Minimalist travel, for me, means packing as light and as comfortable at the same time as is possible in your circumstances. It doesn’t mean that you have to become a Buddhist monk (the items they can own are extremely limited), but it probably does require some changes in your lifestyle on the road. Minimalism also has to do with your survival skills; if you can survive with limited resources, minimalism will be a bit easier of a task for you.
I was forced (yes, I actually never wanted to be a minimalist!) to significantly downsize my belongings after I had a back injury and my doctor prohibited me to carry any more than 5 kilograms. Luckily, my husband carries most of our stuff, but we still had to get rid of all our luxury items, such as our beloved colorful hammock we had since we lived in Colombia.
All my personal belongings (except for my sleeping bag) can now fit in my pretty yellow CabinZero backpack (that was delivered to me right the day of my accident, ironically) and so in this article, I will discuss the ups and downs of downsizing my life on the road to mere 28 L. Right. It fits in the plane just perfect, but it also has its challenges.
This article is not about short-term travel (e.g. how to pack in a carry on for a weekend trip) – quite the opposite, it is about how I combine minimalism with long-term, low-budget travel. (More like how to pack light and not go crazy if you travel for more than a year.)
How I became a carry-on traveler
Seven years ago, I hiked approximately 900 km with about 13 kg on my back – and I didn’t even have a tent back then.
Other pilgrims who walked the Camino de Santiago in a lot more lightweight fashion made fun of me, but I persisted: I felt I needed every single item. (I didn’t.)
It took me many more trips over the years to realize how little I was actually using on the road and how many of the “essential“ items were easy to be found in shops or pharmacies everywhere and thus needn’t to be purchased at home and carried around for months.
Not even my husband (who is about as minimalist as it gets) managed to convince me that vanity (“I need more than one skirt”) was a luxury that you had to pay in sweat when hiking with your too heavy backpack.
What finally made the cut for me was my health. It took one car accident to change the way I pack completely.
Read more: Surviving a car accident in Turkey
I sadly cannot go on carrying ten kilos around just like that anymore – having suffered a spine fracture, I am thankful to be able to hike at all and I gave up a big part of my clothes and things that didn’t serve a particularly practical purpose. (Bye-bye, pretty glass sphere, I loved to use you as a photo prop!)
On the other hand, there are still things I absolutely need, as my sleeping bag or my computer – how else would I write this blog? This led me to think about what are the (dis)advantages of traveling as a minimalist.
Pros of minimalist travel
Minimalism is in vogue and so I bet you can think of many reasons why to switch to a lightweight backpack. For instance:
- – Weight, of course. It is a lot more comfortable to get around with a small pack that you can carry even while exploring a new town.
- – Size. Definitely practical – when I hitchhike, I can simply keep my backpack on my knees. No need to stuff it into the trunk! I can also hop in the car very fast.
- – Money. There is no space for new items – if you get new pants, something else must go. Better not buy any souvenirs, huh?
- – Space. Suddenly, everything fits better in our tiny tent!
- – Carry on prices. If you don’t need checking in luggage, you can save up on both money and time when flying. When we flew from Adana to Trabzon in Turkey, we only checked in one backpack instead of two.
- – Health. Even if you didn’t break your back, it is better for you to carry less stuff around.
- – Quality. If you want the lightest items possible, you have to invest a bit. That means that you will end up with things that last longer and are of a higher quality.
- – Love. Since you have to downsize, you’ll end up taking only your most favorite things with you. Also, no carrying around of things you haven’t used!
Of course, I am lucky to be able to have someone to share the load with. Without my husband, my traveling days would be over for a substantial chunk of time! When we move from place to place, he carries our tent and sleeping bags, my clothes and my computer…and all of his things, in our 65 L backpack, while I take a few things only. Please, if you are doing it in a smaller way, raise your hand! I’d like to see that.
Disadvantages of a lightweight luggage
Being limited to the very basics, however (F will obviously not tolerate adding anything that we absolutely don’t need), can sometimes get a bit problematic. What is the downside of minimalist travel?
- – Money again. If you don’t carry a tent and sleeping bag (to fit in the carry on size), you most probably have to pay for accommodation. That adds quite some cost. We’d like to have a lighter pack, but we simply can’t leave our tent behind.
- – Style and fashion. Oh well. Did you notice I have been wearing the same clothes on most of my Instagram shots for a whole year? Nobody has commented on it yet, so I guess nobody cares. But…you will certainly end up underdressed at various occasions. I do feel a colorful-skirt-envy pretty regularly when I go through my feed. And I only have one single scarf. Sigh.
- – Smell. With limited wardrobe and a skinny budget, it is sometimes hard to get to wash your clothes regularly. I wash in the sink or even in a river, but it’s just not the same.
- – Photography equipment and technology. Some of my friends have cameras and lenses that would fill my current CabinZero backpack to the brim. I am not too fancy in this and I stick to my small, practical camera that takes less space than a regular teenager’s daily makeup kit. I have a small tablet that runs windows instead of a computer – it has a keyboard and looks like a PC, but only weighs 1 kg.
- – Weather. Obviously, minimalist packing works best in the summer. I am dreading the upcoming winter quite a bit!
Do you have any thoughts on what other pros and cons are there to traveling lightweight on a budget? Do share them in the comments!
CabinZero Classic 28 L backpack: My review
When the people from CabinZero reached out to me with an offer to review one of their products, it didn’t take me long to say yes. Besides being colorful and having a simple but cool design, the backpacks are made by a responsible, environmentally conscious UK based company who ships all around the world.
Check out the CabinZero collection now!
I and my husband have both used the backpack for a few months by now and it has survived our merciless hitchhiking, hiking and camping escapades without any trouble. You don’t have to worry either because they have a universal 10 years warranty on their products (25 years if you like them on Facebook).
My CabinZero has a perfect size for me – it has enough space without being too bulky. I can fit in my set of clothes (one dress, three t-shirts, long sleeve, shirt, underwear, scarf, sarong, pants, etc.), my small computer + chargers, and my bag of toiletries when I travel (edit: I’ve just lost my bag of toiletries too), or two computers, a water bottle, some food, my camera and a jacket when we just want to leave our tent, but need to take all the valuable stuff with us.
There are also 36 L and 44 L backpacks available if 28 L is too little or too much for your needs.
Straps and stuff
When I go on a hike, I appreciate the padded straps that don’t scratch my shoulders and also the adjustable side compression straps that make the bag more compact. I also appreciate these as I can adjust a rolled mat that I love to use to lie down in a park or wherever when my back needs it. Or I can use it to dry wet clothes on the go.
My husband was rather skeptical when we got the backpack as he doesn’t like to add anything to our equipment, but he became very happy after using it since it is far more practical for day hikes than a traditional Colombian cross body mochila that we normally use, and can also fit our jackets. It is comfortable to wear even if you put a heavier weight in it (I’m talking two computers, water bottle and all you might need during a day trip), in spite of not having a hip belt. (The military range of CabinZero backpacks has that though. But I chose this one because it is yellow, obviously.)
The backpack has two handles, one on the side so you can carry it as a small suitcase too, although I normally don’t need that. (I use these to tie my scarf and such instead.)
Zips and pockets
The backpack has a “sleeve” compartment for a computer on the padded back from the inside and it was a nice surprise that we managed to cram in even F’s bulky old PC with an extra keyboard along with other stuff. It also has a smaller air meshed zipped pocket right under the outer zipper where I usually stuff my cables, chargers, and toothbrush. Another larger pocket is located on the outside.
You can unzip the bag open all the way down so that makes packing more comfortable. The sturdy YKK zips have a loop so that they can be locked if you wish. I tested the quality of the plastic and metal parts by throwing the backpack in a washing machine (you are not supposed to do that, but it had gasoline stains from one of our hitchhiking trips) and I am happy to say that everything survived!
CabinZero comes with a built-in Global Luggage Tracker by Okoban that comes in handy in case of loss.
My favorite features
I love the range of colors that are available in the CabinZero collection – I chose the saffron tones of “Orange Chill”. I like the side straps that can compress the bag when I don’t carry much stuff and I also appreciate that the backpack is waterproof to a certain point. I have a very sensible back right now, but I took it for a full day hike in Ushguli, Georgia and I felt comfortable all through.
Check out some details of the CabinZero design:
Verdict: Minimalist travel with CabinZero 28 L
I do feel a bit shy to admit how reluctant I am to travel in such a minimalist way, but I have to say having a reliable, practical backpack makes everything a lot easier.
With an injured back, lightweight packing is essential and so a smaller size that forces you to downsize is pretty helpful. I obviously cheat a bit by having my lovely husband carry the heaviest items for me, but nevertheless, I consider it a lot more simple to travel with a tiny luggage. While CabinZero is more of a reversible all-purpose backpack that you can use in the city (and look cool) or in the forest, it makes a great compromise between carry-on only, hiking in the mountains or hanging out in the city. I did all three of them and it passed the test.
If you wish, here you can purchase your own CabinZero in whichever color and style you like!
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Disclaimer: CabinZero has kindly provided me with their backpack free of charge to test it out; however, the opinions are as usually my own. If you click on my affiliate link and purchase their product, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. That would be great because, as you know, I am constantly broke and the hosting of this site won’t pay itself either!