I am a huge fan of traveling light – this makes various aspects of travel easier and more enjoyable. For the past 4 years or so I have been a “one bag” traveler. On all except three of the hundred or so trips I’ve taken over that time, I have taken just a single carry on bag (with no additional bag for a laptop or other items). Two exceptions were when we were going to events where I had to wear a suit or tuxedo, when I carried an additional lightweight suit carrier (which I still carried on the plane). And the third was when I went on a winter bald eagle photography trip, for which I had to take lots of equipment and warm winter clothing! On most trips I use a bag that is smaller than the maximum carry on size, which will fit in the overhead bin even on a small regional jet, or underneath the seat if necessary. Even other seasoned traveler friends of mine are usually impressed at how little I travel with!
I use bags that can be carried as a backpack, rather than bags with wheels, as this gives you more flexibility in many situations, for example when navigating steps, bumpy streets or crowded spaces. I am fairly large and strong and have no problem with the weight of a backpack. My partner is more petite than me and has had occasional back problems, so she prefers to use a lightweight wheeled bag, and that works just fine on most trips.
Benefits of traveling light
It makes life much easier in many situations if you can easily walk carrying all your luggage. I use public transport quite a lot, and it’s generally much easier on buses and train if you are fairly mobile, and able to walk a reasonable distance when needed. I travel through London fairly often, and it’s a real pain to navigate the Underground with large or heavy bags.
Not having to check bags on planes eliminates the risk of the airline losing your bag, which isn’t common but does happen – it has happened to me several times in my pre-one-bag days. In the event of flights being canceled or delayed, you have a lot more flexibility to change plans and switch to a different itinerary if you don’t have any bags checked. In some cases the airline won’t re-route you unless your bags are on the same plane – rules tend to be strict about this on international flights in particular. And even if the airline does let you take a different route from your bags, you risk not being reunited with them in a timely fashion. You also save time when arriving at your destination if you don’t have to wait for bags to arrive at the baggage claim. On international flights, this often means you can get to customs ahead of the rest of your fellow passengers, which can save further time in some situations.
You run less risk of having a bag stolen if you only have a single bag to watch, and you can easily carry it around with you whenever needed, rather than having to leave it watched by someone else even for a brief time.
Packing and unpacking are quicker and simpler tasks if you have less stuff, and there is less chance of forgetting things. Additional techniques like using packing cubes, which I’ll talk more about in another post, can also help with this.
There’s something that’s just satisfying and enjoyable about reducing clutter, whether in your life in general or when traveling. Doing it when traveling is by far the simpler of the two to achieve, so it’s a good place to start! I’m a big believer in having less stuff and more experiences. Also, it’s not a primary reason for doing this, but it is fun to see other people’s reaction when they see you carrying one small carry on for a three week trip around Europe!
In upcoming posts I’ll talk a lot more about different aspects of traveling light. A few other good resources on this topic are One Bag, One Bag, One World and this article by Rick Steves.. There is a whole sub-culture out there around one bag travel!