A Minimalist & Eco-friendly Travel Packing Guide

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One Bag and Three Months in Asia

It’s funny, the longer I am on the road, the less I want to bring with me. Whether that’s my environmental conscience nagging or my own laziness at having to haul a piece of luggage around, I’ve managed to pack everything into one bag for the three and a half months that I’ll be travelling. And so, I may have a few tips and tricks that will be handy for packing for your own minimalist and eco-friendly travel plans. 

Tomorrow, I leave the bundles of sweaters for a balmy winter in South Asia and East Asia, narrowly escaping the minus 15 that is about to hit Vancouver next week. The problem is, I’m not really sure where I’ll be going yet. Apart from booking a flight to Delhi and a return flight to Vancouver from Taipei, I have made few plans. But hey, at least I’ve packed my bag.

Why Pack Light

One of my new year’s resolutions this year is to be more conscientious with the choices I make when travelling. As I make a mental list of items to pack, it’s also refreshing to think about what I don’t need and shouldn’t bring with me. It’s hard not to overpack, especially when going on an extended time and across several countries. But since I’m not sure of my plans beyond India and it being the first country on my itinerary, I have planned most of my packing list for the places I’m visiting in India. After that, I am assuming and praying that the basic essentials will work just as well for all other places. The thing is, for all the extras I’ve brought on previous trips, I’ve never really had a moment when I wish I would’ve packed something…

Keeping in mind that your packing needs might differ drastically from mine, this list is not exhaustive. But I’ve found these tips and products helpful for slimming down the bulk while enabling me to travel with less of a footprint.

Packing for the Minimalist & Eco-friendly Traveller

A good backpack or two will take you places

the Mobius backpack from Tentree is an eco-friendly way to pack for minimalist travelersThe Mobius backpack is a reliable companion for any type of travel and an eco-friendly one at that. It is from Tentree, an environmentally progressive brand from Vancouver, Canada. The Mobius is made of waste materials like plastic bottles and harvests algae bloom, which helps to clean up contaminated water. Apart from its innovative and eco-friendly design, it’s held up really well over the months, whether I was backpacking in Europe or going around the city with my laptop in tow. It is versatile in that it can be packed down to as little as 16L, and expanded to 35 for the souvenirs you’ll inevitably pick up along the way. It can also be laid flat and opened up like a suitcase, so living out of your backpack becomes less of a hassle. For day trips, I also bring a packable daypack that folds into its own pocket and takes up very little space for when I don’t need it. 

Keep documents and essentials in one place and within reach

For all the annoying photocopies I’ve had to make for this trip, it pays to be prepared. I’ve heard that getting a SIM card in India is a notorious process, so I am bringing extra copies of my documents among other essentials:

  • Laptop and pocket file holder and Kindle ereaderPassport(s) + photocopies
  • Secondary IDs + photocopies
  • Credit cards
  • 2″ x 2″ ID photos + photocopies
  • local currency
  • Photocopies of the visitor visa

To keep all the paper documents neatly in one place, I am using the PP A4 Pocket Holder from Muji, which is slim enough to slip into the laptop compartment, along with my laptop and Kindle. The laptop compartment is cushioned and against my back, which keeps it protected– against thieves and accidental drops– and is easy for me to reach. 

Swap out liquids and travel-sized minis for soap bars

Despite using a large, 6.8 L toiletry bag, it’s still hard to fit the right amount of toiletry essentials for the duration of my trip.

Squeeze bottles are a good option for minimizing space and only carrying as much product as you need. They make for great companions for a shorter trip. But anything longer than a few days of travel, I will have to go out and buy a full sized product anyway, and in the process create waste. Same goes for travel-sized minis.

The solution? Switch out facewash, bodywash, shampoo, and conditioner with soap bars.

For face, I use the Drunk Elephant travel duo, which comes in a pouch that is perfect for travelling. The bars gently cleanse and exfoliate the skin and have become my favourites, whether during the heat wave in Europe or the dry winter months in Canada. However, the bars do come wrapped in plastic packaging, which is a shame. For naked packaging, Lush and Canadian brand Rocky Mountain Soap Co. offer tons of options. For shampoo and conditioner, I am using the Flyaway Hair and American Cream from Lush, although the Natural Rosemary Shampoo Bar from Rocky Mountain Soap Co. is a cheaper alternative. Since the bars come unpackaged, I bought foaming nets and little pouches to house them. With most of my liquids switched out for soap bars, I can easily keep my liquid essentials like cream and toner under 100mL. And the best part? Each bar lasts well over 3 months, or 80 washes, making it the a practical and economical choice for long-term travel.

travel-sized makeup products

By the way, replacing one-time use makeup wipes for a microfiber cloth like the MakeUp Eraser is not only economical but also good for the environment. Plus, it makes the skincare routine at the end of the day that much easier as it removes facial and even eye makeup in one go. For travel days, I tend to be light on the makeup, but there will inevitably be times when you want to look more put together. I recommend a travel-sized eyeshadow palette with neutral shades like the Smashbox Cover ShotFor blush, I’ve been using the Glossier Cloud Paint for some dab-on actions instead of applying with a brush. Again, saves a bit of space and time in the morning. Just in case a mirror isn’t available where you are staying, a folding mirror like my hedgehog one will save you from mismatched brows. 

Compartmentalize and cube ’em
clothes packing cubes and laundry bag and drying rack

You can’t read about a minimalist and eco-friendly packing guide without coming across mentions of the packing cubes. When faced with limited space in a backpack, it really makes a difference if you have something like these compression packing cubes to slim down the bulk and pack more. Since my packing cubes come in three different sizes, I like to organize them according to the types of apparel. For example, the largest one is for bottoms, while the middle one is for tops. I’ve managed to pack all my clothes in these two, leaving the smallest packing cube empty. Which is great, because then I can plan out my outfit for the next day or have an extra change of clothes on hand in there. The idea is that with such limited space, it really forces you to pack only the most versatile and practical items, ones that are of decent quality and will hopefully last a while.

I keep undergarments and laundry items in this travel organizer. My drying rack can be folded in the middle and tucked into the bottom compartment of the organizer. The laundry bag has two pouches, allowing me to separate my laundry items. I also brought a few tide pods, stored safely in a cuppy.

Do you have any packing tips for a minimalist and eco-friendly travel? 
  1. I have been traveling carry-on only for years, no matter if it’s a short or a long trip. I even downsized from a 65L backpack to a 40L ones, which is lighter and easier to carry. I use packing cubes for my clothes and I never bring more than 4 different outfits with me.

    1. Wow, that’s quite a downsize! Once you have your essentials set up though, it really takes no time to pack such a small backpack. Easy on the wallet and easy on your back 😛

  2. I do agree with your feeling on how more travelling brings you to want to bring less with you. I feel simply by travelling I always have less and fewer things that I bring with me.
    Somehow I always notice, that fewer things I take, and more functional those things are – better my experience of packing and travelling. And I never miss not having clothes with me.

  3. those are great ideas. i try to pack light. sometimes i succeed but not always. i need to try harder that’s for sure.

  4. This is a very cool post. I am always curious about how people pack enough thinks for long trips. Question: How does the soap work for your hair over the long trip? Was I reading that wrong? Thanks!

    1. Nope you read it correctly! The lush bars have been working great for me so far. I have them in mesh foaming nets, which helps with lathering and I find that I am using much less product this way 🙂

  5. I only pack what I really need, which is clothing. Most of my suitcases are filled with goodies for my siblings and I don’t pack a lot of clothes. You would be surprised that there is a lot of care items in hotels now of days.

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  7. This is amazing. We are going on a trip this year and I have to learn to pack lightly and I definitely need a bag like this.

  8. How are you liking the Tentree Mobius bag after ~6 months of use? I am looking at getting one.
    Great tips by the way! I’m definitely going to bring Soap/Shampoo bars on my next trip.

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