How to Become a One Bag Traveler
So, you’ve decided you’re ready to give one bag travel a shot. Great! You won’t regret it. But, there are a few steps you have to take to make sure you’re doing it the right way.
Get a Good Backpack (or Duffel)
This is really the first step to becoming an effective one bag nomad. You’re going to want the best bag that you can afford.
A lot of people swear by duffel bags for traveling, and they are objectively insane. Kidding! There are advantages to the duffel bag, and even some backpacks that can be used as duffels. I do think a nice weekender bag is a great staple of anyone’s wardrobe. However, I personally almost never travel with them. I just don’t find duffel bags comfortable to carry, so I focus primarily on travel backpacks.
Backpacks are better because they are much more comfortable to carry and they keep your hands free. They distribute weight over both shoulders, and this can be lessened with the use of sternum straps and hip belts.
You can learn more about what kind of bag to get in my article How to Choose the Best Backpack for One Bag Travel.
Get the Right Gear
In addition to being a one bagger, I’m also a budget traveler (the two often go hand-in-hand).
Having said that, I also believe in investing in quality. Better to spend a bit more on the front end and have equipment that will last for years and years.
Packing cubes are an absolute must. It helps keep all your clothes rolled or folded neatly and compressed so they take up less space. Maybe invest in some Merino wool clothes (you’ll hear this stuff come up time and time again in one bagging). Merino wool offers incredible insulation, light weight, and odor control. Unfortunately, it’s also not cheap.
You can get an idea of the basics you’ll need at Essential Travel Gear.
Get into the One Bag Nomad Mindset
Alright, you’ve got your bag, you’ve got your gear, now you need to put it all to work. Being a good one bagger isn’t just about having the right stuff, it’s also about knowing which stuff to bring.
I mentioned earlier my own personal motto: “Lighten your load, free your mind.” However, most one baggers live by this mantra: “Don’t pack your fears.”
“Don’t pack your fears”
Only pack what you need, not what you fear you might need.
In other words, don’t be afraid to leave some things behind. Don’t be afraid to leave the shampoo and conditioner at home if you can buy them at your destination for a fraction of the cost. Don’t be afraid to bring three shirts instead of five when you can do laundry on the road.
Pro Tip: One bag travel, by nature of being minimalist, overlaps a lot with budget travel. On top of teaching you how to lighten your load and free your mind, I also share some ideas about how to stretch your dollar (or peso, or pound, etc.). Some online resources might recommend spending a lot of money on Merino wool clothing or the best hiking boots, etc. While materials like Merino wool are the gold standard for travel garments, you really don’t need those. I myself do splurge on items that I know will hold up for years and years, but only with a select few things. For everything else, there is no need to drop hundreds and hundreds of dollars just on equipment. Get the best you can afford, but don’t worry too much about getting top of the line.
Keep It Light!
Finally, it’s very important to pack a weight that you are comfortable carrying.
I personally try to keep my loadout to 20 pounds, maybe 22 lbs (10kg) at the very most. I also use a 26-liter rucksack, so this is a little easier to accomplish. Ladies and smaller men should be able to achieve load-outs well under this weight.
For example, here is my typical packing list:
My Packing List
To give you a better idea of what a typical loadout is, I’m outlining my personal packing list for my current trip to Southeast Asia below. Please keep in mind that this is a warm weather load-out, and that cold weather travel with have to be altered slightly, but it’s still doable. I am currently in my third month of traveling out of my 26-liter bag with very few problems.
- GoRuck GR1 26L travel backpack w/ sternum strap, Gossamer Gear shoulder pocket, GoRuck side pocket, and side water bottle holder
- Laptop (I recommend 13″ or 14″ but I was forced to buy a 15.6″ in Laos)
- DJI Mini 3 Pro drone plus controller, 4 extended batteries, and charging hub AND/OR
- Sony Alpha a6000 mirrorless camera w/ Sigma 30mm f/1.4 prime lens plus batteries and charger
- 2TB solid state external hard drive
- 10,000-mah portable power bank
- Phone and charger
- Anker Soundcore X10 Sport Bluetooth earbuds
- 2x Eagle Creek Spectre packing cubes
- 3 T-shirts
- 1 tank top
- 1 polo shirt
- 1 short-sleeve button-up
- 1 long-sleeve button-up (optional, but you never know)
- Dearborn Denim Technical Pants (wrinkle-free and can be dressed up)
- Kuhl hiking pants
- Lightweight joggers
- Lined board shorts that can do double-duty as swim trunks
- Belt w/ hidden money compartment
- Shoes (you’ve only got one pair, so make sure they are sturdy, comfortable, and have good traction; don’t be like me and almost die because you didn’t have the proper footwear)
- 5-7 day’s worth of socks and underwear (currently getting by with 5)
- Travel towel
- Casio G-Shock Mudmaster watch (completely unnecessary and you can get similar functionality for less money, but I like that it features world time, compass, altimeter, and thermometer)
- Grayl 500ml filtered water bottle
- Contact lenses and case
- Glasses and case
- Small travel lock
- Travel toothbrush
- Minor toiletries (most can be bought when you reach your destination, and for less money)
- Small first aid kit
- Black Diamond Spot Lite 200-lumen headlamp
- REI Co-op Packable Day Bag (okay, this technically makes me a hypocrite and not a true one bag nomad BUT…having a small daybag that you can fold up nice and small when you don’t need it is a huge help!)
I do a lot of photography and videography on my travels, so for me my drone and mirrorless camera are a must (although I don’t always bring my drone). I also work remote, so the laptop needs to come along as well. This does add weight to the pack and eats into the space for my clothes and other equipment, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to put up with. For those of you traveling without drones or cameras, you should absolutely be able to pack everything you need into a backpack or duffel of 45 liters or less. Play around with it; see what things you just don’t need and which things can pull double duty.
The trick is to find the packing list that works best for you!