One Suitcase, a Year's Worth of Clothing: Tips for How to Embrace Minimalist Travel

How can you maintain a minimalist wardrobe when you’ll be in Kyoto for the rainy season, hiking mountains in Cape Town, getting down to business in coworking spaces in Split, and then heading out for the night in Mexico City? It’s not impossible.

If you have trouble packing a minimalist wardrobe when you’re headed on vacation, just imagine how difficult it would be if you were planning to travel the world for an entire year.

Remote Year participants live and work in  different global cities every month over the course of four or 12 months, adapting to changing climates, experiences, and customs along the way. Take it from them: packing for a 365-day adventure is very different from getting ready for a two-week vacation.

It’s difficult to anticipate everything that could happen in a year of travel, and it’s even more difficult to try to prepare for it with the items in your suitcase. Throw in the growing trend toward minimalism in travel and you have yourself a pretty predicament - what if, in your attempt to embrace a “less-is-more” mentality, you don’t pack enough, or, even worse, what if you don’t pack the right things?

How can you maintain a minimalist wardrobe when you’ll be in Kyoto for the rainy season, hiking mountains in Cape Town, getting down to business in coworking spaces in Split, and then heading out for the night in Mexico City?

It’s not an impossible task.

Casey Carr-Jones, a member of Remote Year Magellan, and Zach Boyette, a member of Remote Year Kaizen, proved that it can be done… in style. We asked them to share their best tips and tricks for keeping your luggage light and maintaining a minimalist wardrobe during long term travel.

Take your minimalist tendencies on the road by joining a work and travel program.

What’s a minimalist wardrobe?

First thing’s first, let’s define what a minimalist wardrobe is. A minimalist wardrobe is a small collection of multifunctional clothing - think: five pieces that could turn into a month’s worth of outfits.

If you’re planning for traveling for an entire year, anything under 65 pieces could be considered a minimalist wardrobe, not including shoes or undergarments.

Here’s your minimalist travel packing list

Now for the big question: what did Casey and Zach actually pack for their Remote Year?

“I packed one checked bag - and most of the weight was from  toiletries,” Casey said. “The most important items to pack in your minimalist wardrobe would be: a bathing suit, a great pair of jeans, and tops that make you feel awesome and can be worn over and over and over again.”

Remote work

Casey in the midst of her minimalist packing

Here is Casey’s packing list, as defined during a pre-Remote Year blog post:

  • 4 pairs of jeans

  • 1 pair of black slacks

  • 3 pairs of shorts

  • 6 t-shirts

  • 5 tank tops

  • 4 camisoles

  • 6 long-sleeved shirts

  • 1 crop top

  • 2 cardigans

  • 1 chambray shirt

  • 1 vest

  • 2 blazers

  • 2 sweaters

  • 1 windbreaker

  • 1 day dress

  • 1 maxi dress

  • 1 long-sleeved dress

  • 1 date night dress

  • 2 pairs of pajama pants

  • 1 nightgown

  • 2 pairs of yoga pants

  • 3 workout/sleep shorts

  • 7 workout tops

  • 3 bras

  • 4 swimsuits

  • 1 cover up

  • 1 pair of sneakers

  • 1 pair of wedge heels

  • 3 pairs of sandals

  • 2 pairs of casual shoes

Zach also provided detailed account of his luggage:

  • 4 casual t-shirts

  • 4 workout tanks

  • 4 pairs of shorts

  • 2 button downs

  • 2 pairs of pants

  • 1 belt

  • 1 pair flip flops

  • 1 pair running shoes

  • 1 pair casual shoes (Allbirds)

  • 9 boxer briefs

  • 9 pairs of socks

  • 1 quarter-zip pullover

  • 1 rain jacket

  • 1 packable outer shell

“The most important thing is making sure your clothes can pack down very tightly and not wrinkle,” Zach said. “For example, I have a lululemon rain jacket that folds up smaller than my fist. It lives in my backpack.”

How to create a minimalist wardrobe

When creating a minimalist wardrobe, a few key things to focus on are durability, quality, and adaptability. To have a wardrobe that most would consider “minimalist”, it’s not only about the exact number of pieces you have, but what you can do with as little clothing as possible.

The key to Casey’s success with minimalistic packing was to ensure that everything she brought  was multifunctional.

“Each item should work for two scenarios,” Casey said. “My workout clothes double as pajamas. The outfits that I wear to the coworking space could also look great on an evening date.”

Building a minimalist wardrobe gives you the opportunity to take a look at the way you’ve been presenting yourself to the world and reevaluate if necessary. If you want everyone to know who you are just by looking at your clothing, would it tell your story?

“Allow your style to change as you build it,” Casey said. “I went from a corporate office lifestyle where my uniform was pencil skirts, bright colors, and animal prints, to a work and travel lifestyle where my wardrobe consists of black, white, blue, and gray.  And you know what?  I feel a lot more confident now than I did then.”

Zach’s best piece of advice is to go with your gut and skip the overthinking.

“Don’t contingency pack. You can always buy things on the road,” Zach said.

Great point. The places that you travel to will most likely stock things that you need - so don’t overdo it on the toiletries or shoe options!

“Minimalism  doesn't mean you can't buy something new,” Casey said. “I bought a dress in Marrakech and you better believe I rocked that thing for the rest of my trip.”

Speaking of getting a lot of wear out of your clothes, how do Remote Year minimalists like Casey and Zach keep their clothes in tip top shape so that they can last for the entire year?

“Skip the dryer - hang dry everything,” Casey said. “Also, beware wash-and-fold laundromats, where the machines tend to rip fabric.”

“Wash on cold, use the low spin cycle, and hang instead of machine dry,” Zach said. “You’d be surprised how much longer your clothes will live if you follow those steps.”

Another great tip: invest in materials that stand up to the test of time.

“Nearly everything I own is merino wool,” Zach said. “It’s magical. You can wear it multiple times in a row, it dries quickly, packs small, and it never smells bad.

Top Tips for Minimalist Travel

TLDR? No worries. Here are Casey and Zach’s top tips for minimalist travel:

  1. Don’t overpack your toiletries - there’s a good chance that you can find whatever you need, wherever you’re going.

  2. Choose clothing that can pack down tightly

  3. Look for wrinkle-free materials

  4. Make sure that the clothing you choose is versatile enough to be worn in at least two different situations

  5. Wash your clothing in cold water and hang your pieces up to dry. These clothes have to last a year after all!

Think a minimalist wardrobe is unrealistic for you? Even if you love clothing, you may find that a year on the road with a smaller selection could actually change your perspective on what you need.

“I developed my minimalist wardrobe as preparation for traveling with Remote Year for 12 months, and I had many conversations along the way of, ‘I can't wait to go explore my closet when I get home!’  But the truth is - I didn't want any of it,” Casey said. “I donated most of my old wardrobe and now only buy replacement clothes when they get worn out. You'll be surprised at how much easier it is [than overpacking]!”