Minimize: Pack Lighter & Smarter

March 2021 —

If you talk to just about anyone who has had to pack for a major trip, to study abroad, or to move, they will probably say that packing was one of the hardest parts of their adventure! This is because everyone overthinks and overanalyses what they think they will need, what they might need, and what they actually need. I myself am guilty on all accounts of ‘overpacking,’ and that is why I have forced myself to change and break that habit as best I can!

To be a ‘minimalist’ is not nearly as easy as it sounds for most, but if you can limit the electronics, clothing, outerwear, shoes, etc. that you need, then you can adapt to packing lighter and smarter. LESS IS MORE!! I mean this in multiple senses because the more versatile your clothing and gear, the less you will need as each item can serve multiple purposes! Plus the more valuable each item will be to you!

Packing less, means carrying less, and having less to worry about.   : ) 


Rid the Unnecessary

I think that the important thing to keep in mind with minimising, is that it doesn’t apply only to packing, but also to ones everyday life! Let’s face it, having extra baggage is not a party for anyone! So if you can rid yourself of unused, unnecessary items, then why wouldn’t you?

For example, in May of 2018 as I was graduating from college and starting to consider my future life, I realised that I had acquired a lot of stuff over my previous 20+ years, and that it was just extra weight on my shoulders. And as if that weren’t true enough, I had only ever lived in my small town home, meaning any and everything that I have ever had was still in that house. So upon graduating, I went on a ‘personal vendetta’ against my belongings, hoeing out and donating anything I didn’t truly need!

To tell you the truth, this was one of the biggest reliefs of my life. To free myself was life changing! Additionally, if you are planning on living abroad, you really don’t need all that much. Therefore, I turned over a new leaf and headed down the path towards less waste, less need, and ultimately more money in my wallet! Recently my need to strive for a zero waste minimalist life has become self fulfilling, while freeing both myself and the Earth from unneeded baggage!


Less Waste = More Space

In terms of traveling and packing, zero waste products cut back on liquids, are smart for saving you money in the long run, and mean that you have less to take with you. My favorite website has got to be Zerowastecartel, because they have beyond awesome up cycled products, great prices, and lots of variety! I highly recommend checking out their site if you want to get started on your zero waste adventure, and they are a small startup business based int he US, so what’s not to love?! A few other really good websites include Etee, Ecoroots, and Grove Collaborative. Overall, these products can save you money, space, and worry whether you are just looking to change your everyday life or your packing methodology!! : )

Specifically, zero waste products cut back on just how much you have to bring with you, and an added perk, is that they actually decrease the amount of space needed in your bag the more you use them! For example, by using shampoo and conditioner bars you have greatly reduced your liquid count which can be tedious to limit at times, and the more you use them the smaller they get! Whereas with small plastic travel bottles though you may lose some weight with use, you will still have the bulky bottles that require space in your bag. Thus, you’d need less space, and have less weight going the zero waste route! 

When reading just about any travel article they always suggest that you leave empty space in your bag when packing, because of course you will acquire things along the way, plus you do not want your bag to be excruciatingly heavy or bulky before you have even departed. Something that I have found to be useful on my trips is to bring a small bag/satchel of snacks with a mini zipper bag containing S&P, silverware (reusable knife, spoon, and fork), and a few napkins. This can be kept on top of your backpack/bag/suitcase, and as you eat down your snacks, which I always do because I am constantly hungry, you will gain space, save money on expensive travel snacks, and lighten your bag!


Packing Efficiently

Now, when it comes to trying to decide what I should bring for bags/luggage, I have a general guideline for myself. For any sort of day trips I always bring my mini backpack or my NorthFace backpack for when I go hiking. For 1-3 night long trips, I definitely bring my NorthFace backpack, along with my crossbody bag, depending on what the trip entails. For any trips of 4+ nights, I generally utilize my REI Outfitters 46L Osprey Kyte women’s backpacking backpack. This is an amazing backpack with a chest strap for increased back support, a rain cover, a holder for a sleeping bag, and tons of pockets to store whatever may be! This backpacking backpack is just the right size to count as a carry-on with most airlines, but perhaps not some budget ones. I usually play it by ear according to each airline and their baggage rules. They have hundreds of different ones on the REI Co-op website for people os all shapes and sizes.

No matter the type of trip you are going on, I recommend trying to use a backpack as much as you can!! It is so much smoother without having to pull a suitcase though cobblestone streets, airport terminals, and busy areas. I recommend looking into a really durable and nice quality crossbody bag/purse to get the most longevity you can. I used mine all the time! It is my day-use bag of choice when wandering the streets of Madrid, and while traveling to other places. The one that I have purchased is by Wanders Travel Co., and is called the Venetian Grande Passport Crossbody. I purchased it on sale, and as a bonus I received a free $20 Venetian Card Wallet in the matching colour. I would definitely recommend checking out their website for a really high quality crossbody bag or purse that will last a long time. My NorthFace regular sized durable and waterproof backpack has a lifetime warranty on it, and I actually purchased it prior to going to Nicaragua in 2017. I have since used it for the rest of college, plus it has accompanied me on all of my journeys abroad. I should also mention that this backpack has a super nice laptop holder inside, which has been essential for my studies, for teaching, and for moving back and forth between NY and Madrid. It has legit been everywhere with me with no rips or tears whatsoever, which speaks to the great quality of NorthFace.

However, when I return to the US for Christmas or a short stay, I usually bring my small carry-on size roller suitcase, and my crossbody bag. In the Fall of 2019 while sitting down to begin packing for my supposed year long stay in Madrid, Spain, I really had to think long and hard about how much to bring, and how many bags/suitcases would be appropriate. I knew from my previous semester long stay in Madrid during the Spring of 2018 that there were some things I wish I had packed that I didn’t. For the semester I brought one large roller suitcase, a small carry-on roller suitcase, and my crossbody bag. Therefore, the only real difference for me was that I had to make sure I had clothing and jackets for all seasons, whereas before it was primarily just spring weather. I ended up bringing one large roller suitcase, a small carry-on roller suitcase, my NorthFace backpack, and my crossbody bag with me for my year abroad. 

In both cases I checked just the one big roller suitcase and was able to get by with the rest as carry-on items. I should note too, that it is best to bring a maximum of 2 rolling suitcases, due to a lack of hands and ability to weave in and throughout large people crowded spaces with more than that. And to be honest with you, even two can be hard if they resumer large and heavy. Typically, I alternate between the two different big roller suitcases shown in the cover image, depending on what I need, so that I have only one large one and occasionally a small one as well.   : )

Tip: Whenever possible, try to just bring carry-on bags for flying, as this will make your airport experiences easy and breezy!


Packing Mistakes

Like I said before, I haven’t always been smart about what I chose to pack and bring with me on my trips. For my first international trip to another country, I went to Nicaragua as part of my Advanced Spanish classes’ travel component. I had absolutely no travel foundation to build off of, and I had very little guidance on what I should’ve packed. Thus, it was no surprise that I somehow managed to fill 2 carry-on roller suitcases for a 2 weeks journey. This was insane in hindsight, but it is always soo clear looking back where I went wrong. I had a wonderful time, but it was a total pain to wait for my checked bag in between airports, carry it around between mini buses, and worst of all, I was late arriving to my layover in Miami International Airport, so I had to run to my next gate and they almost didn’t transfer my checked bag. ¡Ohh madre mía! What a mess it was! Never again will I bring that much stuff! I had enough clothes for a month long stay and then some haha.

For my 4 month semester long stay in Madrid, Spain, I actually under packed! I didn’t bring some things that I really should have and yet when I left it felt like I had accumulated more than I had shown up with! Overall, I had only collected some souvenirs, textbooks from my studies, and a half a dozen new clothing items. It was unfortunate however, that I forgot to bring a really warm sweater, some going out clothes, and a better phone that I could’ve used for Googlemaps. I was able to make it though and because of this I gained vital packing knowledge for which I greatly benefited when it came time to prepare for my year abroad teaching in Madrid the following year. When I went to Greece I way way overpacked!! It was a 6 day trip, and I brought a bulging carry-on roller suitcase and my NorthFace backpack! This was way overboard on what I realistically needed, but I was still relatively new to packing effectively! After being there for a few days, and seeing what I had brought, I could tell that I really only needed the roller suitcase, and in some ways, I probably would’ve been just fine with my NorthFace backpack lol. Anyways, you learn from your mistakes right? In this case it only slightly hindered my experience, which was a good thing.

A major no no happened when I went to Spain for the year in the Fall of 2019. I thought It would be better to wait to bring my winter jackets/clothes/sweaters/boots, and instead have my dad mail them to me come November when I actually needed them. Obviously this was incorrect because it would’ve been $500 – 700 to send a 20 lb. bag via mail or UPS. What a crazy amount of money?!?! Plus there was also the possibility that my bag would be rejected at the border, due to Spain strict entrance laws. Thank God that the mom of my friend who was studying abroad was going to make the trek over to see her in November, and she agreed to take my bag on the place with her as “her carry-on.” What a total hassle!!!

Soo lesson learned, bring whatever you need with you, it is easier in the long run!!!


What to Pack

In general, I really love going with multifunctional, neutral, and layer-able clothing and outerwear! I have had really good success with packing and with my overall minimalist vibe wardrobe when I have kept these things in mind. Some of my favorite pieces have the potential to be athletic, fancy, and casual depending on how you want to wear them! Be sure to check out Outdoor Voices and Backcountry for multipurpose athletic yet causal clothes that are sure to boost your wardrobe. I absolutely love Mango, a Spanish company, for super chic, neutral yet not too expensive casual and formal clothing. One time I found the perfect nude sweater on sale, and I have worn it ever since! It is just spectacular for just about any occasion. : )

For outerwear I have had really good luck with LL Bean down coats, jackets and vests, as well as with Eddie Bauer vests and long winter coats. Also, I have seen some really good deals on REI Co-op. In terms of trying to maintain a minimal number of shoes without deviating from quality, I have found that Teva sandals are a dream come true! They have 50+ different styles, and are currently the only sandals I own! A few years ago back when I was still in college, a lot of people started wearing Blundstone boots in the winter, spring, summer, and fall. I had no idea why they were so popular until I decided to get a pair. As it turns out, that was probably the best footwear decision that I have ever made!! They are the most versatile, comfortable, waterproof, and supportive boots that I have ever worn! If you are looking for just this, then these boots are where its at!!

For a solid pair of durable and comfortable dress shoes I have a pair of Weejuns penny loafers by G.H. Bass &Co.. they have a timeless look to them, while not being unfashionable. To walk around, teach, and go out, I like to wear a solid coloured pair of Keds sneakers because they are really easy to walk in and be on my feet for hours at a time. I think they are really stylish, and you can get ones with different heights. At the moment, I have a black and white pair with raised base gel soles, so it kind of feels like I am walking on a cloud! Although I know they are not the most eco friendly company, I usually get Nike sneakers for running ad doing athletic activities. If you know how to search around you can get a really nice pair for $60 or less. I love hiking and exploring mountainous areas so it was only logical that I scope out a solid, durable, and very comfortable pair of hiking boots. After spending many hours online and debating about just how much to spend, I finally decided on a pair of Merrell hiking boots. Let me tell you this was a wonderful decision! These are exactly what I was looking for, thus I have not a single complaint! When I as in Salamanca, Spain in January 2020, I happened to be casually looking around in a show store, and I encountered a pair of European 41, size 11 in the US, black booties on clearance for just 15 euros!! These were an out of this world find in my size, especially in Spain given that like 90% of women have really tiny feet there! They have been the best boots for going out, being casual, or looking fancy.


Best Amenities to Bring

I don’t know about you, but although my wallet is a fan of ‘economy class’ flying, my legs sure aren’t! I am a fairly tall gal, and sitting for more than a few hours on a plane/train/bus is just hard and uncomfortable, especially for my legs. That’s why I was super excited when I found a foot hammock that you can take with you, throw over the tray table, and voila you had instant comfort! This foot hammock by FirstClassCozy is extremely compact, lightweight, and super easy to stuff in your crossbody bag/purse. It will without a doubt transform your plane/train/bus experiences for the better!

Moreover, neck pillows are also critical to having a good attitude when you step off that plane, train, or bus! Securing a neck pillow for yourself is definitely a good move, and there are hundreds if not thousands of different ones out there to choose from. As I have talked about in my Be smart, vigilant & Observant post, hooking yourself up with a couple of combination locks with a coated metal cable is the best way to secure your possessions and give you some peace of mind. I also use luggage identification tags on every backpack/suitcase that I use as an extra precaution. And they can come in useful when your bag is on the luggage carousel as a marker to look for! For my shoes, I bought a couple small waterproof shoe storage bags that are zippered and help keep the rest of my bags’ contents from getting wet as well! Whether you are a hiker or you just like to keep things attached to the outside of your bag, carabiners are an excellent way to stretch your carry-on bags capacity every further!! And last but certainly not least, having at least one if not two reusable water bottles is a complete godsend! By choosing to reuse you are saving the Earth and saving money at the same time!

Recently, I purchased the Westhikers inflatable sleeping mattress pad, a lightweight, super compact pad that alleviates a bad nights sleep due to lack of neck/back support. this is one of the many areas I have to admit has hindered my travel experience with hostels. The beds are not outstanding, but with this mattress pad you are sure to have an amazing nights sleep, whether in a hostel bed, in a tent, or outdoors under the stars. And let’s face it, sleeping well equals a better overall travel experiences!! For your cellular device, Pela phone cases are where it is at! They are zero waste phone cases that are biodegradable and can protect your phone from most any dropping. I have had one for several years and my phone has held up great!

I would also suggest using packing cubes as much as possible for clothes, and reusable gallon/quart/sandwich bags for small things, electronics, and personal care items. Grove Collaborative has a number of reusable bags available, but the Stasher brand are said to be heavenly! Having a versatile power charging adapter will save your life many times! In addition, if you are going to be staying in predominantly one region, or a region where the electrical plugins are all the same, then you may want to invest in a few single device power converters for charging your phone and whatever else.


So what do you think? Hopefully after pondering some of the ideas from above, you are feeling more confident with packing smarter and lighter! So ‘Bon Voyage‘ and let minimising be your key to having a positive travel experience. And remember, if you don’t need it and especially if it is unnecessary, don’t bring it!

Here, I am on the top of the Alcázar de Segovia in my LL Bean packable, lightweight, and multifunctional vest. This is one of the best articles of outerwear I have ever purchased, and I would definitely suggest getting yourself one! (Click on the photo for the link)
Here, I am atop of one of the Picos de Europa mountains at Fuente Dé in Northern Spain. I am wearing an Eddie Bauer packable and reversible jacket. Getting yourself a similar jacket will be one of your greatest self investments! I'd even encourage you to get a lightweight one and a heavier down one because they are legit that good! (Click on the photo for the link)

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