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An Overview of One-Bag Travel

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This post describes the benefits of one-bag packing and explores some of the initial questions that people have as they make the shift to this style of packing.

[Updated October 2021]

What is one-bagging?

To “one-bag” is to travel with a single carry-on bag and carry fewer, higher quality items.

Packing does not have to have a proportional correlation between length of trip and amount of items and size of your bag. Pack for no longer than seven days, or put differently, pack half the items and twice the money.

Many one-bag travelers carry their main carry on backpack and then keep a fold-up/stash backpack/ tote/bag to hold your day bag items like flip flops, swim trunks, backup battery, sunglasses, and a rain jacket.

What are the benefits?

  1. Lightened bag weight
  2. No baggage fees
  3. Eased travel anxiety about bags getting lost
  4. Medications, documents, electronics and a change of clothing are always on your person
  5. More flexibility to say yes to impromptu trips
  6. Few, higher quality items leads to less waste
  7. Reflection about what is truly needed in life
  8. More focus on the being in the moment versus packing
  9. Not having a bag dig into your shoulder as you travel through terminals
  10. Not having wheels stuck in cobblestone
  11. Not dragging a bag up train station steps

Who one-bags?

If you’re a business traveler or have gone on a weekend trip, you’ve likely already embraced the philosophy to “take what you need.” We believe that one-bagging is applicable to many groups who may not have considered traveling with less, including:

  • Family vacations
  • Romantic trips
  • Weekend getaway
  • Long term travel
  • Any kind of traveler looking to reduce the weight and stress of keeping of track of a ton of stuff

One-bagging is tailored towards travelers who want less to manage during their trip.

For business travelers or folks on long-term assignment: you can ship a larger bag to your hotel or site location if you need to pack a specific uniform or more formal clothing options.

What if my trip is multiple weeks or spans different climates?

If you run out of fresh clothes, make use of the local laundromat or rely on laundry services (which can be cheap in countries with favorable exchange rates) around town or available at your accommodation.

If you anticipate weather variances throughout the trip, select gear that will work for most use cases and supplement where needed. Don’t attempt to cover all scenarios — that will lead to overpacking and underuse of the items in your bag.

Is one-bagging right for me?

Next time you travel, bring your normal suitcase and observe:

  • Did I ever become frustrated having to load it in/out of cars, trains and the plane?
  • Did I choose not to partake in an experience because of my luggage/stuff?
  • What items did I actually use on this trip?
  • How much weight is comfortable before it starts getting heavy/burdensome?
  • Would I purchase this bag again?

What size bag should I use?

  • Volume: We recommend a bag that is 40 liters or smaller. This size is about 50% larger than a school backpack.
  • Weight: Carry no more than 15-18 pounds / 7-8 kilograms. Anything more will be hard on your shoulders and feel heavy after walking for more than 15 minutes.

Do I need to buy new gear?

Not necessarily. You don’t have to rush out to purchase new travel gear. Start with what you already have and refine as you go. You’ll determine your habits and what you need once you’re on the road and then you can make an informed purchase once you determine what’s best for you.

There are entire communities dedicated to selecting and purchasing higher quality bags. YouTubers like Chase Reeves and PackHacker provide walk throughs of bag and explore durability, features and use cases. One-bagging does not mean you have to go out and spend $150+ on a new bag.

Is a backpack or roller bag better for one-bagging?

It depends on the type of trip you take. A four wheel roller bag makes sense for business trips where transportation is generally limited to airplane–>car–>hotel and there’s limited movement on generally smooth flooring.

For long term travel, there will likely be a variety of transport options, uneven surfaces, and a variety of accommodation types that don’t always have elevators. This is when reaching for your one-bag is recommended.

Other considerations:

  • Weight + space dimensions: Roller bags take up extra space because of their wheels and overall structure.They are typically heavier than their backpack counterparts, at 6-7 pounds empty versus a backpack’s 2-3 pounds.
  • Malleability: Backpacks can be squished into hostel lockers. If you’re unsure about whether your roller bag will fit into the locker, email the hostel and ask for their locker dimensions. Note that this could be an exhausting exercise depending on the number of hostels you incorporate into your itinerary.

When you one-bag you will likely have to make packing tradeoffs.

The size of single bag travel means that you will have to make tradeoffs in your packing style. If you want to pack a third pair of shoes, you’re doing have to give up a pair of pants, or an item of similar bulk. If you want a second pair of jeans or another sweater/jumper, you will have to reduce the amount of toiletries or electronics.

Other categories where it may be difficult to make tradeoffs:

  • Electronics – laptop, camera, iPad, keyboard etc.
  • More compacted headphones — swap out over-ear headphone for in-ear headphones
  • Shoe options
  • Going-out/dressier outfits/limited use
  • Clothing that requires dry cleaning
  • Makeup & hair styling products
  • Skincare supplies
  • Hard copy books
  • Purse/bag options
  • Travel pillow
  • Accessory and jewelry options

After you’ve packed, load your bag and walk around with it for a bit. If it feels heavy when you’re “practicing”, remove items until it feels comfortable.

Check the weight of your bag by wearing it around your house before you depart.

In airports and other places of transit, we’ll often see fellow travelers struggling under the weight of a 60-90 liter monstrosities. Do not purchase this large of a bag because:

  • They are heavy
  • They don’t fit overhead
  • They are difficult to get in and out of
  • There is a temptation to fill a bag of this size to the brim because it’s “empty”
  • There is a high likelihood you will not use all these items
  • It is burdensome – more items means more worry

Ultimately: how much stuff do you want to responsible for managing throughout your trip?

Note airline travel size and weight limitations prior to travel.

  • Check that your bag fits these limitations prior to travel.
  • If you travel a particular route regularly, confirm that your bag meets the guidelines.
  • Regional airlines are typically more restrictive around size and weight limitations, whereas international flights are more generous for how much you can carry on.

Examples of one-bag travel

My 40 liter main backpack and a fold up backpack that I use as an everyday carry bag.

When I pack for my trips, I pretend like the blue bag does not exist as an option. In this way, I don’t overload myself to start.

Many of the items in the blue bag are groceries and toiletries that we picked up along the way. As the trip progresses, I use the blue bag to carry the extras I’ve gathered along the way.

Do you one-bag? Why or why not?


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