Minimalist Travel Packing List: What You Need to Travel & Work Anywhere in the World with One Backpack

Minimalist Travel Packing List: What You Need to Travel & Work Anywhere in the World with One Backpack

This is my minimalist travel guide. I designed the guide after traveling to 40+ countries with a single backpack while working full-time.

This resource exists so that you can learn how to travel with less and focus on the real joy of travel – the people you meet, the experiences you have, and the food you consume.

With the items included in the guide, you will be able to pack your possessions in 15 minutes, comfortably throw them on your back, and head to any country in the world knowing that you have what you need.

My hope is that this packing guide is useful to you, whether you are starting or in your 10th year of traveling.

Three Principles of Minimalist Travel

When you travel, you need much less than you think you do. When you pack, your mind naturally gets caught up in all the things you might need.

But to travel as a minimalist, you must shift your focus to only what you will need. The following 3 guiding principles will help you make that mental shift:

  1. Is this essential? With everything you consider packing, ask yourself ‘Is this essential?’. If no, don’t bring it! Do not pack for the edge cases. Remember that in 99% of cases you can buy whatever it is you need if the scenario arises.
  2. Buy something, donate something. If you buy something – a shirt, trinket, painting, etc., donate something. This will transform how you think about purchases and prevent you from accumulating items along the way.
  3. Comfort and utility before style. You can still look trendy and stylish, but develop a bias for practical and dynamic items. A pair of Nikes that can be used to run, hike, and go out becomes more valuable than a pair of suede shoes that you wear to nice dinners.

These three rules form the foundation of my minimalist travel philosophy and have helped me optimize the below items over time.

Best Travel Bags & Space Optimizers

  • This is my primary backpack. It’s awesome! It is the optimal blend of size, comfort, and simplicity. 
  • Even when fully packed, it feels light on the back. It’s also easy to organize and spacious, especially with a few packing cubes. You will never need to check this bag on a flight. 
  • In the rare event that the overheads are full or unusually small, it even fits under the seat of an airplane. You really can’t go wrong with this bag.
  • This daypack is hard to beat. It’s super light, spacious, and incredibly durable. I use this bag for everything I do – hiking, bringing my laptop to a coffee shop, carrying groceries, and so on. 
  • It is even large enough to pack lightly for a 3 to 4 day trip. If you have a home base somewhere and want to take a small trip, this is your bag. 
  • Cotopaxi is also an admirable brand that does lots of good in the world by giving back in big ways to help solve poverty.
  • Sometimes you need more space than the Osprey 40L + Luzon Bag, like when you’re going to cold places. This duffel bag works as a good second bag, and you can pack your Cotopaxi bag in it.
  • This bag is high quality and durable, so it stands the test of travel.
  • While it’s nice to have more space and to use this bag as your personal carry on, this bag can be heavy and burdensome on your shoulders. An alternative is to buy a larger Osprey or Cotopaxi bag.
  • These packing cubes enable you to fit more in your backpack and to organize your clothing in smart ways. 
  • The organization pays off when you are traveling quickly from place to place and want to avoid just throwing everything into your backpack and moving to the next place. 
  • Pro tip: they can also be used as laundry bags for dirty clothes.

Best Electronics for Work and Pleasure

15 Inch MacBook Pro + Apple Mouse + Laptop Bag + Logitech Keyboard

  • I use a 15 inch MacBook Pro as my main laptop. It is fairly lightweight, durable, and has good battery life. If you’re in a location without an Apple store and your computer breaks, it can be annoying. That said, Apple has been fairly reliable in my experience.
  • For better ergonomics, I use an Apple Magic Mouse.
  • I also use and a small Logitech wireless keyboard that’s easier on the fingers and good for coffee shops.
  • The Osprey 40L backpack has a nice slot for your laptop, but I always bring it in a case for extra protection and for when I’m actually in a place and traveling around with my Cotopaxi bag. I use the tomtoc 15 inch laptop sleeve.
  • All of these items and a few pairs of headphones fit in the tomtoc case.

Headphones

  • I carry 2-3 pairs of basic Apple headphones in case I lose a pair or one breaks. They are reliable and can be used to make calls, listen to music, and make recordings. 
  • I also carry Airpods and Airpods Pro. I use the basic Airpods for exercising and the Pros for when I want to zero in, tune out noise, and nap on a plane.
  • If you need truly exceptional sound quality, you might look elsewhere. But these headphones are perfect for most everyday use cases, and they take up very little space.

Unlocked iPhone

  • I use the iPhone 11 Pro Max. It’s a little large, but it takes awesome pictures so you don’t have to carry any other cameras to capture all of the cool moments while traveling. It also has a large screen for reading and mobile working, which comes in handy.
  • To protect the phone, I have a Spigen Ultra Hybrid case, which is not too bulky and does its job well. Breaking your iPhone on the road sucks, so definitely get a case.
  • Pro tip: Ensure that it is unlocked. Then you can buy local SIM cards for $5 to $15 wherever you go. With a local SIM card, you get multiple GBs of data and the ability to make calls. This is cheaper than getting a package from your domestic service provider and is often more reliable.
  • The Kindle is a traveler’s best friend and the best investment I’ve made. It fits in your pocket and gives you access to millions of books in seconds.

  • It can provide you happiness during solo dinners and long bus rides. It’s easy on the eyes during the day and night. Plus, you don’t have to lug around a bunch of books if you enjoy reading.

  • I love my Kindle, and they last forever. I’ve had mine for over 5 years. Buy a Kindle even if you’re not traveling.

  • I use this microphone for podcasting on the road. It’s small, relatively inexpensive, and the audio is pretty solid.
  • If you were on the road for a long time, you could probably carry two of these with no problem, which can also be useful if you have guests who you meet in person.
  • This portable speaker is super dynamic. You can bring it to the beach, the Ritz-Carlton, or use it for chilling in your apartment. 
  • It is reasonably priced, has good sound quality, and is incredibly durable. You can drop it a bunch of times and it will still work. It’s even loud enough to host a party with.
  • You definitely don’t need a speaker while traveling, but I’ve always enjoyed being able to host small get togethers or listen to jazz in a bath.

Chargers and Adapters

  • I typically bring 1-2 chargers for each device, though you can almost always buy a charger wherever you are.
  • I went to 40 countries, and I almost never traveled with an adapter. They take up space, and you can always buy them wherever you are and discard them when you move on to the next place.

Doing Financials, Credit Cards, & Identification Right

Credit Cards & Banking

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve: The best travel credit card in the market. It has a strong signup bonus, a great rewards program, and no foreign transaction fees. It’s easy to redeem rewards for travel, and you earn 3x points for most travel-related purchases. With the card, you also get a Priority Pass membership, which grants you access to a thousand airport lounges around the world. The lounges save you hundreds of dollars on airport food and drink expenses and make long travel journeys much more enjoyable. If you end up in the Bangkok lounges, you even score a free massage! I love this card and use it for most purchases.
  • Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card: This card has no membership fee and no foreign transaction fees. It offers great earnings back for Amazon purchases. If you own a Kindle and buy your books on Amazon, it serves you very well even when you’re abroad. If you’re a big Amazon user or traveling a lot in the US, this card is great.
  • Checking account: I bring a debit card for my main checking account. Get an account with any of the major banks, and you can use your card to withdraw cash in most countries.
  • Charles Schwab High Yield Checking: With this account, you can avoid paying foreign transaction fees at ATMs. They reimburse for all ATM fees worldwide. If you travel a lot, especially in countries that require cash, this is a big win. I also only use this as a travel account with limited funds, so I don’t put my primary checking account at risk while I’m abroad.

Identification

  • The only identification you need to bring anywhere in the world is a driver’s license, a passport, and a health insurance card. Make sure you have these three cards, and you’re set. 
  • Keep a photocopy of these cards stored digitally and on your person. I also use a leather passport case to protect my passport.
  • As a general rule, I never carry my passport with me for day to day activities. The only place I’ve ever needed it outside of airports and border crossings is a national park in Colombia.

Packing the Right Toiletries

Toiletry Bag

  • A toiletry bag helps keep your toiletries limited and organized. I use a simple, light, and easy to organize bag. 
  • As a general rule, I don’t bring any more than I can fit in the bag, so this helps keep me from bringing too many unnecessary items.

Essential Hygiene & Grooming Items

Medications, First-Aid, and Skincare

  • You can get most medications and first-aid items wherever you are, so don’t worry about bringing everything in your bag.
  • You can get most medications and first-aid items wherever you are, so don’t worry about bringing everything in your bag.
  • I bring a bottle of Ibprofen for pain and hangovers.
  • I don’t carry many first-aid items, but I do bring eye drops in case my eyes get dried out and 4-6 bandaids for small cuts.
  • For face moisturizer, I bring Bulldog Age Defense which is small enough to bring on a plane and lasts a while.
  • I also carry a couple Sun Bum Face Sticks, which take up almost no room and offer an easy way to protect your face from the sun.

Bringing Optimal Clothing

Shoes & Socks

  • As a general rule, I bring no more than 3 pairs of shoes because they take up too much space. With flip flops, running shoes, and casual shoes, you can basically do everything while taking up little space.
  • I bring a pair  of Havianas flip flops for casual wear, a pair of Nike Free RN Running Shoes for running and working out, and a pair of  Allbirds wool runners for casual wear and going out.
  • I bring about 8 pairs of reasonably comfortable and affordable socks since you can easily lose them while on the road. I use the Saucony Comfort Fit No-Show socks.
  • I bring 7-8 pair of underwear. Use what you like. I personally use MeUndies. They’re comfortable, fun, and last long.

Shirts and Jackets

  • V-neck & crewneck tees (6x). I like to be comfortable and casual. I think the best shirt you can bring on the road are the Lululemon Metal Vent Tech shirts. They’re super comfortable, look sharp, have anti-stink technology, and stand the test of time.
  • Miscellaneous tees (2x). Carry a t-shirt from your alma mater, your company, or something else that means something to you. These are great to break up the routine of the solid v-necks.
  • Tank tops (2x). It’s useful to have a few tanks for working out. I use the Nike Textured Dri-Fit Tank tops, which are affordable and comfortable.
  • Dress shirt (1x): The Jcrew Irish Linen Shirt is the only button down you need when you travel. Great for warm climates and looks nice with jeans and most pants.
  • Small hoodie (1x): I carry a small hoodie for when I’m cold on a plane or in the mornings while working or walking around. I’m obsessed with the Lululemon City Sweat Zip Hoodie, which is absolutely perfect for these occasions, comfortable, and my most worn item.
  • Warmer jacket (1x): I traveled for years with a Northface Jacket, which would be great for cooler climates, cold nights, and so on. I now travel with a Lululemon jacket that’s warm, has a hood, and that has a fabric that allows it to act like a quasi rain jacket as well. In general, I’d look for something that, coupled with a small hoodie, could keep you warm in most climates.

Shorts and Pants

  • Regular shorts (2x). I bring one pair of Bonobos washed chino shorts and one pair of these Luluemon shorts, which are good for hiking and most everyday activities.
  • Running shorts (2x). I have two pair of the Lululemon Pace Breaker Shorts. They’re super comfortable and are perfect for exercise or casual wear.
  • Swim Trunks (1x). You’ll need a pair of trunks if you want to go to the beach. I carry a pair of Lululemon swim trunks since they’re comfortable and durable.
  • Pants (2x). You don’t often need many pants on the road, unless you’re traveling to cooler places. My go-to “nicer” pair is the Bonobos stretch washed chinos. I also carry Vuori’s Ponto Performance Pants, which are super comfortable sweat pants for lounging. If you carry an extra pair of nicer pants, I’d recommend some form of jeans for practical style.

Hats & Gloves

  • You can carry a few items that are small to keep you warm. 
  • I used a Patagonia Trucker Hat. These hats are comfortable, stylish, and let your head breathe. Great for being in the sun or when you want to have a hat day.
  • I travel with a North Face Beanie. These will be times when you find yourself in a colder than expected climate or where your heating doesn’t work. This hat will keep you warm when it happens and takes up very little space.
  • Finally, I carry North Face Apex Etip Gloves. I didn’t carry gloves until I did the Salkantay Trek in the Andes. They proved to be very handy again about a year later when I flew from Bali to New York during a crazy winter storm.
 

Staying Fit and Healthy

Equipment

  • It’s not always easy to find a gym when you’re on the road. That said, it is always easy to find a space to jump rope unless you’re in Manhattan. I like this jump rope because it’s ultralight and compact.
  • I carry these basic resistance bands. No matter where I am, they allow me to get in a good workout or stretch. I often use them on long flights and after sitting at my computer for extended periods of time. They have good resistance and take up very little space.
  • I love to swim and carry goggles wherever I go. It’s easy on the body and a great form of meditation. You get a full body workout and escape from the world of technology. I used these goggles, though there are lots of options out there. Just make sure they have UV protection, don’t fog up, and are comfortable.
  • I often get sore, and so I started carrying this foot, back, and hand massage ball. It’s a lifesaver and super small. I roll out my feet and before and after I travel. You can easily carry two of them.

Supplements

Accessories

  • Sunglasses and reading glasses (x3). I carry 2 pairs of prescription sunglasses and 1 pair of regular prescription glasses on the road. It can be helpful to carry at least one pair of cheap sunglasses if you’re worried about losing expensive ones.
  • Travelambo Minimalist Leather Slim Wallet: This wallet is great. It’s slim, practical, and comes in a bunch of fun colors. I carry two of them. Day to day, I carry one with a little cash, a credit card, and a health insurance card. I leave the rest of my cards and identification safely locked away at my residence. That way, if I ever lose my wallet or get it stolen, the damage is minimal. This strategy protects you without being a burden on your time or attention. I also recommend carrying your wallet in your front pocket.
  • Ricco Bello Notebook: I always carry a notebook. It comes in handy when you want to journal, take notes, or avoid technology during a long journey. Pretty much any notebook will do, but this one is pretty good.
  • Rustic Thank You Cards: Thank you cards come in handy when you want to let people know that you are thankful for their hospitality and kindness. These have a good design and are not too bulky.
  • Uni-ball Ballpoint Pens (x4): A pen is a pen. When you travel, you will usually need a pen to fill out immigration cards and to journal. Other than that, you probably don’t need a pen. These are pretty good pens that get the job done.
  • Calm the F*ck Down Adult Coloring Book: Coloring helps reduce stress and increase creativity. It’s great to open this book, start coloring, and unwind after a long day.
  • The Five Minute Journal: This structured journal allows you to practice gratitude, clarify your priorities, set a personal vision, celebrate victories, and identify improvements with a few minutes of effort every day. It’s a great journal for anyone looking to improve their life.

Getting Good Sleep

  • It can be hard to get good quality sleep while traveling. Outside of picking Airbnbs or hotels that have a nice setup, I’ve found a few small items can improve your quality of sleep.
  • Eye mask: The most useful travel buddy for me is an eye mask. I tried a bunch of them, and the Alaska Bear Silk Mask works best for me. I carry two of them.
  • Ear plugs: There are times when you can’t control noise very well, like picking a place that’s right above a rowdy bar. In those cases, I use Mack’s Ear Plugs, which are super awesome and comfortable for sleeping on your side.
  • I carry at least 20 Unisom sleep aid pills in case I’m going through a period where I’m struggling to sleep.
  • I wear an Oura ring, which helps track my sleep and reminds me of when to stand, when to go to bed, and how to improve my sleep.

Final Thoughts

  • The most impactful way to improve your travel is to learn to travel with less. Traveling with less allows you to focus on enjoying your experience, while spending less time, money, and energy on transporting items that you may or may not need.
  • I hope this list of items is a good starting place for learning more about what you need / don’t need on the road. I used these items to travel to 40+ countries while working full-time, and rarely, if ever, did I feel like I didn’t have what I needed in any place.
  • If you’re looking for more resources on better traveling, check out the 31st episode of the Shit You Don’t Learn in School Podcast: Surprising Travel Hacks From Visiting 70+ Countries.
  • If you have any cool tips on what’s help you travel lighter and smarter, send me a message at [email protected].