The Versatile Minimalist Packing List You Need to Steal (Carry-On Only!)

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Once upon a time, I was terrified of minimalist travel.

Let’s just say I’m not great with decisions, and opening my suitcase would often bring an impending sense of doom… No space for my blender, you say?! What if I need an emergency smoothie??

My first backpacking trip around Europe, I carried everything on my back, with options for every possible occasion. Buuuut the thing about bringing around a million outfits is your suitcase becomes a sad brick of poor decisions. If you’re on the go, you want a light bag, no ifs ands or buts.

Luckily, after a decade of frequent travel, I’ve mastered the art of packing carry-on only (and still looking somewhat presentable).

Of all my packing lists, the one I’m most proud of is my packing list for minimalist carry-on only travel.

EXAMPLE: During a ten day road trip around the Balkans with some friends, every time I wore a new outfit, I’d get a stare from my travel companions akin to “where the heck did you get that from?” Honestly, by the end of the trip, my little black tote earned its reputation as a Room of Requirement. … 10 days, multiple outfits, all different purposes, crammed into one weekender bag.

If this intrigues you, keep scrolling. Today, I’d like to share my simple minimalist packing list with you (plus one adapted for winter).

Alright, here we go – my guide to easy, breezy minimalist travel.

Save this Minimalist Packing List for Later!

You’ll be very glad you did.

First: My Versatile Carry-On Packing List

Here’s a quick carry-on packing list for you for that can be adapted to any trip, style, or season! This should last you at least a week.

Below, I’ll be sharing a more detailed breakdown of how I would adapt this list for a summer or winter trip.

PS: You can find a full resolution printable version of this packing list in my VIP Library here.

My Minimalist Packing List (for Minimalist Travel in the Summer)

So the following list is the one I alluded to in the intro (read: Room of Requirement).

It’s primarily geared towards summer city travel (as in, this will probably not cut it if you’re going on some wilderness adventures or Arctic trek) BUT if you want to look nice while travelling around with a small bag, this is the list for you.

PS: I’m a big fan of dresses, hence their hefty representation in the list. If your personal style is different, feel free to sub dresses for additional shorts/tops.

 

3 summer dresses

I know that three dresses sounds like a lot for a minimalist packing list, but in the summer these are pretty much all I wear so I stand by my choice. They fit every possible occasion, so here are the three dresses I’d bring:

  • 1 cute summer dress: Pick a dress that’s nice enough to pass for a night out (grabbing drinks, having a nice dinner) but is also suitable to wear during the day.
  • 1 more fitted, classy-looking dress: There are some occasions on every trip where you might want to look a bit more dressed up, whether it’s spontaneous cocktails at a rooftop bar or spontaneous cocktails at a non-rooftop bar 😉 Okay, basically, bring this dress for cocktails. I brought a printed dress with a halter neckline for this purpose and it did the job.
  • 1 strapless tube dress: Why strapless? Doesn’t that sound impractical? Nope! A strapless tube dress is the perfect addition to your capsule minimalist wardrobe because it can function as a dress, easy beach cover-up AND if you wear it lower down on your waist, it doubles as a skirt. Genius.
 

1 maxi skirt

I find that maxi skirts with the elastic band waistline are the most versatile. Mine was black, which is ideal because a) it goes with everything and b) it doesn’t get dirty as easily so you can wear it more times. That said, feel free to pick one that is bolder and goes with your personal style (bearing in mind that it should fit any tops you bring).

 

2 tops

The key with picking these tops is they should match with your 1 pair of shorts (which we will discuss below), AND your maxi skirt AND your strapless tube dress. Opting for solid colours or a very subtle print is probably a good idea. Make sure the two tops you bring pass this test: would I wear it with my skirt, tube dress and shorts? If the answer is yes, throw them in the bag!

 

1 pair of shorts

Dark colours will work best (just for practical reasons). The key here is to make sure these shorts look good with every top you bring.

 

1 denim jacket

What would summer be without a perfect little denim jacket? Denim jackets look good on top of every summer outfit, whether it’s a dress or cute top/shorts combo. There’s no more versatile cover-up, I assure you.

 

1 pair of yoga pants

These will be your PJs, so make sure they’re comfortable… the good thing about bringing yoga pants vs. actual pyjama pants is you can bust them out on long travel days (in a car, on a bus) and not look like a total weirdo, BUT also they can be used on a last minute athletic expedition of any kind, like a hike. Always good to have just in case.

 

1 comfy t-shirt

This will be the top you wear to sleep, so again, make sure it’s a comfortable one. I usually just bring a baggy concert tee or something. It’s important this is something you wouldn’t mind wearing in public, in case you want something comfy to wear on a long travel day or you just need an extra shirt for whatever reason.

 

1 pair of comfy walking shoes

Ah yes, shoooees. So I am personally one of those people that hates runners. I never wear runners unless I’m actually running, so my go-to walking shoes during the summer is a pair of really comfortable sandals.

Honestly, I could walk all day in my sandals. The key is to find something that could transition from day to night and also goes well with all your outfits. For you this might mean a pair of white sneakers, but for me it’s sandals. This is similar to my go-to pair – as a girl with wide feet, I find Clarks ultra comfortable.

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1 pair of flip flops

Assuming you’ll be headed to any beach or pool at some point, flip flops are always a good idea. Plus, they’re lightweight, and offer you an alternative if your other shoes start pinching in the wrong places.

 

Underwear

Since underwear takes up such little space, I usually bring a pair of underwear for every night of the trip. If you’re okay with doing laundry half-way through, feel free to cut this amount in half.

 

Socks

Usually 2-3 pairs will suffice – fewer if you pack merino wool ones like these that can last longer between washes.

 

2 bras

1 strapless (or convertible), one regular.

 

1 swimsuit

I go for a one-piece because I like spaghetti too much.

 

Toiletries

Refer to my full toiletries packing list here.

… and that’s it! Yes, seriously. If you roll things right and use packing cubes, they should all fit easily into a small weekender tote or a little suitcase.

 

My Minimalist Packing List (for Minimalist Travel in the Winter)

Minimalist winter travel is tough. I mean, when your jacket alone takes up the majority of your suitcase, then you’re in a tough spot… but, packing carry-on only is still possible, even in the winter! Here is a minimalist packing list for winter travel though that I invite you to copy!

1 very warm jacket/coat

Only bring one. Make sure it’s waterproof, cute and comfortable because it will be thrown on top of every single outfit you bring (and will feature predominantly in most photos). I would bring one that’s a little bit longer (past the butt) so you can be assured your sweaters won’t peak out from underneath weirdly.

My Go-To Winter Jacket
Barbour International Quilted Napier Jacket

Ugh. I bought this coat last winter and I've honestly been counting down the months so I can wear it again. Not only is it toasty warm, the hood is huge so when it rains, you're fully protected, and it's so poofy! And the perfect length!

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1-2 thermal base layer tops

These are the SECRET to staying warm without packing too much. You’ll want to look for thin, breathable tops that are built for the purpose of keeping heat in.

If you’re low on space, I’d recommend a base layer like this that’s made out of merino wool, because this material wicks moisture and is naturally resistant to bacteria, which means it’s way less likely to smell even after repeat wears. There are affordable options out there too like this thermal top I picked up for less than $25 and wear all the time (though it doesn’t last as long between washes as the merino wool one).

Budget-Friendly Must-Have
This Surprisingly Affordable (Heat Tech) Top

Out of all my winter staples, the best value for money is this scoop neck base layer. Its neckline is great for (stealthy) layering, it's super lightweight, and once you layer up, it seals heat in to keep you toasty... all for less than a sit-down lunch!

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1 pair thermal leggings

Similarly, having thermal leggings can be super handy – not only can you wear them with a dress or skirt and still stay warm, you can also layer them under jeans or regular pants.

Again, merino wool is a good material to look out for if you want repeat wears. I have this pair and love it.

For a more budget-friendly alternative, I have a bunch of these (for varying degrees of warmth) and they’re super affordable and comfy… though they will need to be washed more often.

 

1 fleece/down layer

When the weather is nice, wearing your big thick coat might seem like too much of a commitment.

That’s why I’d recommend bringing a thinner fleece or puffer that you could a) wear on its own for warmer days and b) use as an additional layer under your coat on colder days.

My Go-To 'Emergency' Layer
This Unbelievably Light Yet Warm Down Vest

So good I have it in two colours! I don't understand how this thing is as warm considering how little it weighs, and how small it can scrunch up in your bag, BUT it's one of my winter favourites. I keep it as an emergency in my day bag and love wearing it for some extra warmth.

1 warm cardigan

This can be layered over any tops you bring for a new look, and can be a great additional layer of warmth.

 

2 long sleeve tops

The most important thing is that your tops look good with any bottoms you bring.

 

2 pairs of jeans/pants (trousers)

Again, make sure they’re comfy. I would make at least one pair black just for practicality purposes. They should also coordinate well with any tops you bring, and should look good with your boots.

 

1 nice-looking tank top

A tank top in winter?!?! I haven’t gone off my rocker – this is just in case you need a top for a night out, or another special occasion where dressing up is necessary.

 

1 pair of leggings

If you bring leggings to sleep in as opposed to normal pyjama pants, then you can easily use them as a layering piece if it gets really cold.

 

1 comfy t-shirt

This will be the shirt you wear to sleep, so make sure it’s comfortable, but also presentable enough that you wouldn’t hate being seen in public with it… just in case you need to throw it on as an additional layer.

 

1 pair of warm, comfortable boots

You will wear these all the time, I promise, so make sure they’re comfortable and waterproof.

 

Underwear

Again, since underwear takes up such little space, I usually bring a pair of underwear for every night of the trip. If you’re okay with doing laundry half-way through, feel free to cut this amount in half.

 

2 bras

You definitely don’t need more than 2.

 

Socks

1 pair of very warm wool socks: A must for layering

3-4 pairs of regular socks: To layer below and soak up all that sweet sweat 😉

 

1 warm scarf

You should aim for a stylish but warm scarf that you love (mainly because you’ll be wearing it often and in virtually every photo).

 

Other Tips for Minimalist Travel and Packing

Be sure to check out my list of carry-on travel mistakes to avoid for more tips.

Always wear your heaviest things on the plane

This is more to avoid overweight luggage fees than anything else, but always wear your bulkiest things on the plane.

Use packing cubes

Not only do they keep you organized, they help you save space too. You can see my full packing cubes showdown for a comparison of top brands, but spoiler, these are my favourites…

My Go-To Packing Cubes
Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Packing Cubes Set
$32.00

I adore packing cubes because they keep everything organized and can help you save space by squishing and condensing all your stuff. I've tested a bunch of the top brands and this set is my favourite.

Buy Now Compare w/ Other Packing Cubes
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05/26/2024 07:09 pm GMT

Bring fabrics that don’t wrinkle

The key to a minimalist travel wardrobe is versatility and making the most of every piece you bring. Let’s be honest – we’re all lazy walrus people and when a shirt is wrinkled, we usually can’t be bothered to wear it or iron it, so it stays in the suitcase. By bringing fabrics that don’t wrinkle, you’re ensuring that you’ll actually wear everything you bring.

 

Remember that you can buy things!

Unless you’re going on an Arctic expedition, odds are your destination will be a place where goods such as toiletries and clothing can be purchased. Remembering this will help you avoid overpacking.

I highly recommend buying your own travel size bottles to fill up with your favourite shampoo – that way you can pack less than full bottles and reduce unnecessary plastic waste from the mini-ones you buy from the store.

Any more questions about my minimalist travel wardrobe?

Let me know in the comments! I hope you enjoyed that post featuring my minimalist packing lists. As always, safe travels!

My Go-To Travel Favourites:

🧳 Eagle Creek: My favourite packing cubes

💳 Wise: For FREE travel friendly credit cards

🍯 Airalo: My go-to eSIM

🏨 Booking.com: For searching hotels

📷 Sony A7IV: My (amazing) camera

✈️ Google Flights: For finding flight deals

🌎 WorldNomads: For travel insurance

🎉 GetYourGuide: For booking activities

5 thoughts on “The Versatile Minimalist Packing List You Need to Steal (Carry-On Only!)”

  1. I’m usually pretty good about packing light. I have to say, if I am going somewhere where its going to be really warm (like not cool at night) I might swap about the yoga pants for another swim suit. And I agree about underwear, just bring one for each day, not the place to skimp!

    Reply
  2. I love this! I always struggle with packing light because what if I need it. Then get there and realize I didn’t wear half the stuff. I am definitely going to try this on my next trip.

    Reply

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