The Ultimate One Bag Travel Packing List for Traveling Smarter

With most airlines raising their baggage fees, one bag travel packing is gaining more popularity by the second!

But…what is one bag travel?

This minimalist approach involves taking only what you need in a single backpack, commonly used as a personal item or carry-on bag for airline travel.

Using a backpack within the airline’s dimension limits for personal-size items can help you avoid carry-on luggage fees.

Traveling with one bag reduces the weight and bulk you carry, but you’ll also be saving money by not paying hefty checked luggage fees for airline travel.

So, in shorter terms, one bag travel focuses on versatility, utility, and necessity and making sure each item serves a purpose.

And guess what? Traveling with one bag is easier than you think!

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🎒 Key Takeaways

• One bag travel can simplify your travels and save you money!

• Curating your essential items is a crucial step to make this work.

• The strategy behind one bag travel can be applied for airline travel, thru-hiking, and trekking trips.
backpack ideas for one bag travel packing

It’s about creating a strategic packing list that leaves behind the ‘just in case‘ items that you never end up using anyway. (Yes, you…I’m talking to you!) In other words, quality over quantity.

And although there are various ways you could travel with one backpack, the main concept is pretty much the same—compact, efficient packing to travel lightly and with greater flexibility.

A compact backpack sits open, neatly packed with travel essentials. A passport, map, and compact clothing are visible

One Bag Travel Packing and My…Skills?

I first heard of the term one bag travel back in 2019 and I can’t even remember the amount of articles I read on this, including the videos I watched (which I don’t regularly do).

In that moment, I realized that my travel packing skills were a disaster. My outfit selection was unplanned. Plus, I basically just folded my clothes and packed them where it would fit or I’d just get another suitcase or bag…and another.

Lacking a strategy for packing smarter when traveling was the main reason behind my disorganization. Not to mention, the extra amount of bags I used to carry.

This is why I invested my time in learning the tricks behind traveling with one bag and my packing skills suddenly became real.

I quickly learned how to simplify my packing and streamline my overall travel planning.

This type of traveling lifestyle kind of “forces” you to think twice about what you want to bring on your trip, which, believe it or not, is worth doing.

If you want to travel light, one bag travel packing is definitely a game-changer and by the end of this article, you’ll know exactly how to implement it on your next trip.

Key Benefits of Traveling With Just One Bag

🎒 Feeling Free: With just one bag, you can move easily from one location to another and easily avoid the hassle that comes with checked bags.

🎒 Saving Money: With checked luggage fees on the rise, traveling with one bag can be a great option, whether it be using it as a personal item or a carry-on bag. 

🎒 Security: Keeping your belongings within arm's reach reduces the risk of getting your things lost or stolen.

Choosing the Right Backpack for One Bag Travel

When choosing the right backpack for one bag travel, mainly think of size and comfort. Let’s go over some key points that can help you achieve this.

How Big Can Your Backpack Be For a Personal Item?

Choosing a personal item backpack for airline travel is a great option but sticking to backpack size is crucially important.

For a personal item, most airlines have an average dimension limit of 18 by 14 by 8 inches.

When looking for the best backpack size for traveling that fits within these dimensions, you can consider a bag that can hold anywhere between 26-30 liters.

Travel bags within this size range have enough space and are mostly compliant with airline requirements for personal items.

images of an open 40 liter travel backpack for up to a week of travel showing the essentials and ways to pack clothing
40 Liter Travel Backpack for up to a week of travel

What Size of Backpack Can You Use as Carry-on for Airline Travel?

As for carry-on backpack options, it’s also important to find one that meets airline size restrictions. Remember, you want to avoid luggage fees at all costs!

For domestic travel, most airlines have an average dimension limit on carry-on luggage of 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

Expandable spinners and hard-sided luggage are two of the most popular choices for carry-on bags and are certainly the first options to consider.

These types of bags are easy to find in the required airline sizes and can provide versatility, organization, and comfort, making them an excellent option for one-bag travel.

✈️ 2024 Airline Baggage Fees for Domestic Travel*

🧳 Alaska Airlines: $35 for the first checked bag, $45 for the second. Bags free of charge: 1 carry-on bag plus 1 personal item allowed.

🧳 American Airlines: $35 to $40 for the first checked bag, $45 for the second. Bags free of charge: 1 carry-on bag plus 1 personal item allowed.

🧳 Delta: $35 for the first checked bag, $45 for the second.
Bags free of charge: 1 carry-on bag plus 1 personal item.

🧳 JetBlue Airways: $35 to $40 for the first checked bag, $50 to $60 for the second (on Blue/Blue Basic/Blue Extra), $65 for first checked carry-on. Bags free of charge: 1 personal item.

🧳 United Airlines: $35 to $40 for the first checked bag, $45 to $50 for the second. Bags free of charge: 1 carry-on bag plus 1 personal item.

🧳 Southwest Airlines: each passenger can check two bags for free as well as 1 carry-on and personal item free of charge.

*The fees presented here are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be interpreted as actual or precise airline guidelines. Please check with the airline for updated information and/or changes to luggage fees.

Features to Look For in a Travel Backpack

I would say the first thing to look for is a travel backpack with shoe compartment and multiple organization pockets. When traveling light, you want to be able to have everything accessible and organized.

Another important thing is to prioritize durability by selecting a backpack that has sturdy materials and reinforced seams.

Ergonomic designs with padded straps or a waist belt for optimal weight distribution, are key if you want to avoid back pain and discomfort!

Versatility is also something to consider. You want to opt for a backpack that seamlessly transitions from exploring the city to your outdoor adventures.

Lastly, additional features like water resistance and built-in USB ports are always more of a personal preference, but can still be considered.

Preparing to Travel With One Bag

When getting ready to travel with one bag, your selected items must all have their purpose for making it to your travel packing list.

Remember, you’re creating a mobile wardrobe and toolkit that’s versatile enough for various scenarios but remains compact and easy to carry.

Packing cubes for backpacks or compression bags will be your BFF’s when leaning towards one bag travel packing for your next trip.

A compact backpack sits open on a bed, filled with neatly folded clothes and essential travel items. A pair of sturdy shoes and a travel-sized toiletry kit are placed next to the bag

Choosing neutral-colored base layers and lightweight clothing items is best so you can easily mix and match. Quick-drying and wrinkle-resistant fabrics are also great options when packing for a week of travel, and even more.

Some of the best versatile colors to mix and match with clothing are black, gray, navy, beige or olive green. To maximize the use of your outfit selections, try to include more solid colors instead of patterns.

Also, think about multi-functional garments that can adapt to different climates and occasions, instead of having to carry one for each.

How to Pack Your Clothes

In this one bag travel packing checklist, I’m listing general essentials for a week of traveling (excluding winter season travel).

  • Tops: Aim for at least 3-4 tees, shirts or blouses, with at least one dressy option. You can also pack dresses if this is more of your preference, mostly solid colors and just 1 style with patterns. Try to include light fabrics that can be easily hung out to dry after washing.
  • Bottoms: Pack 3-4 pairs of shorts or a skirt, depending on the destination, and 1 pair of jeans or trousers.
  • Outerwear: Include a lightweight, waterproof jacket that can compactly fold into your one bag travel backpack. These are very functional almost anywhere and don’t take up much space.
  • Undergarments: I always recommend having extras but packing at least 9 undies and 3-4 bras should be sufficient for a week of travel.
  • Socks: Pack at least 4 pairs of socks (ladies), men should include at least a daily pair. These will be best in lightweight and quick-drying material.
  • Shoes: Oh, the dilemma! The rule of thumb is to stick to two pairs—sneakers and another pair that’s a bit more formal and both should be comfortable for walking. If you like sandals, you can sneak in a pair of these in your main bag compartment and another pair in the sneaker pocket of your bag.
  • Optional accessories: one hat, one small cross-body purse, 2 pairs of earrings

What are the Essentials to Carry for One Bag Travel?

Although essential items can look different for everyone, here’s a list with pretty much the basics that you can relate to.

Toiletries

Limit yourself to travel-sized items only that adhere to TSA’s 3-1-1 liquids rule and use a small toiletry bag to organize. You can also consider multi-purpose products like exfoliating cleansers and 2-in-1 options.

  • Hygiene items: Toothbrush, mini toothpaste, floss, and deodorant.
  • Skincare: A small tube of sunscreen and moisturizer.
  • Personal care: Travel pack of tissues, a few band-aids and laundry soap sheets.
one bag travel packing essentials
Laundry soap sheets for travel

Electronics and Gadgets

For better packing efficiency, keep electronic devices to a minimum but make sure to have what you need to stay connected.

I know this is a hard one, even for me! I phased out my Nikon camera equipment and have only been using my Fujifilm mirrorless camera for travel, precisely to save space.

You’ll want to go for compactness and portability, like opting for mini travel adapters.

  • Chargers: Primarily for your phone/communication device and a laptop and camera charger (if carrying one).
  • Universal adapter: Essential for international travel; make sure it has USB ports.
  • Optional: power bank or solar charger.
travel pouch for organizing electronics
Electronics pouch for travel

This one-week travel packing list is just meant to be used as a starting point, so remember to adapt it to your specific travel needs.

Just keep in mind that balancing functionality with minimalism is key to a successful one bag travel experience.

One Bag Travel Packing Techniques: Packing Smarter, Not Harder

To maximize space and efficiency, you can use these simple one bag travel packing techniques that allow you to pack everything you need for your trip—minus the bulk.

How to Layer Your Items

After you gather all the items you plan to bring to your trip, lay them out in a strategic manner (categorize) and start packing in layers.

One of the best strategies for maximizing space in your travel bag is to use packing cubes for your clothing and essentials.

Alternatively, roll (don’t fold) your clothes tightly to save space and reduce bulk.

  1. Start by placing bulky items at the bottom of your packing cube like pants, jeans or jackets.
  2. Then, add lighter items like your shorts, shirts and dresses and lie these flat to conserve as much space as possible.
  3. Lastly, utilize any gaps or empty spaces within your bag to pack smaller items like socks, underwear, accessories or sandals.

🧥 Tip: Use one packing cube for bottoms and one for tops instead of shoving all your clothing items into one cube.

Rolling versus Folding

Rolling clothes, especially softer fabrics, can save space, reduce wrinkles, and make it easier to see and access items in your bag.

On the other hand, folding clothes can maintain the shape of your clothes better, which is recommended for garments like dress shirts or blazers.

In the end, the best option will be the one that works best for you and the type of travel bag you’re carrying.

Compression Bags

Although I already mentioned that this one bag packing list is not to be considered for winter travel, compression bags will be your ally in such cases.

For bulkier items like jackets or sweaters compression bags work wonders and can significantly reduce the volume of your bag, allowing you to pack more in less space.

airplanes on airport

Frequently Asked Questions

For many, this may be the first time hearing the term one bag travel. While others may be slightly familiar with the concept, it can be easy to overlook the importance of having a clear strategy for packing and organization.

To bring more light into this fascinating travel lifestyle, I’m addressing some of the most asked questions about the strategies behind traveling light and creating a minimalist travel experience.

1. How can I create an efficient one bag travel packing list?

To create an efficient packing list, prioritize versatility and layering and opt for clothing that is functional, lightweight, and can be easily mixed and matched.

A capsule wardrobe approach, choosing items with multiple purposes, can save significant space in your travel bag.

The most recommended bags are those that can balance comfort, durability, and size. You’ll want to look for carry-on-sized travel backpacks with thick comfortable straps, space optimization features, and a sturdy construction that can withstand the demands of travel.

If you’re traveling with one bag as a personal item, look for compact travel backpacks with shoe compartments, plenty of pockets and ergonomic design.

3. How can a woman or man best organize their wardrobe for traveling with only one bag?

The best way to organize your items is to utilize packing cubes or compression bags to eliminate bulk, segregate items and prevent wrinkling.

Focus on packing light and quick-drying fabrics that can be worn in different combinations, and remember that layering is your friend.

Another great way for your clothing items to work well together is to have a simplified outfit color palette or color code your wardrobe.

4. What are the key principles behind the one bag travel packing philosophy?

It’s pretty simple, really. The key principles of one bag travel packing are minimalism, versatility, and organization.

Take only what is necessary, ensure each item can be used for multiple purposes, and organize your belongings to maximize space and accessibility.

Final Thoughts

If I were to minimize all of this talk about one bag travel in just a few words, I’m pretty sure it would go something like no bulky luggage, no waiting at baggage claim, and definitely no extra fees!

But truth be told, embracing one bag travel does require a bit of a mindset shift to prioritize experiences over things.

Nonetheless, choosing to travel light has one very important task: finding the perfect travel bag.

If you think about it, in minimalist travel picking the right backpack is like choosing your ideal travel buddy: it’s got to be the right fit, keep up with your pace, and hold all your stuff without bursting at the seams.

So whether you go for a personal item or a carry-on, just make sure it works for your unique needs and most importantly, that it fits within your airline bag size limits.

So, next time you’re prepping for a trip, try to give one bag travel packing a try, and you just might be amazed at how freeing it feels to travel light!


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Yanitza Ninett
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Yanitza is one 1/2 of the Next Stop Adventures dynamic duo with 15+ years of hiking experience and adventure travel. As a PADI-certified Scuba diver, she's also passionate about ocean conservation. When she's not exploring the great outdoors, Yanitza obsesses over The Vampire Diaries and dreams of traveling to Spain.

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