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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Travel With Only a Backpack: Our First Experience
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.
One of the tools to consider, especially when flying overseas, is to consider your long haul flight essentials.
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!
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. Carefully choosing my outfits 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!
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.
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
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 $55 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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About the Author
Michelle Snell is a travel writer, history buff, wine lover, and enthusiast of different cultures. While she is a professional educator by day, her passion for travel has her jet-setting all over the world during her free time.
Michelle enjoys bringing places to life through her informative writing style on her blog, That Texas Couple. Her practical tips and suggestions help make travel dreams a reality while immersing her readers in the history, culture, and food of a region. She is happiest sipping wine in Italy or chilling on a beach with her husband, Marty.