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Minimalist Travel Packing

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FINCA TATIN, jungle, Guatemala- What a person needs to travel is slim, travel gear is often the last thing a traveler really requires. Two articles of clothing for the bottom half of your body, two for the top, two sets of undergarments, a pair of boots, sandals perhaps, a toothbrush, a bag to throw it all in, and you are ready to travel. You need nothing more. Don’t believe anyone who may say otherwise, don’t believe me when I try to get you to go to my Travel Gear Store.

Packing for travel can be a round the way endeavor, the process of just gathering up a small sample of what you use throughout your regular day and stuffing it into a bag is enough to suffice for a long journey just as it does going out for an overnight across town. If you need anything more when traveling, you can pick it up en route; if you don’t use something, then you can easily leave it behind. In this way, carrying travel gear is a very organic process, you plan for “now” and allow “later” to take care of itself. Travel gear should not be a complete collection of clothes, electronics, sleeping supplies that are set in stone, but a perpetually revolving door of things to be cycled through: you pick up one thing here and deposit it there, you buy a sweater for a couple of dollars in the mountains, you leave it behind when you reach the jungle.

Travel gear is ephemeral, there is little use attaching yourself to any of it: you will loose it, replace it, throw it out, leave it behind.

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I walked into the room of my friend Paulo from Paulo Is Here on the night before his departure from the Finca Tatin. I was taken aback by what I saw:

Throughout his one year residence at the hotel, he had collected next to nothing. His room was bare, the blanched planks that made up its walls and floor had little covering them, there was only a little shelf against a wall that had a few things laid upon it. The sparse contents of the shelf was Paulo’s travel gear. It looked as if he had just arrived yesterday.

After a long bout of traveling through Europe, Asia, elsewhere, Paulo came to Mexico and Central America. He is from Maidera, but calls himself PT — perpetual traveler: he has not been to his island home for over ten years. By all accounts, this guy travels slowly. He stepped into the Finca Tatin last July with the intention of staying for two nights, he stayed for nearly a year. He became the hotel’s manager.

We have now switched roles: Chaya and I are filling in for him at the Finca Tatin, he is back to traveling. Before leaving, Paulo showed me his traveling gear.

The showing did not take very long.

In a single, small tote bag Paulo packed a pair of pants, two shirts, three books, a toothbrush, a small collection of rings and tiny things, a light blanket that was more or less a sheet, a pair of sandals, perhaps underwear, a small Acer computer, and a narguilla pipe which I think may have been gifted to him in Mexico. Nothing more.

I joked that I would have expected him to collect more things during his 11 months of working at the Finca Tatin. He laughed and stated that he had, in fact, collected more stuff, but that he was leaving everything unessential behind. He held up a single sweatshirt and pointed to a pair of khakis sitting in a corner to confirm his statement. He would not be needing these anymore where he was going, so he left them behind.

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There are two schools of long term travel packing: “minimalist” packing, like I described above, and “maximalist” packing, which follows the premise that it is possible to carry almost everything you need to make a home on your back. Both styles, if done right, have their place. For many years, I was a minimalist packer, I would only carry what I absolutely needed in regards to the climate I was traveling in and in accordance with my modus operandi of locomotion. I would leave things behind as readily as I would acquire new things — my gear was perpetually evolving and revolving as I traveled.

I would only have a single small sack, a change of clothes, and little more. I would match my gear to the climate and leave behind anything that I no longer needed. I was mobile, my load was light, I could carry every thing on planes, keep it all in my lap on buses. My gear neither weighed heavy on my back nor on my mind.

This was a good way to travel, for my circumstances then.

Now, as I travel with a family and run my own business from the road, I want and need more things. I have now accumulated travel and electronic gear that I use regularly from the road. I suppose travel gear is the wrong word for what I now carry, I suppose “living gear” would be a much more appropriate nomer. I am making homes around the world, not just traveling through various brief stopping points. I want everything a home can provide, and be able to carry it on my back as well.

More on maxamalist packing coming soon.

Filed under: Travel Tips | Packing

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Filed under: Travel Preparation, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Cincinnati, Ohio, USAMap