Minimalist Packing for an International Trip

If you’re anything like me, the hardest part of any trip is always finding the right balance of packing enough to be prepared without looking back at the end of your trip and realizing you didn’t use half the things you took. In the past I was always the classic over-packer, I needed a completely new outfit for every day of the week, and why not throw in a few extras just in case the situation called for them? My luggage always looked like a not-so-mini version of my wardrobe, but at the end of my semester abroad in England, that was no longer an option. After my classes ended, I had one final trip planned to go on a two-week tour of Italy. Being too poor to be able to afford the cost of a carry-on for each connecting flight, I needed to fit everything into one small backpack. All of my friends thought I was crazy, but when they were having to carry three heavy bags for miles, their jealousy for my single backpack was more than obvious. The truth is you need far less than you realize, and cutting down what you pack to the bare essentials will not only save you the hassle of lugging around extra weight everywhere you go, but also save you money spent on checking baggage at an airport, or even for a carry on, (yes I’m talking about you Ryanair) prevent any lost baggage, and make for a simpler, easier travel experience.

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Step 1: Choosing a Bag

The most obvious thing to do when you are about to pack your bags for a trip is to… well, find a bag to pack. When you are picking something to pack in to go on in international trip, there is no one answer as to what piece of luggage you should use.
For backpacking Europe and staying in hostels, I’d take the Osprey Farpoint 40. You can select another backpack based on what you have and your needs though. Just think through where you are going and keep some of these general principles in mind before choosing a piece of luggage:

Keep it small

You don’t want to be lunging around a 40+ lb piece of luggage, especially if you are flying a lot. Airlines have strict measurements for carry-on items. Unless you want to pay $25-50 each flight you take, I’d keep to the bag about 21" x 16" x 8" and under 40 L. Use a backpack If you are traveling to multiple countries and having to transport your bags anywhere else besides an airport and hostels, it might be in your best interest to get a backpack. Roads and transportation are not always smooth in other countries so having wheels on a piece of luggage could hinder your ability to get around.

Make sure it is comfortable

If you go with the backpack option, it is extremely important that the backpack fit you well, especially if you ever plan to carry it for more than 30 minutes. It needs to be bigger and heavier than your average school backpack to fit all of your things in it. If given the chance, you should try to go to a store to be fitted. The price will be more expensive but it is worth it because a good backpack that fits you well can be used for years.

Organization

An organized backpack maximizes space and saves time while traveling. A backpack can have packing cubes added to it (these will be discussed in the last step) or have organizers built in. Another consideration should be if you want your pack to be a top loader or open more like a traditional suitcase for your ease. Without packing cubes, I should suggest a backpack that opens more like a traditional suitcase, unless you want to have to pull all of your things out everyday to find an outfit.

Step 2: Finding a Day Pack

Some days you will not want or need to lug around all your things. However, you should still have something to carry what you need for the day. This can be a shoulder bag, but you should consider the situations you may use such a bag in as well.

Airplanes usually allow you to take a carry on and then personal item, but sometimes the plane gets overly crowded and you are asked to check your carry ons. You want to make sure that after you pull out things like electronics and other valuables you do not want to be separated from you, you have a place to put them. This is why I would suggest having a large handbag or a small backpack with you.

Large pieces of luggage can also get stolen, so having an extra bag on you that is easier to keep on at all times with your more of valuable items can be useful. Just make sure that the smaller bag is secure from thieves by assuring it has zippers and a thick fabric so no one can easily reach into the bag or slash it open with a knife.

Good options for these types of small bags would be a built-in day pack (such as in the Farpoint 40), computer bags, or collapsible small backpacks. Find which one works for you and the way you like to travel.

Note: I’d suggest always keeping a pair of clothes, your toiletries and your most valuable items in this bag and rarely letting it off your person without having a place to keep it. You never know when someone might take your big pack or when the airline might lose it. No one wants to be wants to be without clothes and a toothbrush or lose their computer.

Step 3: Picking Your Wardrobe

Your wardrobe is something you want to absolutely minimize. Remember, if you need more clothes, you can always buy more! This list is what I personally found to be a sustainable wardrobe for me, but depending on how often you have access to doing laundry, you may prefer to pack more. This list could also greatly vary based on the climate of the region you are planning to travel to, the activities you intend to do, gender, and personal preference.

  • 5 t-shirts
  • 1 dress shirt
  • 2 pants – 1 pair of jeans and one pair of dress pants
  • 2 shorts
  • 1 jacket (Preferably down)
  • 6 pairs of socks and underwear
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • Flip flops
  • Multifunctional shoes (try to find a pair of shoes that you think look nice enough for any situation you may find yourself in and comfortable enough for you to stand and walk all day in)

The key to packing less clothes is to pack plain neutral colors that are can be worn with everything else you are bringing. Additionally, if all of your clothes look similar, people tend to not notice as much that you are only rotating shirts every five days. When it starts to get cold out, layering is essential so that you can pack fewer big items and also so that you can add and remove layers to adjust to how you feel.

One big potential area for variation is with regards to shoes. If you plan to go to several nice restaurants, you may want a nicer pair of dress shoes to accompany your walking shoes, or if you plan to be in nature a lot, you may choose to pack hiking shoes. Just keep in mind that any shoes that you aren't wearing take up a lot of space in your bag, so finding shoes that can serve multiple purposes is a great idea.

Step 4: Deciding on Other Miscellaneous Items

When deciding if you should bring an item or not, ask yourself what the worst situation you could find yourself if you did not have that item. A general rule of thumb to use is that unless you can’t possibly bear the worst possible situation, then leave it at home. Listed below are some things that I believe are at lest worth considering bringing on an international trip.

Electronics

  • Phone
  • Power bank
  • Universal Adapter
  • Chargers
  • Camera

When traveling, I do not think I could have survived without my phone. It held all of my boarding passes, rooming information, and allowed me to find my way around a city. This is why I highly recommend bringing a power bank to make sure your phone doesn't die and end up in you not being able to get back to your hostile at night. I also highly recommend buying a sims card once you are at your destination. In Europe these sims cards are only about $15 for a few gigabytes of data a month which adds a level of safety and convenience to your trip, so that don't have to always be searching for wifi.

Other Items To Consider

  • Toiletries
  • Lock
  • Travel size towel
  • Sunglasses
  • Noise reducing earbuds
  • Rain jacket or umbrella
  • Finger nail clippers
  • Sketbook/Journal

If you are going to be staying in several hostiles on your trip, a lock and towel are very nice to take, because many will not provide those to you without charge. They make small microfiber towels that dry fast and do not take up room, so the initial cost could definitely pay for itself if you stay enough places.


Realize also though that you will be able to buy different items once you arrive at your destination, which may be a good idea to help survive TSA regulations. However, just because you are packing a minimalistic bag does not mean you shouldn’t bring some of your favorite items with you.

Step 5: How to Roll Your Clothes and Conserve Space

You can minimize the thing you can bring in a bag in advance preparation and the right equipment. By using packing cubes, You can squeeze a surprising amount of clothes into a cube, to cover your round trip. Some are water resistant and offer protection from dirt. They can also be used to protect clothes in dusty hotel drawers that are filled with german and to put your clothing . the packing cube helps by Limit what you pack by choosing a cube for each category. you know that one large cube is enough for all your clothes. If you buy a new item and it fits in the cube, you can take it; if not, something else must go. To minimize what you need to bring on your trip When you’re traveling, your cubes work like traveling drawers. Since you know what’s inside of each) you’ll be able to take out what’s necessary without messing up your suitcase and forces you repack the contents to find what you are looking for.

Shirts
1. Lay the shirt flat on an even surface

2. Fold the bottom of the shirt inside out and upwards about 2”

3. If the shirt has long sleeves fold the end of the sleeves up to the top shoulders of the shirt

4. Fold the sleeves of the shirt inwards to make a straight edge on both sides of your shirt and lay them flat

5. Fold the right side of the shirt over and align its edge with the center line of the shirt

6. Now fold the left side of the shirt over to meet the far-right side of the shirt and create a more compact “rectangle” with straight sides.

7. Roll from the neckline of the shirt to the bottom as tight as possible

8. There should now be a small lip in the shirt that you can flip the shirt into to secure the roll.

Pants, Shorts, and Boxers
1. Lay flat on an even surface

2. Fold the waistline inside out about 2”

3. Fold the pants symmetrically in half

4. Roll from the bottom of the pants to the top as tight as possible

5. Flip the waistline over the rest of the roll to secure the roll

Socks
1. Lay the socks flat on top of each other on an even surface facing the same direction

2. Move the top sock about half an inch up the sock, moving from the toe

3. Roll from the toe of the sock up to the top as tight as possible

4. Flip the inside of the top sock over the roll to secure the roll

Step 6: Make It Fit

Ultimately as long as you can get the zipper closed, that's all that matters. Reducing your load down to one bag will remove a lot of headaches that come with keeping track of multiples bags, backaches, and money. All of these things will give you the freedom to do more on your trip.

Step 7: Go Explore

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    3 Discussions

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    seamster

    5 months ago

    This is good info, nicely done!

    Was this instructable done for a school assignment?

    2 replies
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    KelsinKembleseamster

    Reply 5 months ago

    Thanks so much! It was a project for my Technical Communication class, what gave it away haha?

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    seamsterKelsinKemble

    Reply 5 months ago

    The majority of projects shared on Instructables are how-to guides related to creating physical things. So an instructable like yours sticks out just a little! ; )

    I'm curious for a little more info though - I'll shoot you a private message! : )