In the past when I have traveled, I always brought a massive suitcase filled with various clothes and shoes for those “just in case” scenarios and every possible weather forecast.
The problem is… I always end up wearing less than half of the stuff I brought with me. And I still have to lug that big suitcase around with me at airports and hotels.
I finally realized, it’s not worth it. When I went to Mexico with my family in January 2015, I purchased a smaller suitcase (one size bigger than the carry-on size) and filled it. It was much easier to carry around, but I still didn’t wear everything that I had brought with me!
So for my first solo trip to Mexico in May 2015, I decided to be true to my minimalist self and simplify even further. This time, I purchased a 48 Litre backpack. I was very limited in what I could bring and packed lighter than I ever have in the past. However, upon returning from Mexico, I realized that even with this smaller sized backpack, I could still pack less next time! I had brought a lot of medical and first-aid supplies with me for those “just in case” times, but I realized that there are pharmacies everywhere and most of those items, I could have bought for cheap in Mexico, if I had needed them (the only first aid items I used, that I had brought, were band-aids and essential oils).
Here is my original packing list for Mexico in May for 12 days (I have put a star beside each item that I probably wouldn’t bring next time and that would be easy to find in most destinations):
Items Purchased Prior to Solo Trip:
- Gregory Cairn 48 Litre Backpack – Mountain Equipment Co-op
- PacSafe Slingsafe 300 Gll Daypack – Journey’s Travel
- Sleep Mask and Ear Plugs – Wal Mart
- Anker Astro Portable Charger External Battery – Amazon
- Anker Astro Mini Compact Portable Charger – Amazon
- Packing Cubes – Amazon
- Combination Padlocks – Atmosphere
- Ibuprofen/Tylenol – I just put a handful in a small Ziploc bag instead of taking the whole bottle. You could also get a travel sized bottle.
- Allergy medication*
- Pepto Bismol*
- Gauze Roll*
- Antibiotic Ointment Cream*
- Essential Oils (Peppermint, Lavender, Tea Tree Oil)
- Activated Charcoal Capsules* (for food poisoning)
- After Bite for Mosquito Bite
- Homemade Mosquito Spray
- Cotton Balls
- Cold Medication* (could buy this anywhere)
- Cough Drops
- Emergen-C Powder* (didn’t need, didn’t use)
- Feminine Hygiene Products – these are harder to find in Mexico, so if it’s that time of the month while you’re away, I would recommend bringing them
- Tea Bags* (didn’t use them – it’s too hot for tea in Mexico)
- Passport – make sure it is valid
- Driver’s License
- Travel Insurance Card/Certificate/Policy Information and Contact Numbers
- Contact Number Document – family at home, airlines, travel insurance, accommodations, banks
- Debit and Credit Card
- Foreign Currency Cash – I brought only pesos, no American dollars
- Important Documentation – flight itinerary, accommodation confirmations, scanned copies of identification, insurance information and policy
- Journal and Pens
- Money Belt
- Contact Lense and Solution (travel sized)
- Glasses, Case and Cleaning Cloth
- Sleep Mask and Ear Plugs
- One or Two Books
- Extra Large Travel Towel – Atmosphere
- Plastic Grocery Bags – used for storing wet bathing suit and towel in your backpack, so you don’t get the rest of your stuff wet.
- Small Ziploc Bags – you never know when you might need them
- Combination Locks – for hostel lockers and locking compartments of backpack and daypack in hostels
- Watch – good for checking the time when you’re out exploring and don’t want to pull out your expensive iPhone around locals
- Spanish Phrasebook and Guidebook
- Snacks for the plane
- Water Bottle
- Natural 30 SPF Travel-Sized Sunscreen – Saje
- Go Toobs Clear and Squeezable Shampoo and Conditioner Containers – Amazon (filled with Andalou organic shampoo and conditioner)
- Clear Plastic 1 Quart Zip Up Bag for Liquids Under 100 mls – Amazon
- Rolling Hair Brush
- Nail Clippers
- Q Tips
- Hair Elastics
- Bar of Soap (stored in a plastic Ziploc baggie)
- Shaving Razor
- Toothpaste – Green Beaver Natural Toothpaste
- Roll-on Deodorant – Rocky Mountain Soap Company
- Fabric Lululemon Headband x2
- Lip Balm – Natural
- Homemade Hand Sanitizer
- Wet Wipes
- Dr. Bronner’s Soap – used as a laundry detergent for hand-washing my laundry in hostels
- Cellphone and charger
- Point and Shoot Camera, Charger, Extra SD Memory Card and Case
- Belkin Multiple Plug Adaptor
- Anker External Charger and Portable Charger
- Mini Flashlight
Clothing & Shoes:
- Packing Cubes
- Leggings x1
- Thin Pants x1* – I would not bring pants next time if I went again in May. It’s the hottest month of the year in Mexico and I only wore those pants on the airplanes, but could have gone without.
- Hooded Zip Up Sweater x1* – No need for a sweater in Mexico in May. Just a long sleeved thin shirt would have been fine.
- Athletic T-Shirt x1
- Athletic Tank Tops x2
- Pajama Tank Top x1
- Athletic Shorts x3
- Athletic Capri Pants (Fitted) x1
- T-Shirt x1
- Flowy Tank Top x1
- Long Sleeved Cardigan x1
- Underwear x12
- Socks x4
- Bras x2
- Bikini x1
- Athletic Long Sleeve Top x1
- Women’s Baseball Hat x1
- Athletic Running Shoes x1
- Flip Flops x1
My packing philosophy is “keep it simple,” the same philosophy that I use to guide my life. You hear it being said so often, but seriously, pack light! It’s being said for a reason.
I would recommend packing enough clothing to last you for 5-7 days, no matter how long your trip is. You can always find a place to do laundry or wash it in the sink with soap, wherever you happen to be. There is no reason to have a different outfit for every day of your travels and it’s only going to affect you negatively, as you have to carry everything around with you wherever you go.
Don’t take anything you can’t stand to lose. In other words, don’t pack your favourite outfits, your most expensive jewelry, etc. As you may have noticed, I do not bring any jewelry, makeup, hair straighteners, or any fancy and expensive clothing or electronics (just my iPhone and camera, which are with me at all times). Only take an item with you if you don’t mind if it gets lost, stolen, wet or ruined (or you wouldn’t be absolutely devastated if it did).
Take clothing that dries easily and is moisture wicking, if possible.
Don’t overpack and only take items that you truly need. When you are packing and laying everything out, pick up each item and ask yourself, “How often will I use this?” “Can I survive without this on my travels?” “Will this be of value to me?” “Can I find this item or something similar at my destination?”
Be honest with yourself and don’t pack stuff that only fits into the “just in case” scenarios.
Be conscious of the stuff you bring and question all of. A good rule of thumb is, if it can be easily found and bought at your destination, don’t bring it with you. Buy it there, if you happen to need it for those “what if” scenarios (this often applies to medical and first aid items).
Packing light is a process and it takes practice and time. You’re not going to get it perfect the first time around and that is okay. Every time I travel, I always realize that I brought too much stuff and didn’t end up needing or using certain items. I learn lessons about packing every time I return from a trip and apply them to my packing on the next trip.
Just keep improving with each trip you take and keep packing lighter and minimizing. The less stuff you bring, the more likely you are to realize how little you actually need to survive. It is a liberating feeling to experience.