How to Travel With Just One Bag, According to Reddit

Worried about checked bag fees? Consider honing the art of minimalist packing with tips gleaned from Reddit.

Two hands placing a folded yellow shirt in an open carry-on suitcase filled with a hat, a bag, other apparel

Forget about packing check-in luggage—focus on traveling with just one bag.

Photo by Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

Attention all chronic overpackers: We hear you and see you, but there’s really no need to pack 20 pairs of underwear for a four-day trip. Let’s face it—some of us have travel anxiety, and we take it out on our poor suitcases, stretching those zippers to their limits. But with ever-increasing fees and weight limits, maintaining an overpacker’s lifestyle (which requires at least a checked bag) is dubious at best. The solution? Forcing yourself to travel with just one bag, with advice courtesy of r/OneBag.

When we’re faced with a problem nowadays, most turn to the internet for an answer. And there’s no better way to crowdsource a solution than via the communities of Reddit. Here, visitors can find 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 that advice invaluable.

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

A person looking at a paper map sits on a bench in what seems to be a train station, their backpack on the ground next to them

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

Photo by qoppi/Shutterstock

What is one-bag travel?

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

  • Freedom: Traveling with one bag physically frees you up and allows you to more easily navigate your new, exciting destination.
  • Peace of mind: There’s 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. Simply disembark, bypass the baggage carousel, and go straight to your hotel with all of your stuff. Plus, since you’ll be traveling lighter, it will 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 possible. With everything all in one place, it will be easier to keep track of your things.

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.

A person in a blue suit carrying a leather weekender walks on a tarmac toward a plan.

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

Photo by Svitlana Hulko/Shutterstock

How do you even travel with only one bag?

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

Of course, not everyone will be able to comfortably take a monthlong European vacation with one Fjällräven Kȧnken backpack. But for those who master the art of traveling as 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 bring less. Consider packing fewer pairs of underwear than you need and washing dirtied unmentionables in the hotel bathtub or in a wash bag. These biodegradable, pocket-sized detergent sheets make the chore easier. Investing in a few pairs of merino wool socks or other clothing items is also a great idea; thanks to wool fiber’s hydrophobic properties, B.O. particles have a hard time absorbing into wool clothing, so you can wash them less often.

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

Since shoes cannot be folded, we suggest you make do with the pair you’ll wear on the plane. Pack a compact pair of slippers or sandals if you’ll need them.

As for toiletries, solid shampoo, lotion, conditioner, and bar soap 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 percent plastic-free) and vegan-friendly Obia are great options. Not only do solid bars pack neatly, but also you won’t have to worry about them exploding in your bag. Plus, rather than bring all the toiletries you need with you, pack the essentials and buy 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 also pose a packing problem—it might be worth it to invest in low-weight laptops and tablets if you know you’ll be on the move a lot. A multiport adapter is allows you to 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 need to bring my handheld gaming system? Or should I focus on connecting with the culture around me?

A person in a long brown coat wearing a mask and holding a yellow rolling carry-on suitcase looks at the departures screen at an airport

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

Photo by DimaBerlin/Shutterstock

The best luggage to buy to one-bag travel

While the internet can give you all the tips in the world, what luggage to buy for one-bag travel is a decision that only you can make.

One way to make it easier, per r/OneBag, is deciding which 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 choosing a single bag. Do you have a format preference: a backpack, a duffle bag, or a suitcase? If it’s the latter, is it important to you to have four wheels over two? Would you prefer a soft or hard shell? Regardless of what kind of bag you choose, consider which airlines you commonly fly. Do they have 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 (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. Other much-loved options include the Osprey Farpoint and Fairview family of travel packs and the 40L Tortuga Backpack. For those looking for a hybrid roller/backpack, the wheeled versions of these bags also have good reviews. For something smaller, Redditors suggest Cotopaxi’s Allpa 35L Travel Pack because it’s lightweight and features a full-wrap zipper like a suitcase or the 30L version of Tortuga’s bag.

A hybrid backpack/suitcase

Baboon to the Moon‘s collection of Go-Bags comes in a wide array of seasonal colors and sizes. Both the Small and Mini comply with TSA’s carry-on requirements while the Big would best be suited for local trips that don’t require a flight. The Go-Bag can be either worn as a backpack or carried like a duffel bag.

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. But, 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 lifetime limited warranties.

The back of a person wearing a backpack as they hike through a mountainous valley

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

Photo by everst/Shutterstock

One-bagging travel hacks

  • Use packing and compression cubes: Easily keep your clothes separate from your power cords (or, more important, your dirty from your clean underwear) with these organizational bags. They’re particularly handy because they make it easier to pull out exactly 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 rectangular-shaped bag: Because compression cubes are usually rectangular, it’s better to use a similarly shaped bag to 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—though that might be cheating a bit...

Above all, remember that you don’t need to pack for every eventuality. Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you’re going to be a radically different person than at home, so pack what you’ll use—and nothing more.

Mae Hamilton is a former associate editor at AFAR. She covers all things related to arts, culture, and the beautiful things that make travel so special.
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