Travel Planning

Minimalist Travel: 7 Ultimate Family Packing Tips

Carry-on suitcase and bag with hat for minimalist travel Pinterest Pin
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Is that ALL the luggage you brought? That’s it? Including all of your stuff for Austin? How is that possible? 

These are common questions we get all the time from friends and family when we travel. 

Before kids, Bo and I carried one backpack each as we traveled around Europe for three weeks. I can’t fully express how freeing it is to be able to, at a moment’s notice, pick up everything you brought with you and move on to the next adventure. No limitation, no planning necessary, just spontaneous adventure!

Similarly, we shared a carry-on when we took other trips to Hawaii in the summer, Minnesota in the winter, or road-tripping to see family any other time of year. People always look so shocked… “May I help you carry your…uhhhh…one bag ma’am?”

I’m pretty sure it all started because Bo (being the high roller he is) adamantly refused to check luggage to avoid baggage fees. But over time, we began to feel more free the lighter we packed. 

So many couples will say, “Oh, we used to pack light as well, but then we had kids…” Once Austin joined our crew, we had to learn how to be even more creative and resourceful when traveling. It is far too easy to bring way too much stuff — especially with a baby or toddler. 

To be fair, we are currently just a tribe of three. I imagine it gets exponentially more difficult to travel light the more creatures you birth. While I can’t speak to it personally, I still believe it is possible to do with more than one kid.  At this stage, we have learned how to fully embrace minimalist travel to get more out of travel with less!

This is how we do it:

Parents and little boy walking to airport with luggage for minimalist travel

Clothing for Minimalist Travel

1. Use Packing Cubes

Hands down, the best item we use to accomplish this–packing cubes. You may wonder, “Are packing cubes worth it?” and the answer is a resounding YES! 

Once I started using packing cubes, I knew I would never be able to pack any other way. They are a complete game changer! They make minimalist travel possible!

Packing cubes are designed to hold a lot of clothes while keeping them compacted for optimal use of space in your luggage. They come in a variety of sizes, so you can decide which size you prefer based on what you are packing. 

Shacke Pak packing cubes stacked and ready to pack for minimalist travel

We use Shacke Pak packing cubes, which come with a travel size laundry bag. There are various color choices, so you can even have a different color for each family member if you want. Hello color coordination!!! (cue angelic music)

Not only do they help you fit more into a small space, but they keep your clothing organized. And if you know me…organization is life! I don’t have time to frantically dig through piles of clothes that exploded out of a suitcase just to find one single sock! Just the thought of that scenario gives me heart palpitations.  

Pro Tip: Use other small bags inside of packing cubes for toiletries and personal items. This keeps items more compact and organized, so everything is easy to find and use when you open up your bag. Just make sure you use waterproof bags for your liquids or every last piece of your organized clothing will be soaked in suds. (Ask me how I know… )

2. Create a Capsule Wardrobe

Selecting clothes that create a capsule wardrobe is the best way to determine what to pack. A capsule wardrobe consists of clothing pieces that are easily interchangeable. Thus generating multiple outfits while minimizing the amount of clothing pieces needed. 

I’m not saying you have to minimize your entire closet full of clothes at home — heaven forbid you own less than 10 pairs of shoes. Simply, select items from your current wardrobe that will create a capsule-like collection for your trip. 

Bring clothing that can mix and match easily. Focus on neutral colors and layers, and resist bringing that adorable faux fur jacket that takes up way too much space and will likely be worn exactly zero times (or maybe one) on your spring trip.

Avoid falling into the trap of bringing things “just in case.” Instead, have an outfit that can easily transform for any occasion. Exchange your shorts for a skirt to dress it up for an evening dinner, or wear your sandals and hat for a casual day at the beach.

I like to look and feel stylish, so I want to be clear. I am not saying sacrifice style for the sake of packing less. With a few strategic pieces, you can easily look fashionable, and travel light at the same time.

Pro Tip:  Lay your clothes out on your bed before packing to help you visualize the capsule wardrobe you are trying to create. Seeing each item physically laying beside other pieces it could go with will confirm the variety of outfits you could create. On the flip side, it helps you realize which pieces have GOT TO GO!

Capsule wardrobe clothes laid out on bed for packing in luggage for minimalist travel

Jeans stacked on bed from a capsule wardrobe for minimalist travel

While embracing minimalist travel, limit your shoes to one or two pairs max per person. That could be one dressy and one casual, one sandal and one slip-on, or one everyday and one fitness. Determine what is best for your trip and resist the temptation to bring pairs upon pairs of shoes. Girls, you got this! 

Our Favorite Shoes

  • For Austin, our go-to are Native Jefferson shoes. They are amazing! He wears them with any outfit, and they are comfortable for pretty much any activity — walking, running, water, sand, rocks, you name it. Plus he doesn’t need any socks — score!
    • We tried cheaper knock-off brands, but they always gave him blisters. So even though they are a little more costly, Natives are totally worth it! (I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a weak spot.)  
  • For me, I almost always travel with cute and comfy sandals and a pair of light-colored slip-ons that are comfortable for walking but also stylish with shorts. 
  • For Bo, he tends to wear a neutral sneaker, such as Allbirds, as his everyday shoe, and he always has a pair of sandals.

3. Do a Load of Laundry

Now I know what you are thinking, “Do laundry? On vacation? But the whole point is to relax!” I know, but one load of laundry will be totally worth it if it means that you don’t have to haul extra luggage around on your trip. And that is what minimalist travel is all about! Less is more. Less is more. Less is more.

If your trip is longer than 7-10 days, you can plan to do a load of laundry instead of bringing more clothes along. 

Pro Tip: We keep a small ziploc bag in our luggage with powder laundry detergent — enough for 2-3 loads. You could even toss a dryer sheet in if you want, and it will still take up practically no space.

Washer and Dryer to use for washing capsule wardrobe clothes for minimalist travel

Laundry washing machine with dirty clothes from traveling minimally

Some hotels and inns will do laundry for you. We have utilized this service a few times, but depending on the company, it can get pricey . Make sure to look into what it will cost you ahead of time and adjust your plans accordingly. Most of the time, having laundry done for you is still cheaper than flying with an extra checked bag. So lose the bag and gain some freedom. 

If you are going to stay with friends and family or you are renting a vacation home, check to see if they have a washer and dryer that you can use. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that!

Additional Items for Minimalist Travel

4. Share Toiletries

It can be tempting (especially for us girls) to pack our 427 body, face, and hair products. Resist the temptation! Determine which items are absolutely necessary for you, and leave the rest behind. Dry shampoo is a necessity, but hair spray is not for me. Remember…think minimalist travel! 

Share toiletries across family members to reduce this number even more. No, Bo does not use my dry shampoo (even IF he had enough hair, he wouldn’t). However, as a family, we can all use the same body wash, which also doubles as shampoo for Austin. 

Pro Tip: Stick with gender-neutral scents. Don’t make your boys walk around Rome smelling like lavender. Austin and I share a fragrance-free lotion when we travel, which works perfectly!

Toiletries to pack for minimalist travel

Find travel size toiletries for everything! If they don’t sell your specific brand in a convenient travel size, find some travel containers and fill them up with your favorite products. You will save a ton of space and weight. 

If you want to pack even less and you are not particular about what goes on your hair and skin (I am VERY particular, so I bring my own), then plan on using whatever complimentary toiletries are provided in your accommodations. If nothing is provided, pretty much any hotel will have basic toiletries in the lobby store, or you can pick up products at a local store 

5. Reduce Kid’s Stuff

When preparing for a big trip with kids, it is a natural tendency for us moms to bring 43 activities. After all, you want to have every possible option for entertaining your child. Anything to prevent them from screaming in discontentment within the tiny confines of a plane. Don’t worry…I’ve been there too.  

I used to pack all sorts of little activities for Austin, until I started realizing it was just wasted space. He rarely used half of them, and they created a jumbled mess in the bag. 

Instead, pick a few activities that provide a lot of bang for your buck. Think of diverse activities that engage your kids for extended periods of time. You can pack fewer items, but still have your plethora of options for entertaining. 

Our Favorite Toddler Activities

  • Ultimate Sticker Collection book has information to read and tons of stickers to place on multiple pages. Austin can’t seem to get enough stickers. I don’t try to understand it, I just roll with it. 
  • Imagine Ink provides coloring and activities without any worry of drawing on clothes or walls.
  • Gel Window Clings are perfect to play with on the airplane or car window. 
  • Amazon Fire Tablet holds several shows and movies downloaded from Disney+. Screen time isn’t our first choice, but when traveling, the game is called survival…may the odds be ever in your favor.

Little boy with stickers all over his legs and a smile on his face

Boy playing with kid's activity gel window clings on airplane window

Other kid “essentials” can be significantly reduced for minimalist travel. With a toddler boy, we only pack a few items that are exclusively for him. 

  • We always have a Hydro Flask Kids water bottle. Hydration is important so we just fill it up as we travel. If we don’t have the water bottle along at a restaurant, for example, we just use a straw in a glass.
  • Austin’s bib with a pouch is a lifesaver! Not only will it keep him from destroying his shirt, but it also rolls up tiny and functions as a great snack carrier on the go! Pretty much every adult who sees Austin with it comments on how genius this bib is. And they usually say they wish they had one for themselves. 
  • We typically bring our Baby Bjorn Travel Crib with us when we travel, and it fits inside our luggage — score! This was one of the main requirements when we were picking out a travel crib. You can also opt to use whatever crib/bed is provided at your destination. 

Little boy sitting on mom's lap on airplane with bib and snacks and headphones on

Aside from these few items, we leave all of the other kid specific stuff at home. You will be amazed how easy it is to adapt and utilize what is available on your trip for your kids. 

Bags for Minimalist Travel

6. Eliminate Checked Luggage

You can pack everything you need for your family trip in carry-on luggage and a couple of backpacks. This is the ideal style for minimalist travel. We check one bag when we bring Austin’s travel crib and fit all of our clothes in the other half. Then we walk on the plane hands free with just our backpacks — loaded with snacks, upon snacks, upon snacks. 

Decide ahead of time which suitcases and bags you will bring on your trip. You will have a limited amount of space to pack only what will fit in those bags. Be determined to make it all fit — no matter what! Don’t grab another checked bag to fill with your shoes and hats!

Hardshell luggage is awesome for fitting a good amount of stuff. Plus, your things are protected by the hard exterior, so the likelihood of damage is much lower…not eliminated, but lower. With the way checked luggage gets thrown on and off of planes, there is NO GUARANTEE.

Carry-on bag stacked on suitcase with women's hat ready for minimalist travel

7. Reduce Kid’s Luggage

Nine times out of ten, we travel without a stroller. When Austin was a baby, I carried him around in a baby carrier. Now that he is older, he walks everywhere on his own. God gave him legs for a reason.

In case those little legs get tired of walking…God gave Bo arms for carrying! OR we can always let Austin “ride” the suitcase.

He loves to push our carry-on through the airport all the way to our gate. He stays contained (holding onto the suitcase) and moves in the right direction without the need for a stroller. 

Little boy pushing carry-on suitcase through airport for family minimalist travel

We brought a stroller on a couple trips because we planned to do lots of all-day-long walking during the trip. I can’t go at Austin’s snail pace all…day…long. 

For trips like that, we bring our compact travel stroller, the Baby Jogger City Tour. It collapses with one hand and fits into a bag that you can carry on your back. So, instead of a backpack, Bo carries the stroller on his back. PLUS it fits in the overhead compartment. Boom!  

Austin also carries his own backpack and has been doing so since before he was two years old. His backpack is where I store all of his snacks and activities for a plane or car ride. 

Give your kids their own backpacks and they can haul around what they need and want. This in turn frees up your bag to be used for whatever your heart desires (tablet, laptop, snacks, the extra pair of shoes that you couldn’t fit in your luggage but just HAD to have along — I see you!). 

Packing Light is the Only Way to Travel

By packing less stuff you will have less luggage. With less luggage, you will have less to carry around. With less to carry around, you will have less stress. Trips are meant to be enjoyed without adding additional stressors. Eliminate the stressor of too much luggage from all of your future travel. 

This is a key step to simplify your travel and embrace the experience of minimalist travel. It is so much more enjoyable and makes it Worth Every Trip!

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