One Month One Bag

Because for me, miles are a means to an end: great travel experiences, I may occasionally post non-miles tips on the subject of great travel experiences. Feel free to add your own in the comments, or write a guest post.

I’m a one-bag evangelist. Whether I’m traveling for six weeks in East Africa or a month in Europe, I travel with a single carry-on sized bag. Last year I stumbled upon a site, onebag.com, that solidified my outlook on packing, which I’ll share with you in this post.

For many people, an ideal vacation is flying to Paris, spending a week at a hotel, and returning home. I don’t pass judgment on that vacation–to each his own–but it’s not my ideal. My ideal vacation is four weeks in four to eight cities, possibly spread among several countries. To get between cities, I might take buses, planes, or trains. I stay in hostels or at others’ houses usually, and I may have to walk with my bag up and down hills, stairs, and on city streets.

If you’re going from your house to the airport to the hotel, you want to have a bag with wheels. Bags with wheels move best along those flat paths. But if you’re going to be hyper-mobile and only want to take one bag, ditch the wheels. Why?

The frame and rounded edges of a wheeled bag usually double the weight of the empty bag and cuts its volume available for packing in half! I was shocked to see how much more I can fit into my new rectilinear (all right angles) wheel-free bag compared to my old rounded wheelie. Furthermore along uneven surfaces and on public transport, wheelies are much harder to deal with than luggage you carry.

I really recommend heading to onebag.com for more info on one-bag travel that’s way beyond the scope of this post; I’ll just list my reasons for one-bag travel and show a few pictures of my packing.

I prefer one-bag travel because of its associated serenity, frugality, and flexibility. First, the less stuff you carry, the less you have to stress about. No more worrying that your bag won’t arrive at the baggage claim, that you will leave a bag in the taxi, or that you’ll have to protect several bags from theft.

Next, one bag is cheaper. There are no checked baggage fees, no need to tip porters, and you can more easily take cheap public transport from the airport.

Finally, one bag creates incredible flexibility. If you want to take a side trip, you don’t need to store luggage. If a spontaneous offer pops up, you don’t have to worry if there’s space for you and your bags. If you want to change hotels, you can walk out with your belongings on your back. If you want to take a moped to the unpaved side of Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua to an incredible rambling farm-cum-hostel on the slopes of a volcano, you can.

After deciding to make the leap to one-bag travel, I purchased the Red Oxx Sky Train bag in all black. The bag was $255, which is more than 25 times what I had spent on my wheeled carry-on in Peru, but well worth it. It’s a high quality bag built to last for years of extreme traveling. It also is conforms to the slightly more stringent carry-on bag requirements of European budget airlines, which I occasionally fly.

I chose this particular model because of its backpack straps, which I use to carry the bag. It also has shoulder straps and handles, and any conveyance method you aren’t using can be removed or hidden. Here’s a picture of everything I can fit in it:

This is all I need for three weeks in Europe and a week in Florida, and it fit very easily into my bag. A week’s worth of clothes is plenty since everywhere in the world has cheap laundromats. I would even replace the bulky computer and its charger for an iPad if it weren’t for this blog. The tennis balls will be jettisoned in Florida. I like to take things that I know I’ll ditch, so I know I’ll have space in the rare case that I want to bring back a souvenir.

Here’s what I took for six weeks in East Africa and Turkey:

The flexibility of one bag allowed me to use motorcycle taxis, go on safari without storing my luggage anywhere, easily take a ferry and a Cessna, and generally enjoy the trip much more.

There are some drawbacks to one-bag travel: the bag’s weight and lack of space. I think most healthy adults can easily carry the 30 or so pounds that a fully loaded bag can weigh, but pregnant women, children, the elderly, and those with bad backs can’t. The lack of space can be a bit constricting also and is a deal-breaker for souvenir hounds. But with careful packing, travel-sized necessities, and an easy-going attitude to what you “need,” I find way more than enough space for my necessities, reading material, and a few oddball items like cards, bananagrams, or ping pong balls.

Any drawbacks are overwhelmed by the positives of one-bag travel for me and maybe for you too. Have I convinced anyone else to try out the one-bag thing?

38 Responses to One Month One Bag

  1. Haha, I limit us to one (small) carry-on (though it does have wheels) and one personal item (an even smaller backpack for passports, guide books, camera, and a computer) per person. Always hard to convince my husband though (“baggage fees are too expensive” usually works except on Southwest flights). My two bags can zip up together into one (fat) bag if need be.

    I love the flexibility of having just one thing to worry about and, being a woman, it’s much easier to maneuver, especially in heels :)

  2. Hah, different folks, different travel styles, and this one fits yours perfectly – awesome!

    Since 90% of my travels are 1-3 nights, I’m packing business suits, and indeed I’m going from home to airport to hotel to meetings… and when I do get to travel for pleasure and not just for a long weekend, it’s not for 4 weeks at a time.

    Ah the life choices we make. And how those choices are reflected in our luggage!

    Enjoyed the post, even if I’ll forever be more of a rollaboard kinda guy =)

    • Definitely a suus cuique situation. I do make three exceptions to one-bag travel: suits, tennis rackets, and golf clubs.

      If I can’t wear the suit, I will take a second suit bag. Conveniently I find suit bags to carry tennis rackets well even when I have a suit in there. And the clubs are really benefiting from so many cards allowing a first checked bag free.

  3. I don’t know if you’re familiar with spacebags, but it is fantastic for travel. you can probably take at least 3x’s as much stuff than you could without. I found this particularly useful as i do bring back a lot of stuff from places i visit, and I need the extra space.

    thanks for the recommendation new luggage recommendation, by the way!

  4. I have moved this direction also (when I can). I am using an E-Bags Mother Lode TLS Weekender Convertible. It seems like a well made bag for the price.

  5. Interesting!

  6. I stayed in Europe for 5 weeks with 1 wheeled carry on and 1 personal backpack. The wheeled luggage held about 8 days worth of clothes rolled to save space. The backpack contained my DSLR/electronics and a present for my gf. Next time I’ll just ditch the backpack and get a non wheeled luggage.

    • That was exactly my old setup: wheeled carry-on and personal backpack. And ditching them for the non-wheeled backpack is exactly what I did. You’ll probably have the same space although you may need to cut to 6-7 days of clothes.

  7. What’s your opinion on packing cubes?

    By the way, you’ve quickly moved into my list of favorite bloggers.

  8. I don’t use them either, but I know people who swear by them. They’re basically like removable compression compartments that you can throw into your carry-on bags. Here’s an example of a set my buddies use –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DODw1Yeb_04

    • That was pretty slick. I bet it would save space as I’m a bit haphazard. For right now, I won’t get them because I actually don’t want to add more stuff to my bag, but for some people, this would make the jump to one-bag travel easier.

      • We roll our clothes up and put them in gallon ziploc bags, then squeeze out as much air as possible. It helps to keep things separate and compressed, similar to the packing cubes.

        • I think that’s the cheap way to take make packing cubes for sure. This trip I’ve had several cheap oneway flights and trains as I travel Europe in a loop, and having a second bag would make my life much worse on those travel days.

  9. Can’t go wrong with The Economist in your bag!

  10. thrashsoundly

    I spent two weeks in Asia using the LL Bean Quickload Travel Pack. I was able to convince my wife to pack into a carry-on rollaboard plus another small bag for the computer/high-value items. She wouldn’t be strong enough to carry all her stuff on her back, so the rolling luggage was fine. Our system worked pretty well overall.

    Some comments:
    One-bagging is definitely easier if you are an average size person and can plan on getting new clothing as needed at your destination. I’m 6′ 8″ and knew I wouldn’t be able to find extra pants or shoes if I needed them in Asia so it took more careful planning to one-bag a trip.

    After the trip I can say that about 50% of the time I was happy carrying my stuff on my back for ease of maneuverability, but the other 50% I wish I had a rolling bag because I wouldn’t have a load on my back. It gets “heavy” quickly.

    If you are a plane to taxi to hotel traveler, go with the wheels. If you are someone who opts for cheaper routes via subway, ferries, walking etc, going without wheels is easier if you can carry it. If you can’t, it may be time to redefine what you “need” to pack.

  11. I’m all about one-bag traveling. Just got back from a London-Zurich-Salzburg-Vienna-Monaco-Paris two-week trip, I took a 50L Osprey pack that weighed 22 pounds, and that included an SLR camera. It’s so much easier when you don’t have to worry about checking a bag. Walk off the plane and straight out of the airport. Easy to carry around when you’re taking trains between cities, too.

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  13. Love the blog! Just stumbled across it when trying to use my Avios and found your useful chart of redemption amounts out of LAX. Also couldn’t help but notice from the photos that it looks like you went to law school. Would love to see a post sometime about how you found yourself professionally gambling and traveling around the world rather than following the more traditional path of a law school grad. (Envious lawyer here ;))

    • I went to UVA Law, the most fun and best-softball-playing school in the country. I might make a post about that coming up because I want to make weekend posts on travel style and the traveling lifestyle.

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  16. I disagree about the wheels. Yes, they add some weight, so just take less stuff to compensate ;)

    Every time i’ve carried crap around on my back, I’ve wished for wheels. Every time I’ve had wheels, I never found a time I couldn’t drag it behind me and wished for backpack straps. And I mean in some pretty gnarly places.

    • They take up a ton of volume, and I limit my packing to 20-25 lbs. But to each his own, so I’m glad you have a good system for you.

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  21. Stumbled upon this way after you posted it, but just wanted to say that I’m about to do 7 weeks in Europe with only carry on (an Osprey pack). I’m normally a seriously heavy packer, so its going to be a challenge for sure, but I think it will pay off. Fortunately have a friend who just came back from a 3 month trip with only carry on.. definitely going to need her help.

    But, considering ALL my family are telling me that I’m not going to be able to do it/will regret trying, it’s good to read a post like this. Thanks!

    • Hannah, I would love to hear how your trip went. I have 5 weeks in Europe coming up this fall and considering the one-bag method. Were you able to carry the weight around? I haven’t found blog posts by girls doing the one-bag thing for such a long trip.

  22. I appreciate the photos, but is there any way you could list exactly what you took? I don’t mean every item of clothing, but how many days of clothing plus the other items you packed. Am curious about trying this. Thanks. (Love your blog–it comes to my inbox and is a daily must read!)

    • Mainly clothes, toiletries, reading materials, computer, phone, chargers, speakers, headphones, important documents, and some things to amuse me like cards or Bananagrams.

  23. Just got back from a 10 Ireland trip (coldish, rainy weather) with one 22″ wheelie and a pack pack “purse”. I thought I’d give it a try, and, can always take more stuff on the next trip in traveling light didn’t work out. Lightbulb moment… it was so much easier that I will NEVER go back to hauling around big luggage. I love to shop, if I can’t jettison some items en-route to make room, I will simply ship my new goodies home or buy them on the last day and box them up.

    I had the wonderful complement of the customs agent saying that in 20 years on the job, he had never seen two women come home with such a small amount of luggage from a 10 day Europe trip.

  24. Once you start downsizing, you realize how little you can get by with. I always note what I didn’t use after a trip and leave it out. I usually travel for three weeks with a 28 L daypack as my only luggage. This autumn I travelled from the UK to Ontario, Quebec, PEI, and Newfoundland for a month with only the 28 L pack. Last year I travelled in Canada in February for three weeks using a 14″ x 12″ x 9″ briefcase, and was never cold thanks to Icebreaker base layer and hoody. It is great to walk off the plane straight onto public transit with a bag you can rest on your knees on the bus. I’m 60 years old and will never check a bag again. If I can’t walk all day comfortably carrying my stuff for the month, I figure I still need to pare down. 6 to 8 kg makes it easy.

    • Wow. You are an inspiration. That’s much leaner than I go. But I do need to carry a lap top and accessories for this site.

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