how to travel with just one bag

I first became interested in minimalism whilst on holiday a few months ago, when I realised how calming it was to have very little with me. For my recent trip to Paris, I decided it was necessary to finally master the art of packing light. Minimalism is often associated with the idea of travelling the world accompanied by a single backpack which isn't something I'd find easy. Funnily enough, owning less has actually made choosing what to pack quite difficult. When the majority of what you own is useful, it becomes complicated to establish what will be needed during a particular time frame. I've been known to pack appallingly, taking five pairs of tights and no t-shirts on one occasion.

So here's what I learnt from travelling as a minimalist.

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I started off by making a list with Corrie (my travelling partner) to give us an idea of what the other was taking. We split essential items that could be shared between us to avoid duplicates. For example, I took shower gel and face wash, whereas she took shampoo and conditioner.

Making this list caused me to once again re-evaluate what I own. If I won't need it during a nine-day holiday, do I need it at all? It certainly has made me see that I potentially could live with far less. Yet I don't plan to reduce this drastically (unless I become a full-time traveller.) Cutting my possessions back too far would end up making me miserable. Maybe I don't need everything I own, but it all makes me happy.

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This is most of what I took, minus what I wore to travel, some personal items and a few more which were added shortly before leaving. The only thing I ended up forgetting was my toothbrush - not a big deal it was easy to buy one.

In terms of clothing, I took two black dresses, a button up shirt, two t-shirts, 3 pairs of socks, a pair of tights, my everyday jewellery, two skirts, a jacket, a raincoat, doc martens and trainers. It's not a lot and still, I managed to dress differently each day. I layered t-shirts over dresses, wore skirts over dresses and so on. These are all very versatile items that I feel good in and which can be dressed up or down.

Packing too many shoes is a surefire way to end up with heavy, bulky luggage. Experience has taught me that two pairs are ideal.

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During the holiday I decided not to use the internet for more than a few minutes per day, so I took three books (David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, Why I Am So Clever by Nietzsche and The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien) and some notebooks. Corrie brought a pack of cards and even though I've never played them before, we ended up spending hours each night on rumy and blackjack. It felt good to pare back what I did in addition to what I took. My evenings in Paris consisted of buying fresh produce, cooking, clearing up, then reading, writing and playing cards.

Corrie and I frequently talked for hours, skyping family or friends and relishing real communication. Internet sabbaticals are gloriously satisfying. As well, I took a few cosmetics (micellar water, face wash, lotion, deodorant, vaseline, eyeliner and lipstick), pens, an umbrella, travel adaptor, camera and charger, phone and charger, and tea bags.

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To sum up, here are the tips I have for packing light:

  • If possible, try to only take hand luggage. Our journey took 12 hours each way and I'm glad my bag was fairly light.
  • When travelling with other people, agree to each take certain items which can be shared, like cosmetics. Luckily, Corrie and I are a similar height/size and could share clothes.
  • Leave room for anything you might bring back.
  • Whilst away, buy experiences and not objects. I brought 3 books (two of which were secondhand) and a few pieces of stationary. However, the bulk of my spending budget went on a beautiful tattoo as a reminder of the trip. It's a piece of meaningful art that won't clutter my life like souvenirs would.
  • Try to take paperback books, or secondhand ones which can be left behind. Many hotels have a shelf of books for people to swap.
  • Take the clothes you wear most often rather than packing something new.
  • Consider if you'll be able to wash clothes at your destination. Our apartment had a washing machine which made everything much easier.
  • Think about what you've regretted taking in the past. I've learnt not to take too many shoes, tights, cosmetics or necklaces for example.