Minimalist Travel Revisited
With COVID restrictions lifting, I’ve been traveling a lot since October. That, plus a recent post by Dutel inspired me to take a look how my setup has changed. Compare and contrast with my Travel Happy, Travel Light post from back in 2018. I was also interested to see how much actually has changed after 18 months sidelined and as I look towards being more remote work-wise.
First off: I travel with just one carry-on bag for virtually all travel. This is the way. If you are someone that simply cannot get on a plane without your checked 30kg of luggage, this post is probably not for you.
So, what does my go gear look like these days?
I’ve been using the version 1.0 of this bag for ages now. It’s been fantastic and indestructible and a testimony to how great design and craftsmanship makes a difference for a product. I highly recommend it. It’s held up in every environment, has yet to show any signs of wear despite regular abuse and traveling with me everywhere. I travel exclusively with it and in fact, it’s sitting beside me in this cafe as I type up the draft of this post. If the 3.0 is anywhere near as good as the 1.0 you should give them your money and get it. I find this so much more ergonomic and easy to move around the globe with than those clunky jobs you see first time backpackers in Europe and Asia running round with. It’s the perfect size for modern travel. Splurge and get one. You won’t be sorry. It also forces you to make better choices about what you take and don’t take, rather than trying to kitchen sink your travels.
North Face Base Camp Duffel
If I need extra cargo due to a trip needing sports or specialized gear or similar (snowboarding clothing, hard core trekking or summiting gear, astronomy, or moving countries for extended period etc) and just can’t fit everything into the Minaal, this is my checked bag of choice. It operates as a semi-infinite Bag of Holding for everything else you don’t immediately need on your trip. It’s survived trips from the Arctic to the African Serengeti and one of the better purchases I’ve made (which admittedly, I thought I would regret at time of purchase.).
I’d go so far as if you’re digital nomading and moving between countries for extended amounts of time (say 2-3 months), you could literally get by with just this and the Minaal for as long as you might ever want to vagabond that lifestyle.
Osprey Ultralight Stuff pack
This is an amazingly light, thin, yet surpisingly tough, collapsible nylon backpack that folds up into a pouch the size of your fist but carry 18L. It’s my daily carry when I get to where I’m going. But, it doesn’t stop there… it also doubles for the gym, fits my laptop when heading to the cafe to work, and even loaded its weight is unobtrusive enough that you never really notice it. Folded up into a pouch, the weight and volume in my Minaal are so minimal to be unnoticeable (in fact, I slip it into the zipper pocket for the mochilla on the Minaal so its not even taking up main compartment room.).
Thule Subterra 13" Macbook sleeve
My laptop is critical to pretty much everything I do work and play wise, so protecting it is a 13" water-resistant, nylon, protective case which fits nicely and has a top zipper pocket big enough for all the cables and plugs I generally carry (as well as my all-important Kindle Paperwhite, below). It’s been a great buy and lasted through several generations of Macbook Airs and Pros. It also fit my Framework laptop just as well when I was experimenting with replacing the Macbook.
I’ve become boringly Apple-centric in hardware even while trying to resist the gravitational pull of the fruit empire. Alas…
Apple M1 Macbook 12"
Lightweight, powerful, with amazing battery life, fanless, and a great screen, this is still my daily driver.
It’s powerful enough to do both serious dev and data science work without feeling underpowered. And everything else I’m heavy lifting in the cloud or on servers, so it ends up being a super comfy console to that experience also.
Very happy with this machine (until I have a chance to have it proven to me the M2 is going to be as good or the Framework linux laptop can last as long). While I feel Apple is going all the wrong ways with its software, I have to admit their moves with hardware are keeping me tied to their ecosystem.
How do I read 40+ books a year? Always have a book with you and make reading a habit. Carry an entire library with you with a Kindle Paperwhite and keep that reading list constantly queued.
Vastly better than the Oasis weight- and hand-feel- wise, and waterproof to boot, the battery lasts long enough you only need to recharge it once a week, even reading with my pace. The backlight and dark mode are great and looking forward to the next model which is also supposed to provide more blue light blocking capabilities. It’s also shockinly tough as I’ve dropped this on hard floors so many times in cafes or while falling asleep in bed it should be broken umptten times over by all rights.
My only continuing complaint with it is the Amazon monopoly which now keeps digital editions n ow higher-priced than their paperback counterparts which feels like pire gouging depiste how the book industry operates.
While I keep threatening to turn it in for a Google Pixel (much like I do my laptop for Linux), the integration of the iPhone with the Macbook makes it a killer combo ecosystem-wise. I particularly like feature like hand off and the stupid-yet-amazing copy on the phone, paste on the laptop feature (or vice versa). While I held onto my iPhone 8 for a long time, the thing that puts the 13 over the top is its incredbile camera which I have to say takes jaw-dropping photos and makes me feel like the places I travel to get their proper due photographically.
FitBit Charge 5 HR
While I wish Fitbit had gone the other way and made their trackers both slimmer and less obtrusive (instead of aping the Apple Watch), this has been a solid fitness tracker. I use it to keep myself honest about working out when on the road (and at home) as it generally tells the gruesome tales of my transgressions. The app is ok, though I am sometimes wondering about the difference between pace counts on my device vs my friend’s Apple Watch when we hike. As well as the fact that it seems to have my heart zones all wrong. Overall though, it’s a good tool to directionally track your fitness, tho perhaps a little loose for the hardcore quantified self addicts. Oh, and it’s killer feature for me over the Apple Watch is that you only need to charge it onc a week.
These were a gift, but I’ve traded in my amazing, yet bulky, Bose QC35 IIs for these. The weight and volume tradeoff in baggage is substantial though they lack the noise cancelling amazingness of the bose on long haul flights (I think I will need to upgrade to the Pros for when I do more long haul flights if my last trip is an indication), having used them on a couple of recent trips, I’m a believer these are gonna win out over the bulky over-ears if I can just get the noise cancelling issue sorted. I never thought I’d like in-ear headphones till I started using these. Note: I have not used these working out yet though am interested to see how they’ll do with my weird ears and running and in the gym with my bodyweight workouts.
Olympus Tough TG-3
While it’s starting to show its age, this is still my camera of choice for underwater photos. I think I’ll need to upgrade soon as with the covid break the zippers had actually seized shut from salt corrosion when I broke these out for a recent trip chasing manta rays and mola mola. But, it takes amazing shots and if you’re not completely at depth can tag your shallow photos with a gps tag which I find super handy.
I basically travel with a week’s worth of clothing in the Minaal and wash weekly. Most hotels I stay at have a decent laundry service you can use that’s not too expensive (I honestly get irked at hotels that gouge on laundry services).
In general, this ends up looking like:
- 8 pair of underwear
- 8 tshirts
- 2 shorts
- 2 long pants
- 4 pairs of socks
- 2 workout shirts
- swim trunks
- flip flops
Cold weather gear realities further down below the main meat.
ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxers
Comfy, understated, you can walk around in your hotel room in them and not feel too porn king, and the are light, easily cleanable, dry fast, and have odour guard (whatever that is) that means you can travel with these with far fewer pairs than I do.
PrAna Men’s Brions Pants
Yeah, I wear yoga pants cut to look like business slacks. Don’t judge. Lifechanging. I’ve been wearing the black version of these pretty much for work and play and no one ever figures it out unless I tell them. They are an amazing all-rounder pants as they look like black slacks. They are quite thin though, so if you are doing a lot of cold climate stuff I really recommend a pair of long undies under them (Icebreakers thermal line is great for this.). These are the bomb and a million times better than travelling with just about anything else I’ve ever tried. Clen easily and lightweight. Dressy enough for fine restaurants (in fact, I wore them to a Michelin starred place the other night.).
Uniqlo crew cut tees
I’ve kinda become a uniqlo maximalist shirt-wise. I just wear their plain, soft Supima cotton ones in various colours and wear the crap out of them (my biggest beef is Uniqlo changes colours every year and I can’t get the ones I was previously wearing I liked.). Another weird benefit, these shirts are pretty much fitting me whether I buy them in Europe, Asia, or N America which is saying something. They are also inexpensive and wear well. YMMV depending on how much of a fashion clothes horse you are.
Darn Tough Socks
Outside of cold climates these work for both casual, business, and gym wear. Comfy, ,ong lasting, light and clean and dry quickly. Have never had issues with them causing blisters or similar. For colder climes I general swap them out for Patagonia cold weather hiking socks or even thermal snowboarding socks.
Altra Escalante Running Shoes
These are my shoes of choice when I can get them though at least once I’ve had to swap them out for New Balance Kayanos when they’ve needed replacing and I’ve been somewhere where I can’t get them shipped without ridiculous charges. In both cases I have black ones because it gets me fewer looks in fine restaurants if they’re dark and unobtrusive.
The Escalantes are great for both running, hiking, and the gym (zero rise soles). The Kayanos are great runners and solid for hiking (stiffer to be sure) but you should not use them in the gym due to the heel rise.
You are always going to need a pair of these or some sort of slip on and off show in the Asian tropics. I use a fairly generic brand (Slam 69) I like here, though increasingly need to start looking at ones with better support. If you’re used to a lifetime of shoe wearing you’ll pound heavy in flipflops anfd developer lower back and knee issues. Also come in handy if you are staying in places where the gym may not be the best and the shower is wet since you want to avoid as much as possible possibly cotracting somethign like Athletes’ Foot. The Minaal has a great pocket in the bottom which fits these nicely and takes up not a lot of room.
I got given a Lululemon yoga shirt as a gift and have to admit I love it. I now have a second and I use these for when I am working out all the time. They wick away sweat are super light for things like yoga and weightllifting and wash easily. Pricey but have not fond anything as good as them for cheaper. My workout shorts are a simple paid of baggy Nikes I’ve had for way too long and am trying to replace.
Sea to Sky Nylon Belt
Besides it being ridiculously lightweight the other nice thing about this belt (I never use the secret money stash) is the fact I never have to take it off for security. I’ve wanted to replace this with one of those crazy woven paracord “prepper” belts for ages but this thing has just been so useful and easy to get one and off I’ve kept it round.
I’ve got a nice pair of Ripcurl boardies I use that can also double as shorts but end up mostly being used whenever I dip in the sea for swimming or snorkelling. Very comfy. Always carry trunks as you never know when you may gegt the chance to throw yourself into a fantastic sea or ocean, a nice salt water pool, an onsen (that requires clothing), or get invited to a hot tub somewhere (even snowboarding).
Cold Weather gear
For much colder weather (where you may actualyl see snow or temps below 10°C), I generally manage to smuggle a pair of Icebreaker Merino wool thermal underwear along on my trips and tsneakily wear them under my Pranas. This keeps me going fine in anything other than trekking weather.
I’ve also developed a disturbing penchant for Arcteryx products (even though they tend to be cut for taller and less muscular people than me) and currently use their Vinton fleece and Alpha lightweight shell even when snowboarding unless the weather gets extremely hairy. The jacket rolls up amazingly small to fit int he bag and the fleece generally gets worn on the plane anywhere I am going that happens to be cold.
A warm wooly hat and some snowboarding gloves come along for the ride and weirdly I’m pretty much set for most weather. If I will be boarding, a pair of extra Icebreaker thermal undershirts do in the pack and so far have kept me toasty when boarding though you tend to have to do a lot more washing than once a week.
Toiletry bag - Eagle Creek Slim Pack-It
Ah, you laugh, but this ends up being critical as it keeps all my little toiletry gear together, folds up into a compact pack and gets me through airport security without having to check all my toiletries into a checked piece of luggage. This also has a nice big hook which you can hang from the sink or twoel rack and keeps everything neat and tidy and available in your bathroom while travelling.
Eagle Creek may have discontinued these (why?!?) but finding another equally small tri-fold is on my lookout list. They are surprisigly handy.
Bit of a separate issue to packing, but since I’ve seen an issue every trip I’ve taken with other people not sorting this out, since I started tavelling again, it warranted a small section.
I’ve been using Safety Wing’s Nomad Insurance while travelling and not covered by work. Always travel with medical insurance. Don’t be stupid. I’ve not had to make any claims on it so it could be argued it’s “wasted” expense, but the peace of mind and fact I’ve seen so many accidents happen to other people while on the road (in fact, helped patch up a guy in my hotel first aid-wise the other week that was in a scooter accident.)
I keep a small medical kit with me which has panadol, chewable pepto bismol (the world’s greatest travel aid imho), seasickness pills (though they always end up being for other people it seems), and some minor medical items in there (bandages etc). For longer trips in more remote locations, I often get a Dr to prescribe one course of treatment of a few antibiotics (amoxcyclin, azithromycin, doxycycline) though they end up getting thrown away rather than used in all but one case of pretty severe infection. Insurance policy really when proper medicine might be hard to come by.
Do note that doxy is both proof against malaria and also acts as a prophylactic against forms of ricketsia if you’re hard trekking someplace, so it tends to be my preferred choice of anti-malarial for more adventurous treeking locations where I do need to be taking that.)
Sunscreen and some aloe vera gel also tends to always come along for the ride though finding sub-100ml packs of this is quite tricky and I often have to buy the stuff in-country when I get there. Always needed for the tropics, even after I get a nice base.
My setup is far from perfect, and have to admit there are a few things I’m still lookjng to deal with as my travel profile evolves and
The travel adaptor I had previously used ended up failing me terribly (Kikkerland UL03-A Universal Travel Adapter) so still on the lookout for a small, portable plug adaptor that works in all situations. Another issues I’ve recently encountered as Apple has moved to using USB-C is the fact that most airplane and hotel plug tend to be USB-A which I have yet to find a good solution for. Sadly, the difference between plugs in Asia is a bit ridiculous with you going from euro, to american, or british plugs depending on which country you end up staying in.
The more I’m travelling for more than just pleasure, the more I’m finding the lack of a second screen to be a pain. I’ve seen a few people with Asus or Stane USB second screens in co-working spaces and cafés and have to admit I keep thinking this may be a good idea for me since I really miss the visual real estate when coding, doing astro, or even reading and watching videos and needing to take notes. Would love to hear peoples’ opinions on what’s worked for them.
I have used the in-room TVs for places but the ergonomics for that tend to be fine for entertainment but terrible for working. I’ve ditched both an AppleTV I was carrying and a Google Chromecast in favour of just hulking a stright up long HDMI cable with me that 9 times out of 10 works with most TVs where I’m staying (though figuring out the tv remote in japanese or korean to switch input sources can be a bi tof a chanllenge). But ends up being much less trouble-free than messing with wireless networks and additional cables. This also allows me to use both Jellyfin (My media server of choice on the Mac) and services like Netflix or Disney with my VPN to watch what I want and not feel totally cut out from the rest of the world while on extended trips.
Ultimately, minamalist travel is about trade-offs (and perhaps, what you really need versus what you think you need). other than tweaks, this setup has been serving me extraordinarily well for me and still seems to work post-covid as the world open up.
I’m super happy with this setup. The bag always fits in carry-on and meets min weight requirements even on discount airlines, and it allows me to get in and out of airports and get to the travel, rather than transport part of my trips. Also, being light means I can take advantage of travel and other opportunities when they arise, rather than feeling tied to a place. YMMV depending on your travel style.
I’m always curious to hear how it’s gone for people who may use some of the gear here, or hear more about what may have worked (even better!) for you, or other things that have made a huge difference for you when working the one-bag travel angle. Even digital nomad tips in general. Feel free to mention me as @awws on mastodon or email me at via email firstname.lastname@example.org.