Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)
“Where’s your luggage?”
“That’s all I got.”
This is always how it begins. This is always how Israeli security officers in Ben-Gurion airport respond when they see me – sometimes with a tiny backpack, sometimes completely bagless – flying abroad. And I then have to disarm suspicions and convince them that I am neither a lunatic nor a terrorist. They become excited by the idea, so I send them to this page.
What’s this page, you’re asking?
It is your travel guide to serendipity, freedom, and joy of life.
You see, for the past few years, I’ve traveled the world almost nonstop thanks to my online money-making machine. One of the first things I noticed was how much of an impact your belongings have on the joy of your trip. I quickly realized that minimalism is truly a privilege of the rich. Those gurus weren’t lying. So I started to minimize my belongings, trying to carefully sculpture my travel gear to a point where it offers maximum comfort and peace of mind. The result?
After plenty of field testing and 40 countries later, I’ve managed to refine and squeeze my gear to a point where I don’t even need a backpack anymore. I call this No Bags Travel. If I do carry a laptop for work, I only use a tiny bag. But regardless, I am always as mobile as a bird.
Minimalist Travel = Simplifying Life
It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer. (William of Occam, 1288-1348)
Know the classic “backpacker” look? You know what I’m talking about. Those colorful bracelets all over their arms, that massive Lonely Planet in their hands, and that huge NASA rocket harnessed on their backs. “Luggage” they call it. But what the hell do they fill it with? To me, that’s insanity. Back in the Israeli army, I had the fetid privilege of spending months in the harsh desert. And Father Hummus be my witness, neither myself nor my fellows ever carried so much “luggage”.
The joke becomes even more ridiculous when I prove to travelers how better equipped I am. They can’t believe it at first. How can this guy carry dozens of pounds less than us, and still be ready for anything? The “secret” is elegantly simple: You only wear one set of clothes at any given time, so why not maximize the efficiency of this set and ditch the rest? Why not pick something that never stinks, barely needs laundry, and looks great?
Less is indeed more. And this is what this guide is for.
Benefits of Traveling Light
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. (Henry David Thoreau, 1817 – 1862)
- Less frustration and wasted time. You won’t have to wait at the airport for your luggage, or worse, become frustrated when you lose it (more common than you think). Going on and off airports will go blazingly fast.
- Cheaper flight fares. Most low-cost airlines charge additional money for anything more than a tiny handbag. Under my philosophy, you’ll either go bagless or with a tiny backpack that fits low-cost airlines onboard luggage policies. In other words, you’ll save money. (Related: How to Find Cheap Flight Tickets)
- Flexibility and comfort. You won’t have to waste time, energy and worries carrying or finding somewhere to accommodate your luggage whenever you want to go somewhere. You’ll have less back pain and be less exhausted. You’ll do MUCH less laundry. Traveling light is beauty. It allows you to jump on opportunities as they come. Serendipity will find you. This, my friends, is total freedom. Stick to the golden rule of travel: What doesn’t help you, hurts you.
- Better merge with the local culture. There is some degree of disrespect when you come all the way to a third-world nation and look like a walking spaceship from the West. This is also the reason why I never carry a big DSLR, and settle on something more modest in size. Because of this, you’ll be more inviting and attract more interactions with the locals.
- Less risk. Because you’ll be traveling with minimum gear, you won’t look like the average tourist. Vendors will be less likely to rip you off you because you’ll look more like an expat. More importantly, malicious people will be less likely to rob you because you’ll look like you don’t posess much. (Related: Best Way to Take Money Abroad and Avoid Being Robbed)
- You just don’t need more. I give you my word. Cyril Northcote Parkinson was known for his disrespect to the lack of human efficiency at managing resources. His ‘Parkinson’s Law’ suggests that “work expands so as to fill the time available to its completion”. Likewise, luggage expands so as to fill the bag available to its storage. Your boss gives you eight hours to complete a task and it’s going to take you eight hours to complete it. But if he tells you you’re free to go home if you finish it in two hours, I bet you’ll find a way. Likewise, no matter what size of bag you take, you’ll always have the tendency to fill it up.
- You begin to appreciate simplicity. Before embarking on my first long minimalist trip abroad, I had given my entire wardrobe to charity. I won’t lie, giving everything away did itch. But it was a great lesson, a reminder of the enormous amounts of trash that the human race accumulates. And shortly after, I learned a refreshing lesson: An unnecessary item you owned quickly loses its meaning once gone. You forget it ever existed. When you travel without physical burdens, I find that you’re more aware and focused on the world itself.
Minimalist Travel Gear Packing List
You are not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. (Fight Club)
Again, my philosophy isn’t to stick like a dog and stride the travel road like a barefoot hippy. I recommend being efficient. You want to gear up intelligently. We’re going to carry only a few items, so it’s extra important to make the right choices and make sure we’re as efficient as possible. Our hero:
The most blatant mistake I see on the travel trail is the fabric of choice. Most travelers travel with either cotton or synthetic ‘special travel gear’. The latter may dry quickly and wick sweat away, but it stinks like a mofo. The former not only stinks, but it gets sweaty, takes ages to dry, and doesn’t regulate body temperature properly. So our savior is going to be wool.
- Doesn’t stink. Wool is naturally anti-microbial and odor-resistant. And it quickly evaporates sweat into the air. That means you’ll rarely have to wash it. You can go weeks with a single shirt and a single short. When you do wash it, it’s going to be because of food stains and not the stink of sweat.
- Properly regulates body temperature. Wool is both naturally breathable and insulating. This means it excels in both keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. And again, it quickly evaporates sweat which is important in all seasons.
- Dries incredibly fast. This feels like having a superpower. If you’re caught under tropical rain with wool, you’ll be dry again before you know it. If you wear cotton… good luck.
- Doesn’t wrinkle. Wool is naturally resistant to wrinkles because of its fibers’ structure.
We are specifically going to use New Zealand merino wool. You can use Cashmere too if you want. Or any type of wool really. I use Merino. It’s an extremely soft type of wool, and it doesn’t itch like those sweaters your grandma knitted for you when you were a child. So without further ado, let’s go.
Travel Gear: Minimalist Packing List (Updated, 2015)
The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less. (Socrates, 469-399BC)
These shirts are expensive, yes, but they’re worth every penny. How much is your freedom worth to you? As I said, you’ll rarely have to do laundry, so you only have to go with one. Originally, I was traveling with Icebreaker BodyFit 150. It was great. But it was stolen from me recently, so I replaced it with an amazing Wool & Prince polo. They also have a beautiful button-down version, which looks so good I’d wear it even to my friends’ weddings.
If you don’t give a shit about visuals, you’re good to go with any shirt that’s 100% wool. It’s the only shirt you’ll ever need. Guaranteed. Whatever you choose, wear them for a couple of days straight, and then do the same with cotton. Smell it? The difference in aroma is huge.
Pants: Wool&Prince Wool Shorts / Anything From Wool
On my first trips, I used a bushed nylon convertible travel pants. The problem was that the smell difference between them and my wool shirt was very noticeable. So luckily, Wool&Prince lately came up with their wool shorts, which I now use. I’m not sure it’s available anymore, because I can’t see it on their site. My advice: If their shorts aren’t available, go on eBay and hunt for any shorts/jeans made out of wool. They’re very rare, so good luck. If you can’t find anything wooly, just go with convertible brushed nylon trousers, or any swimming/surfing shorts with pockets. Jeans can also work well, because they’re sturdy, and sweating isn’t much of a problem in the lower body for most people.
P.S: I highly recommend stitching an internal pocket to safely keep your money and credit card. That’s the best way to take money abroad.
I used to wear the famous ExOfficio Give N’ Go briefs, but I moved entirely to wool now. The reason? ExOfficio took more time to dry than my shirt. I now use a pair of Minus33, which I’m very satisfied with. For those of you prone to chaffing, I recommend minimizing rubbing by going with the boxers version.
If the idea of wearing one underwear is repellent to you, you can pack two and alternate between them. Wear one while you wash the other.
Those are the most amazing footwear I’ve ever worn. Humans have evolved to walk, run, sprint, jump and climb barefoot, right? Those shoes works with our nature instead of against it, like most shoes today. Modern shoes ‘heel strike’ the ground first, badly impacting your posterior chain (Your back!). When you’re barefoot (or practically-barefoot, like with the huaraches), the ball of your feet lands first, providing a natural shock absorb.
If you notice, they’re both very similar. Both are a modern take on the ‘huaraches’, the traditional sandals of the Mexican Tarahumara. And both keep this natural functionality of our human foot while still providing protection from modern things like broken glass and pollution.
And they’re perfect for travel. They give your feet a lot more ‘air to breath’, minimizing chances for fungi to develop on your nails. This usually happens in moist, dark environments, like closed shoes. Also, your feet and fingers have more room to spread, allowing you to embrace a stronger grip, non-trapped. Also, they’re very cool. People constantly commend on them and strike a conversation.
I previously wrote a Xero Shoes review, and the benefits also apply to Earth Runners. If you’re going somewhere cold, you can either buy wool socks for them. If that looks too dorky for you, get a pair of closed barefoot shoes/boots. In winter, I just use flat-soled leather moccasins with wool socks.
Should you get the Xero Shoes or Earth Runners? I’ve tried them both and they’re all great. The Xero Shoes are lighter, the Earth Runners feel more solid. For my last trip, I took the EarthRunners Circadian.
P.S: If you have small children, let them wear those shoes from a young age. When I was traveling Cambodia, I had the privilege of witnessing the Pounongs in the Khmer mountains. Many of them grew barefoot, and they feet were very wide, strong and healthy. Modern shoes hinder feet development.
Camera (optional): Sony RX-100 III
I love photography, but I never travel with big DSLRs. They’re heavy, clumsy and make you stand out like a sore thumb. If you’re a National Geographic photographer out for a photography venture, I can understand a DSLR. But if you’re just a photography enthusiast in no need of crazy zooms, the new Sony RX-100 III is perfect. Sony came up with this technology recently, and it’s an absolute breakthrough. It lets you take DSLR-like quality photos in a camera the size of a tiny compact. It will blow your mind. If it’s too expensive for you, check out the Sony RX-100, and Sony RX-100 II. They’re still great. However, if you only care about uploading your photos to Facebook and Instagram, any new iPhone/Android will probably suffice.
Smartphone (optional): Any
On didn’t use a smartphone on my first trips. I now do (sometimes). It’s like a super-device. You can use it to book flights and train tickets, read books, log your workouts, dives, vaccines, etc. You can use it as a clock. You can use it for music, maps or Skype. You can manage your business from the road. You can easily get online without unpacking a clumsy laptop. You can store ideas and notes whenever luck strikes you. And if the camera quality is enough for you, you just saved yourself the space of a separate camera. Met a cute local chick or a bunch of new friends? Get their phone numbers and use a local SIM to keep in contact. Smartphones are very powerful.
HOWEVER, the easiest way to ruin your travel is to constantly check your emails, browse Facebook and get a false sense of home. It can bring back old habits and really lower the overall sense of adventure from your trip. Unless you’re a digital nomad abroad 365 days a year, I recommend using your phone on airplane mode most of the time. And never take it with an international SIM. Self-discipline is overrated. If you have a separate camera, you might not need a phone at all.
What causes sweat to stink is not the sweat itself, but your underarm bacteria. Regular anti-perspiration deodorants are dangerous, toxic and leave disgusting stains on your clothes. The solution is either baking soda or Potassium Alum, a crystal stone. Both of them prevent bacterias from growing. Baking Soda is lighter and a bit more messy, Potassium Alum is more comfy to apply but weighs more. If you go with the stone, careful not to take Ammonium Alum instead. Ammonium is the synthetic one, and it seems to be less effective. For my last trip I took baking soda. Other times I just went caveman and used nothing.
Towel (optional): MSR PackTowl Ultralite
This towel is beyond amazing. It’s so thin and tiny it can easily fits your pockets. And it’s so effective that before I lost it, I was using it back home too. I let my sister have it in her first few weeks in the army, and she was shocked when she took a shower, dried herself, hung the towel on a clothesline, went to buy something from her base’s groceries store, and came back less than ten minutes later to find the towel COMPLETELY dry.
The sizes are really small, so take either L or XL. Personally, I no longer use them. Most places that I stay in have towels. If I’m in showering in the wilderness, I shake myself like a wet dog and let the sun dry me off. Had I gone to a long trip in the wild, I’d definitely carry an MSR PackTowl.
Flashlight (optional): Fenix LD01
I used to carry this flashlight in South East Asia. It’s great. The weight:power ratio is amazing. Our elite police units in Israel use Fenix too. They’re sturdy, reliable, powerful and waterproof. They’re very useful in blackouts, remote islands, and jungles. That being said, I no longer use one. It was stolen from me and I didn’t bother to get a replacement. I just use my smartphone as a flashlight today.
Whistle (optional): FOX40 Safety Whistle
Taxi running away? Lost your friends in the middle of the jungle? Macaque monkeys threatening you in a cave? Diving boat left you and you’re now lost in the ocean? Fox40 to your rescue. It’s the crème de la crème of safety whistles, a high-pitche bastards in a tiny package. Who knows? It might just save your life one day. Personally, I no longer bother to take one.
Though it doesn’t smell as good as regular soaps, Dr. Bronner magic soap is interesting. It contains only plant based, organic substances, and you can use it for almost anything (“All In One”). Also, it’s so concentrated you can use a droplet or two for a shower. It lasts for ages. If you take it, use a GoToob to store it. It’s a small silicon container for liquids that seals the content from leaking all over your clothes. Personally? I no longer use it. Most places supply soap bars, and my head is shaven so shampoo is not needed.
eReader (optional): Kindle Voyage
Ever since I got my first Kindle, I’ve never touched a physical book again. The Kindle is absolutely amazing, and even more so for travel. It lets you carry thousands of books in your pocket while weighing less than a paperback. And since books delivery is instant, you can read a lot more books per year.
What’s more amazing is that the Kindle lasts for weeks on a single charge. I took it to the Caucasus for a month, read almost every day, and didn’t even bring a charger. Also, reading on the Kindle feels much like reading from paper. Thanks to their e-ink technology, you can easily read under direct sunlight with zero glare. It also has built-in light, so you don’t need a lamp if you read before sleep. And the device shuts itself down after a few minutes of inactivity, so you’ll never fall asleep with the lights on. Also, your eyes won’t strain because the light shoots front to back.
More benefits? You can take notes and highlights and comfortably retrieve them in your Amazon account online. There’s a built in vocabulary. You can change text size (useful if your vision isn’t great). The books are stored in the cloud, so if you ever lose your Kindle they’re safe. Why not just get a tablet? First, their batteries suck. Second, their backlit screens are uncomfortable for long reading sessions. And third, there are too many distractions on them. The Kindle eliminates social media and other crap and lets you get soaked into your reading. It’s awesome.
I usually carry my Kindle for long vagabonding trips (along with my laptop). For shorter ones where I’d just like to ‘unplug’, I won’t take it. Also, if you already have a big smartphone and don’t read much, this could also perfectly fit. If you do take the Kindle, I recommend the cheapest Voyage version (Wifi-only, With Special Offers). The special offers don’t bother AT ALL, and wifi is enough for buying books.
Headgear (optional): Wool Buff
This thing is AMAZING. I mostly use it to cover my eyes in flights, defend myself against mosquitos in jungle areas, and warm my head against windy and cold climates (balaclava style). It can also work as a scarf or a warmer for your ears. Or as protection from the sun. If I go on long vagabonds, I’ll always take it.
For the vast, vast majority of people, I do NOT recommend taking a laptop on your trips. It is completely unnecessary. I only bring it whenever I go on very long vagabonds where I relocate for a long period and plan to do some work. If you’re not a writer, a ‘digital nomad’, or a business owner relocating – you’ll do yourself a great favor by not taking a laptop at all.
I like to see my trips as ‘unplugged’ time. If you still need a machine, I highly recommend the new Macbook if you’re a writer. It’s thin, light, has a huge battery, and has a huge resolution (2304×1440) which is the most important factor for productivity. If you need more power (editing videos?), take the Macbook Pro Retina. If you’re a devout anti-Apple zealot, just take a thin, light Windows machine with a similar resolution.
I used to own Windows machines, but I now use Apple exclusively because of its operation system and sealed ecosystem. It gives me safety, speed, ease of use and reliability over bloatware, viruses and blue screens.
Bag (optional): Tom Bihn Synapse 19
Again, you do NOT need a bag if you don’t need a laptop. All the above gear, except for the laptop, can easily fit your pockets. If I go on short, 1-2 months ‘unplugged’ respites, I’ll never take a bag. But whenever I relocate for a while, my weapon of choice is the brilliant Tom Bihn Synapse 19. If you decide to take it, go on and take an extra shirt and undies. You’ll have plenty of empty space anyway
I mostly travel to tropical or warm areas. This is all enough for those regions. But if you plan to go to Iceland or something, you’ll want two more layers on top. One is an insulating layer. You can use any fleece or down jacket. If the cold isn’t extreme, you can just use a merino wool sweater. Also pack a Marmot windbreaker if it’s going to be extremely rainy/snowy/windy. Though expensive, they’re very effective and lightweight. Notice that you still don’t need a bag, even with this extra gear.
THAT’S EVERYTHING?! IS THIS ALL YOUR TRAVEL GEAR?!
Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. (Confucius, 551-479 BC)
Yep, that’s about it. Add a small toothbrush and some toothpaste and you’re gold. For my last packing, for an unplugged month in Ethiopia, I packed only 1x merino wool shirt, shorts and undies, and took a smartphone (with no internet, of course) to use as a camera and note keeper. Everything fit my pockets. No need for either a bag or vest.
But Regev! What about a Lonely Planet?!
I’ve never in my life used a travel guidebook. This kind of books brings you into a passive mode. Instead of approaching people, interacting with your environment, and building your own ‘legend’, you’ll find yourself following a book. The problem is not the book, but that the places listed there quickly become flooded with tourism. Go out there, explore, and your unique path will mold itself organically. Nothing feels more refreshing than being the only foreigner in a far-away land.
But Regev! Am I going to wear the same thing every day?!
Yep! Know what’s cool? Nobody’s going to notice. People are so busy with their own appearance that they never remember what someone else was wearing the previous day. Once you detach your ego from your belongings, everything else becomes just a little bit easier. Also, a positive side effect is that people appreciate you more once you explain to them the philosophy behind your minimalist travel gear.
The Minimalist Travel Approach Is Now Yours to Enjoy
I also have in mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.
Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
That’s it. You now have in your disposal the only minimalist packing list you’ll ever need. Go out, use it, and enjoy freedom. I wish you the safest of travels.