Minimalist Travel

A friend asked me about my recent trip to Tokyo and the differences I noticed from my Airbnb stay to how I packed to what I did. She knows that I'm on a quest to simplify and wanted to know more about how that translated into traveling. I thought it was a pretty successful trip because I didn't have analysis paralysis when packing and I was able to enjoy wandering around so much more by sticking to a very loose agenda and agreeing with my travel companions that it was okay to get lost but also to speak up if there were certain things we wanted to do/see/eat.

Here's how I tackled everything:


I used to be an over-packer no matter where I was traveling. My concerns were:

  • What if the weather changes drastically? 
  • What if we stumble upon an amazing restaurant that I need to dress up for?
  • What if I wear out my shoes walking all day and need a back-up?

I could keep going ... but I have found since using a capsule wardrobe this year, it has helped guide my packing choices so picking out clothes to bring was pretty easy. Tokyo's weather was very similar to Seattle's so that made things a lot easier and I picked very versatile items I could layer or that could be stuffed (like my puffy jacket - great for rain and still keeps me warm, also stuffs into a small bag). 


I've also been thinking more about how I shop and what I choose to bring back into my home. My boyfriend asked if I was bringing souvenirs back for anyone and I aggressively responded with "uh NO!" However, I did bring back treats like tea, Kit Kats in a number of different flavors, and fun paper goods (oh, and all that washi tape ...).

I don't want to get the lame tchotchkes that will be sitting around my house from someone else's trip so I kept that in mind when shopping for little treats and paper goods - all items that would be consumed in the near future or serve a purpose for the recipient. So far, everyone has been really happy with their Tokyo treats, especially the consumables (Hello Kitty candies which are almost too precious to eat. Almost.).


My boyfriend and I have stayed at an Airbnb our last few trips. This is such a great alternative to a hotel and I love the fact that we have a kitchen available to do more cooking at the apartment so that we have a break from all the eating out while saving a few bucks. This is especially helpful as my boyfriend is vegetarian, which has many different interpretations especially in travel (so many times we would ask if something was vegetarian and the response would be yes followed by "that's just some octopus" or "it has some chicken in it").

The downside to our recent Airbnb visit was that the kitchen was extremely minimalist, containing:

  • one pot (no lid)
  • one teapot
  • four forks
  • four spoons
  • one dinner knife
  • one butter knife
  • eight mugs
  • eight glasses
  • one cutting board
  • two butcher knives (didn't discover these until two days into the trip because they were hiding on a magnetic strip on a cupboard door)

I have found that I really enjoy shopping in a regular grocery or convenience store, especially in a foreign country and it was quite the experience shopping in one where I don't know the alphabet (and am making educated guesses about what exactly I'm putting in my basket). We kept breakfast-y items at the apartment, a few snacks, and stocked up on rice and veggies to do a stir fry or two. I had to pick up some foil to create a makeshift lid for my pot so that I could make rice. I also had to time everything so I could make a simple dinner in courses because there was only the pot for making rice and cooking the veggies (no oven, but there was this little oven-like drawer that had a fish symbol by the dial which I used to cook some pork on foil and toast bread in the morning).

While the apartment had minimal furnishings and decor, it was perfect for our stay. No TV to distract us, few utensils so more time was spent brainstorming dinners and how to best cook them. It was still comfortable and a nice change from home. 


My travel companions (boyfriend and a good friend of ours) and I agreed that there were a few things we wanted to do prior to the trip but that we would be open to doing these on any of the days so we could keep our schedule open. The only scheduled event was the Robot Restaurant show in Shinjuku which is a big tourist attraction and a lot of fun. We bought tickets for this in advance and planned the day around getting to the show, building in time for dinner and wandering around. All the other days we would plan that morning over breakfast what area we wanted to check out.

Boyfriend was mostly interested in photographing as much as possible, friend was pretty open to wandering, and I mainly had food on my mind (as in, eat every matcha green tea flavored item/matcha latte I could get my hands on). This worked pretty well and allowed us to stumble into some fun shops and explore other neighborhoods (we walked into an anime convention in Akihabara where the people watching was incredible).

Having a loose schedule took off the pressure of having to see/do a lot of things and provided some of the routine of being at home (like breakfast and coffee every morning) but it still felt like a vacation. I've also come to the realization that I'm not very good at planning travel, aside from booking the flights and lodging (even then, it's mostly the boyfriend who is pretty opinionated about the wow factor of the lodging). There might be a few sights or city walks I like to do but otherwise, I do not like/am not good at booking a full itinerary. When I need that kind of trip, I latch onto my sister who loves travel and packing a lot into a day (she even maps out all the transit and how to get to and fro. She's a real gem and all I have to do when traveling with her is show up. And maybe buy her a few dinners as a thank you for acting as my travel agent).

I'm going to stick to these methods for future trips, big and small. I also believe it's important to invest in some sturdy travel pieces like luggage, packing cube/envelope, carry-on bag, and neck pillow for longer plane rides (still on the search for this). We picked up a few of these for our trip to Australia last year which we were able to use for Japan. The smaller items like my nice little backpack-turns-into-a-tote-bag are great for domestic trips as well.