I am visiting my parents right now and decided it’s finally time to clear the attic of all the clutter from my childhood. In the process, I came across my first travel backpack.
I also found my old diary from that time. On February 15, 2003, I wrote: “Today I finally bought my backpack. It holds 70 liters. It is great. I am excited to see where it will take me and what adventures we will have together.” I can tell you that the backpack and I have had many, many adventures together.
Over the past 20 years, I have “evolved” from a 70-liter backpack to a 30-liter bag that I travel with almost constantly. I thought it would be a good idea to share the travel bags I have used, what I liked (and disliked) about them, and why I finally settled on a smaller backpack and travel minimally.
I think finding the perfect travel bag is a personal thing. You have to use it for a while to figure out what works for you and what does not.
I know minimalist travel is not for everyone, but maybe this article can give you some ideas.
Teenage backpacking dreams
Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre (70 liters)
I have also traveled with many bags that I would not use any more today. The thought of using that 70 liter backpack again … No, I could not do that.
When I found it in the attic yesterday and lifted it up, I noticed that the empty backpack weighs more than three kilos. That’s extremely heavy. I can only imagine how heavy this backpack was when I used it as a teenager.
But back then I lived the backpacker stereotype, with the big backpack and all the shoes and everything dangling from it.
And back then, it was perfect. It really was.
The only thing that annoyed me a regularly was traveling by plane. Thanks to all the straps, I usually had to drop it off at the special luggage section and could not drop it off at the regular counters. I had to stand in line twice.
Another thing that makes me cringe these days is that this bag literally has no organization. I had no way to organize my stuff, I stuffed everything inside.
My backpack has seen me through some great times – from camping and hiking to going to metal festivals. It has some wear and tear, but is still in good shape. I kept it around because I used to lend it to my cousins when they went on trips of their own.
Travel for work
Dakine Split Roller (65 liters)
A few years later, I had to travel a lot for work. I was staying in a hotel for several days or weeks at a time, and we were traveling to trade shows. I needed countless clothes. Occasionally, I had to carry spare parts and other things for customers. Therefore, I wanted a bag that I could roll around.
And that’s when I bought the Dakine Split Roller 65 liter.
I still think it’s a great bag. It has great organization. When it is open, it has plenty of zippered compartments on both sides to keep everything organized. It’s a practical bag, and I still keep it in case one day I require a bigger bag.
This color was half the price, that’s why I went for it. Surprisingly, I was always happy to have a bag in a color that stood out. Because when I was at the airport and the 200,000 black suitcases started to roll out on the conveyor belt, I was always immediately able to spot my bag.
I also bought a big toiletry bag when I got the bag. It was able to fit full-size items, shampoos, shower gels and all that. At the time, I loved that toiletry bag because I was frustrated with constantly having to refill those little travel containers that never lasted the whole duration of a work trip. So, I started putting full-sized items into my toiletry bag and keeping them in my travel bag. Whenever I had to leave for a business trip, I was ready.
When I went to Brazil for five weeks in 2017, I was annoyed by my giant luggage for the first time. I had to lug it through dunes and through villages with no proper roads, and it was driving me crazy. At that moment, I decided I had to find a bag that was a better match for my traveling style.
But there was one good thing during this annoying trip because I discovered packing cubes. At the time, I had gigantic packing cubes, but at least my things were somewhat organized. And I have stuck with packing cubes ever since.
That experience sparked my interest in minimalist travel. I had already gone through this process at home and decluttered most of my possessions.
First carry-on size backpack.
Dakine Split Adventure (38 liters)
In 2017, I bought my first carry-on size backpack and tried my luck as a minimalist traveler.
I liked the organization of my wheeled bag, and that’s why I chose the Dakine Split Adventure. It’s a 38 liter backpack, and it has carry-on size dimensions.
The layout is similar to the bag I had before. It’s actually almost the same thing in a smaller size. I was also able to open it up, and there were compartments on both sides.
I started using this backpack for shorter trips, for example on a week in Barcelona, and I noticed out that I really enjoyed traveling minimally.
After those first few positive experiences, I attempted my first long-term trip to Brazil as a minimalist in 2019.
Unfortunately, I ran into some issues with this bag. Now that I have fewer clothes, I like living out of my backpack. It helps me keep my stuff together. I don’t like to unpack everything, spread it all over the hotel room or AirBnB and then at the end try to remember to pack everything again. That’s too much work. But with this backpack, when I opened it, it took up a lot of space on the floor. I had no other choice than unpacking almost everything.
What I also disliked was that the outside of the backpack is slick. There were hardly any compartments where I could store small items. I always found it annoying that I had to open the whole backpack and lay it flat to get to the individual compartments and get my stuff out.
After this trip, I gave this backpack to my husband. He was intrigued by how well I did with a small backpack compared to dragging around a gigantic piece of luggage. Now he also travels minimally, and he is doing great! The only problem we had was that the zipper puller broke off, but the zipper itself is still fine. Dakine claims to have a lifetime warranty, but of course, that does not apply if you bought it in Germany or Austria.
First variation of my minimalist travel bag.
Nitro Weekender (42 liters)
I was looking for a bag that would take up less space in my room when traveling and that had more compartments on the outside.
My next attempt to find a minimalist travel bag was the Nitro Weekender
It’s supposed to hold 42 liters, but I think it’s less. I could fit less in this bag than the 38 liter bag I had before. I think the liter values are random.
I believe the bag looks great and has many compartments on the outside to store things. I used it for short trips and for our one-month stay in Italy, and it worked great for my six-month stay in Brazil.
However, I found some flaws. The first thing that bothered me was the way it opened. The straps of the backpack always hung on one side, and when I opened the top, it came on the other side. As a result, it was bulky on both sides and never stood straight – it always fell over. I also disliked that I could not access the top compartment when it was open without everything falling out. The other compartments on the bottom are also a pain to reach -I have to flip the whole thing over, and it’s a mess.
At one point, I was so frustrated that I cut out the shoe compartment. But that proved to be a good move because then I had this little flap that I could open to get to the main part of the bag. I liked that.
I already did a “Pack With Me” video where I show how I prepare for a long plane trip. There you can see how I packed this bag. I started putting all the things that I needed in this first compartment that I could easily access through this flap. Then I was able to leave the backpack on the back and open and close this flap.
However, then I got annoyed once again because the flap only extended halfway down the backpack and not the entire length. There was this whole dead space in the corner. I always had to move things back and forth, zip up pockets to be able to turn the bag and access the other pockets… For daily use, this bag did not match my traveling style.
My current dream bag for minimalist travel
Osprey Arcane Duffel (30 liters)
Since I liked my DIY-modifications of my last backpack so much, my dream was to find a large bucket that could lay flat on the ground. I can open the entire thing, fold the flap away, and then it minimizes the amount of space required on the floor. That would make it easy for me to keep everything accessible, and I would not have to unpack my bag anymore.
And I actually found a bag that ticked all the boxes: Currently, the perfect minimalist travel bag for me is the Osprey Arcane Duffel Bag.
I love living out of this bag! It is simple and practical. I open the bag, open my packing cube and take out what I need for the day. I leave all the other stuff inside.
There are only two things I unpack: Next to the nightstand, I have my pouch with things I need to sleep, like a sleep mask and earplugs. In the bathroom, I have a toiletry bag that opens like a bucket. I leave all my toiletries in there. And when it’s time to pack tomorrow, I zip everything back up, and I am good to go! It only takes me a minute to pack.
The best part about this bag is that it’s convertible – I can carry it as a briefcase, with the shoulder strap, or as a backpack. The backpack straps can be stowed away. They are organized and not hanging around, which is something I like very much.
Tips for a minimalist travel bag
Those were the bags I have been using for the past few years.
I never thought I would have a travel bag with no compartments while everyone else is selling bags with many compartments, pockets, or quick access pockets. But this is what works for me.
I think it’s a personal thing. Everyone has to figure out what works for them and then try it out. Because in my opinion, you do not know if it’s going to work for you until you use it for a longer period of time, preferably daily.
And finally, if I could give you one more tip, it would be to look for a relatively light bag. It’s worth it to check the weight of the bag because there are lots of travel bags with many compartments that are heavy – even when they are empty. But with many airlines, you only have a weight limit of seven kilos, and then it gets heavy quickly. That’s another reason why I love my current bag, it only weighs 0.5 kilos.
As you can see, I was not always a minimalist traveler – quite the contrary. In fact, I used to travel with a huge toiletry bag. But at some point, I realized that there are many benefits to minimalist travel. For one, it can make traveling more easy and convenient. By packing only the essentials, I can save time and energy that would be spent on lugging around a heavy suitcase. Additionally, I have more freedom to move about since you’ll have less stuff to keep track of. Plus, I can save money by avoiding costly baggage fees and I can skip the lines at the airport. Not only is it easier, but it also makes traveling much more enjoyable. I would definitely recommend minimalist travel to anyone – at least give it a try.