Travel With One Carry-on Bag & Reduce Stress

Ah, Travel. Just the mention of traveling brings to mind many pleasant thoughts, but lugging around luggage is not one of them. I don’t get why people still choose to travel heavy with multiple pieces of luggage.

Me sporting my 32L and collapsible backpacks from Nomatic.
Me sporting my 32L and collapsible backpacks from Nomatic.

Traveling with one carry-on feels light and free.

I am a digital nomad and full-time traveler who lives out of one 32L carry-on backpack. This article describes how I do it and why I recommend traveling with one bag, preferably a carry-on.

Travel With One Carry-On Bag

  1. Slow Living & One Bag Travel
  2. 10 Reasons For A Carry-On
  3. 10 Carry-On Requirements
  4. Two Types Of Carry-Ons
  5. Carry-On Accessories
  6. What’s In My Carry-On
  7. Video – Pack A Carry-On
  8. Travel With A Carry On

Traveling light also marries well with the slow living lifestyle.

Slow Living and One Bag Travel

I try to apply slow living techniques to almost every aspect of my life, and travel is no exception. Slow travel is something more and more people are embracing.

Traveling with just one carry-on bag is slow living friendly because it reduces stress, avoids problems, saves money, and increases the amount of free time I have.

I hope after reading how I travel with one bag, it will inspire you to give it a try on your next trip.

10 Reasons To Travel With Just A Carry-On

I get asked all the time why I travel with just one carry-on. So, here are my top 10 go-to answers to that commonly asked question.

  1. Airlines can never lose my bag
  2. Access contents while in the air
  3. No checked baggage fee
  4. No waiting line check bag line
  5. No waiting at luggage carousels
  6. More transportation options
  7. Less time to pack and unpack
  8. Less time to go through security
  9. Easier to go through customs
  10. Bring less and stress less

Travel Tip: There is not one universal carry-on bag limit. Some airlines are more strict and only allow one carry-on bag; others may allow one carry-on plus a personal bag. Be sure you know before your trip snd prepare accordingly.

10 Requirements For A Carry-On

Before you start researching products, spend some time thinking through how you travel and what you need to bring, and then write down your requirements for your carry-on.

For example, here are my requirements for my carry-on:

  1. It had to be a backpack 
  2. Maximum 22″ x 14″ x 9″
  3. One big main compartment
  4. It opens like a suitcase
  5. Have slim front storage
  6. Have back support
  7. Removable chest/waist straps
  8. It had to be black
  9. Not too many compartments 
  10. Safety features are a plus

I ended up with the Navigator 32L backpack from Nomatic. It checked all the boxes, literally, and I love it!  

Travel Tip: I like to save money as much as anyone; please do not skimp on your carry-on. It is what holds everything, and quality is essential, and that usually costs a little more.

Two Types Of Carry-On Luggage

  • Backpacks & Travel Bags
  • Suitcases & Luggage

There are many types of carry-ons on the market. There are even more opinions about which makes for the best carry-on.

Let me say this as a full-time traveler; it makes no difference. If you can carry it on board – then it is a carry-on. If you love the bag you picked, that is the best one.

I prefer to classify carry-ons into two general styles because it makes no sense to overcomplicate this.

1. Backpacks & Travel Bags 

Backpacks (and travel bags) have straps that usually allow you to sling them over your shoulders, often having chest and waist straps. They also fit conveniently under an airline seat or in an overhead compartment.

Made of heavy fiber material with zippers, they have one opening on the top or can open like a suitcase. Travel bags may sometimes be leather. Backpacks and travel bags never have rollers.

2. Suitcases & Traditional Luggage

Suitcases, and what I’ll refer to as traditional luggage, can also be made of heavy fiber material with zippers or a hard case (shell) with a locking mechanism.

These traditional carry-ons usually have more color options available, and may come with or without rollers.

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Two Essential Carry-On Accessories

Most packing accessories I see people recommend are a waste of money. But, there are two accessories I travel with, and I strongly recommend you do the same.

1. Collapsible Backpack

Am I packing a backpack in a backpack? How meta.  

I recommend using a collapsible backpack for the following four reasons.

First, when you get to your location, you will most likely need and want to carry things while out for the day. Instead of stuffing your pockets or holding items in your hands, just put them in a backpack.  

Second, you may find it easier to move around at your travel destination if you use the collapsible backpack for commonly used items or new items (water, shaving gel, shampoo, etc.) and keep your other things in your carry-on. This scenario is what I do at almost every location I travel to (as pictured above).

Third, sometimes you will be asked to check your carry-on (more on this in another section below), even if it is the right size. Maybe there isn’t room, or it is a smaller plane. In this case, you can take your collapsible backpack out, remove the essential valuables you don’t want to lose, and check your bag.

Also, many buses worldwide (I am looking at you, Balkan states) don’t have room inside for a carry-on bag. You have to store your luggage under or at the back of the bus. In this case, I again use the collapsible backpack to keep my most valuable stuff with me inside the bus (usually on my lap).

Fourth, sometimes I have a home base at one location but take a day trip to another town, so I’ll put a change of clothes and some toiletries into the collapsible backpack in case I decide to spend the night in the other city.

A collapsible backpack is a must-have for me.

2. Packing Cubes

Packing cubes allow you to pack more than you think is possible. I prefer the packing cubes by Nomatic, which uses a zippered compression system to condense clothes by 50 percent. Whether you roll your clothing or fold it, packing cubes will allow you to fit more in less space.

As I mentioned above, there are times when I pack a cube with some clothing in case I spend the night somewhere.

Packing cubes are budget-friendly and high value.

What Is In My Carry-On Backpack

I forget where I first heard this, but it has proven to me over the years. When it comes to clothing, bring one to wear, one to wash, and for vitals, bring a spare.

Everything in my backpack when I first arrive.

Your mileage may vary as everyone dresses and travels differently. But, to give you an idea of that theory in practice, here is what I carry in my backpack.

This picture is what my stuff looks like after getting things organized.

Remember that this is everything I own in the world, as I constantly travel as a digital nomad, but it’s worth it for the freedom!

My Clothing

All my clothing is black for several reasons.

  • First, I can mix and match at will.
  • Second, black does not show sweat.
  • Third, black can be casual or formal.

You may not choose all black, but make sure all your tops can go with your bottoms – that’s the real message. Single outfits do not marry well with one carry-on travel.

Here is the exact list of my clothing that goes in my backpack:

  • 1 — Tech Running (long) pants (joggers)
  • 2 — Tech T-shirts (short sleeve)
  • 2 — Tech shirts (long sleeve)
  • 1 — Quick Dry Polo shirts (short sleeve)
  • 1 — Quick Dry Button-down shirt (long sleeve)
  • 2 — Quick Dry Casual Shorts
  • 1 — Tech Swim/Running shorts
  • 1 — Tech Sweatshirt
  • 3 — Tech of socks (ankle)
  • 3 — Tech underwear
  • 1 — Rain jacket
  • 1 — Knit hat
  • 1 — Flip flops or simple shoes

Here is what I own and wear on the plane:

  • 1 — Tech Running (long) pants (joggers)
  • 1 — Quick Dry Polo shirts (short sleeve)
  • 1 — Running shoes
  • 1 — Tech of socks (ankle)
  • 1 — Tech underwear

If the weather dictates, I may wrap a sweatshirt around your waste.

If you have bulkier items, you should wear them on the plane. Things such as more oversized jackets can be worn or carried on board, you should wear your bulkiest shoes, and as I said, you can wrap some clothing around your waist if you need to free up space.

Travel Tip: Since I do not have many clothing changes, I wash almost daily, but they are tiny batches. My clothing materials are quick-drying or moisture-wicking, and I can wash them in a sink or tub if I have to. Sporting goods stores often have the most extensive clothing options with these materials. They dry fast, and most are wrinkle-free or at least wrinkle resistant. Also, you will be amazed how much longer your clothing lasts air drying them (as opposed to using a dryer).

My Gear

I am a content creator, so I have some camera items I need to bring with me, but as you can see, I have scaled way down in that area too.

Here is the exact list of my gear that goes in my backpack:

  • 1 — 32L main backpack
  • 1 — Collapsible backpack
  • 1 — Laptop and case
  • 1 — iPhone
  • 1 — Lavalier mic
  • 8 — Cables (charging, transfer)
  • 2 — International chargers
  • 3 — Packing cubes
  • 1 — Toiletry bag (cameras)
  • 1 — Toiletry bag (toiletries)
  • 2 — GoPro cameras
  • 1 — GoPro handheld
  • 4 — GoPro accessories
  • 1 — GoPro charger 
  • 2 — GoPro batteries
  • 1 — GoPro Max lens
  • 1 — GoPro Remote
  • 1 — Notepad (paper)
  • 2 — Bluetooth remotes
  • 3 — Pens
  • 3 — Reading glasses
  • 1 — Sunglasses
  • 1 — Passport
  • 3 — COVID/Misc. documents
  • 5 — Credit/Bank cards
  • 2 — TSA locks
  • 2 — Cloth COVID masks
  • 1 — Leather folder
  • 1 — Rain cover for backpack

That’s it. Everything else I may need I pick up at the travel destination. Even in a remote area, I still land at an airport, and the surrounding areas will almost always have what I need.

Things like sunscreen and mouthwash are usually not acceptable to bring on board, so I need to stop at a store when I arrive at a location anyways.

Video – How I Pack My Carry-On Backpack

If you want to see how I fit all this into my backpack, here is a video I made one day when it was raining in North Macedonia and I wanted to be productive. 

If you click the image below to play the video, you agree to install YouTube’s player and functional cookies. Or, watch on YouTube instead.

Give One Bag and Slow Travel a Try

I hope this article has inspired you to bring a carry-on bag with you next time you travel. You will be amazed how much time it saves you and how packing less can reduce your stress while traveling.

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Looking for something else to read? I recommend reading my Slow Living Guide if you have not already.

Thanks for stopping by to read this article.

✌️  Be You  🤘  Be Groovy

💙 -Gregg

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