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Minimalist Travel Packing List for a Big Family

Overpacking. We all do it! But packing light is a smart thing to do for lots of reasons. Today I’ll share with you my minimalist travel packing list to help make your next trip easy and breezy!

Minimalist Packing List

Our family of six traveled full-time for four whole years. During the first three years, we road tripped all across the United States in our mini-van. To prepare, we sold our house and got rid of a lot of our things. Everything we wanted to keep was stored in a 10’x10′ storage unit, and a very precious few things came with us!

For our last year of travel, we backpacked across Europe. So we had to downsize even more. A lot more! We knew we’d have plenty of times between stays when everything we had with us had to be carried in one backpack on our own back, so that was motivation to pack very light.

Backpacking through Europe

Whether you’re headed out on a year-long trip around the world or going away for the weekend, you’ll find that you need mostly the same travel essentials! Then, your destination, the time of year, the activities you plan to do, and any unique personal situations will inform your final choices of what to bring.

What should I pack for minimalist travel?

Before packing, there are some questions you have to answer about your travel plans. Your answers to these questions will give you a clear path as you’re deciding what to bring along.

Packing Questionnaire

  1. How many days will I be gone? This is probably how many outfits you’ll need.
  2. Will I do laundry while I’m away? If so, you can probably cut your number of outfits in half.
  3. Will I need more than one outfit per day?
  4. What will the weather be like at my destination?
  5. Will I need any kind of special clothing (swimsuit, formalwear, footwear, etc.)?
  6. Will I need to work or take care of any business while I’m gone?
  7. What electronics (and associated accessories) will I need?
  8. Is there anything I’ll need while traveling (like a passport or an external phone battery)?
  9. Is there anything I’ll need while I’m at my destination (like a universal plug adaptor)?
  10. Will I be participating in any activities that require special gear?
  11. Do I plan to bring home new items like souvenirs or gifts?
  12. What items do I use every day that I should bring (like daily medication, reading glasses, etc.)?

How to pack light for any trip

My best tip for packing light is simple: clothes and screens.

You need clothes for obvious reasons, and these days we all use screens for most of our daily activities: work, school, communication, directions, shopping, taking pictures, entertainment, etc.

What clothes to pack for minimalist travel

Plan for one outfit per day, unless you plan to do laundry. If you can do laundry twice a week, you can get away with just 3–4 outfits. Some items, like a sturdy pair of jeans, can probably be worn twice before needing to be washed, so maybe you can pair four tops with just three bottoms.

Pack clothes that are wrinkle-free. Nobody likes wrinkled clothes, and nobody likes to iron either! Make it easy on yourself and buy fabrics that look good right out of your luggage.

Pack clothes that are versatile. It’s very smart to choose items that can be worn in more than one way. For example, a versatile dress might work great during the day with a pair of white sneakers but can be dressed up in the evening with a pair of black flats. A plain black tank might work with jeans, khaki shorts, dress pants, and a colorful skirt.

Kids one bag packing
Kids’ clothes for their one bag

What electronics to pack for minimalist travel

If you’ll be working while traveling, you may have to bring your laptop. If not, can you get away with a smaller tablet? What about just your phone? Do you need to bring a hard copy of a book, or can you just use the Kindle app while you’re traveling?

Whatever you decide must come along, be sure to bring any accessories, especially the right chargers!

What else to pack for minimalist travel

Okay, you’ve got your clothes and screens…what else? Probably not a lot. If you take special medicine, bring that. Ladies will probably want to bring make-up, but just bring the basics!

You can bring toiletries along if you’d like, but a lot of hotels and Airbnbs will supply the basics like shampoo, conditioner, soap, and even toothpaste — or you can just buy them when you arrive.

Bring your ID, some money, credit cards, debit cards, and probably your purse or wallet to carry those things (the smaller the better!). Other essentials for me include sunglasses and earphones.

Mom's minimalist packing list
What I pack in my one bag

One Bag Travel Tips

A good way to be a minimalist packer is to allow yourself one bag. And if it’s a backpack, versus the biggest piece of luggage you can find, even better! You can carry everything you need on your back. Sometimes this is called “one bag travel”.

Our family of six traveled all across Europe for 10 months with one backpack each. Here are our top tips for traveling with just one bag each:

  • Bring 4–5 outfits and plan to do laundry twice a week
  • Dress in layers so you can bring extra clothes without weighing down your bag
  • Pay attention not only to carry-on bag dimension requirements but also weight requirements
  • Get a travel backpack that has straps for carrying on your back, but can also zip up the straps for easy plane travel
  • Bring clothes that are versatile and can be mixed and matched
  • Consider having one pair of jeans count for two outfits and save some space
  • Buy clothes in lightweight, wrinkle-free fabrics
  • Consider buying clothes, toiletries, and other supplies when you get there rather than bringing them
  • Buy toys at a thrift store when you get to a location and re-donate them when you leave
  • Pack a foldable backpack in case you need some extra space for items on your way home
  • Make a laminated card for each backpack with a list of everything that should be in there — this will make it easier for kids to do their own packing and to make sure you have everything when you head to a new location or head home
  • Packing cubes can be great for organizing and keeping clothes compact
  • Microfiber towels fold very flat and are lightweight — they can be used for beach towels too!
Backpacking through Europe with kids

Minimalist Travel Packing List for a Big Family

Here’s our minimalist travel packing list for a big family that works for nearly all trips — short-term, long-term, even indefinite! Below the list, you’ll find some additional items that you might want to consider bringing for certain climates, time of year, or special situations.

One Bag Packing List

Everyone Wears:

  • 1 full outfit
  • 1 jacket, sweatshirt, or hoodie
  • 1 pair of sneakers

Adults Pack:

  • Laptop & cord (or tablet & cord), if necessary
  • Phone & charger
  • Earphones or headphones
  • Wallet or small purse
  • Packing cubes with clothes inside
  • 3–4 full outfits (including 3–4 pairs of socks & 3–4 pairs of underwear)
  • 1 set of PJs
  • 1 microfiber towel
  • Toiletry bag with toothbrush, hairbrush, medicines, deodorant, makeup
  • Passports & important papers
  • Plug adaptors (if traveling internationally)
  • Wet wipes

Kids Pack:

  • Laptop & cord (or tablet & cord), if necessary
  • Earphones or headphones
  • Packing cubes with clothes inside
  • 3–4 full outfits (including 3–4 pairs of socks & 3–4 pairs of underwear)
  • 1 set of PJs
  • 1 microfiber towel
  • Toiletry bag with toothbrush, hairbrush, deodorant

Additional optional items:

  • Foldable extra backpack
  • Mesh laundry bag
  • First aid kit
  • Reading books, activity books, or notebooks & pens
  • Umbrella
  • Sunglasses
  • Swimsuits
  • Extra shoes (sandals, dress shoes, flip flops)
  • Small toys / stuffed animals

Cold vs warm locations

There’s no way around it — warm locations allow you to pack lighter because the clothing you’ll need is smaller and lighter. You can pack shorts, t-shirts, and lightweight shoes. If you’re headed for a colder climate, you may have to pack sweaters and long pants, in heavier fabrics.

Try to double-up on clothing usage whenever possible — can you get away with just a sweatshirt to stay comfy indoors and warm outside? Can your thermal undergarments double as PJs? Can your workout wear double as loungewear?

Domestic vs international destinations

When traveling internationally, you’ll have to bring your passport, any other required travel documents (check visa requirements), and universal or country-specific plug adaptors. You’ll likely be flying, so you’ll want to make sure to pack extra light and be aware of any luggage restrictions or extra costs.

Quick-dry fabrics are great to prioritize when packing for overseas, as dryers are much more of a rarity in homes than in America, and it’s not always convenient to go to a laundromat.

If you’re traveling in your home country and getting around by car, you have way more flexibility to bring more things with you, just because you have more space and won’t have to carry everything on your back. It’s still a good idea to pack light and have less to worry about!

Seasons & holidays

We already talked about packing for different climates, but don’t forget that different seasons can vary in temperature in different places around the world. Headed to Australia in December? You won’t need that winter jacket! And while England gets cold in the winter, it pales in comparison to Canada where you could be knee-deep in snow and seeing below-zero temperatures.

Traveling over holidays? Maybe that means you’re bringing gifts with you. If you’re having a destination Christmas, consider waiting until you reach your destination to buy gifts, and don’t forget that anything physical you buy has to make it back home! Experience gifts, digital gifts, consumable gifts, and cold, hard cash are always great options that don’t take up space.

Events & activities

What will you be doing on your travels? Attending an outdoor summer concert? You might need a hat and sunscreen (spf 50 for me!). Maybe you’re headed to the beach and want to bring beach toys (though to be minimal, I’d recommend buying them there and leaving them there!).

Plan to go hiking? Maybe you can find a great pair of hiking boots that you can also wear around town. Avid photographer? Decide if you need to bring along your nicest camera or if your mobile phone will do for this trip.

Unique personal needs

Lastly, everyone has their own unique personal needs. If you have babies or young children, you might have to bring along a car seat, stroller, or portable crib. But these are also things that you can rent, so consider if it would be worth it to rent (or even buy) some items at your destination versus bringing them along.

Maybe you have unique medical needs that require special equipment — be sure to make room for anything like that! Maybe you have certain items that you just can’t live without (like a super comfy pillow) or special work equipment you’ll have to bring along.

Our favorite minimalist travel products

After traveling full-time for four years, we’ve learned exactly what products are worth buying and using and which are not! Here is our list of minimalist travel must-haves!

Kids backpacks and packing cubes

Most links below are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you make a purchase.

For the car

Best luggage, bags, and organizers

Best travel products for kids

Best travel games

Other must-have travel products


I hope this post has helped you pack a little lighter for your next journey, wherever that may be! For more about long-term travel, see these posts:

And for more about packing:

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