After almost 2 years of non-stop traveling, I have pretty much nailed down how to travel with only the essentials.
Minimalistic packing has become a hobby of mine – challenging myself to bring less and less each time I get the chance to unpack and repack my carry-on.
I remember the struggle when I first embarked on that 6 month around-the-world trip in 2016. I crammed so many unnecessary shoes, clothes, and gadgets into my Osprey backpack. It’s a wonder I was able to pass through airport security without checking my bag.
About a month into that trip I realized the huge mistake I had made bringing so much stuff. You do have to carry all of this around with you, after all. I ended up making a nice hotel employee at Alexander’s Boutique Hotel in Santorini very happy – she basically got my entire travel wardrobe.
Don’t make the same rookie mistake and only pack the following essentials for your travels!
Passport – Pretty obvious but sometimes forgotten! Bring the actual passport (& keep it attached to you) plus a digital copy emailed to yourself in case anything happens.
And things happen!
I had my passport stolen, had to get it replaced, and then forgot it for a trip to Dublin. That was my first time getting denied boarding. All packed with no place to go. Remember your passport!
Remember to get a cute passport holder – makes it harder to forget 😉
Cash – Cash is king. Bring a decent amount of cash ($500 is a good amount) in-case you can’t use card. You can exchange what you need when you get to your destination.
Be sure to always keep some (not all!) cash with you to pay at markets, taxis, and shops that don’t accept American Express…
Story time: I got all my credit cards stolen while I was traveling in Europe. I was able to get some replaced but not my debit card. My visa got blocked, Discover is hardly taken, and basically my only usable card was American Express. When I moved to Barcelona I had to open a Spanish bank account to transfer money, but wasn’t able to use it for several weeks. The last 2 months in Barcelona consisted of me asking every shop owner if they took AMEX with most answers being disappointing. Cash (& my helpful friends) saved me from starving.
Debit + credit card – Because you need more money than you think. Bring a debit card for ATM withdrawals, and a credit card for other purchases. Make sure your travel credit card has no foreign transaction fees (and preferably racks up miles!) Also, bringing a credit card that is widely accepted, like Visa or MasterCard, will prevent you ending up like me in Barcelona.
Carry-on Approved luggage or backpack – Whichever you prefer, but keep it carry-on sized to avoid extra fees, lost luggage, and extra lines.
I traveled with this carry-on sized backpack for 6 months during my first around-the-world trip and loved it. It’s still like new, and it’s been through hell and back. For my travels around Europe last summer I decided to switch to a carry-on hard rolling luggage because I’m small and got tired of looking like a turtle and feeling hunch-backed. This was an okay option for me since I didn’t plan on doing much moving around with my luggage – only from train/airplane to hotel.
If you plan on trekking with your luggage or your destination has dirt roads (hard to roll) then you’re probably better off with the backpack.
Day backpack – To carry around your stuff during the day. I carried my day backpack (from Loandsons which is no longer available and I can no longer link to) around everywhere in Barcelona since I like working from cafes.
I would bring my laptop, tripod, camera, and other essentials and carry them around the city. My favorite travel day backpack is from Lo&Sons – it has a padded area for your laptop, reusable water bottle holder, separate compartments for organization, and it also slides right over your carry-on handle for easy traveling!
Pad lock for backpack – Don’t be scared, but you’ll likely get robbed at some point during your travels. It kinda comes with long-term traveling… Safeguard your valuables whenever you travel by locking up your luggage and day backpack with this TSA-approved lock. Spend the $19 and save yourself hundreds later.
RFID wallet – Again, keep your valuables safe. Get a travel RFID wallet to wear under your clothes and keep all your cards, money, passport, and other important documents safe and attached to you at all times.
Travel rain coat – Going to Machu Picchu? It rains. Tropical island? Rain. London? Rainnnn. Patagonia? You guessed it…rain!
Get a raincoat and you’ll be much less miserable when the world rains on your parade. I had to use these a lot in Bali. When they say rainy season they’re not kidding!
Dry bag – Remember all that rain? You’ll probably need to keep more than yourself dry. Get a water-proof bag where you can put your electronics in.
TSA bag for liquids – Along with 3.4oz (or 100ml) travel containers for all your liquid toiletries. They will need to fit into a quart-sized Ziploc bag or a TSA-approved quart size bag. I prefer to bring the latter since I move around a lot and constantly buying new ziplocks ends up being more expensive.
iPhone – Or Android phone, if you’re not team Apple. Just bring a good smart phone and download these apps to get you through your travels. Also, it’s a good idea to get a global mobile plan. I have one from T-Mobile which allows me to have free, unlimited data access in more than 140 countries! No worrying about expensive roaming charges… or getting fined 50 euros for using your phone in Morocco and not knowing French to read the warning text message!! (Personal issue)
T-Mobile One Plus International: Unlimited Hotspot, calling to 70+ countries, Gogo Wi-Fi, and more for $25/mo. extra
Life-proof phone case – Because shit happens… and rain. Rain sucks. A life-proof phone case will save you major headaches.
Travel Camera – If you’re more serious about your Instagram game get yourself a travel camera. I have the Olympus Pen E-PL8 and it’s the best investment I’ve made. It’s compact, lightweight, takes amazing photos, and it’s also a great vlogging camera.
Travel tripod – Traveling solo and want to bring your Instagram A-game? Traveling with someone who sucks at photography? Want to be a travel blogger? You need a travel tripod (this is the exact one I use). Get over your fear of embarrassing yourself in public (it will happen regardless) and twirl, jump, and giggle in-front of your free-standing travel camera. You’ll get some great IG content – and free exposure by getting on many tourist’s snapchat and Instagram stories. Win-win.
Laptop – This one is optional. Depending on what type of work you do you might need to bring a laptop. I manage my blog and social media management agency while traveling so having a lightweight and powerful laptop with me is a must.
Global Hot-Spot – Another essential mostly for bloggers, digital nomads, or location-independent workers. Whatever you call yourself, if you work from your laptop while traveling you might want to get yourself a global hotspot – like Skyroam. Having internet is what keeps the money-flowing (and you traveling) so be proactive. Don’t rely on the only neighborhood cafe in the Amazonian city of Iquitos to have good wifi… bring your own damn wifi!
Now you can get 10% off Skyroam’s Global Wifi Hotspot by using the code ‘LITTLEBLACKSHELL’
Kindle – You will want it for transport days (flight, bus, and train travel). I personally prefer reading paperback, but it’s not convenient when traveling. A kindle will take up less space and weight for packing, and you can store many books so you don’t get bored!
Noise-cancelling headphones – block out crying babies on the plane and loud noise on the train. Oh, and don’t forget grandpa snoring a few aisles behind you or the girl next to you dry-heaving for 5 hours (true story, worst flight ever!). Trust, get these headphones.
Powerbank – your phone will die and you will get lost. Be prepared with a power bank. I use mine on the daily! This one lets you charge your phone up to 7 times! So handy when you can’t re-charge it every night. Having a power bank was a lifesaver during last year’s Eurotrip.
Universal travel adapter – Depending on where you’re traveling to/from you might need a power adapter. Get a universal one so you’re ready for all spontaneous travels and so you don’t take up as much space when packing!
Charging cables – GoPro, Phone, Camera, Kindle, Hotspot, headphones, etc. If you forget one, it might be hard to buy a replacement depending on where your trip leads you. Don’t forget your cables!
USB charger – to plug-in your charging cables (or adaptor that has multiple outlets). I simply use this global adaptor which has 2 USB charging ports apart from the regular outlet. One and done – perfect for light packing.
For clothing, bring less than what you think you’ll need. It’s easy to overpack, but trust me, you will end up wearing the same 3 outfits and giving away the rest of the clothes because having a lighter backpack is much nicer than those clothes. I’m telling you from experience. Each time I travel I bring less and less now. Bring only neutrals so you have no problems mixing and matching, and make sure all fabrics are lightweight, breathable, wrinkle-resistant, and easy to roll up for packing.
T-shirts – Two only, you don’t need more! Lightweight, breathable, easy to wash fabrics. Great for easy packing, every-day wear, trekking, and sports.
Dress shirts – Two. You could do three if you plan on doing “nice” things a lot. Aka, eating out, going out, dating. Again, make sure they are light-weight fabrics that are easy for packing. Wrinkle-resistant is key as well! You might not have access to an iron.
Shop My Picks: Favorite Travel-Friendly Tops
Dresses and rompers – Four – two dresses, two rompers (or more of one depending on preference). Dresses and rompers are great as they are a complete outfit in one! Avoid maxi dresses since, although cute, take up much more space for packing than a mini-dress. Get dresses/rompers of solid colors, and fabrics/designs that can be dressed up or down. That way these can be used for daytime, nighttime, and double up as beach cover-ups. Multitasking is key for light travel!
Shop My Picks: Versatile Dresses & Rompers
Jeans – Two pairs. One dark, one light. I like to bring one pair of blue jeans and one of black jeans this way I have versatility. The black pair can be used during daytime, and dressed up for nighttime. Make sure they fit comfortably – stretchy, lightweight fabrics are best for wearing and packing!
Denim shorts – One pair – I always bring one pair of denim shorts. One pair is enough to wear during the day and for the beach, and don’t take up much space when packing. Blue and black are my preferred colors.
Shop My Picks: Best Travel Bottoms
Cardigan – One. To throw over when it gets chilly at night, at the beach, or to cover up a bit at more conservative places. Lightweight fabrics that can roll up easily for packing. I prefer black as it’s easiest to dress up or down and doesn’t get easily dirty.
Jacket – One. That you can easily layer with your cardigan. Bring one that packs easily and is versatile as well. Although I usually wear this when I’m traveling instead of packing it. You should be able to wear this jacket for ALL occasions.
Shop My Picks: Travel-Friendly Outerwear
Sports leggings – Bring one pair of leggings for excursion days, trekking, and working out. A simple black pair is best. Pair it with one of your t-shirts or bring an extra sports bra/tank to wear with it.
Swimsuits – I’m a huge fan of swimsuits so I bring more than necessary, but having 2 should be enough. One pair to wear while the other dries. Easy peasy.
Tip: If you bring a one-piece it can also double up as clothing! Wear during the day or even for going out depending on the style!
Shop My Picks: Swimwear & Sportswear
Underwear & socks – This I bring lots of. I know many minimalist travelers bring only a few pairs of each and just wash up at hotel rooms, but I feel more comfortable bringing more pairs.
I like to wear cotton undies because they’re better for your body’s PH, and although they don’t dry as quickly, they breathe better. My favorites are from Calvin Klein. Same with socks. Always bring black socks so they don’t get as dirty.
Also, consider a pair of compression socks to avoid in-flight swelling.
PJs – You’ll probably need them if you’re sharing a room, but if not, just go commando and save space when packing. Seriously.
Lingerie – Optional. For hot dates OR I like to bring lace-y bodysuits to double up for going out. They are super lightweight and more versatile than you’d expect.
Sarong – One lightweight sarong. Can double-up as a headscarf or shawl for conservative places. Also as a light blanket for travel. Packing this is super simple so it’s worth bringing.
Sandals – or closed-toed shoes depending on what time of year you’re traveling! One dressy, one casual. Both need to be comfortable. Comfort is key! You will be walking for hours and hours no matter what so please don’t bring those cute sandals that hurt your feet. Or your feet will end up wrecked (again, speaking from experience). It’s better to keep these neutral colored as well, and flat is better than heeled. More versatile and comfortable, and easier for packing.
Flip-flops – I hate flip-flops, like…I find them disgusting, but they’re good to have especially if you plan on staying at hostels. Take these into the shower (and everywhere else) with you! You don’t know what that floor has been through. Also, you will need these for those beach days! They’re easy for packing so don’t omit even if you hate them like me.
Running shoes – One pair of sneakers is essential. You will wear these a lot on excursion days, for working out, and on days that you plan to walk a lot. Bring a lightweight, quality pair, as they will probably be the shoes that go through the most hardships. I take my Nikes all around the world.
Shop My Picks: Best Travel Shoes
Travel toothbrush – Brush your teeth, yo. Traveling doesn’t mean all hygiene goes out the window. Get a travel toothbrush that keeps it covered so you keep bacteria away. Buy toothpaste at destination – no need to take up more space in your toiletry bag.
Nail clippers – Don’t be that gross gal with the long, dirty nails. You’re traveling, not homeless. Buy some nail clippers.
Deodorant – Again, don’t be that person. Please use deodorant. And no, using deodorant and perfume will NOT hide the stench you worked up from that 8 hour trek up the Andes mountains or that drunk all-nighter. Do all travelers (and the world) a favor and shower on the daily.
Razor – unless you’re going full hippie. I prefer to keep civilized and clean-cut. But, you do you, boo. Can you tell I have a thing against backpackers with poor-hygiene? 😖 This is my favorite travel-sized razor.
Tampons – Well.. don’t think I need to explain this one. Bring lots just in case you can’t buy some where you’re traveling. Also, be sure to keep some on your day-bag/purse especially on travel days. You might not have access to your luggage on the overnight bus between cities.
Chapstick – All that trekking (and partying) is sure to dry out your lips. Keep them moist with a good chapstick. I love hemp chapsticks – like this one. And no, it won’t get you high.
Vitamin B – Keeps you bright and alert. Vitamin B is also a magical cure for hangovers & helps prevent mosquito bites! In case having energy and being healthy isn’t really your thing…
Aloe Vera – It’s moisturizing and healing. I use this on my face daily to soothe my rosacea. I’ve also used it on cuts and blisters. It works wonders! Just make sure it’s pure aloe vera like this one from Holika Holika, not cut with thickeners, chemicals, etc. Straight from the plant is the way to go!
Story time: I first discovered aloe vera’s healing powers while in Barbados – I had burned my hand with boiling soup right before the trip, had a massive (MASSIVE) blister on my hand, and a local on the beach popped it (Gross, TMI?) and applied aloe vera straight from the plant. Healed right up!
SPF – Don’t turn into a tomato during your travels! I like using this tinted sunscreen everywhere I go. It’s made for sensitive, rosacea and acne-prone skin so anyone can use it. Also, since it’s tinted, you can ditch the foundation. So handy for tropical places and other hot destinations!
Suggested read: How Turning Vegan Saved My Skin
Makeup – Optional. I typically bring a nude lipstick (for day/night), red stay-on matte lipstick (for long nights), mascara, mineral powder, brush, liquid liner, and eyeshadow stick. I’ll wear all of it when traveling around European cities, and only mascara/tinted sunscreen when traveling to beach and tropical destinations.
Well, there you have it! The ultimate minimalist, essentials-only, packing guide for female travelers! Now you’re ready to see the world ✈️
Did I forget anything? What other essentials would you add to this packing list? Let me know in the comments below!
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