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The Ultimate Guide to Minimizing Your Pack

12 Tips for Keeping Your Pack as Small as Possible


Please note: this post is geared toward long-term travelers and digital nomads and is not necessarily applicable to weekend warriors or baby trips.


A comprehensive list of the top 12 ways to minimize your pack.


1. Bring Less Clothes


This obvious, but often difficult-to-implement tip requires its own mini-list. There are hundreds of ways to do this... but since I'm trying to keep this list short, I'll give you the top four.


  • Pack ONE week's worth of clothes max, and do laundry weekly.


  • Utilize anti-bacterial socks/underwear and quick-dry shirts, shorts, and pants - make a mental note: sweat doesn't smell, YOU smell, so when you shower, you stop smelling - your clothes can be worn multiple times before they need to be washed.


Pro Tip: Hang them out in direct sunlight - UV light (free, from the sun) kills 99% of bacteria after.. I don't know, let's say 20 minutes to 6 hours. (feel free to read the brain-numbing reference articles below for exact details). The point is, you have the world's best washer/dryer combo sitting outside your window, you can use it every day, weather permitting, and cut your pack in half.

The point is, you have the world's best washer/dryer combo sitting outside your window, you can use it every day, and cut your pack in half.
  • Stick to warm climates (I know, it's not always possible) but it's a well-known fact, that the hotter it is, the fewer clothes you need. Maybe a more applicable piece of advice is to simply acknowledge the climate at your destination. When I visit hot climates, I bring seven pairs of socks/underwear, three shirts, two pairs of shorts and one pair of shoes... THAT'S IT... It's worth mentioning that cold climates don't require much more clothing; one pair of pants, a hoodie, a puffer jacket, a hat, and gloves to go with the above. You can layer everything and you're only washing the layers that touch your skin, i.e. socks, underwear, and shirts. Rotate your shirts/shorts on a clothesline during the week, do laundry once a week, simple.

  • Create a simple packing rule for yourself, I'm generally a 5-4-3-2-1 guy, 5x socks/underwear, 4x tops, 3x bottoms, 2x beers, 1x pair of shoes - hot climates are an exception, since you sweat through socks and underwear faster, while shirts and shorts are worn less and are easily cleaned in the sun.


2. Bring the Right Clothes


Quick dry, anti-bacterial, neutral color, athleisure/comfort clothes. Comfort is king while traveling... if you bring twelve pairs of pants, I guarantee you'll be wearing the most comfortable pair 99% of the time, all the rest just take up space.


Quick-dry is great for shorts and pants (since you're presumably wearing underwear), but quick-dry shirts - which are typically right against your skin for extended periods - can hold on to odor, so I recommend lightweight cotton or Merino wool shirts and tops.


Exofficio underwear and Merino wool socks have been my go-to for years, I will always love and recommend them.


If you have the means (and need), consider a packable puffer jacket and/or rain jacket - or opt for a 3-in-1 rain poncho that can double as a beach mat.. (or my personal preference - don't go out in the rain, or deal with being wet, or buy a 30-cent poncho at the nearest convenience store).


3. Suffer at Airports


Wear your biggest items to the airport, pants, long socks, hoodies, hats, shoes, etc. If you're going to a mostly warm destination, but are worried about cold spells or rainy days, then wear your pants and long-sleeve to the airport, which helps keep your packable items as small as possible.


Note: this also means that when you get to your destination, even if it's 100 degrees (37.8 Celsius), you may have to wear your pants and long sleeves on travel days, deal with it.


On the flip side, if you're running from the winter and flying to a mild or hot climate, leave your cold weather gear at home completely.


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 t-shirt - hoping for no delays.


I'll never forget standing on the tarmac in -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-15.5 Celsius) in my shorts and t-shirt, praying for no delays.

Was it uncomfortable for five minutes? Yes. Did I look like an insane person? Yes. Was it worth it to fit everything into my 24L standard-issue Dell laptop bag with zero checked luggage? Absolutely.


If you're wearing a winter coat and pants just to get from the front door of your house into an Uber, you're doing it wrong.

If you're wearing a winter coat just to get from the front door of your house to an Uber, you're doing it wrong.

4. Be Okay With Looking Like a Tourist


Utilize ugly convertible hiking pants as your “one pant” - you might hate yourself, but don't you kind of hate yourself a little already? Bite the bullet, look like a tourist, and save yourself the annoyance of an extra item in your bag.


The same concept applies across the board - pack comfortable, functional clothing, and forget about style -no one cares what you look like when you travel, you're going to look like a tourist no matter what you do, so you might as well use it to your advantage and minimize your pack.


5. Pack ONE Pair of Shoes


This one miiiiight be easier for guys, but listen, I've met lots of women - two to be exact- who packed just two pairs of shoes.. walking/running/trail-running shoes and sandals.. it IS possible, you just won't look as cute as you might prefer.. but seriously, you're traveling, no one cares. One pair of comfortable hiking/trail-running shoes should be good enough for 95% of trips. If you're worried about ankle support and debating those calf-high hiking boots, consider minimalist ankle braces to pair with your trail shoes, they take up less space while doing the same job.


Side Note: If you do decide to pack multiple pairs of shoes, Xero Barefoot shoes and sandals are a great space-saving option.


6. Minimize Toiletries


Simplify your bathroom routine. Can you survive with just blush and eyeliner? (Hint: yes you can) - drop all of it… or go extreme and don’t bring ANY toiletries, and buy them when you land,. At the very least, leave the soap, shampoo, and conditioner, it’s provided at many places and they're readily available everywhere.. if you want to go super extreme, consider using a plastic bag for your toiletries.. simple, cheap, easy, ugly.. basically my motto.


Bonus: Hitting the malls, shopping centers, grocery stores, and convenience stores in a new country is one of the most rewarding things you can experience while traveling.


7. EVERYTHING is EVERYWHERE


Speaking of everywhere, this is a friendly reminder that EVERYTHING is readily available.. literally.. everywhere.. if you’re flying into an airport, to a place where other humans live.. you’re likely to find everything people need to survive; but but but, NO BUTS, if you're not sure on something, anything, just remember you can always buy it if you need it. (Ex. cheap ponchos, cheap sandals, a cheap hoodie if it gets unexpectedly chilly, $3 shirts, $1 socks, 4-cent toothpaste, you get the idea).


8. Pack Packable Packs


Phew that's a mouthful, but what I mean is... exactly what I said. Packable day bags (check), packable fanny pack (check), packable tote bag (check) - these things take up almost no space, yet give you tons of flexibility for extra carrying capacity when you need it.. grocery store runs, beach days, day tours, etc.


9. Forget The (Water) Bottle


I know, blasphemy.. it seems like everyone has a personalized stickered water bottle these days, but here's the deal.. many, if not most places, have questionable tap water, so you're going to be buying bottled or jugged water anyway.. there's a simple, easy, environmentally friendly solution:


Step 1) Buy a bottle of water on the first leg of your journey (ideally glass, since it's easier to recycle, but plastic is fine if you're worried about dropping it). Step 2) Reuse that bottle of water for the rest of the trip.


There's a bonus here.. you won't care if you lose it, and you won't feel nearly as guilty if you forget your travel bottle and have to buy a new one. If tap water is a concern where you're staying, go to the grocery store, buy the biggest jug of water you can find, and fill up your "trip bottle" as needed.


If you're absolutely adamant about bringing a water bottle, consider a space-saving collapsible or foldable water bottle.


10. One Cable to Rule Them All


Pack ONE power cable per charger type, or even better, a single split cable, I don’t even bring a portable charger with me anymore (but I understand some people are incapable of plugging in their phones at night), in that case, opt for a small pocket-sized phone charger.


For the power-hungry digital nomads, I'm a big fan of the Anker Nano 6-in-1 Charging Station. Actually, I recommend Anker products for any charging needs; everyone's needs are different and it would be impossible for me to recommend any one item that's perfect for everyone, it's worth visiting their site and finding the right tool for your needs.


11. Go Virtual


I shouldn’t have to mention this, and maybe I don't - but stop with the physical books, suffer through an audiobook for once in your life, you'll probably love it thank me later.


While we're on the topic, do you really need an iPad to watch your shows? No, you don't, watch on your phone like a normal peasant, or better yet... I hate to say it.. but don't watch TV while traveling.


12. Follow THE RULE


Lastly, it all comes down to this.. follow the rule - the ONE rule, the ONLY rule that truly matters when it comes to packing, and it's so simple... if you're unsure if you'll need it, YOU DON'T NEED IT.

If you're unsure if you'll need it, YOU DON'T NEED IT.

It's as simple as that. If all the above tips didn't drill it home, I'll reiterate here: You probably don't need it, and if you do end up needing it, you can buy it, for cheap, at a store, within walking distance from your hotel/hostel.


Trust me, or don't, time will prove it in the end.


Conclusion


That's it folks, the only packing guide you'll ever need - until the proliferation of wearable multi-screen contacts, haptic gloves, and Elon's mind-reading brain implants, at which point, your backpack will get even smaller. Can't wait.


As always, happy travels.




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