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I just read a post on another travel site with the term “Minimalist Travel” in the title.  My first reaction after reading the article was “Nooooooo!”.  This person thought that traveling with a carry on bag and a large personal item was minimalist! I think that most experienced travelers would disagree with their assessment.  It came across as a little clueless. Carry on?  Check.  Light?  Maybe.  Minimalist?  No way. I applaud that person’s ability to travel lightly, but it wasn’t minimalist.  It did raise the question though – what is minimalist travel?

Size progression of carry on bags - largest to smallest

Small, smaller, smallest. Progressing from a full sized carry on bag to a smaller under-seat bag.

The philosophy of minimalist travel

The term “minimalist” means different things to different people.  Frankly, I think it is an overused term.  It is highly dependent on perspective. A first time traveler may think minimalist means getting everything into a single carry on bag and personal item.  An experienced traveler may think true minimalism is traveling with just the clothes on their back.  I’m somewhere between these two positions.  I’d like to propose the following guidelines for the use of the term “minimalist”:

Minimalist travel guidelines

  • The bag must fit within most budget airline carry on limits.  That allowance is all you get.  The allowance is usually a single carry on bag, weighing less than 7 kg. Some airlines have a smaller allowance!
  • Some airlines charge extra fees if you can’t put your bag under your seat.  That means that a true minimalist must travel with an under seat bag.  Hey, you won’t have to worry about overhead bin space. Freedom!
  • Under seat bags are limited in size.  You’ll need to stay under 26 Liters if you want your bag to fit.  So let’s make 26 L the upper limit on bag size.
  • No special travel jackets (unless you are traveling without a bag). Special jackets and vests get hot and heavy after a few hours.  You can’t dump them and leave them behind because you need them for your extra gear. You can’t stuff the packed jacket into your luggage.  The jacket becomes a liability on your travels. It’s one thing to temporarily stuff gear into your pockets to make a weight limit.  It’s quite another if you have to wear your special jacket the entire trip. That’s a burden.
  • You can run with your bag. If you can do that, you are truly traveling light!

In summary, a true minimalist would travel with a single bag no larger than 26 liters and weighing no more than 7 kg. 

Minimalism isn’t required for light travel.  I want to encourage everyone on their quest to pack as lightly as possible.  Make no mistake – getting all of your gear into a carry on bag is an achievement all by itself.  That said, I would like to reserve the term “minimalist” for those that have truly downsized.  After all, we all need a goal for the next trip!

What do you think of the term “minimalist travel”? Is it overused? What guidelines would you suggest?