Packing and baggage handling are two of the biggest hassles in modern travel, and the hassle doesn't stop when you get to the airport. What if the airline loses your luggage? Or mishandles and damages it during the flight? What if you make your connection, but your bags don't?
I've had all of the above happen and more.
Traveling with one bag is a great solution to this problem, but it’s one that seems out of reach to most people. Travelers generally bring more than they need because they aren’t sure how to properly assess their needs. Sometimes, they just don’t know how to pack!
How to pack one bag for travel
Here are five great tips to help you travel with just one bag.
1. Find a better bag
If you’re an avid traveler, finding a bag that doesn’t have wheels on it might seem like a stretch. Every four-pack luggage set you’ll see at the department store has wheeled luggage, but that’s not where you want to look when you’re considering a one bag solution.
If traveling with just one bag is new to you, you’re in luck. There are all sorts of travelers, and many of them specialize in single bag travel. Budget travelers, distance hikers, and ultralight backpackers fall into this category. While you might not be planning to participate in those activities on your next business trip, you’ve got a wide selection of products to pick from, all designed around one bag travel.
Take a look at hiking and camping packs, like what you’d find at Field & Stream or REI plug into the backpacker community to find something suited to your needs. Some brands, like Osprey, specialize in versatile packs for this purpose. The best packs for one bag travel are roomy without a ton of built-in dividers. They’re also accessible from multiple points on the bag, so check for zippers on the side and top. The most versatile bags fit nicely on both large aircraft and small commuter planes.
2. Bring half of what you need
There’s an old trick that backpackers use when planning a trip: Lay out everything you plan to take on your journey, and then strategically cut it in half. Then do it again.
It might sound impossible, but it really isn’t. Carefully selecting out what you’ll need on your trip forces you to trim down to necessities. This saves time, space, and cost for every single trip. Consider that the fee for a checked bag is around $25-30 each way and one thing becomes clear very quickly: Baggage fees add up fast!
Let’s be clear: You shouldn’t leave essentials behind for the sake of traveling light, but you probably don’t need to stuff two pairs of shoes, five pairs of socks, or every camera lens you own into your bag,either. There’s a solid middle ground where you’ve got enough (but not too much) to travel with just one bag.
And all that excess? Just leave it at home.
3. Keep your bag organized
If there’s anything out there that stops one bag wannabes in their tracks, it’s how to organize. Stuffing everyone inside a single bag or backpack seems simple enough until you actually have to find something! Then, for the uninitiated, it’s a nightmare!
Solve that problem when you pack. Use packing organizers like packing cubes and garment folders to keep everything neatly organized. If you’re staying for multiple days, keep an empty bag stuffed into your pack and use it for dirty laundry!
For small items like toothbrushes or travel-sized sundries, you’ll usually find a small pocket on the top or side of a travel bag where you can stuff them in a plastic bag. This makes them easy to access and saves a hassle when navigating airport security.
There’s an old idiom, you’ve probably heard: “A place for everything and everything in its place.”
When you travel with just one bag, that’s doubly true. Knowing how to pack one bag for travel means finding a place for everything and keeping track of it when you take it out. Always put it back when you’re done and you’ll never lose it. It’s a very simple trick keeps you organized and makes your one bag experience hassle-free.
4. Wear your heaviest gear in transit
Headed to a cold climate? Expecting rain sometime during your trip? Great! Wear all of that gear with you on your travel day. Don’t stuff your heavy coat into your bag. Snuggle up in the airplane seat and use it to keep warm.
The same goes for shoes. If you’re planning on wearing heavy boots, wear them through airport security. It might be more of a hassle, but it’ll save on space. While airlines can be sticklers about the size and of a bag, they’re much more relaxed when it comes to what you’re wearing on your person.
All of this frees up essential space in your bag without forcing you to make any concessions to your wardrobe. You were planning to take this stuff anyway, remember, so wear it onboard and make use of it on day one. You can always wash it when you reach your destination if you plan to use it again.
5. Leave a little extra room for souvenirs
If you’ve ever been to a foreign country, you may have learned the hard way that trying to ship souvenirs and postcards back home can be a hassle beyond belief. Customs forms, long delays, and broken mail systems often mean that you’ll return home long before your postcard arrives!
Even if you’re just taking a weekend trip to a different city, remember to save a little bit of extra room in your bag for gifts and souvenirs. If you know what you plan on purchasing (collectible mugs or a tee shirt to commemorate your travels), go ahead and build that room into your packing plans.
If you haven’t started a collection yet, consider something small like enamel pins, postcards, or shot glasses. These won’t take up much room and can be great reminders of a trip without adding weight to your bag.
Wrapping Up – How to pack one bag for travel
Travel is both a joy and a hassle for millions of people every year. Airlines are charging more for less space, and raising baggage fees every year. Dragging luggage to and from an airport might add insult to injury if you’re paying a fees only to lose all of your gear to a mishandled bag.
Before you start emptying your closet into your largest suitcase for your next flight, consider a one bag solution. You might find that it’s easier than you think to travel with just one bag.