Minimalist trip to Cape Town

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to travel somewhere afar with just one bag? Ever considered the benefits of travelling this way? Or have you ever just questioned how to make it possible? Well after having done it myself, I’m about to give you some insight to what travelling like a minimalist is like. 

In November 2019, I booked a rather spontaneous, last minute trip to visit my best friend in Cape Town, South Africa. I kept in mind the fact that I wasn’t going to the bush this time, and I would be in a very well stocked house in a city. These thoughts provoked my choice to try travelling as a true, one bag traveller, or as other people call them, minimalists. I perhaps pushed the boundaries a little bit and I may be considered an extreme minimalist for doing this, but all I had on me was a 25-litre backpack. 

The backpack I used was the Tom Bihn Synapse 25

Before I dive into the nitty-gritty packing list, at this point we can already discuss one huge benefit of travelling with one bag, or with cabin baggage only, and that is how much money it saves you on your flights. Did you know that airlines will charge £30 or more per flight for you to take hold luggage? At least British Airways does, and by only travelling with my one bag, over four flights (Manchester to London, London to Cape Town and back again), I saved £120 on my tickets. 

You might feel uncomfortable with the thought of not taking very much, maybe thinking you won’t be prepared enough, not have everything you need etc, but there is a way to pack to make sure your basic needs and comforts are easily met. You may choose to travel with a slightly bigger bag than I did on this trip, I think the largest backpack style bag allowed in the cabin is about 40 litres, but you should always check this on your chosen airline’s website. The first step to knowing how much you need is knowing how long you’re going for, and for this trip I would be there for 10 days. At this point you have to start being very realistic in your thinking, how often do you actually change your clothes, and did you know about this thing called laundry, making all your clothes reusable? For this trip, I knew it was going to be very hot when I got there, but I decided on taking only 3 outfits with me because of the fact I only change what I’m wearing every few days, and the fact that I can put my clothes in the wash. So, my outfits consisted of 3 tank tops and 3 shorts; I also needed something to sleep in, so I packed 2 sets of PJs with me. Just in case (not a phrase that minimalists tend to use, but I thought viable in this case) I also packed 2 workout outfits consisting of 2 pairs of cropped leggings and 2 workout tops for any situation of doing intense activities. We were planning to do a bit of hiking and although those plans didn’t come to light, I was ready to take on those sorts of activities. Then all I had left to pack was my underwear. I took 5 of everything in that category, I needed maybe 1 more set, but I got by and made it work. I also packed a bikini just for in the event we went swimming as she lives literally 5 mins from the beach and there are some other pretty nice swimming places around. 

To fit what sounds like quite a lot of clothing in a rather small bag, I made use of a packing cube that I had from previous trips. Packing cubes are a god send when trying to fit lots of stuff into small places as they will compress your clothes slightly. I also rolled all my clothes when putting them in the packing cube, and by doing this, it means you can see most of the items you have, as well as compacting them and making a little bit of extra space to fit in everything. 

When packing in a carry-on, the most important thing to think about is toiletries, this is because of the amount of liquid you’re allowed to pack in a carry-on bag. You can take up to a litre, which all has to be in 100ml bottles (Again please check this with your airline). Seeing as I was visiting a friend, I knew I could use some of her toiletries, so I didn’t need to take too much with me in this category. I took a few things such as a special suncream for my face as being a natural redhead I have to be particularly careful about sun exposure and things like that; but this time I didn’t need to pack shampoo, body wash or anything of that sort. I took a small, FDA approved, clear washbag from the same company as my backpack (Tom Bihn), as that was all I needed on this trip; there is however a way you can take everything you need without causing a problem at airport security. I am researching into it for future travel as and when my next opportunity arises (that is to say the pandemic and my bank account need to get their acts together), I want to travel with everything I need in 1 bag and also try and be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible. With this in mind, you should consider using shampoo and soap bars. Depending on where you get them, these are usually made with natural ingredients, meaning no harsh chemicals or substances for your hair, skin, or the waterways, but also, they are now starting to be packaged in paper-based packaging, making it easy to recycle. To transport your soap bars, invest maybe £2-£3 in some soap tins which you can find on most eco-friendly websites. Soap and shampoo bars last as long, if not longer than regular shampoo bottles, so not only are you saving space in your bag and the environment, you will be very unlikely to run out if travelling for less than a month. Also being solid, the soap and shampoo bars won’t get flagged when going through the scanner at the airport. 

One other thing that is incredibly important when travelling is taking a small first aid bag/med kit with some things you might need. Typically blister plasters, normal plasters and paracetamol will do (maybe some wound wipes and rehydration sachets as well), but also make sure to take your prescription meds (whether taken regularly or not just for any instance where you might come a cropper and think “darn, I should have brought those meds”). To fit meds into my tiny little pouch, I take the trays of pills out of their box along with the instructions sheet and pack them in; the boxes take up a lot of space and as long as you thoroughly check what it is as it will say on the back of the foil tray, you really don’t need the box (just please put it in your recycling bin). 

With those three categories fulfilled, you are pretty much set to go anywhere at this point. You have your clothes, toiletries, and meds. So, no matter what happens, whether delayed, diverted, or whatever you are ready and raring to go with just a bag on your back. Imagine the stress you’re saving yourself when they make an announcement that your hold baggage didn’t make it to your connecting flight. Everyone else will be there panicking because their clothes and makeup are lost in an airport many hours away, but not you, you thought about what you ACTUALLY NEEDED, and have it all with you, so no worries there, you’re good to start enjoying yourself. 

The other things I included in my pack was a packable raincoat, travel guide and Afrikaans phrase book, a notebook, my phone, wallet, obviously passport, and also my reusable water bottle. A bit of a random collection of things but I have my reasons. We actually did have a very heavy downpour, albeit during the night, but I had my raincoat if I had needed it. My friend speaks Afrikaans, so I wanted to learn a bit whilst I was there, unfortunately we had too much fun to sit and do learning. 

The ease of travelling with just my one small backpack is undeniable, from moving through airports easily, and also being able to make my connecting flights closer together because I didn’t need anything to be transferred across was such a blessing in itself. It also meant not having crap everywhere in my friend’s room. When I go to stay at hers, I sleep on a mattress on her bedroom floor, having been there before two uni trips with so much baggage, we never had space to move around. This time, my backpack fit perfectly in a small space by her wardrobe and it was so much easier to make space to hang out. I basically kept everything in my bag when I didn’t need it. The only thing I wish I did have was a small day bag, something like a little 12 litre backpack from Mountain Warehouse or something, just to put the stuff I needed for the day in (suncream, wallet, phone, travel guide etc). 

Of course there are some downsides in travelling this way, maybe you constantly feel like you’re missing something if you’re used to taking a lot with you, or maybe you don’t quite know how to pack in a way to make it work for you. There are other things like if you lose that bag, that’s it, all your stuff is gone, but not having much to replace means it’s easier to start again. 

I would seriously urge people to try and travel with just 1 bag once in your life, just to experience the feeling of freedom and preparedness that it brings (at least that’s how I felt). The ease of getting through airports, the space you have at your travel destinations, the feeling of being able to go at pretty much the snap of your fingers because it takes less than maybe 10 minutes to pack a bag the size, maybe under half an hour for anything a bit bigger. 

I can’t wait to travel again as Cape Town is the last place I managed to go before the world turned into a shambles; I also can’t wait to pack just the one bag and go, maybe a slightly bigger bag next time with a few small adjustments to the packing list, but just the one bag. 

Next week I’ll be posting a minimalism mini series throughout the week, hopefully containing some handy tips on how to start, how and what goals to set and a few other topics within the minimalism realm. 


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