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Guest Post: Minimalist Traveling

by Gip Plaster on April 15th, 2011

This is a guest post from Lisa Shoreland.

Some people have told me to travel in my twenties—before marriage, before babies, before loans, and before everything else that strips me of my freedom.  They say that you need freedom to travel.  Many of us travel, however, to get freedom.

In my twenty-something years, I have experienced more freedom in the few months I spent working in Italian vineyards and exploring the deep, underground cavern of Marble Mountain near Hoi An, Vietnam than in my daily humdrum life.  This is to be expected—endorphins race across your brain like six-year olds on Halloween when you do something out of the ordinary like travel halfway across the globe.

The problem with traveling, however, is that many of us can’t cut the umbilical cord to reality when we do it.  We bring our current lives with us in the form of laptops, magazines, and half our closets.  To truly experience freedom from the lives we know and relish the short bursts of novelty we get by traveling abroad, we need to take a leap of faith. 

Minimalist packing is part of this leap.  I couldn’t worry about properly packing delicate items like earrings, high heels, or a GPS while romping around through the Italian Alps.  I would have felt like a pig rolling a big suitcase through Hanoi and its slums on the way to the hotel.  Whether you’re going to see the pyramids or backpacking across Europe, traveling is easier—and freedom tastes sweeter—when you go light.

1. Whenever I travel, I start out with a smaller carry-on, like a 32 or 40 L backpack.  In addition, I prepare a small messenger bag or plain, undecorated purse (something that doesn’t look expensive) to carry a camera, a snack, and something like a paperback or a copy of Lonely Planet.

Don’t bother with a suitcase or anything with wheels.  It doesn’t matter if it makes walking easier; it won’t be fun to bang up stairs, especially when you’re running late for your train.  A backpack stays close to your body and is extremely versatile.

2. I wear walking shoes throughout the airport and my travels, and bring a single pair of flip-flops to wear in showers, beaches, and out on the town.

3. If I’m backpacking, I never pack more than 3 neutrally-colored shirts and 2 pairs of pants (preferably convertible if I’m going somewhere warm in the day but cool at night).  If I’m visiting friends in Tokyo or Prague, I bring a nice shirt but leave the heels at home and instead wear my flip-flops. 

I take comfort in the fact that If I absolutely need something, it’ll probably be available in stores around my destination.  Moreover, I remember that it won’t kill me to be caught wearing what I wore Monday on Thursday.  People I know realize I’m traveling and expect as much, and no one else will recognize me or care.  Besides, what other people think is none of my business.  I’m here to be free, right?

4. I’ve tried filling up that plastic bag at the airport with multiple containers of shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body wash, face scrub, body scrub, and, well, you get the picture.  It doesn’t work.  Something always leaks, they add weight to my luggage, and arranging them so they all fit back into the bag gets increasingly challenging.  Instead, I pack only one kind of soap: Dr. Bronner’s, which comes infused with lots of essential oils and works multi-duty as body wash, face wash, shampoo, and detergent for sink laundry.

5. Yep, I said sink laundry.  There’s no sense in wasting time or money going to a coin laundry establishment.  Instead, I stuff my stinky clothes in the hotel room’s sink, add water, and squirt less than a single teaspoon’s worth of Dr. Bronner’s soap into the basin.  (This stuff lathers surprisingly well for its watery look.)  After I’ve scrubbed, I empty the sink and fill it once more with water to get the suds out.  To dry, I can usually find hangars in the hotel room, but I bring along an elastic clothesline just in case.

6. As a sometime-photographer, I bring along my DSLR wherever I go, as well as a wall charger, USB cord, and external hard drive.  I have yet to travel with my laptop, but I can understand why someone would.  One caveat: Check your email and blog at risk of your own mental freedom.  If you’ve taken days off of work, your employer will understand if you don’t answer her messages.  If you’ve announced to your followers that you’re backpacking across Southeast Asia, they’ll understand why you’re not blogging.  Instead, experience the world at your fingertips—and I’m not talking about the keyboard.  Rather than bringing your laptop, try keeping a journal during your travels to record memories and ideas.  Leave your cares with your closet for a time.

Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at Go College, where recently she’s been writing on all kinds of scholarships and sharing her favorite scholarship essay writing tips. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing, practicing martial arts, and taking weekend trips.

Believe it or not, I write professionally! If you need professional writing services from a web content writer, visit Fort Worth Copywriter.

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20 Comments
  1. Hi Gip and Lisa! This is a great post.

    I think I could pack everything as light as you were recommending Lisa, except for the soap/shampoo/conditioner. I’m going to have to check out the Dr. Bronner’s soap you’re raving about. It sounds amazing!

    This post makes me want to travel! I felt more free just reading it. 🙂
    Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Friday Favorites!

    • I’ve heard of Dr. Bronner’s before. An organic gardening expert on the radio here recommends it when you need a “surfactant” — something to break surface tension and allow an organic treatment to soak in. He also mentions using it for everything, as Lisa does.

      For many purposes, Joy dishwashing soap or another very simple surfactant with very few additives is good enough. At my kitchen sink, the Joy is what I use for dishwashing and washing my hands. I haven’t tried it in the shower or for hand washing laundry yet.

      Gip

    • Lisa Shoreland permalink

      Hi Jenny,

      Dr. Bronners is amazing! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 🙂

      Lisa

  2. marianney | A Life Set Free permalink

    I second what Jenny said! I was considering getting a larger suitcase recently, but I’m glad I read this first. I think I will look into a good backpack.

    I know what you’re saying about the laptop, but it’s nice to have when you need to look something up, keep your paperwork to a minimum, and cheaper and more convenient than an internet cafe. I hate carrying my heavy laptop on trips though, so I am considering getting a tablet so it’s small, light, and I can double it as a kindle so I have less books to carry if I’m traveling for more than a week.

    Although, the only downside to tablets so far is that they don’t have USB ports yet and that becomes necessary sometimes to download photos and video from your camera to make more room on the memory cards. Also, just to charge them. But I suppose wall charging is fine and getting a few more memory cards is not a bad idea either 😉

    Have you run into issues with this at all Lisa?

    That said, I have brought my laptop on trips before and ended up not even turning it on once (except for the airport) because I didn’t want to be distracted by technology and want to make the most of my trip!

    Great points here Lisa and I can certainly learn from minimalist packing for sure!
    marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted People Making a Difference Series – StandUp for Kids

    • I hope Lisa shows up soon to respond to your comment.

      In the meantime, I don’t travel much, but I’ve never checked a bag nor have I ever travelled with more than one carry-on size bag. I roll my clothes when I travel by car or plane and they take up much less room, but I’m tall and my jeans take up tons of room any way you pack them.

      Backpacks sometimes attact more attention from security screeners at airports because drug smugglers use them and because you look less “prepared” or “professional” if you carry a backpack. It’s still a great idea, though, especially for short trips or trips that involve a lot of public transportation once there. I think Rick Steves has a whole TV episode about packing a backpack for daily travel.

      Gip

      • marianney | A Life Set Free permalink

        I have tried so many times to not check a bag in, but I always seem to have something that is not allowed in a carry-on, like razors. How can a girl keep her legs shaved while traveling?? Stupid Homeland Security. 😉
        marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted People Making a Difference Series – StandUp for Kids

    • Lisa Shoreland permalink

      Hi Marianney!

      I too am tempted with the ever-smaller and more functional tablets/netbook/ipads being made available. The USB problem is a real one. I think I would take back my own advice on not bringing a laptop if I could get the ipad with a couple of usb ports.

      Lisa

      • marianney | A Life Set Free permalink

        Thanks Lisa! I’ll figure out what works best for us too. One of the other reasons I like having a laptop or some kind of device is to play music through at my destination. Headphones aren’t always practical when you’re spending time with someone else in a hotel room or house.

        That said, I kept your article in mind last weekend when my fiance wanted to buy a backpacking backpack for his son’s birthday to go camping with. Since it was on sale, I decided we should buy a second one and we’ll use them for travel instead of lugging around a suitcase. I’m really excited to use it!!
        marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted People Making a Difference Series – StandUp for Kids

  3. jenny smythe permalink

    great post Lisa!
    I love to travel light and I especially LOVE hearing another woman talk about traveling light! Thanks for sharing!
    jenny smythe recently posted Why I write LESS

    • Lisa Shoreland permalink

      🙂 I know what you mean. Guys tend to be the ones travelling lighter, I figured we best balance the equation by getting our minimalist travel mindset – and gear – in order!

  4. We;’re taking a much needed break this Easter weekend (don’t ask!) and have two kids in tow. I won’t be able to travel quite so light, but each time we go away I strip it back further. The Dr Bronners is definitely something I need to get hold of. I’m not a multiple cosmetics etc girl even at home and reckon this may be a really good solution for me all year round. Off to track it down and make a purchase (online ofcourse!)
    Jo@simplybeingmum recently posted Slow Cooked Carrot- Ginger and Lentil Soup Recipe

    • Lisa Shoreland permalink

      Hi Jo!

      If you get the chance, would love to hear what your experience ends up being with Dr. Bronners. It seems a lot of people have heard of it but not used it!

      Lisa

  5. William Tha Great permalink

    Hey Lisa,

    Someday I want to be able to travel the world, but I desire to be able to take my business with me. I would never want to travel without bring my laptop, and certain other things. I don’t think when traveling it’s smart to bring too much stuff, but I want to be comfortable. One should always try to minimize how much you bring on a trip. That makes traveling easier, because when you start traveling you don’t want to give yourself a headache everytime!

    God bless,
    William Veasley
    William Tha Great recently posted Living One Day at a Time!

    • Lisa Shoreland permalink

      Well said William! Striking a balance is always key… if you’re comfortable with what you’ve brought and what you’re doing, then it’s all good.

  6. Dr Bronner’s doesn’t do it for travel soiled laundry for me. I carry a small baggie of powdered Tide, sprinkle a very small amount in a zip lock bag, throw in the clothing, fill it up with water, zip it up and let it soak (I try to do this with soiled clothing as soon as I check in or go to bed depending on how long I will be staying at the hotel). A quick scrub and rinse, stomp the now clean clothing in my used bath towel and everything will be dry in a few hours.
    This way, there is no liquid to deal with at check in.

    I traveled to SE Asia for three weeks carrying only a small Jansport daypack. Even had room to bring home some silk pieces of clothing and several pounds of coffee.

    *I find Bronner”s to dry my skin and make my scalp flaky/scabby.

    • I’ve also heard Dr Bronners is expensive, but I don’t know where to get it around here. As I said before, I’ve heard that Joy dishwashing liquid can be used for a variety of things — and it’s cheap too. It’s certainly not organic or chemical-free, but it’s closer than some detergents.

      Gip

  7. Rick Steve’s sells the best carry-on bags! They look like soft side suitcases until you open the pocket where the back pack straps and hip belt store. And they have a pocket for your laptop if you must travel with it. They also come in two sizes so my husband, who is a foot taller than I am, and I can both get ones that fit us. We love ours.

    For clothing, check out Tilley.com. I love their Tilley silks for travel and their long shorts are the only ones Dave will wear.

    • Rick Steves has the right approach to everything related to travel, from what I’ve seen. He even did an episode with a woman who explained how women can pack as simply as he does.

      Gip

  8. Alex permalink

    This is a really great post, and exactly the approach to packing I am a huge fan of. You really don’t need to check a bag (or pay the fees for checking a bag) if you pack smart. Purchase the things you can’t bring on the plane, such as razors or shampoo, when you get to your destination. Do some laundry rather than packing a unique outfit for each day. Those are great tips to make travel easier and cheaper.

    And by the way, Dr. Bronner’s soap is pretty expensive, but it is kind of a miracle product. The peppermint scented soap can even be used as a bug repellent!
    Alex recently posted Delsey Helium Hyperlite Duffel

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