Mostly Minimalist Travel · Practical Travel Tips

Mostly Minimalist: Just Say No to “Just In Case” Packing

“No more just-in-case packing, no more just-in-case packing.” That’s my mantra these days. I will not succumb to the urge to pack everything we might possibly need. I’m moving toward minimalism, at least my version of it.

Could all these bags belong to your family?

You should have seen all that I schlepped to Europe for 10-week study abroad program way back in 1992. Remember those days when international travel allowed you could check more luggage than most people can lift let alone carry?

I packed “outfits,” separate outfits (from The Limited, natch) that didn’t coordinate with anything else. What did I end up wearing that summer? Not those “outfits” that looked so good at the mall and so gauche in Europe! I wore the same two pairs of khaki shorts and the same two “sand-washed” silk shirts.(Remember those? Cringe!) I wore those damn shirts so much that my good friend Page told me she never wanted to see them again.

And this is really embarrassing. I packed my softball glove and a softball. Hello. I was in Switzerland for 5 weeks and Britain for 5 weeks. Do you think I really wanted to play catch? No! I had a million other, more appealing things to do. Like just sit on the terrace and think, “Wow. I’m in Switzerland.”

Did that trip break my bad, bad habit of overpacking?


A few years later, I met The Husband. Six or so weeks into our relationship, we went to England to hike in Devon and Cornwall on the breathtaking (in more ways than one) South West Coast Path. I knew I would be carrying all my stuff on my back, yet I still packed too much! Why did I need three books? Yes, I love to read, but A) I was too tired at the end of a long day on the trail to read more than a few pages each night, and B) if I ran out of reading material, I could have easily bought myself a new book. Oh! There’s an insight that took me forever to realize: I don’t have to pack everything I can imagine needing because I can almost always buy it if necessary.

So I return to my mantra: “No more just-in-case packing. No more just-in-case packing.”

I will not pack a multipurpose tool.  Or a length of sturdy twine. Or a dozen pens. Or a set of safety pins in every possible size. Or a can opener. (Corkscrew/bottle opener? That’s a different story.)

Because I’m not going to Antarctica.

Packing light with Little A?

When the Husband, Little A, and I travel, we don’t scale any mountains or trek through any rain forests.

We visit cities, towns, rural areas. We don’t go anywhere terribly exotic. We just go somewhere else. Preferably that somewhere else is in Europe. And you know what? If something comes up and we absolutely need a can opener, then we’ll buy one.

I know what you’re thinking: “What if X happens? What if you need Y? What if Z breaks?”

You’re right. Any of these things could happen. Or not.

There’s only one certainty: the Husband and I will have our hands and brains full with luggage, logistics, and a toddler. What are the consequences of too much stuff?

So many bags. Surely at least one will be lost.

Having the airlines lose or, as they like to say, “mishandle” your baggage. According to the SITA Baggage Report 2017, lost baggage is at an all-time low. However, baggage still goes astray. You don’t want to waste time at the airport filling out form, you don’t want to waste time hanging around the hotel waiting for your lost baggage to turn up, and you don’t want to spend precious travel money replacing things that are in your lost bags.

Not making a tight connection time between trains or buses because you have too much to keep up with. As Hilary Stockton at TravelSort points out, “If you have a lot of checked luggage, most likely your only option will be a taxi to and from the airport. Personally, if there are efficient rail or subway public transit services, I prefer them, to avoid possible road traffic. By traveling lightly, with only carry-ons, it makes it much easier to take advantage of public transportation options.” The Husband and I have personal experience that jibes with Hilary’s advice. When we lived in Netherlands, we always checked luggage when going home to NC for Christmas, and of course, we always checked luggage on our way back to the Netherlands. Arriving in the US was fine because my parents picked us up at the airport, and our luggage went into the back of their car. But going back to the Netherlands, we didn’t have a car waiting for us. Instead, we took the train from Schiphol, the airport, to Leiden Centraal. There we hung around until good ol’ Bus 50 showed up and took us to Warmond, where we got off at our bus stop and walked nearly a half mile to our apartment. Yep, that was all with at least two large wheelie bags and carry-on bags. Good times.

Losing something because you have too much to keep up with. You do not want to leave something behind — especially your child’s beloved stuffie, your passport, or your wallet — because you’re scrambling to keep all those extra outfits and “what-if” items organized.

Losing your temper because you have too much to keep up with. You’ve spent a lot of money to go on this trip. Do you want to spend your time pissed off at yourself and your family because you all are overwhelmed with stuff? Besides you need a little room for souvenirs!

Losing your child because you have too much to keep up with. If you have a small child, you or another responsible adult needs to be ready to grab that child at any time. In fact, you may need to have a hand on your child at all times. Little A does not yet have the impulse control to walk through a busy airport without her hand in mine or my husbands. Besides, she’s a tiny human. The Husband and I have to be able to protect her from all the big, hurried humans who might not see her.

These potential consequences are why we choose to minimize the things we need to think about and lug around.

That’s why we’ve moved to minimalist packing with the goal of never again checking a bag. Our first test will come in 2018 when we fly to Vancouver, Canada, for an Alaska cruise and then a few days back in Vancouver with a family friend.

Coming Soon in the Mostly Minimalist Series:

  • Mostly Minimalist: First Aid Kit
  • Mostly Minimalist: Two Weeks Worth of Kid’s Clothes
  • Mostly Minimalist: Chic Mom (Don’t Be “Tourist Mom”)

What about you? Have you tried minimalist packing with your family? How did it go?

Check out these related posts in the Mostly Minimalist series:
Mostly Minimalist: What’s in Your Travel Make-up Kit?
Mostly Minimalist: Essential Gear for Traveling with a Toddler

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