Family-Friendly Tips for Minimalist Travel

When trying to achieve the goal of minimalist travel, for most families, the concept of packing lightly comes to mind. And that is definitely part of it – and perhaps the most difficult with children! However, minimalist travel goes beyond whether or not you pack in a carry-on only, and reaches out to all aspects of your trip. 

When trying to achieve the goal of minimalist travel, for most families, the concept of packing lightly comes to mind. And that is definitely part of it – and perhaps the most difficult with children! However, minimalist travel goes beyond whether or not you pack in a carry-on only, and reaches out to all aspects of your trip.  #freetotravelmama #minimalisttravel #familyvacation

Minimalist Travel at its best will allow you to travel without excess in order to embrace every opportunity and adventure that come your way. Some ways to achieve that are with minimal luggage, minimal financial strain, minimal waste, minimal souvenirs, and minimal stress.

In general, minimalism is not designed to remove as much as possible from your life, but rather to remove that which is not important to make room for that which is most important.

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Minimalist Travel: Finances

I am firm believer in the fact that Post-Travel Blues are a real thing! And the best cure for them to is start planning, or at least dreaming, of your next trip on the plane ride home.

But you know what the one thing is that could stop those plans dead in your tracks? If you come home with a big credit card bill that overextended your resources for your trip and blew your budget out of the water.

We are huge fans of living below your means and that includes our vacations. We love using credit cards points to our advantage when traveling – check out our post Hawaii on a Budget here to see the best way to earn free travel and accommodations just by collecting points from your usually daily spending. This article will apply to destinations beyond just Hawaii!

Lanikai Beach Sunrise

Before you leave on your trip, take the time to plan how much you would like to spend on food, activities, and transportation. Whether you set a daily budget or budget by category, a little time planning will save you the headache of overextending yourself and literally paying for it when you get home.

Our favorite quick tips for saving money on travel:

  • Use credit card points to book travel
  • Book a condo with a kitchen and eat out intentionally
  • Pack what you need so as to avoid picking up $6 toothpaste at a resort
  • Search the destination for free cultural activities, free walking tours, and free gorgeous natural opportunities like hiking to a waterfall or snorkeling at the beach
  • Travel in the off-season when possible
  • Rent a car and drive yourself instead of paying for an expensive tour
  • Pack in carryons only and avoid airline baggage fees
  • Use a credit card that includes travel insurance

Minimalist Travel: Luggage

This past fall, our family of five took a last-minute trip to Nebraska to celebrate great grandma’s 94th birthday for 6 days. We booked discount tickets on Frontier Airlines which meant that even carry-ons were not covered in our ticket price. Seeing as how we had to pay for every piece of luggage, we challenged ourselves to pack in only one suitcase for the five of us.

With some planning and preparation (and our don’t-go-anywhere-without-em packing cubes – seriously our faves for how pefectly they fit into our carry on luggage, the modern design, and adorable and practical colorful labels) we did it!

As we easily strolled through the airport, we kept thinking back to a previous trip to visit Grandma four years earlier. During that trip, we had three suitcases, twin toddlers in separate umbrella strollers, a laptop bag, a large diaper bag, my daughter’s backpack, and a car seat strapped to each of our backs. We. Were. Exhausted.

Now obviously being able to bring two light booster seats on this trip and lose the strollers is just one of the benefits of our children getting older (I have to remind myself of the benefits because they are growing too fast!). But we have also learned SO much about packing lightly that we now know it is well worth the effort to leave the other non-essentials at home.

Minimalist Travel Packing List

Each child was allotted one medium packing cube, and each parent had one large packing cube. Each person wore one outfit with jeans, shirt, sweatshirt, and jacket on travel day. We expected the daytime temperature highs to range from the 40s to the 70s while we were there.

1 – pair of pants

6 – shirts (3 long sleeved tees, 2 short sleeved tees, 1 nice party shirt)

5 – pairs of socks

7 – pairs of underwear

1 – pair of pajamas

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1 – beanie, scarf, knitted gloves

1 – dress for my daughter

We also packed one personal hygiene case (these are the best – they work for carry-on or checked luggage) with toothbrushes, travel size products in these bottles, and my small makeup bag, hair dryer, flat iron, and even an extra pair of shoes for my daughter and me (we can’t expect a girl to live in one pair of shoes for a week, right?).

I won’t lie – our packing cubes were snug and so was our suitcase, but we fit! Each child carried a small/very light backpack onto the plane with activities, stuffed animal to sleep with, snacks, water bottle, and space to stuff their jackets when they got hot.

I want to give a very important disclaimer. If your child is at the age where packing one outfit per day is going to require you to do laundry in your hotel sink every night, pack the extra suitcase. Really. For me personally, washing underwear in the sink throughout my whole trip is not my idea of a relaxing vacation (this may be different if I were backpacking through Southeast Asia and it was a necessity). If packing as minimally as possible causes you more stress then I don’t think you have achieved your goal. More stress is NOT a positive result of minimalist family travel.  This post is just to give you an idea of what worked for our family and hopefully inspire you to pare down a bit and have a more relaxing journey.

We pack less because it is easier to make our way through the airport, it takes less time to decide what to wear each day and to repack the suitcase before we leave, because our packing cubes keep everyone’s stuff organized, and because it saves us money. We also pack less because it keeps our arms from falling off dragging a million suitcases through the airport like we did in 2014!

Minimalist Travel: Souvenirs

When it comes to souvenirs, there are those that love to shop and add to their collections whenever they travel. I can see the appeal in this! We personally, keep our souvenir shopping to a very minimum. We have learned that too much shopping leads to clutter and dust, and we would rather save that money for an extra fun experience on our trip.

Local, Handmade Souvenirs at Roadside Stand in Maui

Locally Handmade Souvenirs

When we do purchase items, we love for them to be locally handmade if possible so that they are an authentic representation of the place we are visiting, but also so that it supports the local economy of the people who have warmly welcomed us. Farmer’s Markets are some of our favorite places to shop for local items and to personally meet the creators.

Book a Vacation Photo Shoot

The best souvenir that is always worth our investment is a vacation photo shoot! We personally love Flytographer! They have captured our travels in such a beautiful way and allow us to display our images in our home when we return. Coming home from an amazing trip with only a few not-so-great selfies or without the person that is always behind the camera is such a bummer for me. I love that Flytographer captures my favorite people in my favorite places in such a seamless, convenient, and beautiful way. Click this link to check them out and save $25 off of your first booking!

Work with Us: Free to Travel Mama Family Photo

Annual Tradition Souvenirs

Some of our favorite additional souvenirs, are an ornament for our Christmas tree which has a time for use and a space to be stored when not in use. We also love purchasing a book for our children about the destination we are enjoying.

Consumable Souvenirs

Consumable items are also a great choice to help your trip stay alive a little longer after you return home. Wine from Napa Valley (they’ll package it for you), chocolate from Belgium, and special macadamia nuts from Hawaii can take your taste buds back to that dreamy place while you are back to work with the post-vacation blues!

Souvenirs in Paris

On our last trip to Paris, we purchased each of our children one gift – a book for each of our sons (a local children’s book about Paris and a French drawing book), and a Parisian scarf for our daughter. We also brought them some lollipops and cookies from our hotel. They were thrilled! For ourselves, we bought…nothing. The experience and the endless photographs from our sunrise Eiffel Tower photo shoot far surpassed anything that we saw on the shelves. I had really wanted to buy an ornament for our collection, but didn’t find one I loved, so I made one via Shutterfly with our photos instead.

When it comes to souvenirs, you do you! But I just encourage you to envision where your souvenir will live and what purpose it will serve when you return home. If it will be prominently displayed and daily enjoyed, then it might not be a bad idea!

Flytographer Photo Shoot Paris

Minimalist Travel: Waste

While we still honestly have a long way to go, we take many steps to reduce our waste while on our journey. While we have the goal of seeing the world, it is also our goal not to negatively impact the destinations that we visit.

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With children especially, it is really easy to reach for disposable items out of convenience. However, we feel a responsibility to the places we visit and the people who welcome us there, to care for their beautiful spaces and leave them better than when we found them.

Here are a few very simple tips to apply green reusable practices to your minimalist travel goals.

Water Bottles

We pack an empty water bottle for each family member. This is convenient from the moment we arrive at the airport until we return home. We can fill them up in the drinking fountain after going through security and never have to worry about when the beverage service will hydrate us on the plane. This also keeps us from buying plastic water bottles when we arrive in our destination. We love these Stainless Steel Thermo Flask Water Bottles and my kids love these Thermos Funtainers – they DON’T LEAK (they haven’t failed us in years of using them!).

Reusable Shopping Bags

I usually pack at least one empty Reusable Shopping Bag folded in my suitcase. It is handy for shopping (especially at a store with a plastic bag ban), filling with shelf stable picnic supplies, and using as a beach bag. Sometimes I purposely leave mine at home and purchase one at my destination as a simple, practical, and inexpensive souvenir.

Snack Containers

We love these slim Snack Containers and have used the same set for years. They are compact and handy for filling with snacks over and over throughout our vacation reducing the use of disposable baggies.  I LOVE that they also keep the snacks from being smooshed into a pile of crumbs or mushy berries when stuffed into a backpack or beach bag. We also pack them and use them every day of our trip whether walking around a city or on a hike – they keep snacks fresh and intact.

Travel Size Cosmetic Containers

I have fallen guilty to grabbing a few things from the travel section too many times due to lack of preparation and finally decided to get my act together and invest in a set of Reusable Travel Containers. I use the word “invest” lightly because they are really cheap! These allow me to avoid purchasing additional plastic bottles on every trip, and also allow me to fill them with my usual everyday products that I love. I first used them on a trip to Paris and have used them several times since with no leaking and easy packing.

Reef-Safe Sunscreen

While this last point is not exactly waste-related, it does affect our impact on the environment. More and more beach locations are banning most sunscreens due to the fact that they bleach the coral reef and harm the sea life. I highly encourage you to invest in a reef-safe sunscreen like Sun Bum, ThinkBaby or Kiss My Face which is void of the active ingredients that negatively affects the reef. In addition, when snorkeling, don’t step on the coral or stir up the sediment as it damages the fragile ecosystem.

Why Travel Minimally? Less Stress!

Our entire purpose for traveling minimally is to minimize the stress of travel. We pack less so that we have less to carry, less pay baggage fees to pay, and less to organize and reorganize at our destination. We try to waste less to cause less stress to the environment of the destination we are visiting. We watch our spending so that we cause less stress to our budget. We buy less souvenirs because we know that they will usually just clutter our home when we return taking away the space we have created in our home and in our lives to collect experiences more than things.

I encourage you to take the above tips to heart in order to have a peaceful, relaxing, adventurous family vacation of your own. Every tip won’t work for everybody, but I hope you found a gem in there to apply to your next minimalist family travel adventure!

Think of anything I missed? Have a great experience implementing any of these tips? Be sure to let me know below!

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Author: Sierra

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    • I agree! Putting a little more time in preparing beforehand makes for a much more relaxing vacation!

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  1. Great tips! I love how you described minimalism as essentially freeing you to enjoy what you have. It’s not about a number, but being intentional.

    We are about to move overseas for the second time and it really makes you think about what you need.

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    • Absolutely! Good luck with your move! That definitely always helps us to evaluate the essential and the meaningful.

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  2. Great tips, it’s easy to panic pack or panic buy gifts for home when traveling. I’ll be using these to plan for our next adventure.

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    • So true! Preparation is key!

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    • Those are some great tips.I also believe in minimal travel packing.loved your suggestions too.

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  3. I would have never thought about booking a family photo shoot during vacation. I loved all your tips. Thank you so much for sharing!!!!

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    • Thanks for your reply! We looove our vacation photo shoot tradition!

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  4. Love the packing cubes!! One pack comes with 5. How many packing cubes “packs” did you use?

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    • Sorry for the delay in responding! It depends how minimally you would like to pack. We have traveled with one packing cube per person on minimal packing trips (medium size for kids and large size for adults) and have used 3-4 per person on bigger trips (one for tops, one for bottoms, one for undergarments, and one for cosmetics, hair brush, etc.).

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  5. Packing cubes were a game changer for me! And I totally agree about packing a water bottle and a variety of containers. The last thing you want to do is leave a pile of rubbish after visiting a beautiful spot. This is especially true for national parks.

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  6. Wow I didn’t even know you could travel minimalist with children!

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    • Yes, one of those easy things to forget, but always so useful!

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  7. I like that you mentioned how planning your meal and activity budgets ahead of time will help you avoid worrying about it after the vacation. My family and I are excited to go on a family vacation this year using the inheritance I received from my late uncle, but I want to make sure that we prioritize family-focused activities. Perhaps planning ahead will ensure that our vacation goes well.

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  8. I like that you mentioned how packing lightly can help reduce the stress caused by carrying heavy luggage. My family and I are excited to go on vacation together for a week, but we aren’t sure how much clothes our 5-year-old son will need. Maybe it would be best for us to try packing light so that we can avoid carrying too much.

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