Simple Organization

Minimalist Travel and Packing Guide for Road Trips

Traveling is a great way to get a taste of a minimalist lifestyle. You can only take what you can fit in your car or suitcase. However, most of us tend to overpack and end up spending more time searching our luggage for things than we would like. That’s where it helps to have a minimalist travel mindset.

It was a road trip about a year ago that kicked off my minimalist journey. We were gone for 3 weeks and knew we’d have access to washing machines during our trip, so I packed for 1 week. Each week when I did our laundry, I was amazed that everything fit in one batch. It was laundry for all four of us, but it was only one batch a week instead of 3 or 4.

Of course, I knew this would be different at home. At home, I’d have to wash towels, sheets, and other non-trip things. But If I could get all of our clothing done in one load, that would be wonderful. (Laundry is NOT my favorite chore. More on that to come in a future blog post.)

And so when I got home I started researching family minimalism, found The Minimal Mom, and the rest is history. This year as I packed for our annual road trip, I tried to apply minimalist principles. 

Pencil and paper
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

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Make a list

The first step to minimalist travel, of course, is to make a list. I’ve heard that after you make a list, you should cut it down by half. I don’t go quite that extreme, but I do tend to cut back a bit. For example, if I wrote down 7 shirts and 5 pants per person, I’ll cut it down to 5 shirts and 3 pants. 

Make a list of everything you should take. For minimalist travel, I’ve found most things fit into these categories:

  • Snacks for the drive
  • Entertainment for the drive
  • Clothes for adults
  • Clothes for children
  • Medicine
  • Toiletries

I usually end up with a miscellaneous category as well that includes any other random things we want to take, like a board game we want to play with our families or our raft if we’ll be stopping at a lake.

After you’ve written down what you think you’ll need in each category, take a closer look. Is there anything you’re taking “just in case” that you could buy if you were to need it? Could you get away with taking fewer clothes and either doing laundry more often or wearing some items more than once? Cut back where you can. That’s how you’ll become more minimalist in your travel and packing.

Here is some of what I pack for our family on a 16-hour road trip (for an item-by-item list and a blank packing list template, sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of this post):

Snacks for the drive

We keep our snacks simple and healthy. I pack a reusable veggie tray with some of our favorites: grapes, strawberries, carrots, cucumber, cheese, almonds, and ranch for dipping. It’s large enough to hold enough for all of us but small enough to fit neatly in our car. We also typically bring some peanut butter balls that I make using this recipe. I take these toddler spill-proof snack containers for each child so I can load them with snacks and won’t have to worry about them spilling. Each person also gets a water bottle to drink from.

Tips:

  • Take fruits and veggies! It will feel better in your body after sitting in the car for hours
  • Keep it simple – don’t buy a bunch of different things. It’s easier to keep a few containers/bags organized.
  • Have some kind of small, empty container to pass snacks back to kids
Open road with view of redrocks
Image by esudroff from Pixabay

Entertainment for the drive

We have a 16-hour drive to see our families, so I always make sure to pack toys, books, and snacks for the car ride. In the past, I’ve gone overboard in this category, but I’m learning what we’ll use in our minimalist travel. I now take one ziplock bag of toys that we set aside especially for road trips, one bag of Duplos, coloring stuff, a few books, a Melissa and Doug Water Wow book for each child, and a bag of pom-poms to push into an empty water bottle (this was hands down the favorite activity of the trip). All of this fits into one Aldi milk box, which fits perfectly between the seats in our van. When we stop for gas, I make a point to gather any toys that are dropped and put them back in the box.

Because we drive through the night, I also had pajamas for the kids, their blankets, and stuffed animals handy.

Tips:

  • Pack what you think you’ll need an then try and take out at least 25%. You likely don’t need as much as you think you will
  • Try to avoid things with lots of small pieces so you don’t have as much to pick up
  • Consider setting aside some toys well in advance so they’ll seem new and exciting to your kids
  • Resist the urge to buy things for every trip you go on. Try to come up with creative new ways to use things you have. (Number 4 on this list gave me some great ideas for this road trip)

Clothes for children and adults

Cutting back in this area is key to minimalist travel, but it can difficult to perfect. If you have access to a washing machine, taking fewer items won’t be as big of a problem and it will lighten your load. But if you have a toddler that makes a mess of every single outfit she wears, you might want to consider bringing a couple of extra outfits, just in case. (Ask me how I know that.) 

If I didn’t have access to washing machines while on vacation, I still wouldn’t take more. Instead, I’d pack a small bottle of castile soap and use it to wash clothes in the sink by hand, as needed. They can hang dry overnight. However, we find that (except for the messy toddler) we can get more than one wear out of a couple of our clothes and don’t need to wash as often as we expect. Or, for a longer trip, I’d plan on spending a couple of hours using a laundromat.

When choosing clothes for the trip, bring neutral bottoms that can be worn with anything so you don’t have to worry about what is clean when. 

If traveling in the summer, I recommend taking either flip flops or sandals and a pair of tennis shoes. If you’ll be attending church wherever you’re headed, you’ll need church shoes too, unless the sandals are dressy enough to double as church shoes. Shoes tend to be the item that we overpack the most on. It should be obvious that every member of the family doesn’t need 4 pairs of shoes on a trip, but we just keep packing 4 pairs.

The system I use to pack our clothes could easily be done with packing cubes like these ones but I use the very classy grocery sack for the adult’s clothes and gallon size ziplock bags for the girls. Everyone gets three bags – one for shirts, one for pants, and one for underwear/socks/swimsuit. Each bag is labeled with the person’s name and what’s in them, and then they all go into a tote like this one when they’re all packed. It’s a bit unconventional, but it works! I like the tote over a regular suitcase because it’s clear so I can see where things are, it’s easier to keep tidy and organized, and we only have to bring one item in for our whole family’s clothes. I also pack a large canvas tote bag for our dirty clothes.

Tips:

  • Bring less than you think you’ll need
  • Limit the number of shoes you bring
  • Pack in bags or containers to keep things organized and easy to find
  • Pack neutral bottoms so that everything will match everything

Medicine

Even though we could go to the store and buy medicine wherever we’re going, I always take a few things in case we need them in the middle of the night. Tylenol, for both adults and children, is at the top of the list. You never know when you’ll need it. We also take Tums and allergy medicine. I pack this into a dollar store storage container and have room to throw in sunscreen and bug spray.

Tips:

  • Bring only things that you might need in the middle of the night when it’s inconvenient to go to the store
  • Consider the season and what you might need. Cough medicine might come in handy in the winter, but allergy medicine might be needed in the spring and summer

Toiletries

My husband and I each bring a small bag of toiletries. Mine has my makeup (I just bring the very basics – that’s all I own anyway) and deodorant, and he has all the toothbrushes, spray gel for the curly girl, and his shaver. He’s a champ to keep all that in “his” bag. 

Aside from that, I throw a brush (we love the Wet Brush) and a small container of hair elastics for the girls into the tote. All of this fits with room to spare!

Tips:

  • Plan to do simple hairstyles that only require one styling tool (flat iron or curling iron)
  • Keep your makeup to the basics – no one will notice (or care) if you’re wearing less makeup than usual
  • Consider where you’ll be staying. Will shampoo and soap be provided or do you need to bring your own?

Packing can be a daunting, time-consuming process. It often feels that way for me. But I love the minimalist travel mindset for packing. We take only what we will use. It cuts down on the amount of time I have to spend organizing our stuff while we’re on vacation. Just like at home, it buys me time to spend on what’s most important.

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