UPDATE 2013: I’ve finally written a complete digital nomad packing list. If you’d like to see EVERYTHING we bring with us to live, work and play anywhere in the world check it out!

When I posted this picture of me with my pack, I got a lot of questions about how I can pack so little. This is a pretty common question, but I get especially grilled by my fellow females. How can a girl travel with so little?

MyBackpack

Packing is an art form, and I’ll do a post soon on everything I bring with me as a digital nomad – laptop, iPhone, dehydration salts – the works! But for now I want to focus on clothes.

I enjoy fashion. And I don’t enjoy looking like a scrub as I traverse the globe (OK – sometimes I do, but not always). I want to be able to hit the beach in the morning, a nice restaurant in the evening, and drinks in the city at night. And I don’t want to be wearing my North Face all-weather zip-off pants while I do it. I’m a backpacker at heart, but it doesn’t mean I always want to look like it. But it also doesn’t mean having to lug 40 lbs of clothes in a rolling bag across Europe (yes I have traveled with someone who did this).

My opinion is not the be-all-and-end-all of packing rules. There are tons of ways to pack, and as long as you can carry your own luggage then more power to you! But here is my humble wardrobe for your inspection. It fits in that small pack with room for my laptop, makeup, toiletries, meds, and all sorts of goodies. It’s the ever-changing compilation of my two years of continuous travel, and I think it’s pretty great.

So without further ado, I present Kit’s closet!

This is my absolute go-to outfit: a simple dress over leggings. You can see me wearing this exact outfit in about 80% of my pictures on Flickr because I love it so much. You look at home in the city or at the beach, and can throw it on over a bathing suit without looking awkward. Plus it’s super comfy, which means it’s great for a full day of exploring a new city on foot. In cooler weather I switch out cropped leggings for full-length ones. You can also throw a light sweater on over it if it’s chilly. Worn with flip-flops normally, but flats can class it up.

What about the hard-core travel stuff? Hiking, maybe running on the beach, or just plain bumming around? Voila! These sweats are a relatively new addition to the wardrobe ($15 from Target) and are super-duper comfy. I get sweat, sand and dirt all over them and they hold up. Worn over bathing suit, sports bra or regular bra depending on the day’s activities. I feel good in it, and in any non-city setting you still look pretty normal. Even in a city you just look like you’re heading to a workout. I’m also holding my two other tees that go with this outfit, blue and orange/red.

When I need a slightly nicer outfit for dinner out, or just cuz I feel like it, I pull out this dress (this & the blue one are the only ones I bring, but the blue one will die soon – it’s from Forever21 in 2007!) Add flats and earrings and the pretty dress will get you in anywhere. Can also be worn over leggings for a day of exploring. This dress was $50 from ModCloth.

When meeting people for lunch or going out for drinks in the city, you don’t want to be wearing beachy gear, so I pack a pair of jeans (this current pair is jeggings, again from Forever21) and a fancier tee (this one with shoulder studs from Banana Republic, about $20 on sale I think). I feel chic and would happily been seen in this in any city.

Right now I’m in the Caribbean, so I don’t get cold much, but I have a long-sleeve tee in the bag for when it’s a bit brisk. Can be layered over any of the 5 tees I bring for different looks. (Shirt was $30ish from The Gap)

And if it’s ever raining, which it has been here in St. Lucia for days, I’ve got the best raincoat in the universe to throw over whatever I’m wearing – the Marmot Whisperlite. It’s GORE-TEX and keeps me super-dry. It’s also only 8 ounces and rolls up small, so it’s a dream to pack. It’s expensive so I asked for it for my birthday, thanks Nick’s mom!

Finally, we have the simple swimsuit & my well-known sarong. The swimsuit’s from Target in 2007 (I can’t believe it’s still holding up!) and the sarong from a stall in Bali.

And that’s all my clothes! Seriously, you just saw everything except my underwear (8 pairs, plus a few socks, one nude bra, one gray bra, one sports bra). Obviously this wardrobe is for temperate to hot climates. When it’s cold, like the month I spent in Boston this winter, I ditch the tees, bathing suit and light dresses and pack long underwear and a couple sweaters. Yes it still fits in the tiny backpack.

I have always packed like this (that picture of my backpack is from 2009), but this past Christmas I got something that makes it even easier: vacuum packs! I use one small and one medium Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression bag, and EVERYTHING fits in them (ok, I forgot to put the raincoat in when I took this pic, but it does fit)! Its amazing! Here’s what all my clothes look like when they’re packed:

There you have it! That’s how I travel ultralite while still feeling like a woman.

At the end of the day what I’m wearing is pretty unimportant. When I’m staring at the pyramids or lazing on a Caribbean beach, it’s the last thing I’m thinking about. But when you live on the road, or just simply like to feel nice once in a while, putting in a few good pieces can go a long way to making you not feel like a backpacker all the time.

What’s in your pack? Am I crazy for packing so little? Have any suggestions to make my wardrobe even better? Let me know in the comments!

  • Erin

    I always over pack…this is amazing! Thanks for the tips!! :)

    • Kit

      Yay! I’m glad it was useful :)

  • http://jackandjilltravel.com jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World

    I love it! I don’t usually wear dresses but it’s great to see that with a pair of leggings, you get to become both chic and practical.

    • Kit

      Hey Jill! I didn’t ever wear dresses until about 2 years ago. They’re so comfy & nice for travel that now I’m obsessed! I was never a girlie-girl growing up, it’s ironic I now wear them for practicality :)

      • Katie

        Kit not a girlie-girl growing up?!?! REALLY?!?! Sorry had to, love you! Great Blog!

        • Kit

          Dude, we were in Engineering together, what’s girlie about that? Just because I was boy-crazy doesn’t make me girly ;)
          Thanks!!

  • Rachael

    Excellent advice. I pretty much live in comfy dresses like this. It is a whole classy outfit in less space than you need for jeans and a tee. I throw in a couple long sleeve dresses and half jacket style sweater that goes with all of them. 1 pair of jeans is more than enough and if you get a the shiny wick away fabric on the active capris, they can double as something to go under a dress. The sarong can also be used as a quick drying towel.

    • Kit

      Great idea on the jacket-style sweater! I’m going to have to look for one :)
      And yeah, the uses for a sarong are almost endless!

  • Clayton

    I think a lot of the problems of over-packing for travelers starts with the backpack itself. If you have a large backpack… well… you’re going to pack too much stuff in there. get a small one (30L or less) and you’ll be forced to take the bare minimum. pack clothes that are comfortable but functional. if you’re traveling for several weeks just find a place to do your laundry at.

    I use a compression stuff sack but the Eagle Creek Pack-It looks better since then I might actually fold my clothes. I also find it useful to have a dirty laundry compression stuff sack.

    • Kit

      Exactly!!! I got a small pack (it’s the largest possible carry-on size) to force myself to pack ultralight, so now I do.
      I want to buy two more small size compression packs – one for underwear & now one for laundry! Thanks for that idea!

  • JamesA

    Is that the Tom Bihn Aeronaut ?

    • Kit

      Yup! It’s amazing.

  • Ash

    Awesome little break down of your pack. Thanks for sharing!
    I also love your outfits.. that Banana Republic shirt is cool, I want one now.
    I find that my jeans are so bulky (good call on the jeggings).. even with the thin t-shirts I normally wear. A dress with a pair of leggings takes up much less space and you look way more fab, so it’s definitely the better choice.

    • Kit

      Thank you! I know, as soon as I discovered dress + leggings I was like “how did I not think of this before?!”
      Jeggings are not only smaller than real jeans, but so much more comfy! And no one can really tell ;-)

  • Matt

    How do you keep it from getting extremely wrinkly?

    • Kit

      Surprisingly it doesn’t come out much more wrinkly than regular packing. I do make sure I take them out as soon as I arrive and hang them up to avoid bad wrinkles. I don’t think it would work for a business traveler who needs clothes to be nicely pressed, but for regular travel it’s fine.

  • http://hop-skip-and-jump.blogspot.com Hopskipandjump

    I nearly gasped when I saw how small your bag is! But… you have managed to fit in quite a few outfits. Those airtight bags definitely look like a great way to get your bagpack size down. I’m bookmarking this for next time I go away as a reminder x

    • Kit

      I don’t know how I lived before I had the compression sacks! It helps immensely when packing an entire wardrobe into a tiny space. Thanks for reading :)

  • Frederica

    I had one question! For how long is this pack? Or is this, no matter where you go, all you pack?

    • Kit

      Hi Frederica! This is pretty much all I pack. I’ve added a warm jacket for cold weather, plus a scarf and gloves. I also brought an extra dress and TOMS this year, but the TOMS didn’t last long. It all still fits in the compression sacks!

  • Geek Goddess

    Good description. I’ve been traveling with a pair of lightweight wool pants, a black skirt, and various tops for the past few years. Jeans are heavy.

    • Kit

      Exactly! Though I still bring one pair of jeans because I love them :)

  • Jen

    Great inspiration! After been lugging around with waaay too much luggage I’m on for traveling light! Do you often get to weight your hand luggage? It have happened to me quite a few times now and then I’ve also had checked in luggage. Also, do you get a lot of questions from customs about work etc when arriving to a new county?

    Keep up the good work!!

    • Kit

      Thanks Jen! I don’t usually get a lot of questions about work when I arrive somewhere. I just say I’m a tourist, visiting for how ever many weeks, and yes I have my ticket out. If they ask what I do for work I tell the truth and say I’m a freelance social media consultant.

      As for the weight of my luggage, I don’t often get a chance to weight it but it’s usually 20-25 pounds (9-11 kg). No airline has ever made me weigh it, probably because it doesn’t look very big.

      Thanks for reading!

  • Soody

    Great job minimizing. Just want to add that rolling items, as opposed to folding, can also keep bad wrinkles from appearing. And it is compact! Cheers and Happy Travels!

    • Kit

      This is absolutely true! Unless you’re using a compression sack, in which case you want to fold so you can get the most air out and have it be as flat as possible. Otherwise, rolling is the way to go!

  • Joy

    I have compression bags which are great- we will be traveling to France this summer in an RV. Is there a way to get the air out without a vacuum? I’m assuming that I could roll it to push the air out. Any suggestions? Do hotels have small ones? We will stay in a hotel our last night n

    • Kit Whelan

      I use these compression packs that don’t require a vacuum: http://www.seeknewtravel.com/essential-gear-compression-packs/

      The vacuum ones are great for your house, but not really practical for travel since you’d always be hunting down a vacuum cleaner every time you wanted to pack :)

      • Sandy

        I’m late to this conversation, but recently used compression bags for the first time. I found that sitting on them really helps remove the most air without a vacuum. Good luck!

        • Kit Whelan

          Yup! That’s how I use them too! :)

          Mine don’t ever require a vacuum, you just push all the air out. I think I’ll post a video soon, since I always get so many questions about how they work. Thanks for the idea Sandy!

          • Lakesha Brown

            I’d love to see you do a video on this as I, too, was wondering how you get the air out without a vacuum! :-)

          • http://www.seeknewtravel.com/ Kit Whelan

            Noted! :-) On my to-do list and coming soon!!!

  • CoCoYoYo

    I love, love, LOVE this! I’m always looking for tips and tricks for packing light. I rarely check a bag anymore which makes traveling so much easier. I really liked your outfits and am so thankful that you shared them! Hoping to find some inspiration for my next shopping trip. Best wishes to you and the hubs as you journey throughout this world!

    • Kit Whelan

      Thank you! I’m glad I could provide a little inspiration :)

  • Isabel

    Thank you for posting this! I discovered the Aeronaut because of your blog and now I have one on its way to me :) I’m traveling to Europe this summer and I wanted to bring as little with me as possible. The Aeronaut seems to be the best bag!

    Have you ever tried the Tom Bihn packing cubes? If so, how do they compare to the compression bags? I want to know which would make the most of the Aeronaut’s space.

    • Kit Whelan

      Woohoo! Thanks Isabel, I’m sure you’ll love the Aeronaut :)

      I’ve never used the Bihn packing cubes, so I don’t know how they’d compare to the compression sacks. Since I pack a fair amount of clothes I prefer the compression so I can fit more. But use whatever works for you!

  • Ashley

    I know this was posted quite a while ago, but I came here for advice and I can’t help noticing how cute your shoes are. Where did you get them?

    • Kit Whelan

      No worries! Those shoes were from Payless, but it was a few years ago so I’m not sure if they’re still around. They were ADORABLE and went with everything, but being only $20 meant they couldn’t make it through an entire year. I now have some black Patagonia flats that aren’t as snazzy but are a lot sturdier.

      Hope that helps! :)

      • Ashley

        thanks a bunch!

  • http://marshmallowpink.wordpress.com/ Caroline

    What a great post and I love the outfits that you have put together. You look gorgeous in all of them. I find shawls invaluable because they double up as a beach cover up, and depending on how you tie them even a skirt or dress. They can even triple up as a lightweight sheet, shawl for the cooler evenings and finally a bag for when you go to the market and end up buying kilos of fresh fruit :-)

    • Kit Whelan

      Thanks Caroline! Shawls are awesome, I really need to buy some for myself. A sarong can do a lot, but it’s not as chic!

  • http://bakoyma.wordpress.com BakoymaTravels

    You look amazing :-) I have a shawl that doubles as a sarong, very handy as I too like to not look like a bum after the beach, but I struggle to keep my packing light enough. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    • Kit Whelan

      Thanks! Packing light is a serious challenge, but you can do it! :-)

  • Gingerup

    I try and find crushed silk tops for summer travel. They are lightweight, can be washed with shampoo and air dry very very quickly without needing ironing. They also compress much better than even quality active wear and they’re a natural fabric so they breathe.

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  • Emily

    Wow you are amazing. and really cute! Thanks for the super ideas and the fun pics.

    • http://www.seeknewtravel.com/ Kit Whelan

      Thanks Emily! :)