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9 Tips for Packing Fewer Clothes

When it comes to packing, clothes and shoes are hands-down the hardest things to minimize, so here are 10 tips to help you reduce, minimize, consolidate and optimize your pack for your next big trip.

1. Bring the Right Clothes

This is one area of minimalist travel where I recommend not skimping.

Investing in comfortable, high-quality, travel-specific apparel can save you time, money, space and headaches over the long-haul.

If you were to pack twelve shirts, I could guarantee you'd be wearing the most comfortable shirt 90% of the time; the same is true for shorts, pants, socks, and shoes.

One pair of high-quality travel pants can do the job of three; the right travel shorts can triple as casual, workout or swim shorts; a simple, lightweight Merino wool shirt can be worn for 2-4 days before it needs to be washed; all of these things add up to packing far fewer clothes.

This will require some trial and error on your end, everyone's style is different and I definitely can't speak to women's travelwear, but I can recommend Exofficio underwear, Merino wool shirts and socks (in general), and quick-dry, zippered-pocket shorts and pants.

If you're traveling to cooler climates, consider a packable puffer jacket to save space.

2. Be OKAY With Looking Like a Tourist

Or a hiker, or both..

The truth is, no one cares what you look like when you're traveling; look around any hostel and you'll see a a hodgepodge of shapes, styles, colors and trends; there's no rhyme or reason to it, because everyone's coming from a different place or heading off on a hike or lounging around on a day off or they're already too drunk to care; no one's going to judge you for wearing the same outfit every single day - the second you step off that plane in another country, the rules stop applying; this simple mental switch alone can save you 2-3 outfits.

3. Color Coordinate and Stick to Neutral Colors

The more color you throw in your backpack, the harder it gets to pack, dress and match; stick to neutral colors if you want to minimize decision fatigue while maximizing your outfit combinations.

Solid-color shoes and grayish shorts/pants will pair with almost anything, and just in case you already forgot, no one cares.

I wear black shoes, gray pants and black shirts almost exclusively, but I'm a bit extreme, and I don't like thinking about what I'm going to wear everyday.

4. Pack One Week's Worth of Clothes at MOST

A simple rule of thumb is to pack one outfit for every occasion, and then build from there; for example, I like to pack one hiking outfit, one comfort/lounge/travel outfit (for travel days), and one "going out" outfit.

If you take those three outfits and add a second top for each, you're left with six outfits, and a good a mix of comfort, style and utility.

From there you can consolidate or expand as necessary. Are your hiking pants comfortable enough to travel/lounge in? Great, that's one less pair of pants. Are your comfy travel shoes nice enough to wear out on the town? Perfect, that's one less pair of shoes. Mix and match your outfits until you feel comfortable you could find something to wear for most situations.

Paired with our next tip, you shouldn't have any trouble getting through a week without washing.

5. Be OKAY With Being a Little Grungy

Contrary to what we've been taught, it's okay to wear the same shirt two, three or even four days in a row; this is generally true, and even more true if you've invested in anti-bacterial, sweat-wicking travel clothes as reference in Tip #1. This also assumes you're 1) showering daily like a normal person, and 2) not getting obscenely dirty rolling in mud or showering in beer.

Most clothes should be fine for a few days before they need a wash; hang them up to dry at night and you'll be amazed at how long you can stretch your minimized wardrobe.

Pro Tip:  If weather and location permits, hang them out in direct sunlight between use - ultraviolet light (free, from the sun) kills 99% of bacteria in as little as 20 minutes(!) - you've had the world's best washer/dryer combo sitting outside your window this entire time, and you didn't even know it.

6. Consider Packing ONE Pair of Shoes (Maybe Two)

This is a lot to ask, but I'll ask it anyway.

Consider packing just ONE pair of shoes, how would that affect your outfit choices?

The simplest and easiest way to minimize your clothes, is to choose a single look and stick to it. In my case, I go with the hiker look, because I want to hike, and regular shoes just won't do the trick, so I commit to looking like a hiker, even when I'm not hiking. Yes, I wear my convertible hiking shorts out to bars, and guess what, no one cares.

For you it could be different, maybe you're a city guy/girl and you're okay with sticking to the city look (and hiking in regular shoes); or maybe you're a beach bum and only plan on bumming beaches, in which case, you barely have to pack anything. (Which reminds me of a story worth reading).

The point is, the less outfits you need, the less shoes you need; and if you're willing to look like an X in every Y situation, you can drastically reduce your pack size.

7. Suffer to and from the Airport

I've met travelers in Cancun who wore the same swimsuit every day, yet they packed a huge roller suitcase because "it was cold when I flew here," - this is nonsense; if you're wearing a winter coat and pants just to get from the front door of your house to an Uber, you're doing it wrong.

If you're traveling to a mostly warm destination, but you're coming from a cold place, consider suffering for those few short moments between climate-controlled buildings; it will make you appreciate your destination that much more.

I once flew to Medellin in the middle of winter (a city nicknamed "Eternal Spring" for its year-round moderate temperatures - which means I wasn't packing pants) - I'll never forget standing on the tarmac in -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-15.5 Celsius) in my shorts and shirt - hoping for no delays.

"I'll never forget standing on the tarmac in -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-15.5 Celsius) in my shorts and shirt, hoping for no delays."

Was it uncomfortable for ten minutes? Yes. Did I look like an insane person? Yes. Was it worth it to fit everything into a 24L laptop bag with no checked luggage? Definitely.

As a general rule of thumb, you can wear your biggest items (pants, hoodies, hats, etc.) on travel days as a way to minimize your backpack, it may be uncomfortable for a little while, but if it means the difference between checked luggage and a carry-on, it's probably worth it.

8. Stick to Warm Climates

This isn't always possible, but it may be worth considering for a couple reasons, 1) warm climates means less clothes in general, and 2) travel is just better when the sun is out.

I won't dwell on this one too much, but if you're traveling long-term and have flexible travel plans, planning your stops around the seasons can massively simplify and minimize your pack. No pants, no problem.

While we're on the weather topic, it may be useful to note that you probably won't be doing much when the weather is bad, especially if you're traveling long-term; if it's raining, you probably won't go outside, so you probably don't need a rain jacket; if it's chilly out, you might opt to take an Uber or stay near your hostel, so you probably don't need a jacket; if it's 120-degrees out, you probably won't leave the pool, so you likely don't need that SPF 50+ long-sleeve shirt, etc.

It's easy to want to pack for every type of weather, but the reality is, you're not camping, you're traveling, and you have all the modern comforts of home in whatever place you're staying, don't overcomplicate it.

9. Remember the Golden Rule

If you're unsure on something, don't bring it; if you find yourself in a bind, you can always buy appropriate clothing; wherever you travel in the world, you'll be able to find climate-appropriate clothing if you need it, because if other people live there, they too need protection from the elements.

That's more like three rules, but you get the idea. You don't need to pack for every situation, every type of weather, every disaster. etc.; you just need to pack the basics and stay flexible.


Clothes and shoes are among the most difficult things to plan for when it comes to long-term travel, and while I can't tell you exactly what to pack, my hope is that these tips useful and applicable, and if it by applying them you're able to bring one less thing, I'll consider it a win.

Thanks for reading, and as always, happy travels. :)

small and large backpacks side-by-side


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