One bag travel

When I first met Alan and we started traveling stand-by, it quickly became obvious that the key to successfully negotiating flights, connections and the like was to travel with just carry-on luggage. Luckily, Air Canada has a generous carry-on policy – it allows for two bags, plus a personal item (which could be a purse) – and we have been traveling with what I call our “flight attendant kit” comprising of one small suitcase with wheels and a smaller bag that fits on top of the suitcase. I’ve mastered the art of packing to the point where I can fill up my little carry-on suitcase with enough clothes to spend three weeks in Brazil without needing to wash my clothes all the time (and I didn’t even wear half of what I took with me!).

But a combination of higher fuel prices, which makes airlines more conscious of the weight people carry into airplanes, and heightened concern over security, has meant that more and more airlines are adopting a one-bag policy for carry-on luggage. This means that if I want to keep bringing the same amount of stuff I carry usually, I need to either optimize my methods or check one of my suitcases. The latter is not an option as far as I’m concerned since once you get used to traveling with only carry-on luggage, you can never go back. There’s nothing quite as liberating than being able to get off a flight and immediately look for the nearest exit. It’s also a plus to be able to easily take public transit and negotiate stairs and the like easily.

So I’ve started doing some research. Apparently, I’ve been doing it all wrong. Rolling suitcases are NOT the way to go when you want to optimize what you can bring on board of an airplane. The simple fact of fitting a suitcase with wheels makes them 2-3 times heavier than a comparable suitcase without wheels and takes away half of the space available for your stuff. Doug Dyment, the travel light guru at, has made a very effective comparison of the two systems. So what to get instead? After combing Doug’s site as well as the One Bag One World blog, I’m leaning towards Tom Bihn’s Aeronaut bag. I haven’t ordered it yet but will probably do so before we leave for Spain in May. My challenge is to manage one month in Spain with one carry-on bag.

In order to do that I’ve started doing research beyond the bag to optimize also what goes in it. Clothes shouldn’t be too much of a problem since it will be summer in Spain and I can bring mostly light clothes. One cool idea I found is to replace liquid shampoo for Lush’s solid shampoo bar. I bought one today to test and I am quite pleased with the result. Worth it even if you are not traveling. They also have a line of solid perfume, which contain no alcohol.

I was a little worried about the possibility of scaling down to one bag but I’m now a bit more optimistic. Anybody else out there would venture traveling carry-on?

Some links:

Mark Verber’s tips on traveling light

Travelite FAQ

Other links under “travel” on the right-hand column

Author: guerson

Food-obsessed historian and knitter.

7 thoughts on “One bag travel”

  1. I wish I was able to do this!! But I had one large suitcase for my 5 weeks in Spain (also I was going to London for a week so who knew what the weather there would be like?). Having contacts also makes it a pain to travel this way. And it’s only going to get worse with the baby!!! ;)

  2. it would probably be near impossible with a baby but once you have to pay for a ticket for the child (I’m not sure that’s the case for newborns but definitely for toddlers), the child has the same luggage allowance (including carry-on limits) than any other passenger. So I think I’d still travel carry on with a child, maybe we would have to carry his/her bag but I don’t see a child needing more luggage space than an adult. Sure, they dirty more clothes, but their clothes are also a lot smaller and take less space… With the exception of diapers, but you can always buy more of those where you are going.

  3. True but depending on where you’re traveling, you’ll have a car seat and a stroller, and probably a play yard (depending on how old they are etc.). Bobby and I have realized that from now on, we each get some underwear and one change of clothes!! ;)

  4. One month, one carry-on? Wow, that’s very impressive. I’ve tried traveling light in the past, one carry-on for a one-week trip, but it was difficult. I ended up forgetting a few items and had to buy stuff while on the road. Also when you’re moving around a lot, visiting a bunch of different cities and staying in different hotels, etc, there isn’t much time to do laundry or even rinse things out and have enough time for things to dry overnight. At least that’s been my experience. What happens with your laptop? Will you leave that at home, or do you not count that as part of your carry-on luggage?

  5. well, most of the time during that month will be spent at a friend’s place so laundry shouldn’t be a problem. Most of my trips don’t tend to involve moving around too much as I like to spend enough time at a place to be able to enjoy it without hurrying. As for my laptop, I have a very small 12″ Powerbook and it really doesn’t take much room. I don’t think I’ll have trouble fitting it in the carry on.

    I think it all depends on what kind of luggage you use and the kind of clothes you bring. I think it would be much harder to pull it off if I was going in the winter since winter clothes tend to be bulkier and heavier. But the fact that it will be almost summer means I can bring many more clothes since most of my summer clothes don’t take much room.

    I’ll keep you posted! ;)

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