Sitting in the back room of a bookshop with two lady travelers, I explained my idea: I wanted to take a weekend trip with as little clothing as possible while still remaining covered. I jokingly called it ‘extreme light packing,’ and the term stuck through the conversation.
We all agreed: our perception is that most minimalist packing lists are for men. Further research has shown this to be untrue — the top 10 results on Google for ‘extreme light packing’ are split 50/50 between men’s and women’s minimalist packing lists. Many of them are more than a few years old, and often focus on adventure travel; they don’t include the necessities that a lady might need if soaking in some culture or enjoying the nightlife in a city. I seek to remedy that.
Sidebar: I know it sounds a bit crazy, but it’s totally possible to pack super light for travel, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. For example, here’s how to pack for a five-month trip in a single carry-on!
This post is potentially the first in a series that may take a while to finish; I wanted to do a short trial run of extreme light packing before I launch into packing my trip to Europe later this year. My 4-day, 3-night trip over the recent long weekend was the perfect chance to give minimalist packing a try.
My Minimalist Packing List
- One pair of Uniqlo Legging Pants
- One H&M tank top
- One Uniqlo Airism hoodie
- One H&M Biker jacket
- One pair of black leather boots (+ socks)
- One Encircled Chrysalis Cardigan
- One pair of ExOfficio Give-N-Go underwear
- One pair of SOMI Karla cheeky underwear
- One SOMI Karla plunge bra
*None of these links are affiliate links! Woo!
Planned activities for the weekend included: beach-combing, relaxing in a Finnish sauna, sipping beers at a brewery + eating at the neighboring food truck, Valentine’s Day dinner.
Basically, I needed the smallest number of items that could cover all my necessities and handle a variety of situations: from indoors to outdoors, from fancy to casual. For this trip, that total was 10 items. Not too shabby — one might even say minimalist!
Bonus: Need a backpack to pack everything in? Here are some of the best travel backpacks for women.
I am a huge fan of both Uniqlo and H&M for basic clothes — as I write this, I’m wearing Uniqlo jeans, an H&M tank, and the aforementioned Uniqlo hoodie. Whenever I pack, I use these two brands as the foundation, because A) they fit me well, and B) they’re affordable, and thus easy to replace if I wear them out by wearing them a lot.
I also have a tendency to stock up on neutral tops and bottoms, and throw in a splash of color with the tank tops, which I layer under everything. Everything rolls up small, basically none of it wrinkles, and it’s all clothing that you can wear for more than one day without it showing.
The only other thing worth noting about my basics is that this was the last trip for both my biker jacket and leather boot. Why? That’s a story for another day, a day coming soon.
Yes, I could have packed just basics for this trip, but when I did the math, I would have needed far more items for my four-day trip than I ended up needing with a few experimental pieces:
- I would have needed at least two tops and a dress (Valentine’s Day, aw….) instead of the Chrysalis Cardi.
- I would have needed four pairs of underwear, plus a swim suit, instead of the two underwear and one bra (my SOMI pieces are designed to be quick-drying and can be worn as a bikini).
The Chrysalis Cardi
A lot of ladies have reviewed the Chrysalis Cardi, and it’s extremely popular for good reason: it is the most versatile piece of clothing I own. Officially, the Chrysalis Cardi can be worn in eight different ways:
- Three dresses: the one-shoulder dress, the Grecian tunic, and the wrap dress
- Two scarves: the double-loop and the triple-loop (+ the modified triple-loop with hood)
- Two over-tops: the cape and the wrap
- One cardigan: the cocoon
- One top: the x-back halter
My Chrysalis Cardi is a joy to wear, because I always end up laughing and getting tangled up in it. In the process of learning to wear it, I have found the following styles simply don’t work for my body shape: the x-back halter (ugh, this was the one I was most excited about but I have too much belly and not enough boob), the one-shoulder dress (I have slumped shoulders), and the double loop scarf (too much material flowing about), plus the cape and the wrap end up falling off of me whenever I moved (slumped shoulders, like I said).
I was consoled though: I really like the triple scarf (I’m rocking it in these pics), Grecian tunic, the wrap dress, and the cocoon cardigan ended up looking way better on my body than I expected.
I was lamenting the fact that I didn’t have any “top” styles to wear (since all three they recommended didn’t look good or stay in place for me), so I designed my own. This made a huge difference on my trip: I was able to wear the Chrysalis Cardi in four different ways, one for each day. I’m still working on the final directions for how to wear the top — let’s call it the “bubble blouse” — but is easy, flowy, and super comfortable, just like all of the other styles.
The best part? I actually never ended up needing to pack the Chrysalis Cardi, since I wore it every day. I could easily estimate wearing it four out of every seven days of travel.
Get your own Chrysalis Cardi from Encircled for $128.
ExOfficio Give-N-Go Underwear
This was a trial run for my brand new ExOfficio underwear too. I bought Mr. Valise a pair of boxers back around the holidays, and he educated me on the story/urban legend that Tim Ferriss traveled the world with just two pairs: while he wore one, he washed and dried the other.
The Give-N-Go underwear are super comfortable, always a plus when traveling since you’re either sitting for long periods of time (planes, trains, automobiles) or standing and walking for long periods of time (sightseeing, tours, transferring between planes, trains and automobiles). I could easily see stocking up on four or five pairs of these, and not needing any other underwear for up to a three or four week trip.
I also put them to the test in washing and drying them: two nights, I swapped into my SOMI underwear and hand-washed these in the sink. I then rolled them up in a washcloth, squeezed it a few times, and hung them across the bar of a coat hanger to dry. By morning, they were dry and clean, ready for another day of adventure.
The only comment I have about them — and it really is cosmetic — is that when I first put them on, the large tag in the back is tickly. It’s probably just a matter of my butt shape (don’t think about that too closely, please), but the tag sits in just the right spot to tickle me. Now that I’ve got the hang of washing and caring for them, I’m probably going to cut it out to remove the tickle potential.
Stock up on a couple pairs of ExOfficio Give-N-Go underwear for $13 each.
I have told you about SOMI products before, and I’m still a huge fan. My friend Alysia is killin’ it with her awesome line of ladies intimate products. Back before the holidays, I bought myself a pair of Karla underwear to match the Karla crossback bra I already had, and she was kind enough to throw in the Karla plunge bra as a gift — and I love them all!
This trip was the first chance I had to wear my Karlas as a bikini and as intimates, and the only thing I wish I had done was bring both bras so that I didn’t have to “body dry” the bra after my time in the sauna. Because I had only brought one bra and we went in the sauna on our first morning, I ended up having a wet-ish bra to put on after the sauna was done. No big deal — I was a swimmer for years and have put on many a wet item of clothing — but the SOMI bras roll up so small, I should have permitted myself a backup for just such a situation.
(As for the bottoms? I wore them in the sauna, then swapped back to the ExOfficio pair, which had dried while I was busy relaxing — now that is how travel clothing should work.)
Snag the SOMI Apparel Karla Plunge bra for $35 and the Cheeky underwear for $12 (on sale now!)
Results From My Extreme Light Packing Field Test
Okay, so how’d it go? 10 items, four days, and a bunch of different situations in which I needed to look clean, put-together, and occasionally fancy. Did my super minimalist packing list pass the test? Here’s what I learned.
1. Two Pair of Underwear Are Plenty… but Not Really
It was kind of weird — I always had clean underwear. Even still, all I wanted to do when I got home was take a shower and put on a clean, different pair. It was totally mental and all in my head, I know.
If you’re doing a longer trip, the reality is that you just need 4-5 pairs of great, hand-washable, “multi-purpose” underwear like SOMI and ExOfficio. You can easily turn that into 8-10 days between washing loads of laundry. But you might need more than two pairs to feel sense of the variety. Sorry, Tim.
P.S. It’s really weird to photograph underwear. Just sayin’.
2. One Versatile Piece Is Necessary
One of the most common complaints I hear from women who are chronically incapable of packing light is that they need… options! They can’t decide what to wear before they go to get dressed, so they need to bring 3-5x as many pieces, just in case they change their minds.
This is silly.
A versatile piece like the Encircled Chrysalis Cardi — or the Sharmbaa I previously reviewed — can give you tons of options, and take up way less space in your bag or on your body. I opted for a black Chrysalis Cardi because I thought it would probably be the most versatile for my own wardrobe color palette, but they offer tons of color choices like Everglade, Raspberry, and Seaside. You don’t have to know what you’re wearing for the next eight days to be able to pack wisely, and multi-use pieces help with that.
3. I Had Plenty, Even If It Didn’t Feel Like It
It’s kind of a funny feeling, carrying just my computer and a few toiletries for a trip — after all, when I left for the four-day adventure, I was wearing 95% of the clothes I was bringing.My “minimalist packing list” was more like a “minimalist wearing list” since on any given day, I was wearing all but one pear of underwear. I felt like I had forgotten something or wouldn’t be able to handle all the possible situations I might find myself in. (To be fair, I often find myself in unexpected situations when traveling, so that’s a bit of a valid fear.)
I had enough. I had day-to-day clothes and beach-combing clothes and brewery/food truck clothes and Valentine’s Day dinner clothes and even sauna clothes.
Ladies, you have enough. You don’t need all that extra stuff. Let it go. Traveling light is awesome.
It turns out the secret to extreme light packing is mostly mental: it’s about being willing to invest in a smaller number of higher-value pieces of clothing that can be used in many more situations. It’s about being extremely conscious of what you pack so that you don’t have to bring so much, but still have enough for the majority of experiences you can have.
I actually really liked sticking to a minimalist packing list. I’m confident it can be done for longer-term travel, without feeling dirty, grungy, or frumpy. Hopefully, I’ll be able to report back soon on a complete wardrobe that applies some of these lessons for three seasons, seven countries, and nine months of travel.
Many thanks to ExOfficio, Encircled, and SOMI Apparel for providing me with complimentary products to use in my extreme light packing experiment. The opinions expressed in this post are mine — and mine alone, so don’t steal them! — and not influenced by my partnership with any of these brands.
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