One Bag: Traveling Light

I love to travel, but I don’t like to fly.

It’s not that I’m claustrophobic or pteromerhanophobic or anything like that … I just find that flying is discomforting. Too much of it is like a drawn-out cattle call. Add in the recycled air, the lack of decent seating, the quietly simmering anger on the part of nearly everyone you meet … well, it ain’t a pretty picture. All things being equal I wish train travel was more convenient.

One of the pains associated with any travel these days, though, is luggage. It’s a dreadful drudgery to haul or roll bags this way and that way, lugging them through security, hoping like heck that they don’t get lost along the way, and then trying to deal with them all whenever you get to where you’re going.

This sort of thing is on my mind more and more, since I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel more and more for lectures and research and the like. As a result, starting with my trip to the UK last summer, I have been experimenting with “One Bag” travel. That is, I have been packing everything I need for a trip into a single bag that will fit standard airline carry-on requirements.

There’s a bit of a sub-culture around this notion. It’s mostly made up of frequent business travelers who are a bit intense about the concept. They seem to get quite excited, for instance, when they manage to shave half an ounce of weight off their “kit” (lingo for the one-bag and all its contents). While that might seem freakish, I would submit that these folks are the very best kind of freaks: extremely fanatical about their field of knowledge but extremely passionate about sharing their knowledge with other people. (Like I am with medieval things!)

Once I decided to try one-bagging — and to start off by doing it with an eleven-day trip overseas — I probably spent a day perusing some of the “one-bag” resources I found on the internet (like this one), jotting notes and making plans.

Each individual person will have his or her own packing list, and any list will vary in some of its particulars according to the destination and purpose of the trip. For my own general plan I decided to come up with a general kit that would give me the gear to accomplish these basic things:

  • Spend up to a month traveling overseas.
  • Be ready for most weather conditions.
  • Be able to give professional academic presentations if needed.
  • Be able to hike across, say, a buggy, marshy Welsh mountain-side.

This isn’t a survival bag, by any means. I’m not looking to be dropped out on the tundra with this. That said, those four basic principles are still a hefty set of requirements, even if a person wasn’t trying to fit it all in a single one carry-on bag. Just about everything I was going to pack was going to need to do more than one job.

I’m pleased to say that I did pretty darn well with what I came up with for that initial UK trip. I’ve subsequently tweaked it and utilized the same basic kit for three or four out-of-state trips. While it remains a work on progress, it’s stable enough to share at this point, and it’s rather pertinent to bring up now since I’m about to embark on a three-week trip through the UK, France, and Belgium.

So what’s in my One Bag?


The Official One-Bag Wonder Packing List of Michael Livingston

(subject to change)

One of the first things to note is there are three bags in my One Bag kit: a toiletries bag, a main bag, and a day bag. I’ll attack them in order.

Does all this fit? You bet it does. Here’s how it breaks down.



I’ll start with my toiletry bag and build outward. I wish I could link you to my exact bag, which I’ve been very pleased with, but (alas!) I bought it on clearance at a Wilson’s Leather Outlet. Sorry.

Toiletry Bag Unpacked

Toiletry Bag Unpacked.

The contents of this bag, roughly from left to right across the front row and then the back row:

  • Sunscreen, SPF50.
  • Recovery Rub, mostly for sore feet after long hikes.
  • Acne Cream. I don’t really have acne problems, but I once had a mighty uncomfortable zit during travels and I will not let it happen again.
  • Aftershave cream, SPF15.
  • Lotions/Oils for Dry Skin.
  • Kid’s Toothbrush. Shorter than an adult one.
  • Tooth Powder. I’ve done what I can to minimize liquids both for security reasons.
  • Anti-perspirant/Deodorant.
  • Insect Bite Ointment.
  • Band-aids.
  • Shaving Oil.
  • Inflatable Hangers (2).
  • Pills.
  • Sore Throat Lozenges.
  • Lip Balm.
  • Insect Repellent Wipes (DEET).
  • Networking Cable, just in case the plug is in a bad place.
  • Three-plug splitter.
  • Another three-plug splitter and surge protector with wrap-around extension cord.
  • First-aid Kit. Basics. I’m counting on medical attention if I’m in really bad shape.
  • Wireless router (set up for iPhone/iPad). I use an Apple Airport Express.
  • International Plug Adapter, includes UK and Euro plugs.
  • Fingernail/Toenail Clippers.
  • Schick Extreme3 Razor. Best I’ve found for shaving the skull.
  • Mentadent Toothpick thingies.
  • Dave’s Shaving Soap, with mirror and built-in suction cup.
  • Wet Wipes, travel pack.
  • Kleenex Tissues, travel pack.
  • Bar Soap, travel-size. Irish Spring preferred.
  • LED Headlamp. Smaller is better, and it works as a handheld flashlight, too. Get one that includes an emergency strobe.
  • Mirror that attaches to the toiletry bag or – via the “modified” clothes hanger here – to anything else.
  • Woolite Laundry Detergent. Travel packs great for sink washing.
  • Clothesline and a couple of clips. For drying clothes in your room. With this small a bag you will be washing every few nights!
  • Sink-stopper. For washing clothes or taking a bath when the drain doesn’t work. I use the low-profile Do it Rubber Sink Stopper.



My main bag must be durable, comfortable, weather-resistant, and flexible in purpose.

I use the Maxpedition Fliegerduffel Adventure Bag. It works as both an over-the-shoulder bag and a backpack, and I quite recommend it.

Main Bag Packed

Main Bag Packed

As a reminder, this is sized to be a carry-on. Here’s what’s inside:

Main Bag Unpacked

Main Bag Unpacked.

The contents of this bag, roughly from left to right across the front row and then the back row:

  • Clothes for the plane. Includes:
    • 1 underwear (simple cotton).
    • 1 pair socks (simple cotton).
    • 1 short-sleeved shirt (quick-dry, SPF, wrinkle-free).
    • 1 pant that converts to shorts (quick-dry, bug-repellent, double as swimsuit). I’ve been pleased with the ExOfficio Men’s Insect Shield Ziwa Convertible Pant.
    • 1 belt (reversible brown/black). There are lots of these around.
    • 1 sport coat (corduroy, wrinkle-free). Goes with all combinations of clothes in bag. Looks equally good on stage and in pub.
  • Underwear and socks. Includes:
  • Bottoms pile. Includes:
  • Tops pile. Includes:
    • 2 short-sleeved shirts (quick-dry, SPF, wrinkle-free).
    • 1 long-sleeved shirt (quick-dry, SPF, wrinkle-free, bug repellent).
    • 1 long-sleeve shirt, professional (wrinkle-free).
  • Toiletries Bag, packed.
  • Selection of power bars for all the meals I will skip.
  • 1 pair low-height shoes (well-worn for comfort).
  • 1 pair mid-height hiking boots (well-worn for comfort, moc-toe design to look good under pants). I’m quite partial to some Bass boots that I can’t find online.
Main Bag Packing

Main Bag Packing.

A few additional things here I forgot to put in the previous picture:

  • Airplane sleeping kit. This includes eye cover, ear plugs, and an inflatable pillow/neckrest.
  • Extra Kleenex tissues.
  • Sandals can come in handy on occasion. They can get pretty fancy these days, but you want something that takes as little volume as possible. So I use huaraches.
  • I’ve now placed a few of the piles into compression bags that make packing easier. You can buy designated “packing cubes” for this purpose, but I just used the little zippered plastic bags that sheets come in.

Yes, all this is in the main bag picture above – with room enough to fit my rain-jacket, too. 🙂



The bag I use is the BBP Hamptons Hybrid Messenger/Backpack Laptop Bag Black Small.

Day Bag Unpacked

Day Bag Unpacked.

The contents of this bag, roughly from left to right across the front row and then the back row:

  • Camera and Charger in smallest bag possible. This provides a nicer camera in addition to iPhone. I’m quite pleased with my Sony NEX-5. It’s a lot of power in a very small package.
  • Pacsafe 150 Wallet and passport holder with RFID protection.
  • Selection of pens and pencils, and a lighted magnifier for reading manuscripts.
  • Lenscope for archival manuscript work.
  • Spork. You never know when you’ll need a utensil. High-quality plastic is durable and doesn’t mess up security.
  • Stylus for iPad.
  • Research Materials. You might not need this, but I do! (I take a trip-specific selection of books and papers, but the Hitchhiker’s Guide seemed an appropriate stand-in.)
  • Pocket dictionary. This is really a hold-over from the fact that this is my teaching bag. There’s nothing quite like throwing a dictionary at a student misusing a word.
  • iPhone headphones.
  • Business cards.
  • Small water bottle with filtration. I’ve actually just replaced the one pictured here with this one from (of all places).
  • Dramamine and Ibuprofen.
  • Some lens wipes.
  • Mints.
  • Earmuff headphones for the airplane.
  • iPad (and related charger, of course!).
  • Apple wireless keyboard. As it happens, I just replaced this with the Logitech Tablet Keyboard, which I like quite a bit more.
  • Hat (quick-dry, bug-repellent, tie-down, and packable). I use a Tilley Endurables LTM6IS Hat With Tuckaway Neck Protector.

There are a few other things that I’ll slip-in here and there as relevant:

  • 1 small towel. I’ve gone simple here.
  • 1 collapsible umbrella
  • 1 pair of sunglasses. I cheat here, since my regular glasses have Transitions lenses.
  • 1 packet of personal documentation: medical prescription copies (including eyeglasses), passport and identification copies (including driver’s license), emergency contact information, proof of insurance.
  • 1 packet of travel documentation: maps, guidesheets, tickets, receipts.
  • 1 iPhone, earbuds, and charger (travel clock, GPS, e-reader, games, etc.). Have I mentioned how much I like my iPhone?
  • 1 cigarette lighter USB charger. Smaller the better, of course.
  • 1 travel towel. Just in case they don’t have one where you’re staying.

And that’s it. Whew!

One Comment

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