Vacation Hack: 7 Tips for Single Bag Travel
As the air travel industry continues to limp along in the face of rising fuel prices and stiffer competition, airlines are finding new and novel ways to squeeze our wallets. An extra charge for checked baggage was only the beginning in what’s fast becoming a textbook example of how to nickel and dime consumers. Blankets, pillows, headphones and — believe it or not — bathroom access are all profit centers now. Welcome to the great fleecing at 30,000 feet.
After my usual airfare comparison shopping, the one fee that I feel like I have some control over is the checked baggage fee. After 9/11, for the sake of shear convenience and (relative) speed, I became a single bag traveler. Now, regardless of the distance or duration of the trip, I pack strategically and fit every item I need into a well-designed and well-packed carry-on bag. If it won’t fit in a reasonably sized carry-on, it stays behind. Here are 7 tips to become a single bag traveler yourself.
1. Choose the Right Bag
Just because you’re traveling with one bag doesn’t mean that bag should push the limits of reason. A modified steamer trunk on wheels defeats the purpose. Shop around and choose something that’s road-worthy, versatile, easy to carry, and easy to stow. I chose a black soft-sided shoulder bag that’s about twice the size of a standard gym bag. It’s made of durable nylon, has a comfortable strap and a few outside pockets. The dark color camouflages scuffs and dirt, the soft sides help it squeeze into those overhead bins on crowded flights, and the outside pockets keep my boarding pass and other quick-grab items handy.
2. Embrace Essentialism
Travel, especially when it’s for pleasure, can inspire us to pack everything we love and figure out the rest when we land. Without a serious attempt to resist this temptation, single bag travel will never be in your future. Decide which items you’ll reasonably need on your trip based upon weather forecasts, activities, events, contingencies, etc. If you want to really get specific, plan out your wardrobe on 3X5 note cards for each day of your journey and pack accordingly. It may sound extreme, but this method ensures there won’t be a single non-essential item taking up precious real estate in your bag. Realize that it’s okay to wear clothes more than once. Choose items wisely and focus on comfort, versatility and practicality.
3. Use Your Body as Your Second Carry-On
What you wear for your flight is part of your travel wardrobe. Choose these clothes strategically — maybe those boots you want to pack will take up too much room in your luggage, but they’re fine to wear on the flight. Maybe your gym shoes or that hoodie would be fine to wear for a long day of travel and serve as workout gear once you arrive.
4. Go Small
We’re all operating under the TSA’s 3.4 ounce rule for liquids, so grab a zip-loc baggie and consciously consider what you’ll need for this part of the luggage puzzle. For the guys, there are finally smaller shaving cream tubes appearing on the market now. For other items that don’t come in trial sizes, buy some good travel bottles and get creative.
5. Reset Standards
Let’s face it; Americans (especially) have a thing about hygiene. Socks, underwear, even jeans can’t be worn more than once without inspiring a look of slight disgust. It’s hard to argue with such embedded social standards, but I can’t help but wonder what we’re doing to get so dirty. Unless a trip involves day-long hikes or fossil-digging, our bodies (and in turn, our clothing) are probably staying fairly clean. Thanks to some new high-tech fabrics, underwear can be washed in the sink and hung to dry quickly. Rethink some of those conditioned expectations and realize that they aren’t universal.
6. Use the Russian Nesting Doll Method
Packing is an art and a science. The method that I find works best is to lay out everything on my bed, excluding the clothes I’ll be wearing on the flight. Then, see how the items can work together. Rolled up socks and underwear can fit inside shoes. Folded jeans can protect ties, a rolled up tee-shirt can add extra protection for a digital camera or sunglasses. On top of everything goes the laptop case, the zip-lock toiletry kit (for easy access at security) and a third ‘break-away’ bag. The break-away bag is a small separate case (about 8” X 6”), that holds a good book, an MP3 player, any medication I might need, earplugs, an energy bar and aspirin…anything I might need mid-flight. This ‘break-away’ bag saves me time rummaging through the carry-on once I’ve boarded.
7. Drop Shopping
Remember, you have to pack to come home too. Travel often means shopping or picking up a few souvenirs along the way. If you can’t avoid the temptation to accumulate new items on your trip, make sure they will safely fit in your carry on or consider shipping them ahead before your return flight. Otherwise, skip the snow globe and send a post-card instead.
Many folks might find the concept of traveling only with a carry-on much too limiting. After years of perfecting the science of single bag travel, I can’t imagine going any other way. Packing a single bag smartly will allow you focus on the purpose of your trip and not get bogged down with “inventory management.” Imagine: no more long lines to check bags, no more wondering if your luggage will get lost along the way, no more waiting in line at baggage claim areas, no more keeping track of large bags and small bags, and no more fees.