Not to brag, but back in my college days I backpacked Europe for two months with just one singular backpack and arguably way too much confidence.
My aching back and bulging backpack zippers quickly became an issue. I had stuff in my backpack that after a month of trains, planes, and wild camping on cliff sides that I hadn’t even touched.
We ended up stopping at a thrift store in a little town in Scotland to donate some excess things weighing our backpacks down. It made us feel a lot lighter—both mentally and physically.
Since then, I’ve upgraded my one bag travel game and have gone on dozens of trips, both nationally and abroad, with nothing but a single backpack.
From years of perfecting the art of one bag travel, we present to you a comprehensive guide to packing lighter and smarter.
WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIALS?
If you don’t wear something when you’re home, you’re probably not going to wear that item just because you’re on a trip.
So whether you’re going to see family in another state, backpacking through sweeping mountain vistas, or trekking to another country, you’re going to wear the things that make you feel comfortable that you typically reach for.
The best travel clothing items are multi-purpose and can withstand a few days of wear without making you (or your friends) plug their nose.
Backpack vs Suitcase
I’m a backpack kind of traveler. It doesn’t matter where I'm going or what I'm doing, I just prefer the convenience of a backpack.
But if you fly often, you may prefer the simplicity of packing everything in a suitcase or carry-on approved rolling luggage of some kind. There’s no right or wrong choice.
If you’re in the market for the perfect one bag travel backpack, try to get one that has adjustable shoulder straps, a few internal pockets, a hip belt, a spacious main compartment, and provides easy access to your important items like your laptop and toiletries.
Skip something like a school backpack and find something that has all the features you'll need. You don’t necessarily need too many pockets, but some integrated mesh pockets and intentional organization is always nice to have.
Regardless of what type of bag you choose, make sure you pick one that fits within your airline’s carry-on travel bag requirements if you plan to use it as a carry-on.
This is where most people (myself included) tend to overpack. I’ll sometimes rack my brain imagining all of the crazy weather scenarios I could find myself in or places I'd potentially go and need an outfit for.
The truth is, for years I'd find myself with a huge pile of unworn clothing that would get in the way and make unpacking even more annoying than it already is.
Minimalist packing has done wonders for being able to skip baggage claim and not lose my mind constantly digging through a mountain of miscellaneous items.
Really think about what clothing items you wear often at home. Bring clothing that is layerable and interchangeable. This way you can wear the same few staple items and make multiple outfits.
At TEREN, we have extremely high-quality staples built for one bag travel adventures. Our company was literally founded because our founders—Nick & Chris—wanted clothing that looked good, functioned better, and was easy to pack and use on long trips when you couldn’t bring a lot of clothing.
I highly recommend refillable bottles to bring your shampoo, conditioner, body soap, face soap, etc.. Traveling can already be hard on your body; skip the hotel soaps that dry out your skin and hair and bring along a travel-sized amount of the products you already know and love.
These are great because they’re TSA approved and won’t get you in trouble at airport security. Plus, they come with their own toiletry bag so you can keep everything together.
Always keep your valuable electronics like laptops, cameras, iPads, etc in protective cases. That way, you can slip them into your bag without worrying about them being bumped or scratched.
If you travel with a laptop often you should find a backpack or suitcase that has a dedicated laptop compartment or a padded laptop sleeve. This is very helpful in making sure your computer doesn’t jam up the main compartment or scratch on other items.
Other Trip Specific Items
Not all trips are created equal. Your packing list for your buddy’s beach wedding will look much different than your backpacking trip through Colorado.
The same principles apply. Don’t go overboard on things like hats, shoes, jackets, etc. It’s okay to rewear stuff when you’re on vacation. If you’re serious about one bag travel—you’ll have to.
Even if you can’t do laundry, you can totally wash some socks and underwear in your hotel sink or even in the river.
Organizing Your Belongings
The number one rule for keeping your belongings organized is to put your most-used things on top, and your least-used items on bottom.
If you know it's going to rain a lot on your trip, keep your rain jacket near the top of your bag so you don’t have to dig through all of your belongings to get to it. If you’re backpacking and know you’ll want snacks along the way, keep them in an easy to access compartment.
You get the idea.
Properly organizing your things in your bag can be a bit of an art that takes time to perfect, but make a mental list of the things you need quick access to and organize accordingly.
PACKING TIPS & TRICKS
Here are all of our favorite tips and tricks to help you pack the perfect travel backpack and skip the headache of checked luggage:
1. Create a Capsule Wardrobe
A capsule wardrobe is the simplest and smartest way to pack light for a vacation—and even just create a sustainable and stylish wardrobe for daily life.
The concept is pretty straightforward; You have a few pairs of staple bottoms and a few staple tops that can all be mixed and matched to create over a dozen different outfits. These pieces should be layerable and every single one should make you feel good when you put it on.
At TEREN, this is the foundation in which we create all of our products.
Every single piece of clothing from the Daily Driver Button Ups to the Lightweight Traveler Pants and even the Campfire Puffy Jacket can be mixed and matched with every other item on our store to create the perfect capsule wardrobe.
The best part?
All of our clothing is formulated to withstand multiple days of rigorous wear. They’re stain resistant, anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, and smell-resistant. Oh, and also much more stylish than traditional travel and outdoor wear. They can be worn both on the trails and on the town.
Regardless of what you choose to bring, make sure they’re high-quality and make you feel great.
2. Roll Your Clothing
If you’re trying to skirt around needing a checked bag and all the outrageous checked baggage fees (we're looking at you Budget Airlines), then you’re going to need to pack all of your things into a relatively small carry-on backpack or suitcase.
Clothing always takes up the most space, but we’ve found that rolling your clothing is one of the packing techniques to save space. Not only that, but it also keeps clothing more wrinkle-free than folding.
3. Bring Less Stuff
Okay, maybe we’re starting to sound like a broken record, but seriously; bring less stuff.
You’re probably here because you want your travel experience to be less hectic, and this is the best way to make traveling much more enjoyable. Have a specific plan for everything you bring, and if you don’t actually think it’ll be a staple, don’t bring it.
4. Use Packing Cubes
One of the most annoying parts of one bag travel is that sometimes when you need an item you have to dig past a bunch of other crap to get to it.
Packing cubes are a fantastic way to keep your belongings organized. Have a packing cube for clothing, toiletries, snacks, and other miscellaneous things that you don’t want just floating around your bag and getting buried under other things.
There are a lot of great packing cubes on the market. I have personally been using the Eagle Creek Pack-It System for almost a decade and I can’t recommend them enough. And to be clear, I purchased a pack of them once and they still look brand new despite years of rigorous use.
5. Buy It Nice or Buy it Twice
Investing in great staple items you can use for years is always worthwhile. That's (ahem) the principals we stand by with all of our clothing at TEREN.
Our aim is to create clothes that can be used for multiple days without being washed, that last longer, and that don’t hold a smell—all while looking stylish. It’s not cheap, but it will hold up and be a staple of your single bag travels for many years to come.
One bag travel and packing light can seem scary at first, but truly, it’ll revolutionize the way you get out and adventure. You’ll no longer need to stress about lengthy packing and unpacking processes or checking bags at the airport.
But, paring down your packing lists into one carry-on bag will require that you have reliable gear that’s packed with intention. Every square inch of space matters when you’re committed to one bag travel, so focus on space efficiency.
We hope this guide has been helpful in giving you the tools and resources to pack lighter and embark on the one bag travel train with confidence.