Zen and the Art of Minimalist Packing

by Scott Kostolni

“travel gear” by stevecoutts, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license. © 2009, stevecoutts.

My first overseas trip is scheduled for October of this year, and in preparations to touch down in Cairo I’ve drawn up a list of my travel essentials.  My goal for the month long trip is to live out of one, carry-on size bag.  The bag should be light and comfortable enough to be on my back much of the day and has to be durable to last the whole time.

The Bag

The leading contender for my bag is the z30 by Gregory Packs.  I tried it out at my local Eastern Mountain Sports and it fulfills all the requirements I am looking for.  It is slightly larger than a carry-on item but it’s pretty close.  Some of the key feature for me are the easy access pockets, dual hydration pouches and ventilation.


  • 2 Pairs of Socks
  • 2 Pairs of lightweight quick dry underwear by Exofficio
  • 1 Pair of zip off Pants (doubles as a bathing suit)
  • 2 short sleeve T-Shirts
  • 1 long sleeve shirt (possibly from Coolibar)
  • 1 Sweatshirt (doubles as a pillow and blanket)
  • A Sun Hat
  • Belt
  • Pair of Sunglasses
  • 2 Pairs of Shoes – comfortable Sneakers and my Vibram 5-Fingers


  • All-In-One Soap (Washes body, hair and clothes)
  • Travel Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Travel Deodorant
  • Pack Towel
  • Travel Clothesline
  • Small First Aid Kit (Bandages, Neosporin, Asprine)


  • MacBook Pro (with Charger)
  • Camera (I can’t decide; go light with a point-and-shoot or get a DSLR)
  • Flip Mino HD
  • Phone (Nokia N900 or unlocked iPhone) (Charging Cable)
  • Nook
  • Travel Outlets and Power Converter
  • Solar Charger (If any of them turn out to be good enough)


  • IDs, Passport, Visas (extra copies with a friend and accessible online)
  • Copy of this Packing List (Digital on Nook)
  • Credit Card (for emergencies) and Debit Card for cash access
  • Extra passport sized color Photos
  • Guidebook (Digital or thinned out)
  • Tickets, Travel Itinerary

Misc. Supplies

Benefits and Disadvantages of Minimalist Travel

When I showed this packing list to my friend Melissa she got extremely upset stating that I couldn’t travel with only two days worth of clothes.  While it is true I am running with short supply there will be plenty of places for me to pick up anything I need and as long as I can find water I’ll be able to do laundry each night in the aLOKSAK.  Because I am only bringing essentials and traveling light I’ll have much more freedom and not have to worry about locking up my stuff and the security back at the hostels. I am running a little heavy on electronics.  The truth is my most of my time is spent working online and connecting with people via social networks and if I start getting overwhelmed or homesick I am going to want to have the ability to access all that stuff.

What do you guys think?  Is there anything that I am missing that is absolutely essential to travel with?  Do you know someone who can’t travel with less than 3 suitcases?  Leave a comment I would love to hear about it.


Melissa (the friend mentioned above) February 24, 2010 at 2:54 PM

we have talked about this – there will be no hostels on this trip I dont like it. I also dont like you taking soap that washes you and your hair and your clothes its not natural.

Eileen February 24, 2010 at 8:37 PM

I think 3 pairs of socks is probably better. If you wear day old clothes the worse is, you smell funny or look funny. But if your feet are not well you’re screwed. Test drive the socks first too. I know someone who bought socks for a trip and had an allergic reaction to the material. Walking was painful!

I also wonder if you need a dictionary/translator? Or maybe you’ll have that on your Mac? Suntan lotion and maps.

Geraldine February 25, 2010 at 12:36 AM

Great! I think I want to show to my son who also likes to travel light! I agree with the sock comment 3pairs.

Scott Kostolni February 25, 2010 at 1:36 AM

@Geraldine I had 3 socks originally but decided to keep it down to two to match two pairs of everything else, and because my Vibram 5-Fingers are worn without socks. I might bump it back up though.

@Eileen I’ll definitely need suntan lotion but I plan on buying it there. Dictionary/translator will be on my phone, and I’m also studying Arabic so i’ve got a basic understanding of it before I go.

Jeremy February 25, 2010 at 11:04 AM

This sounds awesome. I’m really jealous. Hope you have a great time! Take lots of pictures! Make lots of stories! You are awesome :)

Also I’m for the 3 pairs of socks idea.

And Melissa is funny :)

helen (of troy) February 25, 2010 at 11:56 AM

a third vote here for 3 socks/3 underwear.
a money belt is a good idea too..
any big city (NYC, too!) has plenty of pick pockets who will clean your pockets!

make a copy of passport/credit card/other vital documents and tuck that into money belt too! there are money belts that look like conventional leather belts..and others that are worn under cloths (inside your underwear!)
they are very worth while for travel –anywhere.. but especially places where there might not be a US embacy or foreign office down the block.

Scott Kostolni February 25, 2010 at 12:42 PM

@helen (of troy) Thanks for the advice! I’m going to add a money belt right now (and yea i’ll add the third pair of socks.) All my documents will have digital copies stored on-line and in the phone I bring, but I’ll make some actual copies to carry around as well. Best to be prepared. Thanks again!!

helen (of troy) February 25, 2010 at 1:19 PM

I traveled (in my youth) for 2 months with less stuff (more clothes, less electronic gear!) i small (smaller than standard carry on bag!) for 2 months.

its not bad to wear the same clothes over and over again(and besides, most every where, you can buy clothing if really needed!)–and most toiletries too.
companies like Lever Broth., and Proctor and Gamble sell soap everywhere!

be sure you have an international access (pin) for your charge card too.
ATM’s are everywhere! and if there is an emergency–you don’t want to have to wait hours till you can get an emergency supply of money. (my son got caught over a holiday weekend–with no money and a PIN that didn’t work!)

Barbara Hinz February 26, 2010 at 6:04 AM

I know you asked for only positive comments here but your bag is not big enough to fit me in! :-)

I think what you are doing and the way you are planning this is awesome. I see in your future publishing contracts for guide books for traveling around the with just one bag.

Karol Gajda March 1, 2010 at 12:42 PM

Rock on Scott! I love reading other ultra light packing lists! :)

Scott Kostolni March 1, 2010 at 2:04 PM


I love the wisdom of one-bag packing, it just keeps everything so simple.
Thank you for taking the time to check out my site!


Laney December 24, 2010 at 12:27 AM

Lately I’ve become entirely obsessed with minimalist-style-traveling-packing-everything. This isn’t the first time this sort of delirium has set in. (Although, it’s not really delirium, is it?) This time around, though, I’m daydreaming of living out of a suitcase. Why? Who does that? I don’t need to go any where in particular, in fact, I can’t right now. But I still want to live out of a suitcase, oh say, for a few weeks. I want that sparse, hotel room feeling. All my belongings all snug and cozy in one spot. One load of laundry. Mostly, I want to know if I can do it. Or, will I crack under the pressure of wanting, wanting, wanting more than I could possibly carry around?
Anyway, you’re packing list will be of great inspiration for my self-imposed simplicity (if nothing more than for a personal experiment). I, too, will be heavy on the electronics.

Scott Kostolni December 27, 2010 at 12:11 PM

Laney! Thanks for commenting! I totally dream about living out of a bag. Sometimes I imagine myself as a mysterious traveler who pops into a small town for a few days with only a back pack and leaves a little while later. It’s not ideal, it sounds too lonely, but I want to be a little mysterious. =)

I travel light, once I started I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t been doing it forever. I still feel free every time I get to do it. I paired down the stuff I own in general too. The wanting goes away. I started staying away from malls, and advertising. It’s scary how well that stuff works, but after a while you find that you can be content with just what you have. Let me know how it goes!


Dee101 January 6, 2011 at 5:59 PM

I guess what I look for most is proportion as well as packing light. As a woman, it can be a challenge to travel light. And being 5′1″ just over 100lbs, I’m forced to consider my size when it comes to a travel bag. This is something that I think the makers of luggage and hiking bags do not consider. So instead of a carryon, I use a deluxe tote bag, that I can carry when the bag is full. I just bring the minimal items needed and allows me to place the bag under the seat in front of me instead of lifting the bag overhead. I pack light, when it comes to clothing 1 of everything. The clothes are specifically for travel so I can wash them in the wash basin and dries quickly on a travel clothesline. I do not carry a purse, I wear a fanny pack. Earplugs are a must for travel, I carry several. Very little electronics other than cell and bluetooth. If there are any suggestions for a ‘little woman’ that travels I welcome it. Thanks

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