For a growing number of travelers, the carry-on bag has turned into much more than a piece of luggage that fits into the overhead bin. One-bag travel is a growing trend with flyers who take a reductionist approach to their packing style. This also allows you to avoid annoying and expensive baggage fees, and you’ll never have to worry about lost luggage.
One-bag travelers pack only what they need, focusing on versatile items, mostly of higher quality and higher function so you can get much more use out of say, a merino T-shirt that can be worn a handful of times and still look fresh without being washed.
So where do you start? If you’re going to commit to being a traveler with one-bag travel, you’ll need the right gear. The whole idea is to keep things lightweight and streamlined, so roller bags or anything remotely close to traditional luggage can be eliminated from this conversation. And no hiking bags either.
Anything that belongs on an expedition should stay on the mountain. A number of companies have built bags for exactly this purpose such as Nomatic, who have travel-specific bags from 30 to 40 liters to store goods for a weekend or a full week.
If a suit tends to be part of your packing equation, then you’ll need something like the S.C. Holdall from Bennett and Winch. The bag looks like a traditional duffel, but it’s actually wrapped in a garment bag that can pack a two-piece suit while freeing up the duffel to pack everything else. You don’t need a new bag either if you already own a great duffel or backpack.
In this case, you’ll want to grab some packing cubes and maybe a shirt organizer to keep everything tidy and properly packed. If your current bag isn’t waterproof, you can grab a cheap rain cover to protect your bag from the elements.
Many of the options you’ll find take up no space at all, and you’ll definitely want one since everything you’ll be relying on is in just one bag.
“So where do you start? If you’re going to commit to being a traveler with one-bag travel, you’ll need the right gear.”
Of course, this all won’t matter if the things you pack aren’t versatile. When it comes to clothing, you’ll want to stick with the basics. On a budget? You can head into any Uniqlo on the planet and they’ll have virtually everything you need.
Products like their Heattech range are ideal lightweight layering pieces for the winter, while styles from their Airism line offer lightweight breathability for hotter temperatures. They also come in a variety of essential styles, and their lightweight construction makes them ideal for packing.
Merino, merino, merino. It is a magical material if you’re willing to make the investment. It’s a natural material that can fight odor, wick away moisture and, because it is a finer fabric, it’s also incredibly comfortable.
Pack a few merino tees, underwear and sweaters and you’ll be good for a week. For dressier occasions, there are button-ups from brands such as Outlier and Western Rise that’ll go the distance for days without a stink (literally), and they’ll keep you looking sharp when you’re dressing up for a business meeting or exploring the city.
You’ll want to think about interchangeability too. It can be a game-changer if everything you pack can be mixed and matched. Keep a rotation of pieces in colors that wear well together in different combinations or just simply stick to neutrals to make your choices as easy as possible.
Be sure to take fit into consideration; you’ll want to focus on slimmer, more tailored cuts that can be worn in a variety of situations. Pieces such as tapered jeans or chinos are always a good call, and slim-fitting crewneck sweaters that look great on their own or under a blazer are a must-have as well. Whatever you opt for, just be sure you don’t stick out as an outsider on the street.
When it comes to shoes, it’ll have to come down to what your travels will be like. Try to stick to one pair that goes with everything. Want to stay active on your travels without packing your clunky sneakers?
Figure out a workout plan that you can do in your room without having to use the fitness center, or pack a pair of trunks and put in some laps at the hotel pool. Some hotels, such as the Westin, offer shoe and clothing rentals at select locations so you can save some room in your bag if a visit to the gym is absolutely necessary.
If you do want to pack a pair of sneakers, go for something with a knit upper since the material can be easily crushed down to pack flat inside your bag. Another option is a shoe strap accessory from DSPTCH, which has a harness to secure your sneakers and clips that you can hook onto an attachment point on your bag.
Dopp kits are great but they’re big and boxy and they tend to steal a significant chunk of room in your bag. I think we can all agree that hygiene is paramount, but you can easily reduce what you need to fit inside the standard TSA-approved quart-size bag to hold your all your toiletries.
Just stick to the 3-ounces-or-lower rule and you’ll be golden. You can also bypass this altogether and just hit the local drugstore to buy your toiletries when you arrive at your destination or just call your hotel ahead of time to see if they already have everything you need.
You don’t need to bring your iPad, Kindle, Nintendo Switch, and your laptop with you on your trip. Keep your technology to the bare minimum, as you can leave most of it at home. Having all those screens is not only excessive but it’ll add up and weigh you down in a big way.
It’s more than likely you can do everything you need to do on your smartphone, and if you do need to pack a laptop for work, grab an iPad with a keyboard or one of those lightweight 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrids for all your productivity needs to keep it all slim and simple. Oh, and those big noise canceling headphones you swear by? You can ditch those too.
Modern in-ear headphones such as the Apple AirPods Pro or the Master and Dynamic MW07 have been able to crack the code when it comes to shrinking down noise-canceling technology. These ultra-compact earphones pack hours and hours of battery life for all-day listening in a pair of earphones that fit inside a case that’s similar in size to a pack of dental floss.
It can take a few tries to get your own personal one-bag travel packing recipe just right and once you sort that out, it can be incredibly liberating. Anything you can do to keep your luggage situation as uncomplicated as possible is a key element to keeping your travels smooth, efficient, and misery-free.
Just think about all the scenarios in the past where your luggage has held you back. Give it a shot on your next trip, and not only will you be glad you did but you’ll never check a bag again.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the EDC Buyer’s Guide Winter, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.
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