The Minimal Suitcase: a Packing Hack for Anxiety

A holiday should be relaxing, right?

This is not the most hip, on-millennial-brand thing to say, but travelling makes me very, very anxious.

Not the kind of anxious where everyone in the airport irritates you, the kind of anxious where you make yourself throw up just to stop your stomach feeling so nauseous and getting that alone time in the bathroom is nice. 

Don’t worry, I have copious coping mechanisms, some of which are between me and my doctor, and some of which have accidentally turned me into a minimalist.

I once took 14, fourteen, pairs of shoes on a seven-day holiday. You know. Just in case. This was before I was emotionally mature enough to identify that twisted feeling in my core that I was trying to sooth by grossly overpacking. Lucky for my luggage, anxiety was more of a whole-life problem, rather than a travelling one. And a result of making healthy changes to manage anxiety I have a fairly minimal wardrobe which ensures I am a minimal traveller.

Of course being mindful and minimal in my preparations helps me feel more relaxed! It seems so simple, but it did take me a long time to trust the logic and stop packing things ‘just in case’. 

Basic Needs

One year ago my husband and I rented an old camper van (no, not a VW van, we’re not that cool) and drove around the Scottish Highlands for a week. The van itself began life as a regular family van with two rows of back seats, but the owner had transformed the interior into table / bed, with a small ‘kitchen’ at the back. We stayed at campsites with toilets and showers, but slept in the van and spent most days wandering around nature and castle ruins. 

It was one of our simplest holidays, and to this day my favourite. We packed minimally, but warmly, and I didn’t wear any makeup. I have never been so relaxed while away from home; I swear my skin was glowing when we got back. Either Scotland truly is a magical place, or taking a minimal, relaxed approach to travelling is a great way to alleviate travel anxiety.

Since then I have tried to bring the same kind of energy to all our vacations, and even to our relocation to Amsterdam. My approach to minimal packing actually begins quite maximally: lists and sub-lists and colour-coding. Packing for a long weekend, or packing up a flat, involves thorough planning and organisation. And fortunately, for me, those two things are like a soothing balm to my itchy anxiety.

I have watched countless YouTube tutorials on packing minimally but when I pack the only system I can follow is my own. It does involve making a small mess before finishing in light-weight luggage, but like Marie Kondo, “I love mess!”

In case you’d like to try my method to see if it helps your own travel anxiety, or to just try out a different way of packing, here it is…

My Minimal Method

Pen and Paper / even if it’s a simple list of items in no order that you just cross off, I find writing down a packing plan is helpful in my decision-making. On a recent trip to Prague I wanted to try out a new way of pen and paper planning using my bullet journal. I listed the activity and weather for each day, and I gave myself room to write down a planed outfit for each of the nine days. And I left room for my standard ‘checked’ and ‘carry-on’ lists.

bullet journal planning

Laundry / wash everything you’ll need about a week before your travel date. For example: your preferred underwear/socks/bras, any face cloths or washable cotton rounds you need for skin care, and of course any clothing you might want to bring that needs washing.

Wardrobe Round One / take out everything that you think you might want while on your holiday. Clothing, underwear, accessories, cat…

Marie Kondo packing

Wardrobe Round Two / look at what you’ve pulled out and find a colour or style scheme, and put away anything that doesn’t fit (example: that black t-shirt with the flowers is beautiful, but didn’t suit my scheme for this particular trip). Count the number of days and only bring two extra pairs of undies, get rid of extraneous sleeping or exercise clothing. Be honest about what you really need.

Wardrobe Round Three / now that you’ve put away the colours and styles that don’t go with your holiday collection, start assigning outfits to different days, aiming to use every item more than once. Be ruthless and inventive and you’ll end up with a tidy, functional suitcase.

wardrobe round three

C’est fin! Your bags and your brain are both ready for a holiday and neither are bothered with too much stuff, just in case.

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