PACKING AND ONE BAG TRAVEL
WHAT IS ONE BAG TRAVEL?
The basic concept of one bag travel is pretty self-explanatory: one carry-on bag with everything you need to travel for a short or extended period of time. However, perfecting what you need to bring and how to pack it can be difficult. On the internet there seems to be a lot of noise when it comes to the idea of “one bag travel.” Everybody has their own opinion on what bag is the best, what clothes to bring, and how to pack. Yet, it is almost impossible to find someone who simply lays out exactly what they themselves bring on their travels. I am hoping to change that. In this blog post I will describe exactly what bag, clothes, and accessories I bring when I travel to Europe. If you are traveling somewhere else, almost everything will be the same aside from clothes depending on the weather of your destination. You will be surprised at how far you can go traveling with just one bag. After all, whether you are traveling for six days or six months, what you pack does not really change. Just wash your clothes once a week and pack smart (thats what I’m here for).
I use the Minaal Carry-on 2.0 bag. I love this bag for its sleek design (it doesn’t scream “I’m a tourist, steal my bag”), comfortable fit, and ample, 35L packing space (for reference, the maximum carry on liter size is 40L). Minaal swears that their bag is the pinnacle of “one bag travel” bags and I have to agree – every detail of the Minaal travel bag is carefully designed to maximize travel ease and comfort. Here are some of my favorite details that come with the Minaal travel bag (details that you should look for in any travel bag):
Lug Loaders: Minaal uses magnet lug loaders. At first glance, they may not seem sturdy, but in use the magnet is very strong. The lug loaders clasp into place easily. Lug loaders keep your bag in the proper upright position, keeping the weight at the top of your back rather than on your lower back. Check out how simple it is to clasp and unclasp the lug loaders: Minaal Lug loaders.
Chest Strap: A chest strap is essential for keeping your bag high and tight on your back.
Compression Straps: The name of the game when packing one bag is compression. Any good travel bag will have compression straps in order to keep everything within packed tightly together.
Laptop Compartment: If you plan on bringing a laptop, a dedicated laptop compartment is essential. The Minaal Travel Bag 2.0 uses a suspension system to keep your laptop centered and away from direct contact with the sides of your bag in case of a drop.
Rain Protection: The last thing you want is to get stuck in the rain, unable to protect your bag from getting soaked. A wet bag means musty clothes, ruined electronics and a general mess. Bottom line, you either want a waterproof bag or some sort of rain protection cover. The Minaal bag comes with a waterproof cover that is easily stored within a compartment at the bottom of the bag.
Lockable Zipper: The final feature of a good travel bag is heavy-duty, YKK, lockable zippers. You don’t want to get all the way to a foreign country only to have your possessions stolen because you could not lock your backpack. I use the REI TSA lock, but any small TSA or zipper lock will do the trick. Click here to get your own locks.
It is so hard to find a detailed review of all the clothes that someone brings on their travels. You can read a million articles on style and packing lists and it quickly becomes overwhelming. I hope this list will give you a tangible understanding of what I bring when I travel to Europe. A little disclaimer, this list will only be covering men’s clothing but the same general principles will for women’s clothing with a little modification (for instance switch shirt with blouse, and shorts with skirt, etc.).
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the two most important principles when packing: pack light and pack clothes that can be worn in layers. You can always buy a shirt or shoes in another country, so pack light and if something wears out, replace it. You will be amazed how far you can go with very little clothing. Second, pack clothes that can be worn in layers. You will save space if you pack compatible layers of clothes rather than bringing one huge ski jacket or other specialty clothing. Without further ado, here are exactly the clothes I bring when I backpack through Europe. First, a list of all the clothing items I bring, then pictures and brand suggestions:
-3 One Color T-Shirts
-2 Button Up Shirts (one long sleeve, one short sleeve)
-2 Pair of Pants
-1 Pair of Shorts
-4 Pair Quality Socks
-6 Pair underwear
-1 Hat and Gloves (seasonal)
-2 Pairs of Shoes
-1 Flip Flop/ Shower Shoes
T-Shirts (3): I bring three mono-tone T-shirts. These are great for wearing casually or using as an under shirt when it gets a little cooler. Below are the three that I am bringing on my next trip. I recommend going without logos if you a buying a new wardrobe for European travel (it keeps the mystery of what you are wearing) but it does not really matter. More important is that the shirts are high quality. After all, you’re gonna be wearing them for a while!
Button up shirts (2): Bring one long sleeve and one short sleeve button up shirt. They are great for wearing on their own, especially if you want to look a little nicer. Make sure they are neutral colors that will go with other parts of your wardrobe, particularly your sweater. Just like the T-shirts, it doesn’t matter what brand you bring as long as they are high quality and anti-wrinkle.
If you are looking to buy a new wardrobe for your travels, many travelers swear by the Outlier brand. They sell high quality Merino wool T-shirts and button up shirts. Personally, I think wearing what you already have should be fine (and also save you a few bucks), but if you’re looking for the very best, Outlier is it. Outlier Shop.
Sweater (1): A good sweater will get you a long way. I wear this Brooks Brothers Sweater. A little preppy, yes. Incredibly comfortable, warm, and goes with everything, also yes.
Jacket (1): You are going to want a jacket that goes with everything, is warm, and does not take up an absurd amount of space. I highly recommend buying the Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody. Not only will the Nano Puff Hoody keep you warm, but it also packs into itself for easy storage. You will be hard pressed to find a jacket that is as comfortable and easy to pack as this Patagonia staple.
Raincoat (1): The possibility of rain- high. The odds that you will want to be musty and wet- low. A raincoat is a must in any traveler’s wardrobe. I wear the Marmot Preclip Jacket Tall. It acts as an excellent shell to keep the rain off when the going gets wet. It is also thin enough that I am not struggling to pack it.
Pants (2): Bringing too many pairs of pants can easily weigh you down. I recommend bringing only two pairs. One pair of jeans and one pair of dark chinos. Both are comfortable, stylish, and can be worn over and over again. You are also going to want to bring a belt, probably leather. For the pants and the belt, whatever you have in your closet should be fine.
Shorts (1): Bring at least one pair of shorts and one pair of swim trunks. I love these Ron Jon Worldcore Solid Performance Walkshorts because they kill two birds with one stone. They can be worn around town on a hot day or double as swim trunks. Not to mention, they are comfortable and look good. I highly recommend bringing shorts that can also be worn as swimwear.
Socks (4): High quality socks are absolutely essential for backpacking. You are going to be doing a ton of walking. You do not want thin socks that give you blisters. You don’t socks that will reek after two days. Don’t wear white athletic socks unless you want to be immediately pinned as a tourist. There is really no better travel sock (or sock in general) than Darn Tough socks. Darn Tough socks are incredibly comfortable and, no kidding, could be worn a week in a row without picking up a smell. These are a must-get item for travelers. Four pairs of Darn Tough socks should be plenty. If you decide to use a less quality sock (which I advise against), bring five or six pairs. P.S. Get Darn Tough socks.
Underwear (6): I bring six pairs of underwear. Wash them once a week (at least) to keep them fresh. I bring what I have in my closet, but if you are extra sweaty or just want some fancy new undies, travel underwear from Exofficio is the best money can buy. If you splurge on Exofficio underwear, you can get away with only bringing three or four pairs. I’ll spare you from a picture of my underwear, but if you want Exofficio underwear click here.
Scarfs, Hats and Gloves (1): Not only is a scarf a staple of European fashion, but it will also keep you warm when it gets a little colder out. You may also want to bring a hat and gloves depending on the time of year you will be traveling. I recommend picking up a scarf as you travel, as it will not break the bank and will be a fun memento of your travels (plus you can show off to your friends your newfound European sense of style). When thinking of what hats and gloves you are bringing just keep in mind the climate of your destination and what activities you plan to do. If you are plan to ski in the Swiss Alps, you will want warmer gloves than someone visiting museums.
Shoes (2): In all honesty, you can get away with bringing only one pair of shoes. They are hard to pack and rather bulky. That said, I like to bring two pairs for added fashion. I bring one pair of boots and one pair of everyday walking shoes. Both of my shoes are leather and water-resistant. For my boots I wear Aldo boots. They are comfortable and look good. Here is a link to my Aldo boots. For my walking shoes, I wear Johnston and Murphy McGuffey Lace-Up shoes. They are water-resistant, look great, and are some of the most comfortable walking shoes I have ever owned.
Flip-Flop/ Shower Shoe (1): The final part of your wardrobe is some light, easy to pack, shower shoes. Hostel bathroom floors can be, well, hostile. You’re gonna want something to protect your feet from that grossness. Go for the lightest, easiest to pack flip-flop your can find. Here’s what I bring (I picked them up for free at a hotel in Vietnam):
If you’ve made it this far, you have completed half the packing preparation battle! However, there are still some additional items that will make your travels successful. Just like I did with the clothes, I will run you through a packing list and then go into detail about each item you want to bring. The list:
-Quick Dry Towel
-Charging Cables and Plug Adapters
-First Aid Bag
-Eye Mask/ Ear Plugs
Personal needs/preferences Items:
-Laptop/ Laptop Protector
Toiletries Bag: A small net bag, or whatever toiletry bag you already own, should be sufficient to keep all your essentials in one organized space. When organizing the contents of your toiletry bag there are several items you should always pack: dental floss, Q-tips, nail clippers, tweezers and chapstick. The rest of your toiletry bag can be filled with general care items such as deodorant, a toothbrush, razors, travel body wash, travel shampoo, and for the ladies, makeup (I do not know anything about makeup but try to pack only what is essential). When packing, make sure liquids do not exceed 3.4 ounces for carry-on and do not bring super large nail clippers or tweezers to avoid setting off alarms at the airport. If you’re in the market for a new bag, you can get a shower/toiletry mesh bag on amazon.
Quick Dry Towel: A quick drying microfiber towel is a essential for traveling. A normal towel has two problems: they are huge and they stay wet. I recommend the PackTowl Personal Microfiber Towel. Get the body/ large size because medium and small sizes are much too small to be used in a shower setting.
Sunglasses: A good pair of sunglasses will be used more than you think. If you are walking around a city on a sunny day, going to the beach, or want to look like a B.A. by wearing them at night, you’re going to want to bring some shades. I’ve had a pair of Ray-Ban Justin Classic glasses for the past three years and have never had a problem with durability. They also look great and are neutral.
Locks: Most hostels will have a locker where you can store your valuables or your entire bag when you go out for the day. However, you need to bring your own lock to keep the locker secure. If you forget a lock, it’s not the end of the world, as most hostels allow you to rent a lock; but, in my opinion having your own lock is the best way to keep your valuables secure. You can also use the lock to keep your bag locked during a long train ride. I use the ABUS 145/40 Aluminum Black Combination Padlock and Master Lock Padlock for lockers. I like to bring two locker locks just in case. Odds are you can find some way to use both. Also, remember that for your bags you will want TSA locks of which I usually bring three: two for my main bag and one as a backup or for a daypack/valuables bag.
Charging Cables and Plug Adapters: The number of charging cables you need depends on what electronics you bring. At the very least you will want to bring a phone charger. For that, you will need a plug adapter. There are all sorts of different outlet’s depending on which country you are in. The best way to keep organized is by getting a travel adapter. The Swiss designed Skross World Travel Adapter 3 works in over one hundred and fifty countries. As an added plus, it comes with a separate outlet for usb chargeable products.
Portable Charger: A portable charger will be a good investment to ensure you are never left completely stranded. Even if you never have an emergency, a portable charger can be very nice to keep all of your electronics working at their best over a long train or plane ride. I use Anker’s PowerCore 20100 portable charger. This thing is a beast. It has seven phone charges and charges itself very quick. I definitely feel more comfortable going out knowing my phone is not going to die on me.
Phone/Burner Phone: Most people will want to bring their smart phone. In this increasingly internet friendly world, you will be able to find WiFi in a variety of places: at your hostel, in some trains, or even at a McDonalds. Even so, you’re going to want the ability to make phone calls in case of emergency. Whether your smartphone is unlocked or not (if your phone is not unlocked the store worker will use a little key to get your SIM card out) you can get a SIM card with data for international travel. Most airports will have a store with all sorts of SIM card options (prepaid, pay as you go, etc.). When I travel I use EE Limited as my carrier. I use their international data plan and have never had a problem with data or my phone working. One month international travel with 10GB will cost you around $40. Every additional month is around $20. If you feel like you don’t need or don’t have a smartphone, another option is to use a cheap burner phone. Typically, burner phones are also sold at the airport. The airport should have all of these options available. You can choose whichever fits your needs best. Here’s a look at the burner phone I use.
First Aid Bag: Depending on how long you are traveling, the amount of medicine you need will vary. I will show you what I bring for extended trips (a month or longer). First off, it is important to note that you can get a lot of these medicines while you are traveling. However, I always find it easier to avoid the trip to the pharmacy when you are feeling sick. You never know if the pharmacist will speak English or what the foreign equivalent of U.S medicine is. It is much better to just come prepared. You will want to bring another small bag to pack the medicines securely away. I use a bag I have had for years, but any zip up toiletry bag should do the trick. Here are all the medicines I consider essential: Melatonin (for sleeping/ fighting jet lag), Ibuprofen/Excedrin/Advil (common cold, headache), allergy medication non-drowsy, Benadryl (for bad allergies/ allergic reactions), Tums (for stomach aches/diarrhea), Pedialyte mix (for rehydration), common band-aids, and Bacitracin wipes (for preventing infection in little cuts). Also bring Wet Wipes for common hand wiping or run-to-the-bathroom emergencies. Second Skin Bandages for blisters are another good investment. You can pick up all of these items at your local pharmacy before you head off. A final tip I would consider, is to put the medication into smaller containers to maximize packing space. Make sure you label your newly packed medication (example below).
Eye Mask/ Ear Plugs: At times it can be difficult to get peace and quiet. Whether you are trying to sleep on the train, plane, or at the hostel, conditions are bound to be less than ideal. That is why ear plugs and eye shades are a necessity. You may think they look silly, but trust me, you will be thanking me when you are sleeping and all your hostel buddies are dreary from their lack thereof. You can pick up your own pair of eye mask and ear plugs on Amazon.
Stain Remover: This is as simple as it gets. Bring Tide to go stain removing pens. You will be surprised at how often you end up using them. You can pick up a three pack at Target.
Book: Bring a good book. Once you finish, you can exchange it with another traveler or a hostel library. This is a great way to get find some new and interesting books! My favorite book is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell– if you’re looking for a good book to start off with, Outliers is the one.
Journal/ Pens: A journal and pens is a great way to document your daily activities and thoughts. You might not be keen on writing, but you will not regret having the memories of your amazing adventures logged into your journal. You can pick up a solid journal on Amazon.
Water Bottle: You should definitely bring a water bottle on your travels. I use a Nalgene Water Bottle. Nalgene is a staple for backpackers, plus you can put some cool stickers on it. If you want to pack as light as possible, getting a foldable water bottle might be your bottle of choice. Personally, I like taking my Nalgene over a foldable water bottle because one Nalgene of water can last an entire day. However, if you would like a foldable water bottle, the Vapur Element Foldable Water Bottle is a solid option.
Packing Cubes: Compression is the name of the game when it comes to packing. To compress all of your clothes into the most packable space get yourself some packing cubes. Many companies make packing cubes, I chose to get my packing cubes from Minaal, the same brand as my backpack. This ensures that my packing cubes fit properly into my bag and are high quality. If you would like the Minaal packing cubes click here. For a slightly less expensive Amazon option click here.
Day Pack: You will not want to lug around your main backpack everyday. A much better option is to have a packable day pack. You can bring your day pack with you for a day on the town. I usually bring my laptop, water bottle, notebook, book, etc. in my day pack. Keep your main backpack safely locked up in your hostel. I use the Tortuga Packable Day Pack because of its sleek design, comfortable fit, and light weight.
Valuables Bag: I recommend bringing a small, uncuttable, bag where you can store your most valuable items. This includes your passport, emergency money, debit card, and travel tickets. I would advise having photo copies of your passport stored in your main bag and keeping a credit card and additional form of identification in your wallet. This keeps everything from being stolen from one bag. I only wear my valuables bag on travel days where Identification is required. Otherwise, I keep my valuables bag safely locked up in my hostel. I use a Pacsafe Anti-Theft Crossbody Bag. It is critical that you keep your valuable items away from easy thievery, this Pacsafe bag will do just that.
Small Flashlight: I keep a small flashlight on me in case I am getting in late and need some light without turning on the entire hostel’s lights. You don’t want to be that guy who turns on all the lights at 3AM, just bring a flashlight or use your phone. This Eddie Bauer miniature flashlight is surprisingly bright and can be attached to almost any bag because of its tiny size.
Travel Umbrella: You never know when it is going to start raining. You might not have time to put on a raincoat or cover your backpack with it’s waterproof shell. That is when a small travel umbrella could really come in handy. Samsonite’s Manuel Flat Compact Umbrella is a great travel umbrella that is small enough to easily pack.
depending on your goals for your trip and your own personal needs, there a several other items you may want to bring. Some people, me included, like to bring their laptop so they can have access to the internet and blog on the go. This may not be necessary for you if you do not plan on blogging. Also, many people choose to bring a dedicated camera. Personally, my phone is capable of taking all the pictures I need (plus I look less like a tourist when I’m on my phone versus taking pictures with a big camera). Another item you can consider bringing is a Kindle. A Kindle will give you access to many more books than exchanging books will, but in my opinion, it’s not nearly as fun. Finally, if you need glasses or contact lenses, bring them. I do not wear either, but I have heard that glasses are a much easier to travel with than contacts. This is especially true if you are in a polluted part of the world.
Now that you have compiled every item you need for your adventure, you can proceed to the final step, actually packing! The best way to demonstrate how to pack, is to give you a step-by-step list of what items to pack first and where to pack them. Before I start with the list, a suggestion; lay out everything you want to bring and run through your packing list one more time (you really do not want to forget something essential or get to your destination only to find halfway through you did not bring your nailclippers). First, a walk-through of my step-by-step packing process, then details on each step:
-Step One: Roll clothes into packing cubes
-Step Two: Pack additional bags and other large items
-Step Three: Finish packing main compartment
-Step Four: Pack small items
-Step Five: Look proudly at your beautifully packed bag and bask in the glory of your accomplishment
Step one: Get your packing cubes and get ready to roll some clothes. Depending on what brand of packing cubes you are use, you will have different sizes. The Minaal packing cubes that I use come in two sizes, one large and two small sized cubes. Generally, packing cubes will have one cube that is considerably larger than the others- grab that one first. you are going to want to pack your pants, underwear, and raincoat in your largest cube. If you are bringing gloves and a hat, put them here too.
Next, grab one of the small-sized packing cubes (if you are not using Minaal packing cubes, grab the next largest size). In there, pack your T-shirts, socks and scarf.
Finally, get your last packing cube. If you have four packing cubes not three, you will have to determine if you can put all your clothes in three cubes, or if you have the space for a fourth cube in your bag. This will depend on your bag and packing cube size. In the final packing cube, pack your button-up shirts and sweater.
You may be asking, “but Neal, aren’t I going to be wearing some of the clothes I just packed, why am I packing everything?” First off, I hope you are wearing something when you leave! However, I have always found it worthwhile to be able to pack your clothes at their maximum. This leaves you space to pick up clothes along the way. It also ensures you are not stretching the limits of what can fit in your bag. Also, note that your jacket and shoes have yet to be packed- do not worry, I have not forgotten about them. We will pack them in a moment. For the time being, set aside your packing cubes, jacket, and shoes and grab your travel backpack.
Step Two: From this point on, I will be speaking exclusively about the Minaal Travel Backpack that I use. I will reference particular zip pockets and compartments of the Minaal Travel bag. However, many travel bags have a similar layout so adjust accordingly. The fact of the matter is, the materials I bring when I travel will fit into any Travel Backpack that is 35L or more. Now that you have your Minaal travel backpack in hand, go ahead and open it to its biggest packing compartment. Take out your next two largest items, the Tortuga packable daypack and your packable Patagonia Hoody jacket (or whatever jacket you are bringing). Place them in the zip compartment nearest the bottom of the backpack. I would recommend packing your travel umbrella in this compartment too. You can take it out your umbrella with your daypack.
Next, get your first-aid gear: toiletries, towels, shower shoes, sleeping masks, ear plugs, and tide pens. All of these items can be stored in the large mesh zipper compartment at the top of your bag’s main compartment.
Step Three: Now that your large accessory items are packed away, grab your packing cubes and shoes. It is time to pack the main compartment of your travel backpack. Place your packing cubes in the fashion shown below. Then add your shoes (it’s just like a recipe!). Do not bother packing both pairs of shoes (if you chose to bring two) they will not fit. What I would recommend is to pack one pair, even if your not bringing an extra set. this way you can buy some new shoes on the road without worrying about bag space. Zip up the main compartment and behold, you are nearly done!
Step Four: The last items to pack will be your smaller accessory items. I would start with items that you will need easy access too. This includes your portable charger and on-the-spot blister treatment (you could also stick a pack of gum or other little snack here). You will want to place your portable charger in the front-most zipper pocket of your bag and your blister treatment one zipper pocket back.
Finally, move to your laptop compartment. Stow away your laptop, plug adapter, burner phone, and any other electronics you chose to bring. I also store my journal, some pens, and a book in this area.
Once you zip up your laptop compartment, cinch up your compression straps to keep everything packed tightly together. I would also add on your TSA locks at this point and put in your water bottle.
Step Five: Sit back and bask in the glory of your beautifully newly packed backpack! One final tip. If you have been paying close attention you would notice that I left out three items: the Pacsafe Anti-theft valuables bag, your sunglasses and your combination locks. On travel days, I always carry my Pacsafe bag around the front of my body. This is to insure that my most important documents and backup cash never gets stolen. I would recommend also putting your combination locks and sunglasses in your Pacsafe bag for easy access and added protection.
I hope this helped you get a better idea of what one bag travel is, and showed exactly what a single bag worth of travel looks like in real practice! If you would like to learn more about what it takes to travel around the world click here.