Ultralight Packing List: I Traveled for 3 Weeks with a 12L Handbag

ultralight packing list

The following is an ultralight packing list for the USA. See all of our packing list posts here.

Last month, I traveled for over 3 weeks with the contents of a well-packed 12L handbag.

And that’s all.

My bag weighed just 8.2 pounds (or 3.7kg), and I never once felt like I was truly missing something from my ultralight travel packing list.

Why would I do something so crazy?

Glad you asked:

  • I hate carrying stuff and being responsible for stuff. As soon as my luggage becomes annoying, it’s hard for me to focus on anything else. Less stuff = less annoyance.
  • I was crazy inspired by my chat with Theresa Christine about her trip without luggage. Minimalist packing to the extreme.
  • FOR YOU! Yes, the biggest reason I decided to take on this challenge was for you, the HPL reader. My hope is that once you see how much is possible with just 12L of luggage, the idea of going carry-on only, or taking just a 30-40L backpack, will seem much more manageable.

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Brooke and her 12L handbag.
The obligatory airport shot. Brooke and her 12L Pacsafe Citysafe LS200 and her Baggallini Gold Seville Mini (which fit inside the Pacsafe bag when necessary).

The Trip

My 3 weeks were spent in various parts of the US including Portland, Las Vegas, Chicago, Central Illinois, San Francisco, and 3 days/2 nights on an Amtrak train. The predominant goal of the trip was to visit friends and family across the country, sticking mainly to city travel instead of outdoorsy activities.

During the month of April, the weather can vary greatly from one day to the next, feeling like winter or summer. It could also rain. This all posed a packing challenge for me with my clothing, but what I settled on in the end was to just do my best and buy anything extra there if I really needed it.

The Rules

To give the packing list a real workout, I wasn’t able to share any items with my boyfriend. If I bought something that wasn’t deemed necessary, I wasn’t allowed to use those items until I returned back to Sydney. Anything else purchased along the way would be disclosed. Toiletries provided at hotels and the AirBnb’s were fair game, though.

The Ultralight Packing List

ultralight 3-week trip packing list

Minimalist Travel Wardrobe

Grab a free download of the outfits I wore from my minimal travel wardrobe at the end of this post.

In an ideal world, I would have packed less black. If I had known all of these items were to be on one packing list, I would have done a couple of them differently. But that’s OK. I was rarely wearing the black items without the blue Bliss Wrap over them anyway.

*This post contains some affiliate links which help keep our site running. Thank you for your support!

1 x Outer Layer, Lightweight Merino Wrap: I went with the Icebreaker Bliss Wrap, made from 150 weight merino, loose and flowy and perfect for throwing over anything else on my packing list. (I adore this wrap, btw!) Choose your outer wrap wisely as this will be the main thing people see you in on your trip. I love my blue stripe wrap, but I do think a solid color would do the double duty of dressing up easier.

2 x Tunics: Tunics are perfect for layering over leggings, and when it’s cold, they cover more of your body for extra warmth. One tunic was a cheap, older viscose top I had from H&M. It was packed for an extra clothing option, but one that I wouldn’t cry over if I had to leave it behind. The second one was the Kathmandu Saval tunic, a 195 weight merino top, which is pretty lightweight and perfect for layering. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it is still sold.

1 x Long Sleeve Top: I tried out a top by Chalkydigits made of a merino tencel blend.

1 x Tank Top: A bamboo tank from Bamboo Body. Feels great close to the skin, can worn to bed or to layer. My Bamboo Body items were provided to me for review, but I was a past customer and knew that they provide quality garments I love.

2 x Casual Tops: Two 2/3 sleeve length bamboo tops from Bamboo Body.

1 x Convertible Scarf: The Chrysalis Cardi from Encircled.

2 x Pants: I brought the uber lightweight Anatomie Skyler Pants and the Icebreaker Villa Leggings, both in black, although when I was finalizing my packing list for this trip I wished I had bought the Skyler pants in a charcoal or blue for diversity. The leggings are of 260 weight merino making them more opaque than not. Both pants are quick-drying, but the Anatomie pants are lightning quick!

>> Read my review of the Anatomie Skyler Pants, or check out some of the best travel pants for women.

2 x Bras: One nude, one sports.

4 x Underwear: One Exofficio, one merino, one bamboo, and one cotton. The Exofficio and merino were my favorites as they dried quickly.

4 x Socks: Nothing special.

1 x Buff: Headband, ear warmer, beanie in one.

Minimalist Travel Shoes

1 x Walking Shoes: I went with the Nike In Season TR 5 as my main shoe- so comfortable.

1 x Fold-up Flats: My metallic gold Tieks have been serving me well for a couple of years now. They fold up so small for my luggage.

I didn’t stay in hostels with communal dorms and showers, so I didn’t need to pack flip-flops.

The 12L Pacsafe handbag packed up and next to my travel day outfit.
The 12L Pacsafe handbag packed up and next to my travel day outfit.

Toiletries

Small Containers: Conditioner, Facial Moisturizer, Facial Wash, Dr. Bronner’s, Toner, Toothpaste, BB Cream. I used a combination of Nalgene bottles in 1 oz (30ml), 1/2 oz (15ml), and 1/4 oz (8ml) sizes, along with a contact lens case. Taking only these tiny bottles were key to keeping my toiletries minimal.

1 x Solid Shampoo Bar: Travel sized and liquid free. The best toiletries for hand luggage are solids!

1 x Toothbrush + mini floss

1 x Deodorant: I brought a full size stick with me. I prefer solid deodorants but for some reason, those are not very popular in Australia. They don’t tend to have the solid versions in the travel size section. I like to top-up my deodorant mid-flight, so I didn’t want to wait to buy it there.

1 x Dove Bar Soap: I chopped a small chunk of my normal bar off at the last minute and brought that along. It was probably a third of the size of a travel size bar you’d buy at the shops. Not really necessary at all; I just had the space for it.

1 x Diva Cup: Packing the diva cup helped me save space in my luggage.

1 x Brush + hair ties: My reliable Mason Pearson brush isn’t travel-friendly in size, but I love it.

1 x Natralus Pawpaw Ointment: Can be used on the lips in addition to soothing dry skin and burns.

3 x Aroamas Solid Perfume Sticks: Multiple fragrances that take up no space.

1 x Packet of pain pills: For headaches, etc.

1 x Tweezers

1 x Razor: Picked up a Venus Snap in Portland.

Facial Wipes: A handful of face wipes in a ziploc bag.

minimal toiletries
Minimal toiletries making use of my tiny Nalgene bottles.

Electronics

1 x Smartphone: My Samsung Galaxy S5 with Otter Box cover was used in place of a laptop and camera.

1 x myType Keyboard: The myType Keyboard makes it feel almost like I’m typing emails on a real computer and not just my phone!

1 x Earbuds + adapter for plane

1 x USB charging cable

1 x USB wall plug: Instead of packing my Australian one and US adapter, I waited until I got to the States and bought a teeny tiny US plug for $5 at Walgreens.

Using the myType Keyboard on the train.
Using the myType Keyboard on the train.

Packing Gear

1 x Pacsafe Citysafe LS200: My 12L Pacsafe handbag in Lagoon color. This was provided to me by Pacsafe for review, and beyond travel, I plan to use this when I’m toting around my laptop in Sydney.

1 x Baggallini Gold Seville Mini: A tiny day purse that fits in the packed 12L bag, but I often wore it on its own to hold cash and phone. (*FYI – I no longer recommend this specific bag. The clasps that connect the strap to the bag have come undone several times doing normal things. My bag has basically fallen off me while walking across the street. Not safe.)

1 x Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Half Cube: My new favorite packing cube, and my boyfriend agrees. Having the extra compression is perfect for trying to fit your clothes into a tight space!

1 x ChicoBag Travel Zip- Quart Size Pouch: I used this pouch for my toiletries.

1 x ChicoBag Travel Zip- Medium Pouch: I used this for my socks and underwear.

eagle creek packing cube
My Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Half Compression Cube. Contents: 2 Bamboo Tops, 1 Bamboo Tank, Anatomie pants, Long-sleeve merino top

Other

1 x Sunglasses

1 x Small Notebook and Pen

6 x Teeccino Herbal Coffee Bags: I worked hard to kick my caffeine habit, so I brought my coffee alternative with me to rotate between the occasional real thing.

Jewelry: 3 pairs of earrings, 1 bracelet, 1 ring.

Passport, Drivers License, Bank Cards, Credit Cards

brooke trip collage
Clockwise from top left: At The Bean in Chicago, the famous PDX carpet, on the Amtrak train (California Zephyr), my legs relaxing on a train to Chicago in my Villa Leggings, Vegas reunion with friends.

How does it all fit in that 12L bag?!

This video I put together shows how the magic happens.

Was the minimalist packing list sufficient?

Yes. Nothing I packed went unused, and as mentioned in the beginning of this article, I didn’t feel like I needed anything else to have a good trip- including a laptop! When the weather was cold (like when it was in the 40s F in Chicago and windy), I layered all my merino items together and covered my ears with my Buff. When the weather was warm (like in Portland when it got up to the 80s F unexpectedly), I wore my light tunic with the Anatomie pants and Tieks.

The key is layers for any minimalist packing list to work. For mine, having several layers of merino was essential. Without being able to layer my light pieces of merino together for a warmer concoction, I would have been caught out in chilly Chicago. If not packing all the merino, a fleece jacket, or something more sufficient, would have been needed.

I also had plenty of outfit choices, believe it or not. You can get a free download that shows what I wore at the end of this post. And thanks to choosing mostly a wardrobe of merino and bamboo, two fabrics that smell less, I actually had to hand-wash the big-ticket items less often (although underwear was about every other night).

In terms of toiletries, if I hadn’t used some of the conditioner at the hotels, I may have needed more than the 1oz I brought. I did end up buying some extra facial moisturizer towards the end of the trip since my skin felt so incredibly dry. I also had access to laundry detergent in the middle of the trip that I used for a couple of washes of my clothes.

Brooke at Cracker Barrell
Chillaxin’ at Cracker Barrell. No stop back in the US is complete without a country breakfast.

Would I do it again?

YES, DEFINITELY! There’s a lovely feeling about not having to check bags or wait at the baggage carousel. It’s awesome to zip in and out of airports, Ubers, and shops never having to think twice about the fact you’re still carrying all your luggage.

Although the one thing I would change is taking a 12L backpack instead of a shoulder bag. While the shoulder bag only weighed in at 8.2 pounds (or 3.7kg) and didn’t cause any pain or discomfort, I much prefer backpacks and a complete hands-free mode when traveling.

Ultralight traveling created no real drama for me on my trip. In fact, I think it caused more drama for other people who were regularly asking me where my luggage was! What it did do is free up some of that brain power that would normally be spent worrying about my luggage and packing list, not only on this trip, but on future trips as well. Once you scale back to such a minimal packing list, it resets everything.

You realize all those little things you always thought you needed in your bag, well, you don’t.

Are you inspired to travel ultralight on your next trip?

This post is just the tip of the iceberg!
If you want more details on my trip and traveling ultralight, be sure to sign up to the mailing list below. I’m putting the final touches on an in-depth guide called, “3 Weeks in a Handbag: How to Travel with Less“. We’ll be notifying you by email when it’s done!

Get My FREE Minimal Travel Wardrobe Download

A visual guide of the outfits I wore from my ultralight packing list.

Join the email list to grab your free download right now!

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Written by Brooke

Brooke Schoenman runs the show at Her Packing List. Inspired from years of travel experience, Brooke decided there needed to be a travel gear site focused on the needs of a wandering female.

Add your voice & leave a comment!

Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Tania Danilenko says

    The video seems not to be working properly and the description on YouTube isn’t complete.

  2. Roxanne Bell says

    Amazing!!! I know most of the woman here are backpackers, I enjoy going on cruises. There are times I could be more like this and not bring everything but the kitchen sink with me. Most of the time my husband and I will get laundry service on the ship and I end up where some of the same things multiple times and some never get worn. After seeing this can be done, I am definitely going to be working on downsizing my luggage. Thanks Brooke!

    • Brooke says

      So happy you found this inspiring! I would always end up wearing the same few outfits no matter what I packed, and I think once you realize that is the pattern, it’s much easier to pack less. Good luck!

  3. Be Gutierrez says

    That wrap is beautiful. I’m so impressed you were able to pull this off. So what soap did you use to wash your undies?

    I’m going to pack just a bag (although a bit larger) for my two trips in July. Great article and I loved the video. I’m totally lusting after that eagle creek compression cube now.

    • Brooke says

      I love the wrap! I had a small amount of Dr. Bronner’s that I used for hand-washing, particularly my underwear. I also had access to a washing machine and detergent in the middle of the trip that I used to give everything a good washing once or twice outside of hand-washing.

      Yes that packing cube is great! I got the set and my boyfriend used the bigger cube, compressed down, and he also said it was his favorite of all we’ve tried.

  4. Svenja says

    Nice! I’m seriously tempted to pack real tiny for our 4-week summer road trip, at least until it turns into our yearly shopping trip (that’s what always happens when we go to the US, so tempting to stock up on jeans, t-shirts and sneakers there…)

  5. Cindy says

    Impressive! I travel pretty light myself. Does the 3.7kg includes the weight of the two bags or just the contents?

    • Brooke says

      The 3.7kg was everything except for my travel day outfit (so yes, including the bags)! I made sure my little Baggallini purse was able to be packed in the Pacsafe bag, and then weighed, just to further solidify the 12L of gear point.

    • Brooke says

      Since I wasn’t staying in any communal dorms on this trip, I slept in my underwear and the bamboo tank-top on most nights. If I were staying in dorms, I would have tried to fit in a tiny pair of sleep shorts or thin leggings.

  6. Lady Light Travel says

    This is excellent! You did a great job. Now I have a new goal for myself.
    You might be interested in the Snarky Nomads technique for creating mini deodorant sticks out of big sticks.

  7. Caro says

    Really impressive! What do you do for eyeglasses (or do you just wear contacts)? Did you take spare lenses with you as well & did you buy your solution while you were on your trip?

    • Brooke says

      Hi Caro- I’m lucky and don’t require glasses or contacts, so that definitely helps. If I did need them, however, I would probably take extra lenses and a travel size bottle of solution, and then stock up on more solution at my destination. This obviously depends on the destination and how bad your eyes are (if you can handle just glasses, that’s probably easier on some trips). So if I felt I needed more solution, I might take a couple travel size bottles of solution and ditch some toiletries that could be bought at my destination. Sub out the less important things for the ones that are absolutely necessary.

  8. Shan says

    I notice you’ve given a lot of love to your Tieks. Have you tried Flipsters? They’re an Aussie startup – I have the Lily flats in red and they are super comfy and only $50!

    • Brooke says

      We were lucky with the weather, only ran into light rain a couple of times. But I didn’t pack anything for it because I could just buy an umbrella or a cheap poncho when/if I needed it. Or a rain jacket if I really needed it. Otherwise, I would have been carrying around extra gear for 3 weeks that I didn’t use!

  9. Amy Taylor-Safruk says

    Amazing!! I am completely inspired to pack much lighter my next trip. The product suggestions you made appear to be high quality pieces. I look forward to challenging myself to packing less!! Thankyou for your post.

  10. Canon says

    Sadly, I’m not someone who can go w/o a hair dryer and curling iron and makeup. My non-clothes items wouldn’t even fit in that bag. I try so hard, but I just cannot pack light. I like to look like myself rather than like I’m camping with straggly hair and no makeup. I’m not a hair in a bun and no makeup kinda girl. LOL

    • Brooke says

      Well packing this small does take sacrifice, BUT… I wanted to show what is possible with so little. I want people to see what is possible with a teeny tiny packing list. Even from this point, if you added in a small make-up kit and a travel curling iron, it’s really not much more in the scheme of things. Most hotels and many hostels these days have hair dryers 🙂 I’m sure if you gave it some real thought you could pack lighter- I’d be happy to help if you ever need it. Please drop me an email before your next trip!

    • Kristina says

      I am a diva traveler myself, but after my last two week in Europe where everyone commented on how much luggage we had, and I was embarrassed every time we took a cab, not to mention the 100 bucks I kept getting charged for the extra weight of my biggest case, I literally dumped out my suitcase at the airport half way through my trip and tossed some of the pajamas and older cosmetics and lotions I had, because I realized I was paying all that for things I cared little for in the first place and didn’t need. When I thought about what I could buy with the money… Well here I am. Like you I will not have such a small bag but like she says, the hairdryer a are everywhere, and if you are like me I bet you pack all your make up and toiletries and accessories but end up using s few up the same ones only. Forget the glitter eyeshadow and the blue lipstick, pack a little lighter each time. I like varsity with my clothes because I do day and evening activities ( I’m not a backpacker either) but I end up wearing half of what I bring, But I sure am annoyed carrying it all through the airport and waiting for our hotel room or goddess forbid the times we’ve ended up on public transportation with these mammoth cases . I think if we cut our luggage down by half we still wouldn’t miss anything. But after reading this article I will be trying a few of these products ( I never even thought of a travel size razor!) and the cubes… And as far as shoes go, that’s my worst offense, 4-5 pairs just in case, take up a whole carry-on , just because I don’t want to look like a tourist! I’m slimming down two three including my travel sneakers and my gold up flats! Thanks for the great advice!

  11. Melanie says

    How many times did you wear items of clothing until you washed them. Unless I misread, you said you only cleaned your clothes in a washer/dry once during the 3 weeks. Did you wash anything in the sink of your hotel? What did you use for detergent? How did you hang them up to dry?

    • Brooke says

      Hi Melania – It varied for each item. Socks and underwear, I only wore once! My Icebreaker Bliss wrap was only washed after Vegas when the smell of smoke permeated everything. Pants, I probably wore several times before washing. Tops maybe 3 times. I don’t think I washed my long-sleeve merino top at all.

      I washed most things in the sink using Dr. Bronner’s soap I brought along. I also had access to detergent and a washing machine in the middle of the trip. I also used regular soap to wash socks once or twice. I hand-washed almost every night at least underwear- in hotels and Airbnb’s. I hung them on hangers off of door handles, the back of chairs, etc… Wherever I could find 🙂

  12. Stephanie Be says

    This is so impressive, and I love how the simplicity of it helps streamlines traveling. Great post!

  13. Joyce says

    I am seriously impressed. This was a wonderful article and the information on the attached download was great. However I am a plus sized woman and find that no matter how small I try to pack it will always be bigger than a someone of a smaller statue. My last major trips were a 12 day cruise to Panama Canal and a 14 day trip to Alaska (cruise), Seattle and Vancouver BC using a 25″ suitcase only. I was proud of myself. This time I am am going to a 7 day cruise and 7 family visit using a carry on bag only (21 x 14 x 9). Eventually I hope to be able to pack using an even a smaller bag but I am on my way. Thank you for all the great info you have made available to us.

  14. Darla from HeartWork Organizing says

    We can totally be friends! Less luggage = less hassle. I totally agree. It’s funny that you mention you got bored of the black. I am the same. I am happy to do with fewer things in my suitcase, but I can’t bear to go too long without color. Also, I am prepping for a winter trip while it’s the dead of summer here in the US, and there are no wool sweaters to be found anywhere. Definitely need to stock up in the future on this type of garment. Since I didn’t really travel for a few years, I wasn’t thinking of my wardrobe in terms of my suitcase, but I’ll be shifting my mindset in the future.

  15. Glory Shabouk says

    If you are a laid-back- non fussy- or not poor- type then its not too hard to pack this way..I have been switching my wardrobe over to natural fibers – and find they have more longevity,layer, breath and just fit better! A low cost way is buying at thrift stores..I think if one is more high maintainance it is harder to pack small, but still doable to downsize. Bring a mini flat iron, plan on getting some product when you reach the destination. I am pretty fussy abt hair and face products, but there are so many options out there! I actually make my own whipped Shea butter that I use for face/hair/body. It is considered a solid so I carry on 8oz no prob for a month. Borrow hair products from friends that I know use nice stuff :)) or buy , and/or pack a 3 oz Travel bottle with a really good all purpose conditioner, and research the heck out of weather of my destination. I can doctor and extend my conditioner depending on the climate. Dr Bronners Baby Castile Bar is all natural- get the solid bar& use it for everything – shaving , clothes wash, face wash, fruit wash,For makeup- summertime is easy-mascara & bronzer- but I also carry my fave Anastasia brow pencilw/spooli, and my favorite lipstick.. in the US tweezers are not allowed on carryon:( so maybe plan to buy if hair grows fast? I also wax everything right before I leave and if the trip is no longer then 3 weeks I’m fine.

  16. VMert says

    This is great! I’m a very light packer myself, but was looking for more inspiration on how to streamline. I am headed to Italy in September for a few weeks. I am going to a wedding there (with 3 days of dinners), so I will need some dressier options than I would normally take on a trip. I have great clothing options, and great bags and travel gear already (I love my Eagle Creek items too!). But, with a few nicer dresses and definitely some gold wedges, my clothing will need to be VERY well planned.

    • Brooke says

      Yes indeed! Perhaps one of your nicer dresses can be something that can work on casual days, too? Have you looked into the Chrysalis Cardi?

  17. Nicole says

    Thank you for writing this! So inspiring. I am about to pack for a 3-week trip (1 in California and 2 in South Korea) and feel even more confident about my carry-on only plan. 🙂 Love this.

  18. Lucília says

    Thanks for inspiration!! I was travelling 3 weeks this summer in europe with a 20 liter backpack/8 pounds (camping gear inside included) and trying next trip (several weeks/1 month) with a messenger bag of 10 liter (hotel staying). The freedoom of movement you feel when you carry less is absolutely awesome!! PS: i dont need that much clothes, almost all merino itens and doing laundry often; my phone is enough as technology, i am simple girl :-). have a nice time!!

    • Brooke says

      I didn’t have much rain. When there was some, we simply took Ubers to where we were going and tried to hang out inside places. Otherwise I would have just bought a cheap umbrella from a corner store. Or even a poncho if necessary! But I didn’t need either, and if I’d packed them, I would have been carrying around unused things.

  19. Cami K-W says

    Thank you so much! Iʻve been geeking out on minimalist travel blogs, looking at packing lists, and I appreciate all their experience and tips, but I was tripping out on the clothing choices. Your wraps and layers, actually look not-dorky or obviously American. I will definitely be checking these options out for me next trip to America. 🙂

  20. ValerieAnne says

    Thanks for this! I always use a carry on/back pack to travel, if it doesn’t fit in it, I don’t need to take it! I don’t have any clothing strictly for travel/easy for travel though, I do need some! I usually use 1 or 2 packing cubes (different sizes) and fit everything I need/am taking within them and them put them in my bag (most of the time, I use a High Sierra Access BackPack or High Sierra 20″ Pack n Go duffle bag(if I want more than just clothing)) I usually get 5-7 cotton shirts, 2 pair of pants, undergarments (about 20 all together with all of them), a pair of PJs and all the other things non clothing related. I feel like that is too much but it’s hard to not pack that many shirts when I don’t have access to a washer/dryer and you can’t continuously wear cotton shirts since they attract smell, etc.. 🙁
    So thanks for these tips, gave me some clothing brands to check out

  21. Elizabeth says

    Great Piece! My husband and I have travelled every summer for 20 years (the last 13 with our daughter) and fit everything we need in our minivan. Sink washing is an important skill for minimalist travel! Last summer, we did 60 days across the country, including Alaska for two weeks and two formal events all in a school sized backpack each. We did pay to have my husband’s suit pressed before the events, and bought a pair of hiking boots in Colorado before Alaska (my daughter and I can now share shoes). This inspires me to go even smaller and more compact. Thanks for the tips!
    PS No bathing suit?

  22. Kate says

    Brooke, I’ve been enjoying this blog for a couple of years and my sister and I have been inspired to pare down our packing significantly. One trip to Europe with 2 large bags, 2 big carry ons and large purses made us converts. We struggle with how to pack carry0on only because of the need for a CPAP machine-it must be carried on and takes up so much room! We are going to keep trying though and thanks for all the helpful tips-our next trip is to Hawaii in 2 weeks, so we will see how it goes…

    • Brooke says

      Each trip is a learning experience! Best of luck with going carry-on on your upcoming trip! What’s the carry-on restrictions for your flight, do you know?

  23. Diana says

    Thank so much for sharing this! I typically only travel with a carry-on. But recently booked a trip on Spirit Airlines. Since they charge for carry-ons, I accepted the challenge to travel even lighter. Wow, what freedom! Now regardless of the airline/trip, going smaller and lighter is my goal. Your demo video was very helpful I will use some of your suggestions and tips!

  24. Kim says

    Thanks for a great blog! I travel extensively (30 countries, carryon only, etc.) but am always looking for ways to optimize. The more I travel, the less I like hauling stuff around. And I second any merino as the best, least smelly option. The one issue I currently have is needing to dress up (traveling for business and can’t look like I’m hiking into a meeting), so I’m checking out some of your pants recommendations! Thanks!

  25. Rochelle says

    This is great and I am really wanting to maybe try this on my next trip to the US. My only concern is customs. Do they question why you don’t have a lot of luggage for a period of time.

    • Brooke says

      Yes, I do often get questions with my small amount of luggage. I simply tell them that I pack smart and well. You could even say that you have 10 outfits worth of clothing in this bag! With a smile on your face of course 🙂

  26. Abbey says

    I am so impressed! I discovered HPL just a couple of days ago when I was looking for guides on how to find the right backpack for petite girls. I’m getting a little anxious about me and my friend’s 2-week Indochina trip (that will start this coming weekend!) because the backpack that I ended up buying can only hold 20L. Lots of what-ifs are going around in my head while I was pre-packing and it’s making me think that I chose the wrong backpack. But I found this post and you made it in three weeks with just 12L! Amazing!! My worries have calmed after reading this. You are right, anything that becomes necessary, we can just purchase them along the way. Thank you, thank you!!

  27. Kelly Bertens says

    I just took a 5 day trip to Florida in Novemeber for a wedding so everything had to be on the dressier side for clothes. But I managed to pack 4 shirts, one pair of pants, 2 padded camis, pajamas, a pair of shoes, a dress, 5 pairs of underwear, 5 pairs of shoe liners, all my toiletries (I make my own cream deo so that was in a 4oz mason jar), my Cpap machine, Ipad, phone, chargers, and my everyday purse in the free bag allowed by my airline. (16in x 14in x 12in including handles and wheels). It was great just being able to go once I landed! My goal for the next trip is to get everything in a small messenger bag.

  28. Anna says

    I love this! The more I travel the less I bring. 🙂 I read No Baggage by Clara Bensen and it challenged me to pare down even more though I don’t think I’ll go to the extreme of NO baggage at all. With overhead space on airlines becoming more limited I’ve gone from a carry-on suitcase or 35L pack to a 20L that can fit under the seat. I’m heading to Miami on Monday with a swim suit and 2 sundresses and am really excited about being a minimalist for a week!

  29. Jeannie says

    Amazing! I’m very inspired and hopeful. I’m going on a 3 week vacation this summer and just found out Allegiant charges for carry-ons. Now the trick will be to get me and my three young children packed in 3 small “personal” items. Although, I think I’m the biggest packer and since we won’t be moving around as much as you did I can purchase diapers and other toiletries when we get there. Thanks for writing this with all of the usuful photos and videos. So happy I found your site.

  30. Sarah says

    This is amazing! I’m such a bag lady when we go anywhere, I really want to try this! Will look at starting to get some of these travel friendly clothes when I’m looking to buy new pieces

  31. Donella Muzik says

    M husband and I are doing a quick 6-day “mileage run” from Vienna Austria to Costa Rica at the end of September. We have gotten quite lazy over the years with our packing, and I have become a maximalist out of a sheer lack of discipline. You’ve inspired me to figure out a plan by which we can go ultralight for our trip. Since we will be there during the rainy season, we will have some additional specialty stuff we need to bring (i.e. rain gear), and I don’t think 12L will be enough. But, I bet we can get away with 30L or less each. Easily! Your packing cube is particularly inspiring — Thanks for the video and for doing the experiment!

    • Brooke says

      You’re welcome, Donella! You can surely do the trip with 30L or less. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions along the way 🙂

  32. Angel Aranda says

    Hi Brooke. My name is Angel Aranda and I recently went on a five day trip to New York City with only a 12 liter TNF Electra day pack. I have been obsessing over your 12 liter adventure and wanted to challenge myself to do the same. Although my trip was only five days it was incredible how light and easy it was in and out of the airports, Ubers, hotel and the general getting around. I felt as if I had brought nothing at all yet I had everything i needed. It was a great experience and I am so grateful for your blog. You are an inspiration for the ultimate light travel dreamers.

  33. Val says

    I really enjoyed this, and I am very determined to really cut down when I pack. I take way too much with me when we pull our travel trailer too, and I need to simplify. Thanks for the tips.

  34. Cindy from Oregon says

    Thanks for the travel tips; I’m going to Japan for 10 days with a goal of carry-on luggage only. If you could travel with a 12l bag, I can go int’l with a 20″ suitcase.. Also, I love that you shared the PDX carpet. Seeing that carpet tells me I’m home.

  35. Jack says

    What a great article. I wish someone had written an equivalent one for men—i.e. me! But I still got a lot from your principles of packing.

    Taking clothes that all look good with each other seems to me a huge necessity. I recently visited a friend in another Province for a couple of weeks, and really put some thought into making sure that each shirt/sweater went with each pair of pants, so that I could literally pull any two things out of my (carry on) suitcase and know they looked good together. Best packing I’ve ever done 🙂

    To me, shoes are the stumbling block. More than the one pair you’re wearing and you’re sunk, as far as packing *really light goes. It obviously depends on whether you’re hiking back country or only visiting big cities, but either way I can’t seem to find shoes that are both super comfortable and which would also look good in a fancy shop or restaurant. Black runners might be OK, but they don’t strike me as dressy enough for my tastes.

    Thanks for the great ideas!

  36. Terri Delaune says

    So, first, thank you Brooke for such a well written and informative and detailed account. Best review and how to I’ve read in 5 months trying to get ready for a one week trip to England At the end of April. Here is my challenge, I’m large. I realize that some of these packing for 6 months in a single carry on is possible because the shoes and clothing are child size. I’m 5’6, 200 lbs and wear a size 10 shoe. But, I’m still looking forward to a single carry on travel case.
    Do you recommend Tieks? I am debating the purchase? I’m ordering the compression bags those will be very useful for future travels.
    Once again, thank you, I’ll look forward to the download and hopefully some information about the Tieks. Cheers

    • Margot Priest says

      Hi, I’m larger: 6ft and 11 shoe. My clothes are a bit more formal than some of these, but I find Eileen Fisher rolls up nicely and can be compressed. Ditto the layers. Good luck Enjoy the trip.

  37. Sarah says

    On your recommendation, we bought the compression cubes, same brand. I managed to fit my entire wedding dress into the smaller specter cube!! Granted it was a simpler dress, no train, but still! Great product! Thanks for the video!

  38. Sarah says

    This is amazing! Just curious, do you have a 12L backpack that you would recommend instead of the purse? I know you say in this post that you would rather use a backpack.

    Thanks!

  39. Erin says

    Thanks for sharing this! I just got back from 3 weeks in Europe with just a small carry-on and a daypack. It is really liberating to travel with less. I got really good at doing laundry in the sink at the hotel (I also had access to a washing machine halfway through-lifesaver)! Afterward I realized I could have packed less.

  40. Roseann says

    I am a lifetime traveler and am soon to be 71 years young. Over the years I have learned to be a minimalist packer. Three years ago I traveled independently to Iceland, all the Scandinavian countries, and Estonia for almost three weeks with only a backpack. One secret I have learned is to take and wear clothes, shoes, and ,makeup that I can discard along the way. I start out with a full backpack and end up returning home much lighter (even after a few small souvenirs are added to the pack). You can purchase anything you may actually need along the way in most countries so my rule of thumb is don’t take it unless you can dispose of it or use it up along the way.

  41. Beth says

    I am allergic to any kind of animal fur and hair. I am unable to “do” merino. DO you have any suggestions for “packable” pants that are light weigh (Chico’s Zenergy is my fallback). I don’ like tradional travelers weight items. I will be in Greece in May and will need hot weather clothes

  42. Aleksandra says

    I can nad I do pack light, because I always travel with my carry on. But thanks to your post I just realize that I could easily dress my self for 3 or even 4 weeks with what I’m usually packing. I follow the rule of interchangeable wardrobe. So basicly whatever I pull out of my bag it will always match and make a great outfit. Amazing and inspiring post!

  43. Nanette K Lamb says

    I adore the concept of the Icebreaker Bliss wrap, because of the length AND the merino wool fabric AND the various ways it can be worn because of the shoulder button and the waist sash, etc. BUT, they don’t make it anymore! I have looked everywhere! The only ones I see still available are in a small size in the grapefruit color, which isn’t versatile enough for me plus it’s not my size.

    Have you seen anything that you like that has the same versatility and length made of Merino wool, as an alternative to the Icebreaker Bliss.

    • Brooke says

      No I haven’t, and trust me, I’m super heartbroken about this! This is my favorite piece of merino wool clothing that I own. I have a black Bliss wrap that I have been wearing for a few years now. I will keep searching for a suitable replacement and let you know 🙂

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