How to pack clutter-free luggage and travel like a minimalist

I just came back from a week-long vacation at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic where I traveled with a 30L carry-on backpack and a handbag only.

I'm mostly pleased the way I packed! At the same time, there are a few things I would change for the next trip, so I made a note about that below.

What I packed

Clothing items

OK, so here are the clothes I packed.

Not pictured: underwears, three pairs of Capri leggings, a pair of full-length leggings, a sleeping dress, three pairs of socks, a bathing suit, a pair of black pumps.

Not pictured: underwears, three pairs of Capri leggings, a pair of full-length leggings, a sleeping dress, three pairs of socks, a bathing suit, a pair of black pumps.

I also wore a maxi-length down coat, a pair of Native shoes with socks (they're just like Crocs), a pair of leggings, a cardigan, and a maxi patio dress (which I use as a sleepwear at home) on my way to the destination.

I washed two of my dresses at the resort. The Eddie Bauer Aster Travex Crossover dress (on the far right in the picture above) with a thicker material took a whole day to dry, and that resulted in that musty mildew smell. I will not buy any dress with the similar material in the future.

The Columbia Women's PFG Freezer Dress made of a thinner material (second from the left) dried overnight. When I'm ready to replace any of my dresses, I will get them in a similar material for sure.

I wore every single item during my vacation except for the white infinity scarf. Yes, even that faux-leather jacket. The inside of the building was cold like Canada with air conditioning.

So would I bring everything, minus the scarf, to my next similar trip?

Pretty much. Except, I will pack fewer undies (maybe four instead of seven), and leave out that Crocs sandal. The Native shoes and the Crocs sandals are made of the same waterproof material so having both of them was kind of redundant. I will just stick to the Native shoes next time.

I also decided to bring my leather pumps at last minute because I was worried that I needed to wear something fancier than a pair of Crocs to dinner. No one cared.

When the time to replace my pumps comes, I will opt for a ballet flat which will take less space to pack than a pair of two-inch heel pumps.

Medication and Toiletries

I've never been to a place where I could not drink tap water before this trip, so I brought a small pharmacy with me. I packed lots of band-aids (got rid of the box and repacked them in a sandwich baggie), hand sanitizers, Imodium, Gravol, Advil, Pepto-Bismol, Claritin, Symbicort for my asthma, and multivitamins.

I ended up not needing any, not even my asthma med! I would still pack all of these meds to any tropical destination, though, just to be safe.

I also brought lavender oil and tea tree oil for bugs, but neither of them worked for the vicious mosquitoes. I'm definitely bringing DEET-based repellants instead if I'm traveling to any tropical climate in the future.

We brought three small tubes (100ml/3.4 oz or less) of zinc-based sunscreens and used only about half of them. Next time, we are packing just one tube each. The zinc-based sunscreen seemed to stay on our skin for a long time, so we put it on in the morning and reapplied just once in the afternoon.

By the way, the zinc-based sunscreens get messy especially when you're wearing a solid dark-colored bathing suit and clothes. I had white marks all over my black bathing suit and black dresses. I think my next bathing suit be either in lighter color or pattern. I suppose that I could get a gray dress instead of a black one when I'm ready to replace one of my dresses.

Makeup wise, I brought a jar of mineral foundation, a kabuki brush, and lipstick. I always have two shades of mineral foundation, light and dark, for different seasons. I usually mix the two shades, but for this trip, I used the dark shade straight up.

It's because the zinc-based sunscreen made my skin so ghosty-white, I had to use the dark foundation to balance the tone of my skin.

I didn't bring any facial cleanser, toner or moisturizer because I don't use them. I brought the Jane Iredale Magic Mitt which is how I wash my face.

I also packed a retainer for night time teeth grinding, floss, a toothbrush and a small tube of paste, some q-tips, pocket tissues, a comb, and a couple of hair elastic.

Other stuff I packed

Phone (and the charger) packed with downloaded books

Even at home, I read books with the Kindle app on my phone. I was worried that my phone screen would be too dark on the beach under the sun, but I needed not to worry. Now I have no reason to buy a Kindle which makes me so happy. Less is more!

Waterproof phone case

It was useful to keep my phone and money dry while I was in the water, but was awkward to carry. I wish there were a small locker on the beach or by the pools to keep valuables safe while I took a dip in the water.

Wallet and passport

Can't really go anywhere without them. By the way, I love my passport picture!

E-Tickets and trip cancellation insurance paperwork

I was really unhappy that they made me print them out. What is the point of an e-ticket if they cannot stay in the digital format?

Spare glasses (and no sunglasses)

I didn't need them, but it's insurance. My glasses have transition lenses, so I didn't pack a separate sunglasses.


My husband used them to watch movies during the flights. I didn't listen to any of my own music while at the resort. They had some cheesy top 40 stuff playing everywhere, and I enjoyed listening to it.

Two combination locks

The hotel room had a safe, so we didn't need to bring these.

Plug adapters

I also bought a set of plug adapters in Toronto airport, but the hotel's outlets could be used with both North American and European plugs.

US$ for tipping

I estimated that I would need around $20USD/day for tipping and that was more than sufficient. We had enough US$ to buy a sarong, and snacks at Punta Cana airport before we left.

A garbage bag for laundry

I used one of the vacuum bags instead. Will not bring it to my next trip.

Laundry soap

I just brought maybe three tablespoonfuls of the powder detergent that I use at home, but I might consider buying some detergent sheets in the future.

The most useful things that I packed

shopping bag

The winner: Lonchamp shopping bag

I used my Longchamp shopping bag as a personal items bag in flight, as a handbag on the resort, as a beach bag on the beach, and as a waterproof bag during a muddy buggy ride to Macao Beach.

It keeps things dry, and is washable! And it's foldable!

It's the most versatile bag that I've owned. When this one gets too ratty, I think I will get another one.

Ziploc small sandwich bags

I used Ziploc sandwich bags to carry toiletries, meds, laundry detergent, makeup, essential oils, US$, etc. In the case of liquid spillage, these plastic bags keep your luggage clean and dry.

I like how they're clear so I can see what's in them. I reuse them until there are holes in them.

Vacuum bags

They made my carry-on only trip possible. I am not going anywhere without them.

A poncho 

It packs small but it was so useful to keep me dry during the buggy tour where it rained heavy the day before and during the day of the tour. I am not afraid of getting dirty, but I get cold very easily...and so I avoid getting wet as much as possible.

I used the same poncho in Iceland earlier this year at Skogafoss.

I will probably look silly wearing it on chic European streets, but I don't care...the poncho is coming with me wherever I go.


Lastly, I bought a sarong while I was there. Sadly, it's made in Indonesia and not in the Dominica Republic. Anyway, I like how versatile it is. I can use it as a beach coverup, a blanket, a scarf, a towel, and I can also use it as a bag.

I get almost obscene pleasure out of things that can be multi-purposed.

What I thought about Punta Cana

This trip was my first time in the tropical destination as well as at an all-inclusive resort. We stayed at this resort.

Punta Cana was lovely. It was lush with vegetation. The air was warm and humid. Sun, clouds, and rain alternated their turns. On the beach, the white powdery sand on closer inspection revealed pale yellow sands with specs of white and pink (presumably) coral pieces.

punta cana beach

Yes, the beach was lovely! The water was clear and beautiful shades of green. Though the wave was a bit high and temperature a bit low for my liking.

punta cana beach 2

The resort was pleasant. I read several reviews where people complained the lack of service. But everyone was friendly and helpful. We didn't speak Spanish at all but had no issues. The food was good, and neither my husband nor I got sick.

Overall, we had a positive experience. So would we go back there? I'd have to say no.

Honestly, I don't know much about the Dominican Republic and how safe for tourists to wander around outside the gated resort in Punta Cana. But we were advised by the hotel staff to hire a taxi if we wanted to explore outside.

So, except for two days we were on an excursion, we stayed inside the gate, and that got a little tiring.

It's nice to relax on a beach for a day or two, but, when on vacation, I like walking around and seeing things. By the end of it, I felt as if I were inside a luxury gulag.

I would love to go to another tropical destination provided if we could explore without any restrictions. Maybe that requires us becoming more knowledgeable about the local culture.

Anyway, I think staying at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana would be a wonderful option if you are looking for relaxation over a long weekend.

In closing

Since we stayed at an all-inclusive resort, I did not pack following items for this trip: shampoo & conditioner, hand soap, a towel, a hair dryer and a clothesline. Even if I added all these items, my 30L backpack would have been sufficient. There was also enough space left for my laptop.

It's liberating to travel with carry-on luggage only. It means that you don't need to wait for it, and I found that helpful when our flight from Punta Cana to Toronto was delayed. We had to go through the customs in Toronto, and it felt as if we walked a long way from one end of the airport to the other to get to our connecting flight to Halifax.

If we had to wait for our luggage, we could have missed our flight. Also, my backpack was light enough I was able to run.

Plus, we've all heard about airlines losing luggage.

Another benefit of packing light is that packing and unpacking would be quick.

So, for these reasons, I highly recommend traveling with small luggage. Think about the activities that you will be doing at your destination and only pack what you need; rent, borrow and buy if you need something.

Happy traveling!