November 28, 2022

Alex o'Loughlin

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How to Travel With Only One Bag

Worried about checking a bag during a chaotic travel summer? Consider honing the fine art of minimalist packing with tips gleaned from Reddit.

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Attention all chronic overpackers: we hear you and see you, but there’s really no need to pack twenty pairs of underwear for your four day trip. Let’s face it, some of us are blessed with the gift of travel anxiety and we take it out on our poor suitcases, stretching those zippers to their limits. But with so many recent news stories of summer air travel woes, maintaining an overpacker’s lifestyle (which certainly requires at least a checked bag) is dubious at best. The solution? Forcing yourself to take just one travel bag, courtesy of r/OneBag

When we’re faced with a problem in modern times, most nowadays turn to the internet for an answer. And there’s no better way to crowdsource a solution than to turn to the myriad netizen communities of Reddit, a website devoted completely to discussion boards. There are dozens of subreddits devoted to travel, like r/DigitalNomad, r/TravelHacks, r/SoloTravel, r/Shoestring, and, of course, r/OneBag, which describes itself as “a minimalist urban travel community devoted to the idea of lugging around less crap.” Getting input and reading about the experiences of seasoned travelers is critical, but learning how to get the most out of those experiences while not drowning in excess toiletries and clothing? One might call the advice invaluable. 

So, get out there with the freedom to travel unburdened and remember, don’t pack your fears!

Traveling with one bag may seem like an impossibility. But with a little savvy planning, anything can happen.

What Is One Bag Travel?

One bag travel is kind of self explanatory: it’s traveling with just one bag. No check-in suitcase, no extra personal item—just the one piece of luggage that you can carry on to the plane. What’s the point? There are several benefits to one bag travel: 

  • Freedom: Traveling with one bag frees the rest of your body up and allows you to more easily navigate your new, exciting destination.
  • Peace of mind: There’s way less of a chance that your luggage will be lost by the airline (or that you may simply lose track of a suitcase) if you stow it in an overhead compartment. 
  • Budget-friendly: Forget about checked bag fees. 
  • Save time: No need to mope and sigh around the baggage carousel anymore. Imagine being able to disembark, bypass the baggage carousel, and simply go straight to your hotel with all of your stuff. Plus, since you’ll be traveling with less, it will also take less time to pack (and unpack). 
  • Safety: For those who like to travel solo, packing your things in one bag is a great way to keep you and your personal belongings as safe as can be—since everything is all in one place, your things will be easier to keep track of. 

Of course, there is a small con when it comes to one bag travel—since you’ll be traveling with carry-on baggage only, you’ll have to abide by TSA regulations when it comes to liquids. So, don’t plan on bringing back a souvenir bottle of wine or liquor when one-bagging. 

Focus on packing a little less than you need and washing—and buying—any additional items you might need at your destination.

How do you even travel with only one bag?

Chronic overpackers might find the idea of using just one bag traveling absolutely preposterous. But all it really takes is some savvy planning

Of course, not everyone will be able to comfortably take a month-long European vacation with one Fjallraven Kanken backpack. But for those who master the art, the benefits of traveling as (almost) free as can be, the pros outweigh the cons.

The bulkiest thing in everyone’s luggage is clothing. And though it’s not advisable to bring just one outfit for a trip, there are ways to simply bring less. Consider bringing less pairs of underwear than you’d need and washing dirtied unmentionables in the hotel bathtub or wash bag. These biodegradable, pocket-sized detergent sheets make the chore easier. Investing in a few pairs of wool socks or other wool pieces is a great idea. Thanks to wool fibers’ hydrophobic properties, B.O. particles have a hard time absorbing into wool clothing, so you can wash them less. 

It’s a good idea to wear your biggest and bulkiest items on the plane such as jackets or boots (and they’ll keep you warm in that chilly cabin air). To save on room inside your bag, consider investing in a few synthetic-fabric pieces, which are easier to roll or fold (rolling is believed to save more space than folding, but to each their own) compactly than traditional fabrics, have greater moisture-wicking properties, and dry quickly. For some environmentally friendly alternatives (polyester, acrylic, and nylon fabrics are some of the biggest contributors to microplastic pollution), invest in plant-based linen, lyocell, rayon, bamboo, and viscose clothing, which behave a lot like their synthetic cousins.

Since shoes cannot be folded, consider making do with the single pair of shoes you’ll wear on the plane and packing a compact pair of slippers or sandals if you’ll need them. 

As for toiletries, solid shampoo, lotion, conditioner, and soap bars are your friend. Lush has a wealth of bar-based beauty products, but brands like New Zealand-based Ethique (which also happens to be 100% plastic-free) and Obia are great options. Not only do they pack more neatly thanks to their naturally streamlined shapes, but you won’t have to worry about them exploding in your bag either. Plus, rather than bring all the toiletries you need with you, consider packing just the essentials and buying anything else you might need at a local pharmacy at your destination. Who knows, you might find yourself a fan of a new Italian toothpaste

Electronics can also be a problem—consider investing in low-weight laptops and tablets if you know you’ll be on the run a lot. A multiport adapter is also a good idea, so you can bring a single charger for all of your tech. As you’re packing, ask yourself—do I really need this piece of electronic equipment? Do I really need to bring my Nintendo Switch? Or should I be focusing my efforts on connecting with the culture around me?

One of a traveler's most important decisions: Which bag should you bring?

The Best Options to One Bag

While the internet can give you all the tips in the world, this is a decision that only you can make. 

One way to make it easier, per r/OneBag, is deciding what camp you fall into: would you rather “buy a bag and tailor your packing list to fit into it or box up your finalized packing list and measure L x W x H of it all and look for a bag with similar dimensions?”

Either way, there are a couple of things to consider when deciding on a single bag. Do you want a backpack, duffle bag, or suitcase? If it’s the latter, is it important to you to have four wheels over two? Similarly, would you prefer a soft or hard shell? Regardless of what kind of bag, you should also consider what airlines you commonly fly—are they ones with stringent baggage policies, or are they more generous with baggage weight? 

Here are some bag options frequently recommended by Redditors:

  • Duffel bags: Cotopaxi’s Allpa 70L Duffel Bag and Patagonia’s Black Hole Duffel Bag (which comes in 40L, 55L, 70L, and 100L) are perennial faves on the message board. The rugged bags are made of weather-resistant, recycled materials and can either be hand-carried or worn like a backpack (and the straps for either option are stowable and removable). 
  • Backpack: Scrolling through the subreddit, you’ll notice that backpacks are the preferred system for one baggers. And there are so many choices. One that pops up frequently is the Bellroy Transit Backpack Plus because it meets carry-on restrictions, has a removable sternum strap and hideaway waist belt to take the strain off your shoulders, and boasts internal compression straps to reduce bulk. Another much-loved option is the Osprey Fairview Travel Pack. It comes with a zip-off day pack for additional storage or just for tootling around town during the day. For those looking for a hybrid roller backpack, the Osprey Fairpoint also has good reviews.  For something smaller, Redditors also suggested Cotopaxi’s Allpa 35L Travel Pack because it’s lightweight and features a full-wrap zipper like a suitcase.  
  • Suitcases: r/OneBag enthusiasts aren’t super keen on suitcases—the wheels make the bag heavier, and they’re not as easy to move through crowded streets or over cobblestones with. Still, if they were to pick one, it would be the Briggs & Riley Compact Carry-On Spinner or Away’s The Carry-On. Both have sizes that meet the carry-on limits of most airlines and have a lifetime limited warranty.

Keep these tips and tricks in mind while planning your one bag excursion.

 One Bagging Travel Hacks 

  • Use packing and compression cubes: Easily keep your clothes separate from your power cords (or, more importantly, your dirty from your clean underwear) with these organizational bags. They’re particularly handy because they make it easier to pull out just what you need (as opposed to emptying your bag in search of your tweezers). The compression bags also help squish items into more manageable packages—it won’t save you any weight, but it’ll give you more space. 
  • Choose a rectangularly shaped bag: Because compression cubes are usually rectangular, it’s better to use a similarly shaped bag—it helps maximize packing efficiency. 
  • Bring a carabiner: A carabiner clipped to the outside of your bag can be useful—it can hold an extra pair of shoes, a water bottle, a hat, or a jacket.

Above all it’s important to remember that you don’t need to pack for every eventuality. And just because you’re on vacation, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a radically different person than at home, so pack only what you’ll actually use.