In all the conversations I’ve had about my recent trip to Fiji, the most common question isn’t about the stunning beaches. It’s some iteration of, “How on earth did you fit everything into that little backpack?!” I’m met with two types of people when I attempt to explain; those who feign inability to bring less than three suitcases, and those who want lessons on. This, is for that second group.
I’m always touting the benefits of minimalist packing. From skipping lines at customs, never losing a bag, and never looking like a tourist, bringing less frankly allows you to do more.
I carry the Tom Bihn Synapse 25, which is an excellently designed, versatile, and durable backpack about the size a high school student might have. Designed and made in Seattle, Tom Bihn products are ones you can be proud to carry. It has a large top pocket, a medium sized bottom pocket, two side pockets, and two front pockets – one small, and one capable of fitting a 1L water bottle. This backpack, despite being only 25L, has much better economy of space and holds much more than a 30L North Face pack I used to carry.
The first rule to keep in mind when trying minimalist packing is to choose only versatile items that do not wrinkle, and transition well between day and night. For the purposes of this trip, I needed outfits I could wear out on the beach and on excursions, and dress up for dinner. This means: leave the heels at home. Leave the silk dress that wrinkles if you look at wrong at home. You will probably not make the time to iron it, so it’s just wasted space in your bag.
The second rule is: you will do laundry on your trip. Or have the hotel do it. Many girls may object to this, but I urge you to think about it. Would you wear a favorite shirt more than once in 3 weeks? Probably. Would you wear it more than once if you knew that nobody you knew would see you? Or if you were going to a different city? Definitely. At both of our accommodations in Fiji, laundry service was as easy as putting dirty clothes in a basket, and coming back to your room with everything folded and pressed in the dresser. Even at the luxury resort we stayed in at the end of our trip, laundry service was less than $10 USD. If you’re in less developed areas, or accommodations without laundry services, washing your clothes in the sink with Dr. Bronner’s soap & hanging them to dry takes no more than 5 minutes before you go to bed.
Planning on doing laundry means you only need to bring half of (or less) the clothes. I packed clothes for 6 days in my backpack, and wore a 7th outfit. We did laundry twice in 3 weeks. I felt like I had a great variety of outfits, and didn’t feel like I was wearing the same thing all the time.
My next mantra: buy it there. When traveling carry-on only, bringing things like sunscreen or bug spray is difficult. On this trip, with time to wait prior to our seaplane departure, we took a taxi into Nadi, and bought ample sunscreen and bug spray at reasonable prices. Don’t wait to buy at your resort, like many other places, it will be at a huge markup.
Now, for the nitty gritty. First up: on the plane.
I am a huge fan of the maxi dress for travel. I tend to be freezing on flights, and the long dress doubles as a second blanket. I always wear my coverup/jacket on the flight for this reason as well. Given that Fiji is a lush tropical climate, a cardigan is only needed if there is a breeze at night. My other staple is a pashmina. This is essential for many reasons. First of all, I do not trust airplane blankets/pillows to be clean. I use the airplane blanket just over my lap, and wrap my pashmina around my shoulders and neck. When I’m in full sleeping mode, I look like a very comfortable babushka. The pashmina also doubles as a skirt/dress/padeo swim suit cover up as it’s essentially just a big piece of fabric. I always try and dress simultaneously as comfortably and nicely as possible. Having a ‘put together’ outfit makes you look less tired after a 12 hour red-eye!
Next up: Clothing, in the bag.
I packed six outfits in my bag. Given that Fiji is a warm climate, this was easily achieved by rolling each outfit into my large Eagle Creek packing cube. Dresses take up less space than separates, although I did bring both black and white shorts that could interchange with two tanks. I packed two lightweight swim cover-ups, and two bikinis into the medium sized packing cube, and underwear in the small one. I brought a pair of sturdy Teva’s which I put into the backpack as well.
Third: Bathroom essentials, a huge opportunity to par down.
A minimalist makeup routine makes things so much easier when traveling. I opted for powder foundation to create more room in the dreaded liquids bag. One powder eyeshadow, some black eyeliner, and waterproof mascara, and I’m set. A small brush (not pictured), hairties and pins make doing my hair a breeze. No blow-dryer or flat iron! Your hair won’t stand up to the humidity in Fiji, anyway – don’t waste your time trying. Completing the bathroom bag is a first aid kit, earplugs and eye-mask, travel size shampoo/conditioner, moisturizer, and saline solution for my contacts.
Obviously the passport and copies of travel documents make up the most important category here. I like to only bring a slim clutch as a purse when traveling; easier for me to keep track of and less obtrusive when out & about. Aside from my iPhone, I didn’t pack any camera equipment in my bag — my husband did (we brought the GoPro Hero 4 Silver Edition plus accessories), and I packed the books instead. Yes, we had room for physical books! I was willing to give this up and use my kindle app, not knowing the full range of awesomeness of the Synapse 25, but two novels fit nicely into the “water bottle pouch” in the front. A power adapter and a nice pair of sunnies rounds out the random with a bit of room to spare for things we bought at the store in Nadi.
All things considered, we met the strict 7kg (15.4lb) per person weight limit for Fiji Airways for carry on, as well as the weight limit for the seaplane (without fuel surcharges). And, to be 100% honest with you, we wanted for nothing. We had everything we needed. When we pulled up into Port Denarau on our long journey home, and watched luggage literally scatter into carts, hauled off in every direction, people scrambling to find their things and catch a bus or taxi… I was so thankful to be carrying my own load, everything I needed comfortably perched on my back. Minimalist packing, for the win.
*Note: With the clothing collages, I made every attempt to find the actual item I wore, but in the interest of having the collage keep a clean appearance, I edited for similar items where necessary.