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Think minimalist travel is impossible? Find out how I traveled carry-on only for four weeks with just a laptop backpack plus purse!
I traveled from Cartagena, Colombia to Lisbon, Portugal on a two-week transatlantic cruise for four total weeks and I packed carry-on only. I’m giving you an inside look at exactly what’s inside my bag with videos directly from the Porto Airport in Portugal.
These aren’t sample videos of what you should pack to achieve minimalist travel. It’s a genuine, unstaged inside look at what’s inside my bag so you can see how it’s possible to accommodate your own items in small luggage.
Read the full details below and watch my two minimalist travel packing videos showing you the contents of my carryon and personal item!
As my main bag, my carry-on suitcase, I used the Travelon Heritage Backpack. It’s an anti- theft bag but I’m using it not just for security purposes but more so because I think it’s a nice- looking bag.
As my personal item and day purse, I used the Rebecca Minkoff Julian Backpack. It’s a super stylish, yet ultra-functional purse, which I’ll be telling you more about in this post.
First, let’s have a look at what’s inside my bag:
CARRY ON ITEM: TRAVELON HERITAGE BACKPACK
The Travelon bag is a laptop backpack so it isn’t a traditional option for minimalist travel. However, I like the design and thought I’d give it a try. So far so good. Fully packed, it weighed 6kg.
It has a total of five compartments. The front two are small and I just use them to place some odds and ends such as a few individual allergy pill packs, receipts, business cards, and tissue packets. (I experienced so many unexpected allergies in Portugal!)
There is a third, adjustable compartment on the side of the backpack meant to be used for water bottles of various sizes. However, since my flat iron is always the last thing I use before I leave my hotel room, I threw it on the outside (water bottle compartment) last minute to let it cool off.
In a fourth, larger compartment I’ve included my electric toothbrush and charger, a clutch with two belts inside, and my toiletries. For this trip, I used one of the detachable containers from this cute and practical Hudson + Bleecker Toiletry Kit.
I didn’t use any of the zippered sections although they’re a great place to store your passport or other important documents without them being easily accessible to pickpockets. In fact, the Travelon bag is anti-theft so each compartment (except the water bottle space) has a latch that protects the zipper from being easily opened by an opportunist thief.
Even though my goal was minimalist travel, I didn’t need to sacrifice any of my regular toiletries. This is everything I took for my four-week trip:
- 10 Innisfree olive oil makeup remover wipes
- 5 SPF Cetaphil face moisturizer
- Cetaphil body moisturizer in a 100ml container
- Hair conditioner in a 100ml container
- Eye cream in a 20 gram container
- Face wash in a 20 gram container
- Face scrub in a contact lens container
- 3 oz Neutrogena 70 SPF sunblock
- Nivea ravel size liquid deodorant
- Menstrual cup
One of the best ways I found to save space in my carry-on luggage while also having enough toiletries to last me the entirety of the cruise was to buy 1-2 full size items upon arrival in Cartagena.
I bought a 200ml shampoo and my travel partner bought a full size deodorant when we arrived at our first destination, Cartagena. The shampoo lasted me the four weeks. I finished it in Porto just in time for my flight back.
Read these tips on how to use small travel containers to maximize your toiletries! I guarantee they’ll help you with your goals for minimalist travel!
The fifth, main compartment is where I’ve stored the majority of my belongings.
- Goody Hair brush (usually in my personal item)
- Makeup bag, a detachable small pouch from the Hudson + Bleecker Toiletry Kit. Even with minimal travel efforts, I still managed to pack all my girly makeup. Inside the makeup bag is a 10 gram container with MAC Prolongwear Foundation, Mac concealer, Benefit Highlighter, Eyebrow pencil/brush, Eyebrow gel, Maybelline mascara, MAC Espresso eye liner, MAC Harmony blush, Benefit mini shadow palette, MAC travel size blush brush, two double-sided eye shadow brushes.
- Jewelry bag, a detachable small pouch from the Hudson + Bleecker Jewelry Bag. Inside the jewelry pouch is one statement necklace, one boho-style earrings, one round silver stud earrings, and one boho-style ring (I was wearing stud earrings and a y-drop necklace with my plane outfit).
- Two packable hats: one sunhat and one fedora (should’ve just brought the sunhat.)
- My second layer, the Diane Kroe Wanderlust Wrap (back in stock!) easily accessible so I can wear on the flight if needed or upon arrival to colder England.
- I almost left behind my Olive color military-style vest so it was loosely in the compartment but should’ve been inside one of the packing cubes (good extra-layer if needed).
- Three pairs of shoes in plastic bags for easy identification. Include Naot walking sandals for Colombia and Portugal, Ipanema flip flops for Colombia and cruise, and Loeffler Randall olive color block heels (very packable!) for cruise and birthday in Lisbon. I was wearing black Nike trainers on the flight so these weren’t packed but they fit inside the bag if they needed to be.
- Sea to Summit pocket travel towel, for scuba diving and for Cartagena accommodation. It’s a pretty bright blue color and can also be worn as a scarf or cover-up!
- Packing cubes including seven clothing items out of the ten-piece capsule I brought (I was wearing jeans and a tee on the flight and one item was the Olive vest mentioned above). The packing cubes also held a light cotton slip to sleep (or wear as a cover-up/top), ten underwear, one pair of socks, one underwire bikini set, one non-underwire bikini set, one light workout/sleep/layer leggings, one light workout/scuba diving top, and one underwire sport bra. My dirty laundry is inside a plastic bag within one of the packing cubes.
- One notebook, for business workshops I attended throughout the trip
Normally, my laptop would’ve been stored in this main compartment, too. However, I always pack it in my “personal item” when flying so it’s easily accessible.
Packing cubes are the key to minimalist travel! Learn more about how to use them to travel carryon only!
PERSONAL ITEM: REBECCA MINKOFF JULIAN BACKPACK
Usually I always pack a variation of the following items in my “personal-item” for all my trips. For this particular trip I’m using my everyday purse as my in-flight personal item: the Rebecca Minkoff Julian backpack.
I love this bag and I’ve mentioned it several times on this site and on my Youtube videos. Remember, minimalist travel doesn’t mean you have to use traditional travel gear. Even a designer purse can work if it’s the right one!
It has four compartments. One of my favorite things about the bag is the small compartment in the back side, which is the perfect fit for my passport or cards/money.
I feel these items are very safe because of the way the compartment lays directly on my back, keeping these valuables away from pickpockets. I always travel with my passport (and Rebecca Minkoff passport cover) in that backpack compartment.
Learn more about how to keep your passport safe while traveling!
There are two smaller compartments on either side of the main compartment in the front. On the right hand side I always carry my eyeglasses and on the left hand side I store my sunglasses.
In the main compartment I have all the items that I need to easily access during a flight or at the airport. One of the other awesome features of this bag is that the design allows you to cover the main zippered compartment with a latch, a convenient preventative measure keeping thieves from easily getting into your belongings.
Within the main compartment I have:
- My light Zara jacket (sold out) that I plan to wear on the flight, this can also be layered with my Diane Kroe Wanderlust Wrap for extra warmth.
- Cabeau Air Evolution inflatable travel pillow
- Mesh organizer bag that stores laptop and cell phone cords
- International travel adapter (with my name on it)
- EZpacking clear organizer bag which holds small essentials such as my chapstick, mints, tissue packets, emergency tampons, portable phone chargers, headphones lip gloss, mini-floss, medication, and gum.
- Toilet paper roll (surprisingly necessary on this trip!)
- Anti-bacterial wipes
- 11.6” Macbook Air within leopard print laptop cover
Clothing: 10-Piece Essential Capsule Wardrobe
Clothing is the most important aspect to succeed in minimalist travel. I used my Essentials customizable Packing List to create my ten-piece capsule wardrobe.
- Print scuba bodycon dress for dressy nights, could also be layered with tops to act as a skirt
- Versatile, black dress that could be worn casually during the day to sightsee anywhere, lounge on the cruise, or be dressed up with a belt and accessories for dressier nights. Could also be layered with tops to act as a skirt.
- Faded black/grey tee to wear anytime, anywhere, even to sleep. When worn with jeans and heels could have a dressier appearance.
- Black reversible top to be worn with all bottoms and over both dresses (it’s not technically “reversible” I just flipped it around because the back design was nice enough to be worn in the front)
- Coral reversible top to be worn with all bottoms and over both dresses (it’s not technically “reversible” I just flipped it around because the back design was nice enough to be worn in the front)
- Olive color military style vest to be worn with all bottoms alone as top (using a clothespin) or layered over tops/dresses to create interest
- Blue long sleeve top to be worn with all bottoms or layered over tops/dresses for warmth or to create interest. Could also be used as a bikini cover-up.
- Chambray shorts as a lighter choice to my usual denim shorts for Cartagena and cruise.
- Ivory dressy shorts to be dressed up or worn casually in any location. (I don’t like skirts so I dress up shorts with nice flats or heels.)
- Grey denim jeans for flights, cruise nights (and days when closer to Europe), and Portugal.
The above items made up my ten-piece capsule wardrobe but I made two changes to the above image. I replaced the black dress for ivory dress shorts and the cover-up for a black versatile dress. Because the cruise was extremely casual, these options all worked especially when paired with my lovely block heels!
In addition, I also took two light layers to be worn together or separately: a Zara lightweight faux leather jacket (sold out) and Diane Kroe Wanderlust Wrap. The nice thing about the wrap is that I could also wear it as a top, not just a sweater.
See? I told you minimalist travel doesn’t have equate to dull and boring travel clothing!
There you have it – everything I took on a four-week trip from Colombia to Portugal including a two-week (informal) transatlantic cruise!
While you may need to pack different things, I wanted to give you a general idea about how minimalist travel is possible.
For this trip, I had the advantage that I was traveling in June with mostly sunny weather and only a few cold, rainy days. However, my backpack was about 30 liters, which is 10 liters less than is allowed on most international flights…
…so if you do need to pack a few more things than I did or you are traveling in cold weather, you could easily travel with a larger-size carry-on backpack or suitcase and still have enough space for all of your belongings.
No more excuses. You can travel carry-on, too!
If you need help to stop overpacking, read this – it’s the step by step solution walking you through my entire packing process.
Here are a few pics from my trip!
What are your tips on minimalist travel? Comment your tips below!
For more tips on how to pack light, please read the following:
- 75 Packing Tips that Will make Your Travels So Much Easier
- How to Fit Everything in a Carryon (Video Tutorial)
- Ten Step Packing Guide to Travel Anywhere in One Bag
- How to Choose the Best Travel Shoes