When I traveled to Japan last December, I packed everything I needed for my 2 week stay in one simple tote bag, The Market Tote.
Does that sound crazy?
This won’t make you feel better if you want to try this because I’m going to be honest — I felt absolutely nuts when I decided to go for it. I’m not a minimalist or a highly organized person. Traveling minimally went against my nature.
I felt sure that I would be stranded helplessly without the giant suitcase of things that I would be sure to need. I pictured myself showing up in Tokyo late at night, shivering outside a hostel full of strangers, looking forlorn with just a single tote bag to my name. I imagined people on the train politely (and not so politely) scooting away from me because of my body’s repulsive odors from wearing the same change of clothes for too many days.
In spite of my fears, I did it. I packed everything I needed for two weeks in one tote bag, and I flew into the unknown. I was sure I had lost my mind.
Fortunately, none of those dreadful things happened to me.
Instead, I fell in love with traveling minimally. It actually worked!
It worked so well, in fact, that I packed the same way again when I flew to London and Uganda, Africa earlier this summer.
Here’s how I managed to travel with so little.
A Minimal Packing List
2-Piece Bikini (optional)
1 Statement Necklace
1 Classic Necklace
1 Pair of Statement Earrings
2 Basic Pairs of Earrings
1 Pair of Trusty, Brown Leather Sandals (summer)
1 Pair of Comfortable Flats
1 Basic Crossbody Bag
Step 1. Create 12-14 outfits from what you are taking.
Step 2. Roll it all up.
Step 3. Set aside an outfit that you’ll wear to travel.
Step 4. Pack remaining items.
Breaking Down the Formula of How I Pack My Tote
It’s not as easy for me as it looks. If I want to travel minimally, I must carefully and intentionally choose each of the items I take.
1. Most of my clothing items are made from light fabrics to lessen their weight and space. The two weighty, bulky items I always pack are a pair of jeans and a cardigan.
2. I pack coordinating colors. As you can see, I mixed and matched my outfit pieces to make multiple outfits. I make sure they play nicely with each other.
3. I plan to do laundry at least once while I travel. I can make two weeks worth of outfits from what I take, but I technically only have enough clothing for one week. I’ve never had any issues with doing laundry while I travel. In Africa, I had the option of paying someone a small fee to do all my laundry, or I could wash it out by hand. What do you think I chose to do?
4. Traveling with the plan above, I do still make sure I pack clothes that hide dirt well.
5. I pack a couple of jewelry pieces that will work well with the clothes I’m packing. I always want the option of dressing up some of my outfits.
6. Finally, I pack for the best case scenario. I’m serious. If I get to where I’m going, and I find out that I forgot something or absolutely need an item, I’ll probably be able to buy what I need at my destination. I’ve flown in both winter and summer seasons with very little, and I’ve always found this to be true. If it’s not true for you, embrace the adventure and make do without.
Why travel with so little?
I’m so glad you asked.
1. Traveling light like this means you won’t ever have to check in a bag. That can save you quite a lot of hassle, and you know you will have your items when you reach your destination.
2. You’ll always walk more than you planned when you travel, especially when you travel internationally. Do you really want to wrangle with a large suitcase everywhere you go?
P.S. It’s possible to pack much more minimally than I do. I have read blog posts like this one that encourage packing only 2-3 items in each category when you travel for up to months at a time. Imagine living with 3 tops and 2 bottoms for six weeks? Yeah, I’m not there yet either.
Why travel with a tote bag instead of a backpack?
That’s a great question.
I’ll be honest; it would be easier to travel like this with a backpack instead of a tote bag. Here’s where I’ll sound vain, those big canvas backpacks simply don’t look as nice as this gorgeous leather tote.
I have had a lot of fun by challenging myself to travel internationally with this tote, and I get so many compliments on it. Because of its slim profile, it’s easy to carry in crowded areas without bumping into people.
Another positive aspect of packing in a tote bag is that I take everything out when I get to where I’m going and then use my tote bag as an additional, optional purse.
Traveling with the Market Tote has worked for me, but to be completely fair, it wasn’t designed to use as a travel bag. It was designed to use as a tote for your everyday life. For traveling purposes, it works most wonderfully as a carry-on bag.
For full disclosure, I also take my original Urban Southern leather backpack with me when I travel. This holds the extra items I take — like my MacBook, journal, and snacks. (Watch for a new leather backpack that we’ll be launching in August!)
June 2017 | Uganda, Africa
If you’ve ever wanted to travel more minimally, I hope this has been helpful for you.