Minimalist packing tips: how to travel like a minimalist
Parenting & Family,  Traveling

Minimalist Packing Tips: How to Travel Like a Minimalist

Minimalist Guide to Family Vacations: How I pack my family of 5 in one carry-on for 5 days

Do you always struggle with packing? How many bags do you really need? How many shoes do you really need?? Do you feel overwhelmed by the number of things you have to unpack at your destination and repack when the vacation is over? You need a minimalist guide to packing for family vacations!

Spring break is right around the corner and that means families everywhere will be packing up and hitting the open road. Or sky!

The best way to take a big chunk of stress out of travel is to employ minimalist packing tips. 

The fewer things you bring…

  • The less clutter you have
  • The less you have anxiety over forgetting
  • The less you have to wash when you return home
  • The less you have to haul through the airport or train station

I call that a win-win-win-win!

So let’s keep our family vacations organized, stress-free, and fun with these minimalist packing tips.

Need inspiration for packing your kid’s travel bag? Check out my post here!

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. I only link to products I have personally used or researched. 

(Click on the pictures below to be taken to Amazon)

Set a limit

Minimalist packing tip number one is to set a limit. Luckily, with packing, we are already doing this naturally by choosing our suitcase. Keep in mind how many people’s things you need to fit into the suitcase and this can help determine what size suitcase you need. 

For our family trips, we take one carry-on suitcase for our family of five for five days or less. If we travel for more than five days or need extra gear (winter, camping, etc), we take one regular-sized suitcase for our family of five.

If you don’t believe me, just keep reading to see how I pack our family of five in one carry-on suitcase!

It’s really easy to set limits when you want to pack like a minimalist. First, choose your suitcase or carry-on. That is your limit. That’s all the space you have so whatever you need to bring needs to fit into that suitcase. 

I use a pretty standard rolling luggage set, nothing fancy. I also can’t find it anymore because it’s over 10 years old. Here is what Amazon recommends if you’re in need:



Best-selling set

Now, you may also wish to bring a backpack or personal item if you are traveling by airplane and you can get away with a little bit more if you plan to do that.

For example, we pack all of our family’s clothes and shoes into our one carry-on suitcase, and then any extras such as toiletries or electronics go into our backpacks or personal items. The same goes for kid’s toys, coloring, and travel activities.

For tips on traveling with baby gear, click here!

My favorite travel backpack

This one comes with a few packing cubes and I love that it feels like a suitcase when you open it up, but you wear it like a backpack. When we do quick trips, this is the only thing I bring and it is so freeing!

Use tools 

Minimalist packing tip number two is to use tools. Travel tools can help you pack lighter, smarter, or more condensed. Use packing cubes, packable jackets, packable bags, and collapsible items to save space. 

Packing cubes

Packing cubes are a lifesaver. Not only do they help set an additional limit for family members to stick to, but they also compress items and make things fit more neatly in your suitcase or carry-on. 

This is also a great way to keep things organized when you’re traveling with multiple people. For example, all of our packing cubes are different colors. Therefore, it is easy to spot which packing cube belongs to which person if we need something quickly.

Family of 5 in one carry-on

These are the ones we have:

Packable jackets

“Packable” just means that something can fold down or into itself for easy storage and convenience.  

Packable jackets are perfect for when you need an additional layer during your travels. Sometimes you’re leaving a cold and windy 40-degree home to travel to a pleasant 75 and sunny vacation. You won’t need a coat once you get there, but having a layer for traveling to and from home will make everyone much more comfortable.  

My kids and I each have a packable jacket that can pack up to the size of a small clutch. It can be compressed even further when it’s nestled in a packing cube or put into a zippered part of the suitcase. 

These are some packable jacket examples. You can see in the image how they fold into those little bags. Great for travel!

Adult packable jacket

Kid’s packable jacket

Packable bags

Another lifesaver that I recommend is a packable hiking day pack. This comes in handy for so many things – it’s not only for hiking! 

My kids are older and we don’t need diaper bags anymore, but there are always necessities to carry with us when we’re out and about, especially when we’re going on longer day trips. 

Bigger backpacks or tote bags can be too bulky to pack in your suitcase when you’re packing like a minimalist, so I highly recommend these daypacks that fold down super teeny-tiny. They are lightweight and easy to throw into a pocket to pull out later if needed. 

Of course, we’ve also used them on hiking trips to carry smaller items like water bottles and snacks. These are great for trips to the zoo, exploring a new downtown area, carrying a few restaurant “distraction activities” for the kiddos, and much more.

This is my go-to bag I bring everywhere

 Reduce your toiletries

I don’t know about you, but it seems like toiletries take up major space in suitcases and travel bags. Even if you are purchasing travel-sized toiletries, smaller, bulky tubes are still bulky tubes. 

I’ve found over the years that solids travel better and take up less space than liquids. 

If you can get a shampoo and conditioner bar as well as a bar of soap, these will travel better and take up less space in your toiletry bag than three, 3 oz bottles.  

(Not to mention, no accidental sticky spills all over the rest of your toiletry bag!)

Shampoo & Conditioner Travel Bars

These ones come with travel cases that will last forever.

This is another option for travel, without the containers

Another thing I recommend as a minimalist traveler is not to bring shampoo, conditioner, and soap at all if you know you’re going to be staying in a hotel that provides toiletries. 

I know we all have our favorites, but to me, it’s worth it to use a hotel’s products than to bring my own for the few days we’re going to be there. I’m all for a lighter, less cluttered toiletry bag!


I’ve always been intrigued by SubtlBeauty makeup brand. But since I stopped wearing makeup, I have had no reason to try it! I love that it is cruelty-free, vegan, paraben-free, and fragrance-free. The stacks are customizable, too. They are great for travel because they are compact and liquid-free. If anyone tries it, let me know! I’d love to get your opinion.

Visit them here

What about shoes?

Shoes are a big deal when packing. Literally: they are big. They take up so much space in a suitcase that it’s important to be purposeful with them. Do not bring shoes if you’re not 100% sure you are going to use them. 

Another space-saving tip: Always wear your bulkiest shoes on the airplane or however you’re traveling and pack your smallest, or most collapsible shoes into your suitcase or carry-on.  

Overall, don’t pack 2 when 1 will do.

Baby or Kid Gear

Less is more. Always. There are so many logistics that go into traveling with kids. I will have another post coming on this topic. But here is an example of what it looked like when we traveled and the twins were still in car seats – we would attach them to our carry-on and plow through the airport!

Traveling with car seats

Read more on traveling with baby gear here!

Here is a quick rundown of what we pack and where.

Carry-on suitcase: 

  • Five packing cubes, each one with a different person‘s clothes
  • Anything extra that fits in such as kid’s toys or stuffed animals can go in these cubes (usually the kids’ cubes are only half-filled because their clothes are so small)
  • Packing cubes get lined up vertically in our carry-on, and any extra shoes get pushed into the spaces above or below them that would otherwise be wasted


  • In the adult backpacks or our personal items, we carry any electronics we may need including kindles, iPads, headphones, etc. We also have snacks and toiletries in our personal items
  • The kids are responsible for packing their backpacks. We provide their water bottles and snacks and they each pick the rest of their activities to fill their bags. This usually includes a toy, coloring books, and maybe some Play-Doh or legos. Here’s my full post on my minimalist kid’s travel bag.
Minimalist guide to family vacations

Minimalist packing tips

To recap, if you want to pack like a minimalist, set limits for yourself, utilize tools that help you pack smarter, and remember less is best. Now go enjoy your clutter-free hotel room and have some stress-free family vacation fun!

I’ve got more travel posts coming up! Make sure you subscribe to my weekly blog updates so you don’t miss out!

You may also like:

Traveling with Kids: How to Pack your Child’s Travel Bag in 5 Steps
How to Pack: Mom’s Minimalist Travel Backpack
Traveling with Kids: How to Travel with Baby Gear
How to Survive Summer Break with Kids
The Best Parenting Books for People with Little Kids
The Ultimate Guide to a Slightly Unhinged Grocery Shopping Plan
Why I Quit Makeup and How to do a Makeup Detox


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