One Bag Travel: Everything You Need to Know

By Fred Perrotta
Man traveling with one bag

One bagging is the packing version of minimalism.

Newbie travelers always start by bringing way too much stuff. They pack for every square inch the airline will allow onboard the plan plus however much checked luggage they can afford. We understand the instinct, but it’s the wrong way to approach travel.

Traveling is about what you experience, not what you packed.

If minimalism is about owning fewer but better things, one bagging is about packing fewer but better things.

Doug Dyment, the creator of OneBag.com, puts it well:

[I]f you persevere, you will at some point reach a transcendent moment, in which your (one) bag will be small and light enough to carry without consequence, no longer of any meaningful concern. And—from that instant—your travel experiences will be forever changed, with an unfettered freedom that is quite simply beyond the understanding of those who remain bound to their baggage.

You can find the one bag community online at Reddit.

The /r/onebag subreddit describes itself as:

[A] minimalist urban travel community devoted to the idea of lugging around less crap; onebag travel. Fewer items, packed into a single bag for ease of transport to make travelling simpler with more focus on the experience than the logistics.

Whether you’re looking for a “transcendent moment” or just to lug around “less crap,” one bagging is the first step.

The minimalist lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but we think that one bag ideals can—and should—be applied to all travelers’ packing lists. Less stuff means more focus on the experience. Isn’t that why you’re traveling in the first place?

Traveling Like a One Bagger

Ever see that person in the airport who zips past a crowded escalator and beats everyone to the top, because they have a travel backpack and took the stairs? That person also didn’t have to wait at baggage claim. They never fear lost luggage. Their bags never get tagged at the gate for being oversized.

One bag travel saves you money because you never have to deal with baggage fees. You’ll feel more secure because your luggage never leaves your sight. And best of all, it gives you the ability to spend as little time as possible in the airport worrying about your luggage. Just land and get your adventure started.

Traveling with one bag make the “in transit” part of your trip faster, easier, and cheaper. So you can get on with it and get to the fun part.

How to Pack Like a One Bagger

If you’re new to packing light, let’s start with the core curriculum. One bagging is a slightly more limited version of carry-on-only traveling. Think of it as traveling with your carry on but no personal item. Or, for more advanced one baggers, traveling with a personal item but no carry on.

First, learn the rules of what you can bring onboard your flight.

Carry On Luggage Size Guide

With a firm grasp of the rules, we can move on to the general approach of how to pack less.

7 Secrets to Packing Light

With the theory portion covered, you’re ready for the tactics. Depending on where you’re starting, jump into our “Step Down to Carry On” series which takes you step-by-step through the journey of packing less.

One Bag Packing List

As OneBag.com recommends, you’ll need a carry on packing list. Download the linked packing list and use it as an all-purpose list for getting started. From there, you can customize the list based on your own style and preferences.

You can also check our blog for destination-specific packing lists to match your next trip.

What to Look for in a One Bag Travel Backpack

Any single bag is technically one bagging. But carrying a giant, 80L hiking pack that’s taller than you are, defeats the purpose of one bagging. Especially because you’ll have to check it.

One bagging is about “just what you need,” not “just in case.”

Carry-On-Sized

The right size for your one bag is carry on sized (or less). Carry ons have enough space for any length of trip, but are still small enough to carry easily. By limiting yourself to a carry on, you’ll never have to pay checked baggage fees or wait around for your luggage.

Most airlines have carry on restrictions of 22 x 14 x 9″, roughly 45L in volume. Hardcore one baggers will travel with a sub-20L bag that looks like a school backpack.

We applaud their commitment but also know that most people won’t go that far.

To strike the best balance of minimalism, packing space, and sticking to the airlines’ rules, we recommend a backpack between 35-40L. Check with your airline before flying. If you fly multiple connecting flights, check each airline individually. The Outbreaker 35L works as a carry on with all European and budget airlines.

Front-Loading

Aside from their size, the other reason that hiking bags don’t work well for travel is that they’re disorganized and messy.

Remember the last time you had to dump everything out of your bag to find your last clean t-shirt buried at the bottom? If so, you know that a backpack that only opens at the top like a garbage bag is a nightmare to use.

Instead, opt for a backpack that opens from the front, like a suitcase, so you can always find what you need. A front-loading (or panel-loading) bag is always organized and easy to find whatever you need.

Organized

Get a backpack with a spacious main compartment for your clothes. Keep the main compartment simple for more flexibility in packing. If you need more organization, add a set of packing cubes.

Look for a good balance of compartments and pockets for all of your small stuff. But don’t overdo it. Too many pockets can be limiting and will take away from your packing space.

If you expect to carry a laptop or tablet, make sure your backpack has dedicated, protected spaces for one or both.

Comfortable

If you’ve used hiking backpacks, you know their best ergonomic feature: a hip belt. The belt allows you to transfer most of the load from your shoulders to your stronger leg muscles and keep your back happy all day long.

Other small details make a difference for overall comfort. Make sure that the shoulder straps and back panel are well-padded and that the backpack fits your torso.

Low Profile

One bag travel is about minimalism, simplicity, and ease. Your bag should reflect that too.

A colorful bag is useful in the outdoors but will make you stick out in urban settings. Go for a subdued color palette and minimal branding.

Outbreaker Backpack for One Bag Travel

The Best One Bag Travel Backpack

Whether you’re new to packing light or a seasoned minimalist, we designed the Outbreaker Backpack to be your one bag travel backpack.

The Outbreaker has everything you need in a travel backpack. It’s carry-on-sized, front-loading, and comfortable. You’ll also find a TSA-friendly lay flat laptop compartment and a height-adjustable suspension system to fit you perfectly.

New one baggers will prefer the larger, 45L Outbreaker. If you’re looking to pack even lighter, downsize to the 35L version.

Video Transcript

One bagging is a lifestyle most often discussed on Reddit. It’s devoted to the idea of lugging around less stuff, using fewer, higher quality items. A Tortuga backpack that’s a maximum-sized carry on is a perfect way to begin the one bagging lifestyle.