Tips for Traveling Minimally Plus 5 Light Luggage Options


I have been a chronic overpacker for the vast majority of my travels, an ineffective habit that usually resulted in me sitting on my full-to-the-brim suitcase, sweaty and red-faced, manically trying to do up the zippers on the eve before a trip. Often times I would succeed in closing the bag on my own, but more often than not I required the help (or rather the additional weight) of a family member or friend. In the very worst case scenario, I would forget to pack one piece of clothing or toiletry item and need to carefully open my bag once more in the morning, risking it completely exploding open and having the contents dispersed all over my room like in cartoon.

It wasn't until the last few years that I have somehow managed to trim down my bulky suitcase set (comprised of one large suitcase, one carry-on suitcase, and one small duffel bag) that held almost my entire wardrobe to only a slim backpack that now only contains a few essential items. Blissfully I've found that's all I really need, no matter the climate, destination, or length of trip.

Adopting a slightly more minimalist attitude, both in my travels and personal life, has been somewhat of a revelation. In regards to traveling, it's made everything so much simpler, from taking the stress out of packing to not worrying as much if I forgot to bring something along (because let's face it, you can always buy a new toothbrush anywhere in the world). But this change didn't happen overnight. I spent countless hours researching travel gear blogs, reading packing list after packing list, and especially narrowing down my list of top choices for the ideal travel bag or backpack before I made a purchase. Looking back, I'm so happy to have made this change for the sake of practicality, ease of movement, and my own sanity.

If you've also been thinking of transitioning to a lighter form of luggage, I've put together some of the things I've learned for choosing a travel bag/backpack, plus some of my favorite options on the market today.

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Things to look out for when choosing luggage & packing minimally:

- Size. Okay, so this might be a painfully obvious point, but bear with me. No matter what size of luggage you choose to use, you will fill up the entire space. So instead of hauling along a suitcase twice the size of your body full of stuff you'll probably never wear or use during your trip, limit yourself to a moderate size and stick to only filling the space you have available.

- Content. If you don't wear/use it at home, don't bother packing it. Those jeans you accidentally bought a size to small and are hoping to fit into? Leave them. A second pair of sunglasses just in case your favorite pair happens to break? Forget about it! Only bring along the tried and tested things you truly love and use on a regular basis at home. Everything else will be dead weight.

- Volume. Steer clear of the Cheryl Strayed à la Wild-style of backpack that is so large and heavy it would take a professional weightlifter to put it on. While it can be a real challenge to find the right size of bag or backpack that works for your body, it's worthwhile to go into a gear store and try different options in person (even if you plan on purchasing online later). Although I haven't done this myself, I have heard of other travelers bringing along a bag full of things to put into a potential backpack or duffel bag in a store simply to see what the bag feels like with stuff in it.

- Duffel vs. Backpack. This truly comes down to a matter of personal preference, but in my experience I've found a backpack more practical for longer trips, while a duffel bag is more ideal for a quick weekend getaway. While opening the one main zippered compartment of a duffel bag does give you the advantage of having an instant oversight of what you packed, there are several backpack options available these days that open up like a suitcase (instead of only having the small top opening which can make it hard to locate things in a pinch).

- Compartments. Another thing that comes down to personal preference. Are you the type of traveler that likes to have a spot for everything or do you prefer having everything in one space? Consider the type of traveling you'll be doing. Will you have lots of tiny gadgets and gizmos along on a photography tour? Then it might be best to look for luggage with several little compartments to keep everything organized. If you're only going away for the weekend with a couple of sweaters and jeans, you'll most likely be safe with using a bag with only one main compartment.

- Packing Cubes. Finally, although these don't come with the purchase of a travel backpack or bag, I've found packing cubes an additional worthwhile investment that has made traveling minimally so much easier. If you're unfamiliar with them, they are basically zippered cloth cubes that keep all your items (toiletry, clothing, etc.) in neat and compressed squares that maximize space and reduce clutter.

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Some practical options to consider:

#1. The Fjällräven Duffel No. 4 features one large main compartment with an easy-to-open pull tab, plus two outer pockets, one zippered and one with a push button, and double layers of fabric on the bottom for reinforcement. The straps are designed so they can be carried in the hand, on your shoulder or across the back. Comes in a multitude of different colors!

#2. Reminiscent of vintage era duffel bags, this North Face 78 Basecamp Large Duffel is  made in the USA of waxed canvas with premium leather trim. Strong, sturdy, and durable, this is a go-to bag for all kinds of adventures.

#3. The Osprey Farpoint 55L is the travel backpack I chose to buy a couple of years ago after researching what gear would be practical for my needs. It features a main 40L backpack and a detachable 15L daypack, which I've found incredibly useful. The 40L section usually stays in my accommodation during the day, while I am able to fit my wallet, camera, a jacket, and snacks into the smaller 15L backpack for day trips. Additionally, I really love that the 40L section opens up from the top like a suitcase and that the backpack straps can be safely tucked away inside the backpack when I check the bag as luggage for plane travel. 

#4. Made from a highly waterproof material, the Patagonia Black Hole Pack 25L is both practical and doesn't look half bad either. The fabric is certified as bluesign® approved, meaning that methods and materials used to manufacture this backpack conserve resources and minimize the impact on people and the environment.

#5. Perhaps the sportiest of the options here, the Deuter AC Aera 30L Day Pack is ideal for any kind of trekking or long walking journeys. I used to own one of these and absolutely loved the back suspension system that made the pack feel light on my shoulders. If you're prone to any kind of back aches or pains, this might be a good choice to consider.

How about you? Do you have a favorite bag or backpack that's perfect for traveling light to add to this list? Please share your recommendations below!

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 If you've been thinking of transitioning to a lighter form of luggage, I've put together some of the things I've learned for choosing a travel bag/backpack, plus some of my favorite options on the market today.