One Bag Travel (yes, you can do it!)

One Bag Travel (yes, you can do it!)

I’ve been traveling for work for about ten years now, and I’ve nearly always subscribed to the idea that you do not need to carry a ton of stuff with you: it’s called One Bag Travel.  On a recent morning, as I had The Today Show in the background, I managed to catch a few seconds of this ad:

If you don’t want to watch, Breyer’s says that packing for a week-long trip in a carryon is impossible, but a whole pint of ice cream for 330 calories?  Never mind that it tastes like cookies-and-cream flavored ice water, but man, I was really peeved about the idea that it was impossible to pack for a week-long trip in a carry-on.  I had just got home from 15 days in a carry-on, so I could prove them wrong.
Okay, so I don’t exactly do one bag travel. I have a tote bag, and if I’m traveling for pleasure,  I pack a duffel just in case I have souvenir overflow.  However, seeing what most people travel with makes me wonder: how many situations are they planning for?  Spelunking AND tea with the Queen?  For most people, that much luggage is overkill.
I posted this on Facebook, and I got a request to put all of my tips in one place.  So here are my keys to one bag travel (without sacrificing comfort or style).

Buy the Right Bag

If you travel more than a couple of times a year, you’ll want to pick the right bag if you’re limiting yourself to one.  The free luggage you got with your AAA membership, or your hand-me-down from your folks probably won’t work.  You don’t have to spend a lot, either.  Great luggage can be had for around $100.

This is my favorite luggage: eBags TLS Mother Load Mini 21″. I’ve had this bag for a couple of years now, and it’s just so very thoughtfully designed: there are a lot of spots for a lot of things, it’s lightweight, deceptively roomy, and very durable.  This is the bag I use for trips of three days or longer (for weekend trips, or work trips of only two days or so, I use a Longchamps Le Pliage Expandable Duffel). There is also a backpack version for those of you who prefer a backpack, with similar features. Currently, these are on sale (and honestly — I’ve never seen them not on sale).

Use Packing Cubes

It is amazing how easy it is to pack when you use packing cubes.  They allow you to pack all kinds of items in as little space as possible, and also helps keep you organized: you can use one for shirts, one for underthings, one for bottoms, one for gym clothes: you get the idea.  I have this set, and I rarely use all of them at one time, but I like the variety of sizes.  Four of them fit in the Mother Lode, and I use them in my duffel as well.

What do I Wear?

The most common reaction to one bag travel that I get is  “Julie, you don’t understand.  I have to be prepared for every single contingency.  What if there’s no shampoo in the entire country I’m visiting?  What if I actually have a date with Prince Charming and it’s formal?”

Come on, friends. You don’t have to plan for every single possibility.  If you follow my tips, you’ll be prepared for strolling in a city or going to a dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

  1. Pick a color scheme and stick with it. For most trips, work or pleasure, I stick with a palette of black, grey and tan.  Every once in a while, I’ll switch to navy, grey and tan, but usually I stick with what works.  You can add pops of colors with accessories: for ladies, a scarf, bright jewelry or lipstick; for men, ties, socks or pocket squares.  No one will know that you wore the same shirt on Thursday as you did on Monday if you accessorize smartly.
  2. Only bring three pairs of shoes.  For work trips, this is a pair of heels, a pair of flats, and a pair of gym shoes.  Depending on the length of the trip, I may add an extra pair of heels, if I have room, but usually I stick with black or grey heels and wear my favorite leopard flats on the plane (if it’s winter, I wear boots on the plane).  For more casual circumstances, I bring ankle boots (or sandals, depending on the weather), flats, and Chucks, which can be used both in the gym or out and about . For men, try a loafer, an ankle boot and a pair of Chucks or gym shoes as well.
  3. Don’t pack anything that you need to iron. Because ironing sucks and steamers are bulky.  Women, pack clothing in knits or other wrinkle-resistant fabrics.  Men, go for no-iron shirts (Brooks Brothers has great ones) and jackets that are wrinkle resistant; leave the silk blazers at home).
  4. Capsule wardrobes are your friend. I am not someone who does capsule wardrobes day-to-day, but for longer trips they are invaluable.  On my recent trip, my capsule wardrobe consisted of:
    • A leather jacket
    • A tan sweater coat
    • ankle boots
    • flats
    • chucks
    • jeans (black and blue)
    • leggings
    • v-neck t-shirts (white and black)
    • a chambray shirt
    • a striped shirt
    • a black cardigan
    • a grey shift dress
    • two scarves
    • two pairs of earrings
    • two necklaces
    • one crossbody (a convertible clutch is another nice option here)
    • gym top and shorts
    • underwear, socks, tights, etc

And that’s it. For sixteen days. I’m not kidding. Every item of clothing was worn at least once, if not multiple times.  I looked chic and put together (because all of the clothing went together), and I was comfortable. I went out to a couple of very nice dinners, and fit right in. I promise: you do not have to dress up as much as you might think you do.  Headed to a wedding, ladies?  Substitute a little black dress for the shift dress (or, you may have room to pack both!) and you should be able to fit in some pretty sandals as well. Accessorize with a scarf or jewelry.

What about work?

For work trips, my general formula is:

  • one jacket (black, navy or grey)
  • three dresses (I generally spend three days in the office, so one for each day)
  • heels (black or grey)
  • flats (leopard, because it’s a neutral)
  • gym shoes
  • gym clothes
  • accessories

I wear the jacket and a dress on the plane, with flats.

Dealing with Toiletries

I’m a makeup and skincare fiend, and this is the area where it’s hardest for me to limit. After years of travel now, I’ve managed to limit myself to the quart baggie (with day cream, night cream, face cleanser, body cream, a hair product, a small foundation and toothpaste) and a makeup bag in which I always keep:

  • a neutral eye palette
  • blush
  • brow powder
  • mascara
  • eyeliner
  • bronzer
  • dry shampoo

I simply switch up my lipsticks and fragrance (which I carry in my tote).

Notably missing? Shampoo and conditioner.  I stay at the same kinds of hotels consistently, and I know which have nice shampoos.  There’s no reason to weigh down my quart bag with these toiletries.  I also don’t carry soap, and I limit hair products to a single styling product.  That may not work for everyone, but it works for me.

For skincare, I rely on sample sizes: Sephora gives out great ones if you order from them online.  You can also ask for samples at any Sephora, and then reuse the little containers to carry your preferred products.

My toiletry bag is pretty neat too — I have a Lululemon Mind and Body Kit (now discontinued) that is pretty perfect. You can brave finding one on ebay (be prepared to fork over some cash– they’re popular!) or you can take a look at this guy which is similar (without the “stay-open” feature) or Dagne Dover has a nice one.

Your OTHER Bag (and yes, it’s still one bag travel if you have a tote!)

A tote bag filled with travel items.

So what do you carry the rest of your stuff in?  You know, your laptop, planner, and other things you need to have handy?

I’ve been through at least a half-dozen bags and have a few requirements:

  1. Not a backpack
  2. Has to be comfortable enough to carry on one shoulder (no skinny straps, for example)
  3. Should be polished & fashionable, not one of those office-issued laptop bags.
  4. Must be made of leather (pleather and fabric both stain and don’t hold up for me; other people love )
  5. Has to have an organization system inside, and not just one big pocket (things get lost!)

I settled on this bag from Dagne Dover. It has room for my laptop, wallet, Kindle, sunglasses, and a host of other items (even my beloved fountain pens).  It even has a bag for your shoes and a place for a water bottle, so it’s a good commuting bag, too. It looks great, the leather is soft but rugged, and it fits on top of my rollaboard.  Other bags that get rave reviews online are Lo and Sons and this Kenneth Cole bag gets great reviews and is at a great price point.

Travel can be a bear, even under the best of circumstances. Why weigh yourself done with a bunch of stuff that I guarantee you won’t use?  One bag travel is the way to go — and these tips should help you achieve it!