Whether we’re gone for a weekend get-away or a three month backpacking trip through Eastern Europe, traveling forces us to live with less. As mentioned in other articles (see: here), I’m very open about my former suitcase-hoarding, anxiety-inducing tendencies. However, I found that the more I traveled, the more I actually enjoyed living with less. It occurred to me that just like on vacation, I tend to wear the same, or at least similar, pieces to work each day and that I don’t actually need three hairbrushes when my pixie cut’s been going strong for years.
After my first extended backpacking trip (six weeks in the Mediterranean, 2012), I came home and immediately started purging my closet, my drawers, and all that non-sense I had been hiding under the bed. Still radiant with my Greek tan- and probably still a little drunk, tbh- I was determined to create a new, clutter-free me. A me that didn’t bother with frills and unnecessary stuff. So I read Coco Chanel’s quote to myself 100 times: “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.” And then got to work. And guess what? It was FUN.
It’s been easy to keep up the minimal lifestyle ever since. Here are my key tips to get you started on a lighter suitcase and a cleaner home:
Get a library card
Honestly, if you don’t already have one, there’s no hope for you. Just kidding. But get a library card ASAP, you animal. This will keep you from 1) hoarding mediocre books at home and 2) hauling multiple texts on trips with you. Buying a Kindle and then downloading (free) e-books from the library has single-handedly upgraded my travel persona from “moderate traveler” to “out of my way, betch, I’m a serious traveler”. You won’t have to frantically search for a book store selling English literature in Chefchaouen or some remote Thai island. You will have thousands of titles available at the click of a button.
Of course, I do own books- my small collection in my room shown in the photo above- but I only keep the ones I truly love and will read again or give to a friend. Checking out books from the library both saves me money and space in my tiny Manhattan apartment. And even if you’re staunchly against digital texts (like I was), try compromising- digital when you’re traveling, physical copies at home.
Use a menstrual cup
I’ve said this a million times: a menstrual cup will change your life. There are several brands to choose from and they usually come in two different sizes. The one’s I’ve found most comfortable are this one and this one. And just think- you’ll never have to take up space in your suitcase, backpack, purse, or home with tampons ever again.
Keep it natural
Traveling with a bunch of makeup is a pain, and it’ll also make you stick out like a sore thumb when you’re traveling. I mean, how often do you see people with full faces of makeup walking around Kenya? Cambodia? Sweden? However, if makeup is your thing, ignore this tip and move on to the next.
I used to bring multiple eyeliners and eyeshadows and brow pencils on trips, only to realize I used the same products on my face every day and slicked on some lipstick if we decided to go out. What a waste of suitcase space, and really, what a waste of drawer space at home. My makeup routine is now much more simplified and gives me that natural-looking glow I’ve been chasing for years (thanks Vogue makeup videos!). Argon oil, SPF, tinted moisturizer, some brow powder, a pinch of bronzer and you’re done. Voila.
Coconut oil is a gift from the heavens
Instead of shaving cream, body moisturizer, makeup remover, bug-bite relief cream, hair oil, or Neosporin, just bring a small container of coconut oil. If you haven’t already heard (have you been on Mars for the past 5 years?), coconut oil is a magical all-in-one product and serious space saver when it comes to traveling. It took a while to get use up all my remaining makeup removing wipes and antiseptic creams but am now 100% dedicated to organic, raw coconut oil for most of my skin needs.
Buying souvenirs may be tempting, but only get something that’s practical for your life. I once bought two cheap leather lunch bags in Thailand, and immediately donated them to the Goodwill when I got back to the States. What was I thinking two lunch bags would be good for? I don’t even bring lunch to work! Best advice I have: don’t buy tchotchkes or things that sit on tables- they’re annoying to clean around. Buy either wall art that you can immediately envision in your home (if you have to think too hard or consider painting a wall to go with it, just put the pieces down and walk away), or buy something functional like high-quality clothes or something you’ll use daily like a new throw blanket for your sofa or new leather wallet.
Use your digital calendar
Using my iCal has kept my trips streamlined and free of travel print-outs for years. I can enter all my travel, eating, dining, and entertainment plans along with links to websites and confirmation details in the notes section. Yes, it takes a bit of time to input everything, but it’s much better than frantically searching through emails for those Airbnb directions when you’re in the middle of nowhere with zero wi-fi or realizing you left the printed flight information in your hostel three countries ago. In New York, I still default to putting in detailed information of my daily to-dos. Even if it’s not necessary to have every tiny thing I do logged in my calendar, doing so gives me peace of mind. And that’s what minimalism is all about.
Versatility is key
All the (good) travel bloggers say this, but it bears repeating: choose clothes that are versatile and can be worn throughout your trip. A carefully curated wardrobe, both on the road and at home, means that you have spent time thinking about your personal style. People who wear carefully-chosen clothes know what looks good on them and look so chic all the time. I’m not saying you have to downsize your wardrobe to only 5 pieces (hahaha, I’d rather be exiled than wear the same thing every day), but I am urging us all to try being a little more selective with what we put on our bodies.
And of course…
As every minimalist has ever said: If you don’t absolutely love it or if it doesn’t serve a necessary function, you don’t need it. Yes, it’s annoying, but it’s the truth. On airplanes, in hotels, on hiking trips, or at home, this same rule applies and it will change how you experience the world.