I’ve found travelling around the world with one small bag to be so freeing. This minimalist lifestyle has so many benefits and has really improved my experience of travelling. In this post I’ll chat about the principles and strategies behind the one bag/minimalist movement as well as share what’s in my very own bag in 2020.
Who’s this post for?
Well, this certainly isn’t for you if you’re the type to take your entire kitchen sink with you travelling, stay in one hotel for a week and never explore anywhere except your hotel poolside.
This post isn’t for those who end up looking so stupid carrying a massive 70L bag on their back, and a 20L bag on their front - so they end up looking like a turtle. These people will have sweaty backs and immediately stand out as a tourist.
Travelling around the world with one bag is about freedom. It’s about being agile. Lean. Blending in yet standing out at the same time. It’s for those who explore. Those who switch cities every day. Those who party some nights. And hustle the others. This is for those who dare to be different, and are interested in seeing how they can optimise their life with minimalism.
When I first travelled around Europe I had a very large bag. It was super annoying. You stood out in a bad way, could never fit your bag into small corner shops and ended up getting kicked out of small shops. When I arrived in Venice it was 30C, I ended up having to pay €5 to leave my bag somewhere since navigating the Venetian crowds with a massive backpack would have been a nightmare.
On this Europe trip I took far too many unnecessary things. I took a big laptop which I never used. I took a sleeping bag (completely unnecessary). I took an extra pair of shoes. I took 2 weeks worth of clothes (pretty much every hotel/hostel has laundry service). I told myself I’d never pack this much again.
I call my current setup my “Go” loadout. It’s what I take on the go. Since discovering the /r/onebag community I also call it my “one bag”. I could live out of this bag for years on end if I wanted to, living in hotels and serviced accommodation. The great thing about the modern world is many things have been commoditized. You no longer need to cook everything yourself. You no longer need a car.
Go carry on only
By travelling the world with one bag you can go carry-on only and not need to check-in baggage. The first benefit of this is saved money. You can get much cheaper fares from companies like AirAsia if you choose to take everything with you in check-in, you can also take separate split fares from different airlines and transfer yourself since you’ve got no baggage to transfer (more on this in a future post). The second benefit is saved time. You no longer have to wait for hours for delayed or possibly lost luggage. Lost luggage is a big issue and things go missing more often than you’d think.
Some airlines have strict fees on weight and size of bags (budget airlines). The easiest way to avoid this is to check-in online and pass security. In mine and others experiences, it’s extremely unlikely they’d stop you at the gate and weigh your baggage unless it obviously looked huge.
Explore the city before checking in
You’ll never need to check-in early to a hotel again. As your bag is light, you’ll be happy taking it around with you all day. This gives you more time to explore cities and meet people. You can check-into your hotel at the end of the day and then immediately sleep, giving you more time to do what you want.
Freedom of mobility
You’ll never need to store your baggage at the bottom of a bus and worry about it getting stolen out while you’re asleep. You can hop on and off transport with ease since your bag is so light.
Critically analyse what you bought on your last trip. Go one by one on each item and determine if you can remove it some way.
The only things you actually really need is a passport and a bank card. You can get anywhere with your passport and you can buy anything you need with your bank card, anything else is an added extra. Always pack less, you can always buy spare clothes and shoes when you reach your destination. Better to pack less and buy there, then to pack too much.
Go digital. There’s no reason to take notebooks, physical books, maps, guidebooks, compasses, calculators. The smartphone is an amazing invention and almost anything can be done on it. Take advantage of that.
I’ve found that for most non tech-savvy people they’ll usually only have a phone as their technology. For most people, their heaviest items will be clothing.
Whilst minimising your clothing may be easier for men, I think women can do this too (check out heronebag for inspiration). Realistically men only need 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of trousers, a few shirts and t-shirts and enough socks and underwear. If you enjoy fashion this may be an area where you like to have a few different outfits. For men, I’ve realised that if you want to look fashionable just have 1 set of solid shorts and 1 set of solid trousers and use the tops to go funky. Get some crisp shirts and some well fitting t-shirts.
Overall, the key to clothing packing is to build a “capsule wardrobe” — have a Google of it. It’s a big movement that is focused on having a minimal wardrobe where your items are versatile and you can create many different combinations of styles. This is ideal for minimal packing.
Laundry. How often do you want to do it? I think the easiest way to pack less is to do laundry more. Lightweight clothes can easily be washed in the sink and launderettes are widespread. For example by washing every 6 days instead of every 12, you could theoretically cut your clothing weight by a half.
What’s in My Bag 2020
Now that I’ve covered why travelling in a minimal way with one bag is beneficial and how you can do it, I’m now going to cover what my current gear is that I pack in my own one bag.
My setup is by no means perfect, but it works well for me now. There’s always more I could optimise and every trip is different. I’ve tested this setup in Southeast Asia when I was living in Malaysia and explored the country as well as nearby Thailand, Philippines and Brunei.
For you, this could be entirely different. You might not be a techie, so you might simply take your phone and a charger. You might also really enjoy fashion and like having a variety of outfits, in which case you might take a few more clothing items. The key thing is to do what makes you happy and free of stress.
Firstly, the most important item - even though there’s some even crazier people who travel with no bag and just keep everything in their pockets!
Herschel Settlement 23L: The funny thing is I originally bought this bag just to be my daily university bag. But after a trip to the Perhentian Islands with it, I realised that I can just about manage with this bag and don’t need the Osprey bag I already bought. I like the colour and durability of this bag, but I wish there were a few more pockets. It’s also slightly too small for most people (even for me a little!). I’d probably want to go for a 25L-30L just so I can get the extra space for a water bottle etc.
iPhone X 256GB: I love this phone, the first one Apple made with Face ID. I got the one with 256GB of storage which is plenty for all my downloaded Spotify songs. I want to upgrade this soon so that I can get Dual SIM features (with eSIM so I don’t need a physical SIM anymore) and a wide lens camera.
iPad Pro 10.5-inch 64GB + Apple Pencil + Smart Keyboard: Amazing device for reading, typing with the smart keyboard and handwritten notes with the Apple Pencil. It’s super compact. I might upgrade to the 11-inch one with the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil v2 so that I can get a better typing experience, backlit keyboard and USB-C charging but this works fine for me so long as I don’t try typing in the dark (quite difficult with no backlight).
AirPods Pro: Simply magical. I use these every single day and they help me focus on work in loud environments. The noise cancelling works so well and is a killer feature. I use the medium tips. Only downside is they sometimes fall out easily when at the gym.
Ledger Nano X: The best hardware cryptocurrency wallet you can get. Bluetooth compatible so I can access my Bitcoin on my iPhone. Worth the money for protection of your Bitcoins from hackers.
Spectacles 2 Nico (+ Case): This is probably one of my favourite tech products...but I’ve never seen anyone with these. They’re sunglasses that you can use to record video with a click of a button. I’ve caught so many magical experiences from swimming in the ocean (they’re waterproof), to footage on rollercoasters. The Nico model looks like normal sunglasses and a light lights up to let people know you’re recording (to avoid being creepy!). Has to be tried to realise how beneficial having a camera on your glasses is.
If I’m intending to get some work done on the trip as well, I’ll bring my MacBook and some accessories to help me be as productive as possible.
MacBook Air 13-inch (2020) i7 1TB (+ Sleeve): I bought the most maxed out specs on the Air with an i7 processor. This is the most powerful + lightweight laptop Apple has ever made. I’ve recently switched from a 15-inch MacBook Pro to this and couldn’t be happier. It only weighs 1.3kg, has a fixed keyboard and 1TB of storage is just about enough for me. A 13 inch screen is pretty small for doing web development work, but I’ll use my iPad as a second display when I have no access to a monitor and that works super well. I could do without the sleeve, but I’ve become super paranoid after I bricked my last laptop.
NexStand: A great portable laptop stand for ergonomics reasons. It folds up to a small size. This crucially raises the laptop to eye level on your desk so you’re not strained. This is essentially a cheaper copy of the Roost stand (so go check out Roost for the original one).
Apple Magic Keyboard: Nice keyboard to use when I’m using my NexStand. Really wish Apple made a model in space grey though…
Apple Magic Mouse 2: Cool mouse with gestures on it to switch apps. Works with the iPad Pro too. Might upgrade if I end up getting RSI, but I seem to be good for now.
How am I going to power all my devices? USB-C is the port of the future so I try to use it where possible where fully-wireless solutions aren’t possible.
Anker PowerPort Atom PD 2: This charger can charge 2 30W USB-C devices at once! This means fast charging my MacBook/iPhone/iPad etc.
Anker PowerCore Speed 20000 PD: I’ve checked out every single USB-C power bank and this is the best for me. It has 20100mAh of storage which is enough to fully charge my MacBook, weighs ~360g and even fits inside my pocket! Gotta love Anker products.
Apple USB-C <-> Lightning cable (1m) : Two of these mean I can fast charge both my iPhone and iPad at the same time. Got these from Apple for best compatibility. Can also be used to charge my AirPods Pro and other Apple tech products.
Apple USB-C <-> USB-C cable (2m): If I’m working, I’ll take this cable to charge my MacBook. 2m is just about enough length to reach coffee shop outlets in my experience
Spectacles 2 Nico <-> USB cable: Used for charging my specs.
USB-C <-> HDMI cable: For showing films from my laptop on hotel TVs.
Travel adapter: The British plug is the best and safest plug in the world. For countries that don’t use this most superior plug, I’ll buy a cheap adapter in advance or on arrival.
This is the area where most people are going to overpack. This takes up the most space and weight in my bag. This is also the part of my one bag that changes most often due to the climates I’m in. The two most important things to be concerned about to reduce the weight of clothes required is to try and use versatile pieces where possible (e.g. no need for more than one hoodie) and try to do laundry as often as it isn’t annoying. The clothing in this section is based on a warm climate and doing laundry every 4-7 days.
AmazonBasics Packing Cube (Medium): A nice sized packing cube to store all my clothes.
Vango Dry Bag (Medium): To store dirty laundry.
Adidas Ultraboost Trainers: Perfect all-rounder shoe. I got these in a funky multi-colour design. I use these to go to the gym, for hiking, walking around the city and it feels like you’re walking on clouds.
North Face Jacket: Picked this up a while ago, still standing strong. It’s waterproof and has massive pockets to put stuff in if you go over your airline’s carry-on limit. This is the most heavy clothing item I own and takes up a lot of space at the bottom of my bag, so I’m looking into getting a lighter one.
Portofino Active Gym Shorts: Spent a whole afternoon in a shopping centre in Malaysia trying to find some gym shorts that were black and have zipped pockets. Zipped pockets are crucial for me so that I can keep my wallet, pods and phone in my pocket while at the gym. I actually use these at the beach as well, but should probably find some dedicated board shorts (also with zipped pockets!).
Gym Shirt: Fast drying shirt for workouts. I can easily wash this and use it again next morning. Could always use any of my T-Shirts for this purpose too but for now I like a dedicated sport shirt.
Uniqlo Airism Boxer Briefs : These are super lightweight and comfortable and can easily be washed in the sink if you can’t find a launderette.
Socks : Haven’t found a good brand of socks yet, so I just choose any random cotton socks.
Burton Black Chino Shorts: Simple shorts with decently sized pockets.
H&M Black Chino Trousers: Useful when you don’t want to wear shorts and if I’m wanting to look more formal in the evenings. Good luck getting into the best club in town with shorts on.
Roadies of 66 Hoodie: In warmer climates I’ll usually only wear this in places, buses and cinemas that for some reason insist on putting the air con on sooo high.
Short-Sleeve T-Shirts/Shirts : This is the area of clothing where I pack quite a variety. At the moment, I’ll usually pack 3 tees in plain colours (black, navy) and 3 shirts with funky designs. My favourite material is viscose so I’m slowly going to transition my clothes to using it, or maybe merino wool.
Long-Sleeve Shirt: For dressing up a little.
L’Oreal Men Expert Wash Bag: Use it to store my toiletries. Seems like a good size, apparently this is supposed to be clear for going past security in airports but I’ve never been stopped. Will change for a clear and better one in the future.
Toiletries: These must be under 100ml to be taken on an airplane, I only take one and then buy new ones at my destination when I run out.
- Face wash: Any brand.
- Moisturiser: Gotta keep a baby face. I like the L’Oreal 50ml bottles, since they’re compact.
- Toothpaste: Any brand.
- Shaving foam: I like the Gillette Lemon Lime 50ml bottles since they smell nice and are small, but any brand will do.
- Matte clay: For hair styling, any brand will do.
- Sun cream: I’ll usually take both a body sun cream and a face sun cream.
- Shower gel: Will only sometimes take it, as most hotels will provide.
- Deodorant: Prefer antiperspirant sprays, these must be under 100ml as well.
Gillette ProFusion Razor (+ Extra Razors): Decent razor from a well known brand so it’s easy to get extra razors worldwide. Replace it every 2-4 weeks so I will bring enough extra to last me for my trip.
Nail clippers + Nail scissors: Scissors can also be useful for cutting stuff occasionally.
Quip Edition Toothbrush: Most electric toothbrushes suck. They’re bulky and look terrible. This toothbrush doesn’t function that well, but looks beautiful and is powered by an AAA battery. They send out a new toothbrush head and AAA battery every 3 months worldwide for only $5 every quarter.
Supplements: I like to take various supplements and will store them in small plastic bags in my luggage. Don’t take powders like whey protein since they’re super messy, you’ll look dodgy in the airport scanners and you can get more protein from eating loads of meat anyway. Make sure you check whether they’re illegal in the country. Here’s a few examples of what I might take:
- Daily supplements: Vitamin D, Vitamin B-Complex, Zinc, Magnesium etc.
- For specific purposes: L-Theanine, CBD (check legality of country) etc.
Gum: I’ll either take nicotine gum (for focus, I don’t smoke) or any other random gum.
Medication / other health stuff: This will vary depending on who you are, but try to keep it to a minimum. I’ll often take a few antacids and paracetamol even though you’ll find these in pharmacies everywhere. I take cetirizine (hay fever) tablets in countries that have pollen. Take 2-3 other private health things.
Passport : British and German passport. British one has been worn out by the amount of travel I've done with it. Travel essentials ;)
Pen: Pretty much only use this for filling in customs/entry forms when visiting a new country. Nobody wants to be that sucker who doesn’t have a pen.
Wallet + Keys: This was essentially a £3 minimal wallet from eBay shipped from China and I attached a custom karabiner to it to hold any keys for any hotels I go to. I’m surprised at how long this has lasted. Best wallet I've ever owned and it cost £3. It holds my keys, cards, ID, notes all in one item - amazing! It includes:
- Monzo card: I’ve been a big fan of Monzo since they launched, and they add new features every single day.
- Starling card: I use my Starling when my Monzo card doesn’t work (rarely) or when I want to withdraw a lot of cash. The great thing about Starling is that you can (for now) get unlimited cash withdrawals abroad for no fee.
- UK Driving License: My go-to ID card inside and outside the UK. Same size as my bank cards.
- Notes: If I’m in the UK I rarely have to use cash notes except for some taxis, small street sellers and barbers etc. When abroad, many countries are cash-based societies so I’ll store my notes in the notes pocket here when I’m in such a country. Stored from high to low value.
Extra Cards: I’ll take a few extra cards with me, stored in various places in my bag and on my body so that if I lose my wallet I’m not completely screwed. At the moment this is the Amex Platinum Everyday card, the Revolut card and the Transferwise card. Banking is one of the areas I’m not that minimal at all - I have probably ~10-20 bank accounts.
Travel More Padlock: I only take this when I stay in hostels since sometimes they don’t provide locks for the lockers.
SIM Ejector PIN: Used for inserting local data SIMs into my iPhone when I arrive in a new country. You could just use a paperclip if you can’t find the one that arrived with your phone.
Eggz Earplugs: These are designed to protect your ears in loud nightclubs or at loud festivals (prevents tinnitus which you absolutely don’t want to get). It comes in a nice keychain case too. I’ve found they also work well as general earplugs for when you want to get some rest on aeroplanes.
Sometimes I’ll have some temporary items in my bag for some reason:
- Extra Coins: I hate coins so much but in cash-based societies I’ll end up with these and try to get rid of them as soon as possible.
- Visa Photos/Papers: Sometimes when getting visas on arrival in some countries I’ll need paper documentation or visa photos so I’ll take these.
- Boarding passes: Despite the move to digital, I’ve noticed that airlines hate when you don’t have a paper boarding pass so I’ll usually print one out at the machines at the airport.
- Local SIMs: When arriving in new countries I’ll usually grab a data SIM ASAP so I can satisfy my internet addition.
- Water bottles: I’m super environmentally unfriendly and just buy water bottles whenever I need water. This is normal in Asia though where tap water is not drinkable.
- Food: Sometimes I’ll have some food in my bag, but I usually prefer to intermittent fast and only eat 1-2 big meals in the afternoon/evening and I avoid snacking endlessly.
Or something else! Travelling as a minimalist is spontaneous. I’m not a big fan of taking souvenirs but you could leave some space in your bag for those.
Once everything’s packed up this bag weighs around 7-8kg. Some airlines have a 7kg carry-on limit so wear a jacket and put some heavy things in your pockets if you have to check-in at a counter to avoid extra fees (often they won’t bother weighing though).
Go forth and explore. This bag setup gives me so much freedom compared to lugging around big bags of luggage, and I hope by reading this article it has inspired you to live well with less.
I will write some future blog posts about “everything I own” and a few other related ideas to minimalism.
I was inspired by many people and resources in the making of this post. If you’d like to look further into why minimalism is great and what other people have been packing, check out these resources below: