Yes, it’s true, Marty and I only travel with hand luggage, and more specifically, only with our backpacks.  I know some of the ladies out there are gasping right now, but it’s true!  We’ve even spent as long as a month in Europe and only taken our backpacks.  With our packing tips and an open mind, you too can travel with only a backpack!

This is part 2 of our minimalist travel series.  If you haven’t yet read the first post in this series, The Best Travel Backpack for Europe…and Beyond, please start there as having a good bag is step number one in this process.  Then after finishing this post, be sure and get our Ultimate Carry On Only Packing List.

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Our First Experience Travelling With Only a Backpack

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I remember the first time that Marty suggested that I travel with only a backpack.  We were headed to San Francisco for a 5-day trip and he wanted me to pack with just one bag, well actually just one backpack??  Was he crazy?  Did he not know who he married at all?  I was not having this.  I needed my shoes and my makeup!

You see, we had a trip to Europe scheduled to take place about 3 months after our San Francisco trip and Marty did not want us lugging around bags as we transferred between Rome, Capri, and Paris, just to name a few towns.  Showing me our Europe itinerary convinced me to give this backpacking thing a try.  I mean, I didn’t want to be the one slowing us down with luggage.  LOL!

Not being fully convinced, I bought a cheap backpack from the local department store and began packing it up for San Francisco.  I packed up my bag shoving it full of as many clothes, shoes, makeup, and hair accessories as I could.  Funny thing though, I wound up not using about 1/2 of these items and the cheap backpack that I bought was really uncomfortable.

This really put this minimalist travel into perspective for me.  I decided that I could travel with only a backpack if I had the right tools and did the appropriate planning for our trip.

At this point in our travels, Marty and I have taken 50 or more trips traveling only with our backpacks, so I consider us pros.  That’s where the rest of this post comes in.  Let us teach you how to embrace traveling with only a backpack so you can experience this great freedom and save some money!

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Find the Best Travel Backpack

One of the most critical parts of traveling with only a backpack is to find a great bag!

Marty and I both tried numerous backpacks and learned the hard way that spending a little extra money goes a long way.  In our post, The Best Travel Backpacks for Europe…and Beyond, we tell you all about our favorite bags.  It’s extremely important that you find a bag that suits your traveling needs. We prefer a front open bag with plenty of pockets to help organize our stuff.  I mean, you don’t want to have to empty your bag to find a phone charger while waiting at the airport.

Pack Light and Pack Right

Choose Your Outfits Wisely

Like I said before, I usually wind up taking twice the amount of clothing that I truly need with me on vacation.  By carefully choosing my outfits, this has helped me tremendously to pack lighter.  I tend to go with a color palette and continue that throughout my clothing decisions.  I have found that dark-colored bottoms do well as they are easy to mix and match with several tops and they show dirt less.  Bonus!

I also try to choose items that I can wear multiple ways.  For example, I can take a scarf to dress up my outfit for dinner but to also use as a cover if we are visiting churches that require a more modest dress.  A cute cotton dress can be dressed up to wear to dinner, but can also easily serve as a cover up for my swimsuit.  Get creative to see how versatile you can make your pieces.

5-7 days seems to be the key for us.  We tend to pack 5-7 days worth of clothes, and no more.  At that point, we are either staying in an accommodation with a washer and dryer, or we are doing laundry ourselves.

Know Which Items You Need More Of

Obviously, there are certain items, like socks and underwear, that need to be washed more often than other items, like jackets and pants.  Because of this, you need to pack more socks and underwear than you do jackets and pants, which is a good thing as the pants take up more room.  LOL!  Granted, you will be doing laundry along the way, but having extra socks and underwear will help to stretch out the laundry needs.

Wear Your Bulky Items

Now, you don’t want to look like Joey in the Friends episode where he comes out wearing all of Chandler’s clothes, but it definitely pays off to wear your bulky items onto the plane.  This will free up so much space in your backpack!

Joey wearing all of Chandler's clothes

Choose the Right Clothes to Bring

We go for easy, wash and wear clothes while traveling with only a backpack.  Being able to quickly wash items along the way is so helpful.  So pack items that dry quickly and don’t require a bunch of care.

Choose the Right Toiletries

When it comes to toiletries, you have to pack travel size items, or better yet, consider buying items when you arrive.  I always bring my favorite hair gel in travel size containers as it is often hard to find.  To make up for this, I tend to buy shampoo, conditioner, and lotion once we arrive at our travel destination, or better yet use the free stuff provided by the hotel.

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Roll Your Clothes

Rolling your clothes is essential for minimalist travel.  Folding or balling up your clothes actually make them take up more room in your bag.  The process of rolling your clothes also allows you to easily dig through your backpack as needed.

To take your organization even further, invest in a good set of packing cubes.  Packing cubes are truly life savers regardless of if you are traveling with only a backpack or a suitcase.  Packing cubes make organizing easy!!

Plan Your Accommodations Carefully

When traveling with only a backpack for an extended trip like our trip to Italy, Germany, and London, we carefully plan our accommodations to ensure that we have access to wash our clothes.  Now granted, you can visit a laundromat if absolutely necessary, but I don’t like to spend precious vacation hours sitting waiting for my clothes to wash and dry.  For this reason, Marty and I try to strategically book an Airbnb with a washer and dryer about a week into the trip.  This allows us to do laundry overnight or in the evening when we are unwinding from the day.

If you’re new to Airbnb, be sure to use this link to get $40 off of your first booking!

Could You Travel With Only a Backpack?

So what do you think, could you travel with only a backpack?  I have to be honest, I didn’t think that I could do it at first, but now that I have experienced minimalist travel, I am addicted.  I love the freedom that I have found traveling with only a backpack.  Give it a try on a short trip and see what you think.

Don’t forget to read the next post in this series, the Ultimate Carry On Only Packing List.

We would love to hear from you.  Comment below and let us know you’re thoughts on our series and about your minimalist travels.

 

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Are you considering traveling with only a backpack? We do it all the time and love it. This post outlines how we make minimalist travel work. Check it out to understand the benefits of traveling with only a backpack. #minimalisttravel #backpack #travel

Are you considering traveling with only a backpack? We do it all the time and love it. This post outlines how we make minimalist travel work. Check it out to understand the benefits of traveling with only a backpack. #minimalisttravel #backpack #travel

Are you considering traveling with only a backpack? We do it all the time and love it. This post outlines how we make minimalist travel work. Check it out to understand the benefits of traveling with only a backpack. #minimalisttravel #backpack #travel

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41 Comments

  1. I’ve been traveling out of only a backpack for years. I get some of the same questions, and your tips are spot on. Lifetime clothes roller here!

    Reply
    • I’m so glad to hear that a fellow backpack traveler agrees with our tips! Thanks for checking it out, Kristen!

      Reply
  2. This is so interesting! We’d love to do this, but we carry too much photography gear etc. with us to do this. We downgraded the size of one of our backpacks already though – it’s a start!

    Reply
    • Yes, I understand the issue when you have a lot of electronics. Marty has found a way to carry a small tripod, his camera and a couple of extra lenses and still make it work.

      Reply
  3. After studying fashion and then working in the fashion industry the one thing I feared most about quitting my job to travel full time was choosing only enough outfits that would fit in a backpack!! Now – 12 months later it is the most liberating feeling in the world. Knowing that all I need is on my back is something I’d never imagine I’d ever accept but here I am and you have certainly nailed it with this advice!

    Reply
    • Oh my gosh, Lauren, I am so glad to hear this! Thank you for the sweet compliment and for reading!

      Reply
  4. You guys are amazing! I am not a light traveller at all though Im working on it haha those packing cubes are really amazing!!

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    • It’s definitely still a work in progress for us, Viola. We learn something new all the time!

      Reply
  5. What an awesome post! We travel light but I’m inspired to go even lighter. I read about a dress that can be worn many ways but I like your idea of using existing dresses many ways with changes in accessories.

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    • Thanks so much, Jyoti. I’m glad that you found the post useful. I would love to see the dress you’re referring to. I might need that in my life 🙂

      Reply
  6. I am all about backpacks too! I find it to be the easiest way to travel – it’s just easier to grab a backpack and go. Besides, when I start carrying suitcases I pack way too much…haha. Your tips are right on, the packing cubes are essential 😉

    Reply
    • I totally agree with you, Mo! It’s so nice to hear that a fellow backpacker agrees 🙂

      Reply
  7. I always try to pack as light as possible but somehow end up over packing. And it’s mostly because I can’t seem to think a backpack might be okay to travel with. So I always bring out my suitcase and end up stuffing it. This is such a useful guide to help people get over the mental block and start using backpacks effectively.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Chandrima! Maybe you’ll give it a try?

      Reply
  8. I seriously applaud you! I need to get better about strategic packing, I always take way too much stuff. Thanks for the motivation and tips! And lol at the Joey reference 🙂

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    • Ha-ha! Thanks, Jen! It took a lot of convincing to get me to try it but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I am a Friends addict-#alltimefavoritshow

      Reply
  9. We’re a traveling family of four and, while we do pack lightly, the idea of packing just a backpack each kind of freaks me out. On the other hand, we often return from trips with clothes that we didn’t wear or stuff that we never even bothered to unpack. So, there’s definitely room for improvement which is why I’ll take you up on your advice for our next trip. Not sure if it’ll all fit into a backpack, though, but we’ll sure be traveling lighter!

    Reply
    • Sarah, I can totally see where it would be harder with kids. Since it’s just Marty and me usually, we don’t have any issues. Returning with unworn clothes and unused toiletries is what convinced me to give it a try.

      Reply
  10. You make it sound so easy! I am not sure we could do it with all our electronics though. That almost takes up a whole backpack in itself.

    Reply
    • I guess it depends on what all you travel with, Anisa. I take my laptop usually and Marty has his camera equipment so it works for us :).

      Reply
  11. These tips are spot on! I’ve been traveling with just a backpack recently, and it’s so much easier than wheeling a suitcase around. Wearing bulky items on the plane and buying most toiletries upon arrival (if not supplied by your accommodation) are essential.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Chelsea. I have to be honest I don’t know if I’ll ever wheel around a suitcase again. 🙂

      Reply
  12. I love his article specially when I have just started to travel in Minimalism. To travel in backpack will be so much fun actually as no waiting time at the airport for luggage.

    Reply
  13. We would love to travel like that. It would also be possible if we didn’t have a hugeee camera and a own back for it, a drone and other gadgets. We don’t bring much clothes and other things. Travelling like you do is so convenient.

    Reply
    • I understand, Roxanne, the electronics can get in the way sometimes.

      Reply
  14. I always travel with one backpack or only carry on luggage. It is easy, and planning outfits make you save time during your trip! Love your tips, here! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Thank you, July!!

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  15. Ha ha I am laughing, because NO way could I make it with one back pack..I like all the shoes and girlie stuff..but kudos to you for doing it…I wish I could! SFO..is def not a place I could do one backpack..ha..maybe BAnff or some place like that where you only need hiking stuff!

    Valerie

    Reply
    • The destination and the weather do have a big impact on it. It’s obviously much easier to go to the beach than the cold mountains.

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  16. Yes, agree! Choosing outfits wisely is a must. I do the same more often wear outfits in multiple ways. But still not sure I could be able to travel with only a backpack or not. I carry a bit more electronic accessories. But I got to try, yes!! 🙂

    Reply
    • Yes, Nafisa. The electronics do weigh you down so I could see where that would be more difficult. Marty usually has his DSLR camera and lenses, we both usually have an iPad, and I take my laptop. That’s about the extent of our electronics while traveling.

      Reply
  17. You are so right! Traveling with just one small bag sounds crazy at first, but once you try it there is such an amazing freedom not being weighed down with a bunch of luggage! Great tips. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Gwen!! 🙂

      Reply
  18. I have been wanting to travel in minimalism and recently have achieved it almost. Maybe not in a backpack but I travel with the smallest of bags. Your article will be useful for a backpack travel in future

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading, Usha!

      Reply
  19. Really helpful as I’m headed to Peru soon and will have to manage with one backpack. I haven’t done this since my university days and I’m struggling to think how I’ll manage. I’ll totally be pulling a Joey! I have also found that getting solid shampoo helps a lot. Lush has some that I use for travel, it takes up no room AND I never have to worry about liquids bursting. I’ll invest in some packing cubes. They look like a great idea!

    Reply
    • I hope you have an amazing trip, Natasha! I didn’t know that Lush had solid shampoo, I’ll have to check that out!! Don’t pull too much of a Joey or they won’t let you on the plane. LOL!

      Reply
  20. Wow i never imagined packing in only one backpack. Thanks for sharing great tips..very useful tips will follow them

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    • It’s really freeing, Madhu. Give it a try on a short trip and see what you think 🙂

      Reply
  21. I have read and reread this post with too much hope but the number of times I tried to have only one hand luggage it wasva major struggle, I had left almost everything and was barely surviving 😫. Will keep trying though.

    Reply
    • Oh no, Bonita. I hate to hear this. Traveling this light isn’t for everyone, and I think that’s ok. 🙂

      Reply

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Are you considering traveling with only a backpack? We do it all the time and love it.  This post outlines how we make minimalist travel work.  Check it out to understand the benefits of traveling with only a backpack.  #minimalisttravel #backpack #travel