If you are like me (or me previously) and have a compulsory need to pack 5 pairs of shoes for a 3 day trip and you want to change, then this article might be the one for you. I am constantly a victim to my own contingency planning tactics when packing for any extended trip. As an engineer, I have a bad tendency of coming up with every fictitious disaster or situation that could come up during my planned trip no matter how far-fetched or ridiculous. Possibly fall out of a boat that I do not plan on ever stepping foot on, better pack my goggles and swim suit. Possibly having to represent the United States as an alternate delegate for the United Nations, better pack that suit and tie. Going to meet Pharrel and possibly inspire him to be his future fashion muse, better pack that avant garde sombrero I’ve been keeping for such occasions. Before I know it, my luggage is over 150 lbs and is 3 bags too many. Let’s plan for cooler heads to prevail. Here’s my guide to going from a 50 lb check in bag to a 15 lb backpack for my 7-day Japan trip and all the options I had to consider.
First, which bag to bring? Possibly the most important item to consider when you are packing. When traveling, there are many options of different styles of bags to carry all your traveling essentials and not so essentials. Additionally, there are various size options of each style. You can use a wheeled option such as a traditional two wheeled luggage bag. There are also four wheeled options that do not require you to tilt the bag to make it move. There are also duffle style bags, tote style bags, and backpacks.
In making my decision, I decided to stray away from using duffle bags. Although minimal, simple, and light, in my experience, they are difficult to transport if you have to move frequently, so I eliminated it as my main bag for travel. Using just one shoulder to carry a bag causes quite the painful toll. So in the words of Randy Jackson, “It’s a no from me dawg”.
Traditional luggage, while convenient, typically offered more space than was needed for a minimalist setup, even the smaller check-in style luggage was too bulky for the traveling I am intending to do. With the minimal setup goal in mind, I wanted to be as mobile and nimble as possible while carrying my main luggage. The convenience of not having to use your hands to carry the bag on your person works against the nimble and mobile setup that was desired.
Tote style bag as my main luggage. No.. just no.
That just leaves a backpack. It’ll keep me agile and mobile and they are easy to carry from one place to the other. It allows me to move about hands free and I can choose a large or small size depending on how much I want to pack. I also have the options of organizational levels from a simple rucksack, to a complex travel specific bag.
Ultimately, I decided on a light backpacking style backpack to cut as much weight as possible. These backpacks are meant to be comfortable for miles and miles while weighing as little as possible. I chose the Atompacks Atom+ 50L bag. It rolls down and fits about 25 liters when fully compressed, however is expandable to the full 50L if needed. It gives me a lot of flexibility both in terms of amount of storage and freedom of movement while carrying the bag.
Next decision: how much, and which clothes to bring? When we travel, clothing represents the item that we pack the most of, and it tends to take up the most space in our main travel bag. As previously stated, I typically would pack way too much for my trips. For a 7-day trip I would typically pack at least 8 days worth of clothing plus sleeping clothes and an additional formal option, just in case. For this trip I really packed based on the itinerary and weather. Since (currently) there are no plans that would require more formal clothes, fancier clothes were checked off the list. While considering the minimal intent of my packing list, I will automatically eliminate an “extra” set of clothes. So now we’re down to 7 sets of clothes. I don’t think that is minimal enough, I had to think about how to get creative to eliminate more unnecessary clothes.
First thing to consider was style. While traveling we all want to look presentable and good, but I will not have the luxury of packing bespoke outfits for each day. I had to consider mixing and matching items into different outfits and decided to go with plain basics as the main makeup of my clothing list. I thought about what my favorite outfit would be on a daily basis and decided to pack to make it replicable for the entire trip. I decided to go with the old faithful: ALL BLACK outfit. It’s simple, minimal, and (in my opinion) is a good looking, a safe choice.
Bottoms: I realized in my everyday life, and according to sartorial experts, some fabrics are not meant to be washed everyday. In fact, it is recommended for certain fabrics not to be washed frequently to preserve the quality and longevity of the fabric. This is true with most denim as well as some synthetic fibers. With this in mind, I figured that I could get away with at least two to three days of wearing each pair of bottoms before I would need to change them. Therefore, for the 7-day trip, I am planning on bringing 3 pairs of pants: one pair of black denim, one pair of black nylon technical pants, and one pair of corduroy black pants, for fancier occasions.
Shirts: The thing about shirts is we should change them everyday. However I will offer you this perspective, if we change our thinking to “I only have to change my shirt when it smells”, a whole new world of opportunity awaits you. When choosing a shirt to wear multiple days there are really only a couple options: merino wool and its natural antimicrobial, anti-odor fibers, or cotton and synthetic blends treated with anti-odor treatment. I am a fan of merino wool jackets and merino wool base layers, but for an everyday shirt I find them too itchy and the fit of every single one on the market is just not right. Synthetic, cotton, or a blend of the two became my only fabric choice. As I wanted something light, airy, and having some sort of moisture wicking properties, I ended up going with a treated polyester material from the ever faithful Patagonia. The Capiline Cool Daily Shirt from Patagonia offered all I needed: odor fighting technology, moisture wicking material, it fell right on my body, was extremely comfortable, and dried quickly. With the quick dry technology I figured I would be able to take only 3 shirts (2 to pack and one to wear on the plane). I could wear the shirts multiple days and be covered for the entire trip. As my insurance policy in the case a shirt got stained with food, or maybe I encountered an extra sweaty and rank day, I decided to pack a mobile laundry system as well.
Enter the Scrubba bag. This 10L dry bag has a built-in washboard inside. It folds and stows away in a footprint no bigger than a small toiletry bag and it offers you the option to wash shirts, socks, underwear, pants, or anything else as needed while traveling. All you need is access to running water and you’re good to go. For detergent I picked up these “Sink suds” sink washing detergent, packaged and made for washing single items. This paired with the Scrubba bag and I am set for whatever messes the trip may throw my way.
Undergarments: I’ll keep this one short for the sake of talking about undies and socks. Keep it merino wool when it comes to socks. I chose smartwool as they are reliable, durable, comfortable, and odor resistant. I’m packing three pairs for all the same reasons I chose 3 shirts. For underwear I am choosing the Exofficio brand. They are a polyester and elastane blend that is quick drying, odor resistant, and most importantly, anti chafing. Again, like socks and shirts, I plan on bringing 3 pairs.
Sleeping clothes: Long sleeve quick drying shirt and Lululemon tech pants that can double as swim trunks if necessary. Easy and simple.
Shoes: As a self proclaimed shoe addict, it is always tough for me to pick between my shoes. With that said, I told myself that I would only pack one pair of shoes. I only have two feet, so why would I need more than one pair of sneakers. I decided to pack the most comfortable, light, and good looking shoes (in my opinion) that I could. I wanted something a little urban-styled, a little athletic, but above all, very comfy. I ended up choosing the Hoka Project Cliftons (shoutout Justine for the gift), in white to contrast my all black outfits. If I needed to bring a fancier pair of shoes for a nice dinner or a trip to the day club, I would go with my goto the do it all shoe: The Sperry Topsider Gold Cup. You can wear them anywhere and with any outfit and you will be good to go. They take up little room and don’t even require dress socks. If you find yourself in need for fancier travel shoe The Topsider is King
Jackets/Outerwear: Typically I love a good jacket in colder weather, which I anticipate will be the climate during my springtime trip to Japan. I think a good jacket can bring a whole outfit together, but I can't bring a jacket for every day in Japan. I needed to find a good balance between functionality, warmth, and style. Style is always subjective, but I think the safest style choice would be a plain black hoodie. My hoodie of choice has been the Uniqlo dry-ex hoodie in black. Its moisture wicking and quick drying and just an overall very comfortable hoodie. I am also packing my puffer jacket of choice for utilitarian purposes: The Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer in black. It is super light, super warm, and packs down to the size of a small fanny pack.
Lastly, miscellaneous clothing accessories: I have one everyday running hat in white. It’s moisture wicking, light, and simple. Again, it contrasts with the daily black attire and matches the shoes. I’m going to pack my leather Apolis belt, an everyday staple for me. A beanie for the colder weather and alternate headwear.
The only toiletry that I had to really figure out how to minimize was soap. While yes, most hotels you go to will have soap available for free, I am a little bit more particular about the soaps I use on my skin (call me a snob). Rather than to leave it up to chance at what the maids are serving up that day, I have invested in the optimal all-in-one soap I could find. Usually I would default and use the ever faithful Dr. Bronner’s castile soap. Recently my opinion has changed. While I still love the versatility of Bronner’s, I have stumbled upon the best, in my opinion, 3 in 1 soap. Jack Black’s Turbo wash. It is extremely refreshing and fragrant and energizes me everytime I use it. It leaves my skin nice and moisturized and does not dry my hair out too much. It really can do it all. Other toiletries I am packing include: travel toothbrush, travel toothpaste, razer, lotion, deodorant, wash cloth, and some Jason Markk quick wipes just in case I need to clean up the sneakers.
These items are all “pack what you need and leave some room for things you want” items. My philosophy is, if you are going to use it, you can pack it. My headphones of choice have gone away from bulky over ear headphones and have switched over to smaller noise canceling earbuds (Sony wf-1000xm4). I am packing my camera for travel photography, although I would say for most people, their smartphones will serve as a great travel camera. My ipad gets packed to keep me from packing a full laptop as it can do most things that I need it to, AKA a streaming service machine. My nintendo switch is coming with me. It is a purely entertainment based decision. It is compact enough to fit in a side pocket and does what I need to keep me from going insane on long plane rides and long train rides. I am bringing a travel neck pillow, the Sea
to Summit Aeros inflatable pillow. It packs small and is comfortable enough to sleep on. I also have a tech kit filled with charging cables, international charging brick, and an external battery pack. The last thing I am packing is a foldable 40L duffle bag. This bag’s only purpose is to bring back home omiyage that I cannot fit in my backpack. It is antithetical to the minimalist idea, but I am a slave to capitalism and well made Japanese goods, what can I say.
To this list, there are tweaks that can be made. I am not a traveling expert nor am I even really qualified to be writing this article. I just am letting you know what I think will work for me on my planned trip. I say use and pack what makes you comfortable and allows you to be at your best while you travel. A little less clutter is what we could all use. I think that this packing list could be extended for much longer trips. If anyone is suffering from overpacking and would like to make changes to their packing habits I would say try out a minimalist setup. One great resource I have used is the sub reddit https://www.reddit.com/r/onebag/. This subreddit is devoted to the art of minimalist packing and traveling out of “one bag”.
Happy traveling everyone!
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