minmalist yellow suitcase on white background

Is Minimalism the Secret to Better Travel?

Her journey with minimalism started with a trip to the basement. 

“My husband and I were downstairs in my parents house looking for something,” says Diane Boden. “My husband said, ‘Look at these things that are now in boxes that were once their hard-earned work hours.’”

It made Boden realize how frivolous she had been with money, she says. “My thing isn’t just that they bought those things in the first place,” she says. “What are we keeping them for? Why do you continue to store things if you’re not using them?” 

She and her family decided to start prioritizing experiences, like travel and date nights, over things. They became very intentional about how they spend money. They try to be both frugal and minimalist, says Boden, now the author of Minimalist Moms: Living and Parenting with Simplicity: “With frugality you can still own a ton of things. Minimalism is trying to cut out what’s superfluous.” 

In addition to her book, Boden hosts the Minimalist Moms podcast. We caught up with her to chat about how minimalism can help families travel more—and more enjoyably. 

What minimalist principles do you follow in your family? 

I like to borrow instead of buy. I also always try to buy secondhand if I can. And quality over quantity is really important to nme. I don’t want to have to buy several Target sweaters. I’d rather just buy a nice wool sweater that I keep for a really long time. In our family, if something breaks, we fix it. There’s that old saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.” 

How does minimalism dovetail with travel?

I would say minimalism allows me to travel more. We’re not spending money on unnecessary clothes or whatever the latest gadget is—that’s not what we prioritize as a family. A new dress doesn’t seem as appealing as a trip to Paris or a babymoon. When people decide to give up their credit card debt and constantly shopping for fast fashion, their budget opens up to travel and those types of opportunities. I think a lot of minimalism is having to get rid of getting instant gratification.  

You did a series of interviews with nomadic families—people who are living in boats, in RVs, etc. Any big takeaways? 

I did that to show that you can live with far less than you think. You can definitely do it with kids, too. Like, people think you can’t travel with kids, but it can be done—it just takes more work on the front end. 

Every single person I interviewed on that series said, “We think we need so much.” Whether they were living in a boat or a tiny house or a van, they realized it was all about priorities. What do you really want? Often it’s not all the space that goes unused in your home. There’s a book called “Life at Home in the 21st Century” that has a heat map of where people spent the majority of their time at home. Most spaces were not being used. 

What are some of the benefits parents might see from traveling with less?

I think that it’s easier to pack up when you are living with less. You know what you need and you know what you have. Many of us minimalists have some sort of a capsule wardrobe. We know that the majority of what’s in our closets looks good. 

When I was pregnant with my third child, I went to New York City with some girlfriends. I didn’t have much that fit at that point. I took three dresses and my workout outfit. It was so easy for me to get ready. My girlfriends had such a much harder time every morning. Same when we went to Paris for our babymoon. I’ve never traveled with more than I need since those experiences. 

Minimalism can seem especially hard when traveling with babies—how is it possible?

A packing list is critical. I have one that I’m assigning to and subtracting from each time. But babies don’t need a ton. And wherever the location is, maybe you have a family member you can borrow front. Or you can borrow via Facebook Marketplace. If you forget something, in most cases you can find what you need somewhere local—and then you get to support local business as well. 


We went to New York City when my first child was born. I wore her almost everywhere and I didn’t have to take a troller. Some people are uncomfortable with co-sleeping, but you can even put a blanket down next to the bed for a few days. If you’re afraid of your baby sleeping on the floor in a blanket, look to other cultures. 

What about souvenirs? 🙂

My question would be: What kind? Think practically about souvenirs. Do you need it? Would you buy it at home? Will you use it over time? Is it consumable? Is it so beautiful and special that you can’t leave it behind?

I really like consumables over clutter—a souvenir of food or a bottle of wine. My mom also brought us this really nice cutting board from Italy. We use it regularly. 

I find photos to be such a challenge—we literally have tens of thousands. What’s your advice? 

It is very difficult for me to be a minimalist with photos. But it also drives me insane when you go to watch a concert. Are you really going to go back and watch it? 

At the end of every day, I try to go through and choose the best photos. It’s too hard to hard to keep all that on your phone. It’s digital clutter; it becomes a whole virtual world of clutter. I also make Shutterfly scrapbooks every year, so I go  a little more detailed. Why are we keeping five pictures of our kid looking cute with the spaghetti? It’s all about your priorities. 

How do you teach your kids to live with less? 

With anything, in the beginning you’re going to get pushback. It helps to create boundaries, so you allow them to have space to store their things, but you agree that in the communal space, you’re not going to have a ton of toys. I like the “one in, one out” rule. It’s a challenge, because my daughter loves to bring home toys from my parents’ house. With kids you’re going to have to continually declutter and you don’t want it to backfire—I think it’s important to let them have their own say. These are just habits that you have to get into. 

How do you keep kids from overpacking? 

I would say mommy’s going to write the packing list, you’re going to help me go through it. We’re going to bring three shirts and you can pick which ones. 

What’s in your carry-on?

I take a purse and then one tote. I usually keep an empty water bottle, a notebook—especially if I’m traveling a long way, I like to write out my thoughts—headphones, a charger and sometimes a laptop. I like to listen to podcasts and books on tape. When I’m traveling without kids I can be alone with my thoughts. 

Sara Clemence is a freelance journalist, formerly travel editor for The Wall Street Journal and news director for Travel + Leisure. She's the author of Away & Aware, a guide to mindful travel.

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