One Bag Travel: My Life in 54 Items

March 1, 2018   

The Idea

Travel the world, work less while experiencing more, and do all that while actually SAVING money. Harnessing the internet to earn a first world salary while living in a developing nation along the way.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, theres just one small catch: you have to cram everything you own into a single carry-on bag.

Challenge accepted.

The Bag

I probably spent 20+ hours looking for a bag that would fit my needs and taste. If I’m going to be dragging my life around in it for months or years on end its a huge decision that I didn’t want to take lightly. The bag would essentially be like my house.

I wanted something that was water-resistant, compact, and not overly burdened by random pockets and extraneous features. Top contenders were the Minaal 2.0 (a bit pricey at $299 and I just naturally distrust kickstarter products), Osprey Farpoint 40 (too Jansport-y), GoRuck GR2 (Way too expensive at $399 and too heavy). I eventually settled on the Tortuga Homebase because although its deceptively small, with only 32L capacity, the main compartment is very spacious. It also features zippers that go all the way around the main compartment so it can be opened like a clamshell.

Being able to fold the entire bag open makes it super easy to pack and get access to clothing or your toiletries bag without disturbing anything else. My first trip to Thailand I brought a single-column hiking bag with me and it was very difficult to pull something out of the bag without unpacking the whole damn thing. Dumping all of your clothes out on a dirty airport floor to find a pair of socks gets old fast, trust me.

Having just three main compartments simplifies the packing and makes it really easy for me to know where my things are rather than having to hunt through a dozen small pockets. Under the main compartment is where I store my laptop, work notepad, and an ultra-thin LED screen. The outermost section has everything I want quick access to like my kindle, notebook + pens, chargers, and passport. All of the zippers can be locked for extra security and the backpack itself is made out of ultra-durable Sailcloth material.

Clothing - 25 Items

3 Lululemon Surge Sock - My feet are known far and wide for their general toxicity but these Lululemon socks resist odors like champions. I can do a 10 mile hike in them and still not put a dent in their fragrance. Its like magic.

Thick Hiking Socks - Something thicker and higher to help prevent blisters and help protect a bit from creepy-crawlies while hiking.

Under Armour Leggings - Folds down to almost nothing since its so thin but can be layered under shorts or pants for colder nighttime or mountainous temperatures.

Patagonia Houdini Alpine Jacket - Found this on sale for half-off but the only catch was I had to get it in a color other than black. This whole minimal travel experiment has basically turned me into a goth, since black goes with everything, so it was probably a blessing in disguise. Its a full jacket that packs down to the size of a soda can. For minimal travel, especially in SE Asia during monsoon season, its a must-have.

2 Cotton Tanktops

Under Armour Longsleeve with Hood - Thicker than the leggings but still folds down to almost nothing while being able to trap a surprising amount of heat if stacked with a tshirt and rain shell.

Grey Express Tshirt - Express makes great fitting tshirts. I would bring a dozen of these if I had the space or if I were going somewhere colder than SE Asia. Only downside is that it doesn’t dry as quickly as some other synthetic materials.

5 pair Athletic Boxer Briefs - Got these at Target or something. Not very exciting. Move along.

3 Uniqlo Airisms - I read some really over-the-top reviews for these and although they’re ultralight and breathable they didn’t change my life or anything. This is the first time I’ve ever had to deal with an overhyped underwear situation.

3 Ultrathin Modal Tshirts - “Modal” is a magic space fabric thats super light and extremely soft on your skin. They also fold down to nothing which is great for saving space and they dry almost instantly in the sun.

Lululemon ABC Pant - These look like dress pants but feel and stretch like pajamas. Really great for the airport since it has a convenient zipper pocket perfectly shaped to secure your passport.

3 Birddogs Shorts - These shorts double as swim trunks and feature a comfortable inner liner which is helpful since going “commando” can be much more comfortable in the tropics. They have two zipper pockets in addition to the front pockets which are perfect for storing my phone and keys so I can jump into a handstand at any moment without stuff falling out, which comes up way more often than you’d think.

Footwear - 2 Items

Reef Flip Flops - Perfect shoe for summer and the tropics. Very durable as each pair I’ve had lasts me 3-4 years of daily summer use before finally falling apart. I used to get the kind with the bottle opener on the bottom but then my father pointed out that I was putting a surface that regularly touches dog shit onto the the part of the bottle where my mouth was gonna go… alas, the model without a bottle opener is cheaper anyways.

Black Leather Sanuk Loafer - I call these my “business slippers” since they’re extremely comfortable but can also work as “business casual” if I need to look presentable. They’re also really easy to slip off at the airport when going through security so no one thinks you’re harboring foot-bombs.

Technology - 6 Items

Mid 2012 Mac Book Pro - Got this off of craigslist when I was in college and had decided to get serious about programming. It still more than handles my workload so theres no reason to upgrade just yet.

Iphone 6 - Not shown since it was taking the picture. its unlocked so I can replace the simcard with local prepaid options wherever I go if I want to use it abroad.

Kindle Paperwhite - I love the feeling of flipping through a physical book as much as the next guy but theres just no way to beat having an entire library fit in your pocket. The efficient e-ink screen keeps it running for weeks on end without having to worry about charging. Reading is definitely the easiest way to kill 5 hours at an airport for me personally so this is a must-have for travel.

Anker Power Bank - When your phone battery dies in a third world country and you have no idea where you are you’ll really wish you had one of these in your pack. About the size of a deck of playing cards and can recharge my phone 4+ times before running out of juice.

Chromecast V1 - Just found out theres a new-fangled V2 that has a 4x faster connection so I will probably upgrade very soon. Basically, it acts like a wireless HDMI cable so I can stream content from my hard drive onto any TV or monitor.

Ultrathin Asus LED Monitor - Super thin portable monitor that connects to my Mac via USB. A lot of my current work is with web development, rapid prototyping, and data visualization so it’s super helpful to have a second monitor. One screen for code and one for the visuals. So you can code continuously rather than having to perpetually to switch windows. Many coworking spaces charge you for using their monitors so it can help save that money too.

Apple Headphones

Notes - 5 Items

Carton Supply Grid Notebook - Got this from Michael’s right before I left as I kept filling up my hardcover notebooks too quickly. I didn’t want lined paper since I draw a lot of software diagrams and I didn’t want blank pages just in case I decided to make Todo lists so I compromised with a faintly gridded paper that can do both.

Legal Notepad - This is where I put all of my daily and weekly tasks/goals so I can keep good track of what I’m doing (or, more likely, NOT doing) every day. Ticking boxes can be very addicting.

3 Zebra F-701 Pens each with a Fisher Space Pen Refill - Found these while I was looking for tougher, refillable option rather than a plastic ballpoint. These metal pens fit the bill for durability and are really popular in the EDC crowd. The refill choice was heavily inspired by the “Astronaut Pen” episode of Seinfeld but who cares as long as it writes upside down and in the rain, right?

I’m open to the idea of removing this whole Notes section along with the Kindle Paperwhite and just using something like ReMarkable instead. Its an intriguing e-ink/tablet hybrid that lets you read ebooks as well as take physical notes with a stylus. Right now it is too expensive at $499 and too new to get a used one at a discount. I also heard its software SUCKS but I’ll be keeping my eye out for V2 in the future.

Paperwork - 2 Items

Wallet - Black leather wallet that I’ve had since I turned 18. One of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever gotten and its served me perfectly since then.

Passport - Don’t lose this. Or bad things happen. Also you should email yourself a digital copy just in case.

Toiletries - 9 Items

Safety Razor and Replacement Blades - Can’t remember where I got this but it should last me the rest of my life. Razor blades are universal so I won’t have to worry about finding a specific kind of disposable razor head while I’m abroad (which i hear is a hassle).

Lush Dirty Styling Cream - Great stuff. Helps me stay perfectly quaffed even after 20 hour plane rides. Smells nice too.

Lush Argan Oil Shampoo Bar - Solid shampoo is a great way to not have to worry about TSA bottle sizes or liquids opening up and leaking on all your clothes. It also seems to last longer than a liquid of the same quantity which is just a bonus.

Universal Drain Plug - I’m glad I read about someone packing this because I never would’ve thought of it. It’s used for plugging any sink or bathtub to easily handwash your clothes. Thats part of the reason for all the synthetic, quick drying fabric in my wardrobe.

Oral-B Pulse Toothbrush - Toothbrushes that vibrate help your gums and this was the smallest one I could find. Unfortunately the by being the smallest it also means its disposable since the battery and brush head aren’t replaceable. I really wanted something like this which is a powered toothbrush that runs off kinetic energy rather than batteries but unfortunately its still in prototype/crowdsource-hell stages so its not worth the risk.

Toothpaste

Deoderant

Floss

Toiletry Bag

Misc - 5 Items

Blender Sunglasses - Generic black wayfarers. Thailand makes great Ray-bans knockoffs so they’ll probably be replaced soon.

Douglass L Field Lighter - I got this to replace using disposable plastic Bic lighters. First, I tried to use a Zippo but the fuel evaporates every week whether you used it or not. I hate maintenance like that so I found this WW1-inspired lighter thats handcrafted in Japan. It has an O-ring so the fuel inside it will last up to a year without “going dry”.

Universal Travel Adapter - Basic adapter with some extra USB outlets on the side. Very important to get a universal one rather than lugging around a bunch of different power blocks.

Microfiber Towel - Microfiber towels kinda suck. They feel like you’re rubbing a super thin napkin on yourself rather than a fluffy beach towel BUT they fold down to almost nothing and dry really quickly so I figure its good to have it around. Towelie AND Douglas Adams can’t be wrong so its always good to bring a towel just in case.

Vapur Collapsable Water Bottle - Its a water bottle when you need it and it folds down and stays out of your way when you don’t. Saves waste and cost from constantly buying water bottles in the airport.

Summary - 54 Items Total*

I’m hoping my packing choices will only get better from what I learn on the road so it will be interesting to see how my list of stuff changes over time. Hopefully someone out there doing research into “minimal packing” will find this rundown useful in some way when figuring out their own list of essentials. Either way these 54 items are now my entire life so I hope I’ve made some good choices. Only time will tell.

*I cheated a bit by not counting the bag itself or any small stuff like credit cards, charging cables, or power blocks but its my list so I’ll cheat if I want to!