Pack just the (real) essentials

In my younger years when I was more concerned with how I would look on my travels rather than the thrill of the adventure, I packed for almost every possible occasion I could think of. With make-up and hair products galore, a week of traveling would need at least one large check-in bag and a carry on.

Now that I’m in my mid-forties and have more of a sense of what matters, I have an insatiable need for absolute freedom from all the things I thought I needed in my younger years. I don’t want to save just space, but time and money as well.

As I mentioned in the last hack, I pack the bare minimum needed to survive while still maintaining an acceptable level of personal hygiene (that’s subjective) and accomplishing the goals you have for your trip. If you’re wanting to live and/or travel minimalistically, changing your idea of what’s more important — your appearance or the adventure — might be the first step.

Consider the following:

  • Make up — I only travel with moisturizer (with sunscreen), chapstick, and mascara for nights on the town (which I don’t really need but it’s my one link to actually feel like I’m “dressed up”).
  • Hair products — I don’t usually pack any if I’m staying in an airbnb or hotel. I just use the small bottles they offer. On occasion, I will take dry shampoo to minimize the times I have to shower.
  • “Personal” hygiene- Flushable wipes. Trust me.

Tip: Always take an empty zip-lock bag to debo the remaining shampoo/conditioner bottles. They’re small enough to save space and get through security at the airports.

Share, don’t Shop

When it comes to souvenirs, resist the temptation to shop. Not only will you not have the space for it and have to lug the stuff around, but the people you buy them for most likely don’t really want that shit anyway.

If you’re wanting to let a loved one know you’re thinking about them while on your trip, your best bet is to send them a postcard. They’ll get to see what you’re seeing without having to figure out where to put the latest dust-collector you brought back.

If you have kids that you don’t want to disappoint, consider buying something small and inexpensive like a wooden figurine from a local artist for a couple bucks. Come up with a good story on how you found it, and they’ll think it’s the coolest thing ever.

Travel with your own food and snacks

The food and snacks at tourist locations and at the airport are usually ridiculously overpriced and mostly unhealthy.

If you’re flying, I recommend bringing your own snacks in small bags and traveling with a reusable water bottle to fill after you’ve gotten past security.

If you’re driving and you’re not a traveling foodie, bringing healthy snacks along the way can minimize the number of times you have to stop as well as save you money.

On my recent cross-country drive we had to buy snacks out of necessity since most restaurants were closed due to the pandemic. Although we only had a week to make it back to Atlanta, we still saved enough time and money to visit some OTBP (off the beaten path) landmarks as well as the Grand Canyon from not stopping to eat.

I also lost four pounds. Win-win. Woot!

Minimize electronics and travel guides

As a writer, I need to be able to write. As a minimalist, I want to carry as little as possible.

Read as much as possible before your trip, but resist the urge to bring the books and travel guides with you. You don’t always want people to know you’re a tourist for safety reasons, and everything you need from maps (which you can download offline if you’re going to be in areas without service), to purchasing tickets and reserving hotels can be done from your phone. Even writing.

I used to travel with my laptop since I couldn’t get into my flow without a keyboard. Now I travel with a fold-up blue-tooth keyboard and work directly with my phone.

Don’t shower daily

This one may take some getting used to, but it has been the most liberating. Not to mention the less you shower, the less you actually NEED to shower. Your body wants to produce more natural oils the more you wash them away.

You’re not only reducing water usage, but you’re training your body to produce less of the stuff that makes you need to shower in the first place. It may sound gross, but coming from a former frequent-showerer, it works.

To stay feeling fresh, use the dry-shampoo I mentioned earlier to keep from looking like a greaseball. Also, this is where those flushable wipes come in quite handy. No one will know.

Wear clothes for multiple days

This one goes hand-in-hand with the showering. We’re a horribly wasteful society, and fast-fashion is one of the major culprits in environmental waste. Forget what you’ve been taught and accept that it’s okay to wear clothes more than once before you wash them.

On my cross-country trip, I took only the clothes and shoes that would fit into my small carry-on, and managed to wear each item at least twice (underwear being the exception…ew).

  • Pack clothes that are in the same color scheme so you can and mix and match and layer if you need to. If you pack something different, you’re less likely to wear it.
  • Pack darker colors when possible so any stains aren’t as visible to others.

Not only will your clothes last longer from fewer washings, but you’ll save space, time, money, AND help out the environment.

Wrap Up

When it comes to traveling and getting the most out of your adventures, learning to live with less is definitely more in terms of the quality of your experience.

Implement a minimalist mindset by asking yourself two questions:

  • Could you survive without it?
  • Is it easy to purchase or borrow where you’re going?

If the answer is yes, consider leaving it behind.

We can all enhance our ultimate living experience and help out the environment at the same time by purchasing less, eating less, and utilizing less natural resources to reduce our imprint. There’s also that awesome feeling of saving money.

You could use it for your next amazing adventure.

Happy Travels!!

Free-floating centrist, writer of inspirational stories, middle-aged “woke”-ness, loss, mental health, and minimalism. https://bit.ly/3o8eKfv

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