(CNN) – It’s been a year of airport chaos and problems with baggage handling have left many travelers struggling to reunite with their luggage.
Flying only with carry-on luggage is as desirable as ever. But for a traveler, even that isn’t minimalist enough. She is hitting the road with only a small 12 liter (3 gallon) shoulder bag.
And that’s something she’s tried almost to the extreme.
Schoenman’s path to relieving enlightenment began when she studied in Italy before embarking on a post-graduate trip around the world. Along the way, she explored Guatemala and then worked teaching English in Ukraine before moving away less than 13 years ago.
“I think I had a 55-liter backpack and a daypack that I carried in the front,” he tells CNN Travel about his first trip. A 55-liter pack may be the maximum size, or a little too big, for a carry-on. “And that was me really trying to pack light. That was me thinking, ‘I don’t know how people do it with a 30-liter bag.’
“I didn’t use all that extra stuff I packed.”
As she gained more experience as a traveler, she says packing became more important to her.
“It was literally the load of stuff that started to wear me down. Every time [I’d] I have to go through this airport or find my way to the bus or the train or the airport or whatever, I’d just be like, ‘This sucks.'”
This realization was one of the reasons she started her packing list in 2010. The website’s goal is to help all travelers, but especially women, pack and plan their trips better through packing guides and tips The website gets its name from the checklists, which Schoenman says are an important tool in preparing for the trip.
“Is that all you got?”
Brooke Schoenman has perfected her packing techniques since launching a blog on the subject.
“Preparing for [a trip] it was the only thing you could do to bide your time before going out,” she says. “So thinking about that and thinking about all the things you could take and pack, it was exciting.”
The website wasn’t always about minimalist packing, initially offering tips for travelers checking their bags, but it evolved over the years as Schoenman herself made do with less.
“When [I] When I first started the site, I didn’t talk about the carry-on all the time,” she says. “It was like you were checking a suitcase and your carry-on was what you took with you in the cabin that was really valuable or fragile like a extra clothes and an extra pair of underwear, that sort of thing. And then I started packing lighter.”
Schoenman reached his pinnacle of minimalist packing in 2016 when he set off on three weeks of international travel with just a 12-liter bag and a US itinerary that included Portland, Vegas, Chicago, San Francisco and three days on an Amtrak train.
“I got into Uber on the way to Sydney airport,” he recalls. “The guy said, ‘Where are you going? What terminal?’ And I said, “International.” “Where’s your luggage? How long is his journey?” “Three weeks.” And he said, “And that’s all you’ve got?” ‘Yes’.”
Schoenman says people are “shocked” to learn how little they can do.
Her friends and family were also amused by her lack of luggage. “My mom just laughed when she saw my bag and realized it was all my luggage.”
Inside her laptop-sized bag she packed the essentials. This included a clothes bucket that could be used in multiple ways, foldable shoes, a mini keyboard for your smartphone and small containers of essential toiletries. She visited a wide variety of environments so wardrobe planning was important.
“I traveled in April and was totally caught off guard when temperatures in Portland hit 80 (20 degrees Celsius) on that trip,” he recalls.
“Luckily, I packed a wardrobe designed with layering in mind, so I had lighter pieces that worked for the warmer temperatures. It was also pretty cold and windy when I visited Chicago on that trip. So layering was super important.”
Schoenman demonstrates a minimal travel backpack.
Its lightweight packaging also made transportation a breeze.
“I felt like I had a lot more mental bandwidth on this trip when moving between destinations, as I didn’t have to worry about my luggage or think hard about what I was going to use from my limited options.
“It’s nice to be able to walk out of the airport or train and walk straight out with all your luggage and not feel burdened in the process.”
It also helped when it was time to leave her room.
“On my last day in Vegas, I checked out of my accommodation and then went shopping in the afternoon with all my luggage and belongings,” she says.
“Since all I carried was my messenger bag, this wasn’t awkward or out of place. Plus, not having to worry about going back to my stored luggage before heading to the airport was wonderful.”
Schoenman says it’s more important than ever to travel light right now as airport operators struggle to maintain staffing levels after the pandemic.
“I just had someone share with me that they went on a trip and it took eight weeks to get their bag back,” she says. “Their bag went in the complete opposite direction around the world to where they were going.”
After receiving positive feedback from her blog post about her minimalist journey, she began teaching seminars on how others can do the same.
“People are very surprised that they were able to achieve what they were able to achieve,” says Schoenman.
“I give them a framework, and then each week we focus on one area of packaging. I give them lessons and assignments and step-by-step.”
Schnoenman says the minimal packaging is partly due to a state of mind.
Class graduates shared photos with her about their own minimalist journeys. But deep down, she says, the class and the trip that inspired her are not what to do or not to pack. It’s a mindset.
“A lot of it is just understanding what your priorities are and being comfortable with less, which is really hard for some people to deal with.
“I’ve had people come out of class and then go and sign up for courses and stuff, because their mind is set. They’re like, what else can I minimize in my life?”
For those planning their own lightweight packing list for an upcoming trip, Schoenman says certain items are helpful, but not entirely necessary.
“Obviously, different types of packing cubes can be very useful, especially anything that can compress things to make them easier to fit into your small space.
“Another thing is just finding items that are the right size for your trip. Travel-sized toiletry containers are often much larger than you need for your trip for a lot of products you’re using.”
These days, Schoenman doesn’t travel with just a carry-on bag on every trip, but still keeps it light with similar-sized backpacks, especially on frequent opal-mining trips into the Australian outback.
“My max bag is a 26 liter bag,” which is about the size of a school bag. “Really. That’s my high end trip.”
(Top image: Graphic by Leah Abucayan, CNN. Photos courtesy of Getty and Brooke Schoenman)