Packing for a Proper Jaunt
I strongly believe there is a larger question that a Proper Jaunt and One Bag Travel addresses, that is more fundamental: what is traveling? What does it mean to travel?
Does it mean that the things we surround ourselves with to get through our days are the only things that define us? We cushion ourselves against the world, giving ourselves talismans and tokens that we believe are reminders of what we enjoy, what we care about, who we are. What are we without those things?
I believe this is something travel does. It leads us to discover what we are outside of the lives we have created. We travel so that the adventure of travel becomes one of things that define us.
If you are traveling because you want to have the exact same cup of coffee in London that you have here in the morning, using the same beans and the same cool coffee maker, you’re not traveling. You’re just taking your stuff, on a plane, to another place. I mean, I think it’s okay to visit a Starbucks in London and get the same drink, but only if it’s right next to where you are staying and is more convenient than something local. A Starbucks Flat White is going to be essentially the same everywhere. You will likely survive the day if it begins with a different coffee drink.
If you have to wear those new boots that everybody says you look so hot in while visiting The Louvre, instead of the shoes you know you can stand in all day (and still look good), you’re not traveling. You’re trying to be an image of yourself that you have laid over your real self, your ‘real self’ being the thing that you travel to uncover, to expose to the light. Trust me; ‘hot’ is not about the boots. You don’t have to be the person with the hot boots in Europe (there are plenty of those). You just have to be the person who is you in Europe.
That’s why Packing Light is Proper Packing. You just take what you need. Almost everyone who does this comes to realize, usually near the end of the trip, that they actually have overpacked.
If you are going to travel light, you are going to take a bag that will fit in the overhead compartment of most planes. Basically, that is 24” x 14” x 10”. There is usually a requirement about how heavy these bags can be, as well; somewhere around 22 lbs.
Flying domestically you should be fine with those measurements. Although, a very popular US airline— Alaska— just cut a couple of inches of it’s bag requirements. They now specify 22” x 14” x 9’, including wheels and handles (most measurements don’t account for that). Remember also that many connecting flights are on smaller planes, and those lower numbers are necessary to adhere to, because anything bigger literally will not fit. In Europe and other parts of the world, there are many smaller airlines who offer ridiculously cheap tickets between countries. They are able to do that because they charge you if your bag doesn’t (actually) fit into a sizing box near the ticket country. If it doesn’t fit, you are usually charged something near the ticket price (!) to check your bag.
There are also a sizable number of major airlines, who fly internationally, who are offering cheaper fares if you bring ONE small(ish) bag (IcelandAir, Delta, etc).
So, size matters.
I would therefore put 20” x 12” x 8” as a good standard to try to stick to. I will list some bags that fall roughly within those guidelines at the end of this post.
For example, WOW Airlines— kind of like the Southwest Airlines of Iceland, who have sadly, since writing this, FOLDED— often had ridiculously low prices, but you pay for EVERYTHING else (seats, water, etc). They have the most stringent baggage requirement for carry-on: 17” x 13” x 10”. Now, I have a 25L bag from a manufacturer I am a huge fan of: Tom Bihn in Seattle. They have one bag (no longer made, but you can find them on ebay) called the Smart Alec that I took on my first (and only) WOW voyage. I had to show them that the bag would indeed fit into the little box right next to the ticket counter before I could get my boarding pass. It would have cost me almost $100 to pay for the bag to be checked. I didn’t want to do that because I paid only $250 for the ticket, from SFO to Amsterdam! (I talk about how that came about in a different post.)
We have been saying “bags”, but now you have to decide if you want to do a backpack or a rolling suitcase; a “wheelie”. Notice that I don’t mention a duffle bag or a shoulder bag. There are some bags that convert to those kinds of bags (and vice-versa) but I’m afraid I must insist that you have only two choices- wheelie or backpack. For a Proper Jaunt, they are really the only way to go.
There are definite schools of thought advocating for each choice. A travel blogger I really like, Nomadic Matt, tells you point blank not to take a suitcase/wheelie. He’s been traveling basically full-time for almost a decade, and his advice comes from experience.
I had a wheelie when I used to travel for trade shows, starting about 20 years ago. I had to do one bag travel because of how often the flights seemed to change, and had to have some things like sports coats and slacks and other things I thought needed a hard-sided suitcase (I was not correct, but that’s a road I won’t go down here).
I started taking a backpack instead of a wheelie in 2005. My parents were taking the whole family to Paris to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary. I knew I wanted one bag, and I wanted to have quick access to things on the flight, because our 5 year old was traveling with us. I bought the Tom Bihn Brain Bag— which you can still get here — and I was surprised how easy travel was, and how much room I always seemed to have, even if I had purchased things to take home.
That Brain Bag has taken almost 20 trips since then; half of them across the pond. Most were for roughly a week, but there were a few 10-day trips in there. There was also travel in decent weather and freezing weather. Each trip, I was more than okay; I had everything I needed, I was nimble and mobile, and I never lost a bag or missed a flight.
That is only part of why I would recommend a backpack over a wheelie. The main reason for me is, I really want to travel with just one bag. I mean, not even what the airlines call a ‘personal item’, like a purse or camera bag. I want to have everything I need on my person, and easily reachable while I’m on the plane. Tom Bihn’s Brain Bag, their Smart Alec and Synapse 25 all let me do that. So does the Minaal CarryOn 2.0 and the Cotopaxi Allpa bag. So does the Wandrd Prvke. So do more than a few others.
(Of course, I cheat. I wear a Utilikilt—when I travel, and when I don’t— which means I have side pockets that hold tons of stuff. [See this post]. But I could still travel with only One Bag if I didn’t have those pockets.)
True One Bag travel still means you can pick up goodies on the trip. If I ever run out of room towards the end of the journey— it happens— because I have only One Bag, I can pick up a tote to take all the extra stuff I’m bringing home. Then I just look like everybody else, with their carryon bag and their one ‘personal item’.
Luckily, you are alive at a fortuitous point in history if you want to get One Bag that you can use for travel. It seems like in this particular decade (the Teens), the internet has created the perfect storm of handheld internet (basically, the iPhone) devices, platforms like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, and ways to find cheap flights and places to stay.
While it may seem like these things have been around forever, it is the level they have advanced to that has contributed to how lightly you can now travel. For example, it is now very possible— and most would say desirable— to not have to take a laptop with you. Most of us can do what we need with an iPhone or iPad (or similar devices).
Not very long ago, if you wanted to do One Bag travel, there were precious few bags specifically made for that purpose. Most folks used hiking backpacks, but soon came up against the limits of those bags for their purposes. Some of those people started projects through crowd-funding platforms precisely because they had traveled with one bag not designed to do that, and they felt they could do it better. Tortuga, Minaal, CabinZero and Wndrd are just a few companies that started to address the issue of the Perfect One Bag for all travel needs. What they make is exceptional, and they keep improving. I might publish hands-on reviews of these and other bags in later posts. But Chase Reeves does it better.
And while companies like Priceline and Kayak have been around for awhile, it is the advent of the AirBnB’s and other ‘share economy’ businesses that are flourishing now, that help to bring down the cost of travel. As do the services that usually charge a nominal yearly fee to send you email notifications when there are cheap airline flights.
All of the above affects The Proper Jaunt, all in a good way. It is my personal belief that a backpack-type bag is better for these type of trips, mainly for the mobility it affords you. In many cases, an ergonomically-designed backpack is also better for you than dragging something on wheels behind you. But a ‘wheelie’ is not a deal-breaker. If you want to travel with One Bag, that’s the more important thing.