Photo taken at O’Hare by jahdakine

Recently two colleagues and I arrived at the airport in Louisville to head home after a brief business trip. After dropping off our rental car and heading into the terminal, they went off to stand in line and wait to check their roller bags; I instead went to a nearby bookstore, bought a magazine, and went to wait for them in a restaurant where we’d agreed to meet. I was midway through my 2nd beer when they showed up 15 minutes later. And when we arrived home hours later, they went to baggage claim to wait for their checked bags while I headed directly to my car. Ah the joys of traveling with one bag! If you want to dramatically simplify your life as a road warrior, you ought to seriously consider adopting a minimalist approach to your luggage & packing.

Why adopt a minimalist or “one bag” approach to travel? There are many reasons. Some of the more notable benefits are increased security (you don’t have to check your bag, so baggage handlers won’t handle or potentially open it), greater flexibility (should your connecting flight be canceled, you’ve got everything with you), lower costs (no paying bellmen to lug your stuff to your room), and less stress (it’s just flat out easier and way less worrisome.) I wholeheartedly recommend Doug Dyment’s One Bag – an incredible resource for those who are interested in making all their road trips simpler and more enjoyable.

In this article I’ll address how to handle a short business trip with nothing more than a backpack…

First, a word about the items I won’t be packing but which are absolutely critical - namely, what I wear upon my departure. What you wear when leaving on a trip is extremely important, as it’s a critical aspect of traveling light successfully. My normal “departure clothing:” a pair of versatile, preferably slip-on (read:  TSA) shoes, a darker – olive, navy or black – pair of permanent press slacks, a dress oxford or golf shirt depending upon the nature of the trip and my plans upon arrival, and finally a sports jacket that’s versatile enough to work with both what I’m wearing and the slacks and shirts I’ll be packing. In the wintertime, I’ll add an overcoat if necessary.

The “Bundle” Method

As for packing, I’m a firm believer in the bundle method that Doug describes at One Bag and which is illustrated at Red Oxx (more about Red Oxx later.) In brief, the bundle method involves wrapping your clothing around a central “core,” and in so doing, avoiding folds – because folds cause creases. I’ve been using this approach for a while now, and it works astonishingly well. For those of you who’ve never heard of this approach, please see the following photographs and explanation:

If packing a sports jacket, you’d put that down first, face down, on a clean, flat surface. As I’ll be wearing my jacket, I start with one shirt, and with shirts, place them FACE UP:

Sorry about the moiré pattern! Add a second shirt, oriented 180* to the first:

And so forth, until you’ve packed 3 or 4 dress shirts:

At this point, place your “core” in the center. The “core” is usually a small pouch containing socks, underwear, etc., or you can simply bundle up those items and use the bundle as the core. In this case, I used 3 golf shirts – the type made with high tech material as they travel better than 100% cotton shirts – as this will afford me a bit more flexibility during my trip, should an evening include a casual dinner or outing:

Once the core’s in place, wrap the clothing around it, starting with the sleeves, then the body:

(Of course I’ll smooth out the material as best as possible before wrapping!)

Here’s the finished “bundle:”

The bundle is then placed – carefully – in the larger compartment in the backpack. Backpacks, if it’s not already obvious from this picture, are frankly NOT the ideal bag for packing clothes, given their irregular shape. Rectangular bags are best; but for quick trips, I can make a backpack work just fine; for 5 – 7 day trips, you may wish to consider a high quality bag like Red Oxx’s Air Boss… more about that later.

Next I roll (again, rolling avoids folds and as stated earlier, folds will result in wrinkles) a pair of permanent press slacks around underwear, undershirts, and socks, and that goes in the second, smaller compartment of my bag:

As you can see above, my TSA 1 qt./3 oz. liquids/gels ziplock bag is packed alongside the extra pair of pants.

Here’s the backpack zipped up:

It measures ~18x12x12, and will fit in any overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you on any aircraft. The bag contains the clothing described above, toiletries, a padfolio, a few folders with documents, and the 11 essential items that are always in my daily bag – described in this recent post. I can always fit a few ties in the bag, should the trip require them. Packed as shown here, it weighs 12 lbs. – not bad at all. Slung over my shoulder with one strap, I’ve never been asked to gate check it when traveling on commuter flights.

In the example illustrated above, I’ve probably gone a bit overboard with the extra shirts. Certainly my underwear and undershirts could have served as my bundle’s core – and that would have made packing the extra pair of slacks a bit easier, and also made it easier to carry a laptop along, should I so desire.

Were I traveling for only a couple of days, I’d adjust the number of shirts accordingly. I tend to wear a darker pair of slacks when traveling in case a flight attendant (or I) were to spill something. For 2-3 day trips, I have the option of adding my laptop and power source. Having said that, recently I’ve been experimenting with using just my Blackberry and the hotel’s Business Services computer when traveling. If I’m making a presentation, I’ll bring it along on a jump drive when without the laptop.

A word about clothes: I have had terrific experiences traveling with and just generally wearing clothing from Jos. A. Bank’s “Traveler” collection. The quality is high, and these clothes – shirts, pants, jackets – travel wonderfully with minimal touching up. I usually just hang an item or two in the hotel bath and run the shower on hot for a few minutes, if necessary. 1/09 edit: full disclosure – I am now a Jos. A. Bank affiliate.

Does the “bundle” method work??

After packing the bag as shown above, I waited 24 hours and then removed the shirt bundle. Here’s what it looked like:

Unbundled, with the core moved up a bit to show the top shirt’s collar:

Finally, the shirt which was next to bottom, hung up without any clothes iron touch up or steaming:

As you can see, it has virtually no wrinkles!

I mentioned Red Oxx earlier. Doug Dyment of One Bag consulted with Red Oxx, a Montana based manufacturer of rugged adventure-type luggage, to design the perfect business-style carry-on bag. The result is Red Oxx’s “Air Boss.” I’ve been admiring this product for some time, and finally purchased one a few days ago. I’ll give a report along with photos after I’ve traveled with it several times.

Give it a try!

That’s it. Why not try traveling with one bag the next time you travel? You’ll avoid all the extra hassle and stress involved in carrying a briefcase and dragging a wheeled bag around airports, parking lots and parking garages, will have greater peace of mind, and will save yourself time by avoiding checking (and at your destination, waiting for) luggage. Give it a try – you may even teach your colleagues a smarter way to travel! As always, comments are most welcome, and if you like what you read here, you are welcome to subscribe to this blog… just click on the button at the top right of this page. Travel safe – and simply!!

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26 Comments on A minimalist approach to packing for a short business trip

  1. oftherock says:

    Wow.. I will be going on several trips for the next couple of weeks. I will certainly try what you have posted here.

    Thanks

    [Reply]

  2. […] your next trip, I’d propose adopting a minimalist approach to packing for a short business trip. With that bundle method you will wrap all your clothes around a singled-out item; typically, that […]

  3. luca says:

    Your blog is very interesting. If you want you can visit mine at http://www.oscurosire.wordpress.com

    Bye bye

    [Reply]

  4. travelandramble says:

    Amazing post. I’ve liked it a lot. Your attention to detail and description’s amazing. Very useful stuff! : )

    [Reply]

  5. kc says:

    Thanks for the feedback – my Air Boss arrived yesterday and I may post about it before using it – its quality is wonderful. Thx again…

    [Reply]

  6. […] Equipaje Minimalista Reconozco el mérito de Lifeapps y su post ¨A minimalist approach to packing for a short business trip¨. Yo no hubiera podido retratarlo mejor, y son buenos principios para viajes de toda índole. De […]

  7. Maz3esp says:

    I have been using the awesome AirBoss for over a year. Using the bundle packing method I have been able to travel to Europe for 2 weeks out of every month with only 1 bag. I won’t be checking a bag anytime soon. BTW the customer service at RedOxx is the best and all of their products are top quality.

    [Reply]

  8. kc says:

    Maz, Thanks for your comment. I am SO impressed by my Air Boss and with RO’s customer service. Ironically enough, just this morning I ordered a Metro Briefcase to match my Air Boss. Their products aren’t inexpensive, but the quality is extraordinary. Thanks for commenting – and I hope you’ll become a subscriber.
    -kc

    [Reply]

  9. […] one bag approach to travel makes even more sense. If you haven’t seen it, check out my post, A Minimalist Approach to packing for a short business trip. This post has gotten over 5,300 views in the last several weeks. Check it out if you haven’t […]

  10. Michael W. says:

    I am waiting for your review of the RedOxx AirBoss. http://www.onebag.com seems to like this bag the best, as “square, soft-sided carry-on luggage.” Which is the old/new category we are going to see replacing the wheelies over the next few years. Please note that RedOxx has now introduced a “convertible” model which preserves the “ruggedly upscale” (ha ha, my words not theirs) look of the AirBoss but adds hidden backpack straps if you are going to be hoofing it or taking trains and buses in addition to point to point air travel.

    I can remember when Lands End started making their Lighthouse line of soft-sided luggage. Two of the items in that line were a carry-on size single compartment “suitcase” and a double compartment version. Lands End was so far ahead of their time that these light, simple carry-on bags quickly disappeared, supplanted in the marketplace by wheelies that were technically “in dimension” but in reality exceeded IATA guidelines when you include their wheels and handles.

    Well, now the airlines are being real sob’s about checked and carry-on bags. Right now people are running up against the dimension limits on carry-on pieces and scrambling to downsize from “full” 22″ wheelies to 20″ and even 17-19″. But people are forgetting that the weight allowance also kicks in (for “safety”) by imposing a weight limit of from 7-15 pounds.

    Now I doubt the airlines are going to start weighing every piece of carryon (although EVA Air did for us – but fortunately their limit is 15 pounds), but to me that means we should start taking the weight into account, and shouldn’t be “leaning” too much as we struggle with our carry-ons. That means a 10-12 pound wheelie is a non-starter, and even the new “ultra light” 7 pound wheelies look heavy compared to from 8 ounces for an ultra-thin REI Stow Duffel with 2,660 cubic inches, to 3.5 pounds for the typical “square” luggage with hidden back straps (Rick Steves Classic, AirBoss, Patagonia MLC).

    I’d like to see you include the Rick Steves Classic in your review of “maximum legal carry-on” size bags. I dismissed the Steves bag years ago when it was cheaply made and not quite thoroughly thought out. But I just bought one based on their listed improvements and am quite impressed. In fact, I think it is even better than the recently redesigned Patagonia MLC. It is square; the outside pockets don’t leave any “dead air space” behind (they cover, when taken together, the entire front pack side); and all panels are as thin as they can be and still get the job done, in terms of strength and durability (you don’t want the bag itself to use up any more of your available packing volume than strictly necessary). The handles are well cushioned; there is a thin back pad; the shoulder straps are thin but well padded, so they don’t hog space (my chief objection to “convertible” luggage); and there are no extraneous shoulder strap attachments (why do you need two ways – shoulder strap and back pack straps – to accomplish the same goal, hands-free carry?). Finally, Steves inludes a detachable “valuable papers” pouch that clips into an clip at the bottom of the bag (to discourage pickpockets and slashers) and two VERY well-made mesh “ditty” bags to segregate dirty laundry etc. (I emphasize well-made since I have seen accessory ditty bags at REI that aren’t this thoughtfully made).

    In short, though I have yet to see an AirBoss, I am worried that it is “overbuilt” using thicker materials. This works well in terms of checking into the Hyatt (looks more posh) but for a lot of us on vacation travel, the extra expense of the AirBoss might not be justified and the Steves Classic doesn’t look “down market.” I grant you the AirBoss might work better if you are lugging a laptop or training manuals in binders – carrying heavy or sharp edged stuff – or if you travel weekly on business trips – but otherwise I think you will be very pleasantly surprised by the redesign of the Rick Steves convertible bag (look at the Classic on his website – http://travelstore.ricksteves......038;id=346 – and not at the “convertible” which is gussied up with an expansion feature (which turns it into checked luggage) and waistbelt (overkill unless you are climbing mountains, not navigating from a train station to a hotel).

    Did I mention the Rick Steves Class is only $79?

    [Reply]

  11. kc says:

    Michael:

    Wow. Thanks for a well written, well thought out comment!

    I took a look at the Rick Steves Classic and it certainly is feature rich yet a simple bag. Based on the images on the site – and I do understand that this is folly, but here goes anyway – the Air Boss is more stoutly built but lacks a couple of the features on the Classic.

    I’ll be using the Air Boss this weekend for a trip to Omaha to have my car serviced (this is what happens when you live in the middle of nowhere, or at least very close to the middle of nowhere,) play some golf, go to dinner, etc. Then on to Vegas for a few days in early September, NYC later that month, and Vegas again in October. I’ll take some pictures and write a full report.

    You’ve piqued my curiosity, though. Buying another bag at this point would be lunacy – but perhaps I can talk the folks at Rick Steves into a head to head comparison with the Air Boss.

    The Classic deserves a close look. Thanks again.

    -Kevin

    [Reply]

  12. kc says:

    Michael,

    Another great comment. Red Oxx undoubtedly uses the same zippers on all their products – I think they are #10 YKKs – and they are amazing. On a shave kit, it’s akin to hitting a fly with a sledgehammer, but they’ll certainly last forever.

    Let us know how you make out, upon your return. I would worry about baggage handlers missing the bag. Is grabbing a bottle of water or two in the airport when you arrive an option?

    In any event, travel safe and thanks again for your terrific comments!!

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  13. Michael W. says:

    I just got my RedOxx Shave Kit model PR11 in the mail, a bargain at $25.

    This is way more than the average person will ever need in a shave kit/toiletry kit (the zippers look better suited to enormous luggage), and in fact I currenlty use a Granite Gear Air Space “stuff sack” for my toilet items. The Air Space looks suspiciously shaped like a “shaving kit” bag and you can see it here:

    http://tinyurl.com/56fddf

    The Granite Gear Air Space is significantly lighter, less bulky, and easier to clean (sil-nylon won’t absorb liquids on either side of the fabric) than the Cordura nylon based RedOxx (I’ve never really liked Cordura as a base fabric when spills are a risk). The Air Space makes a great bathroom kit bag since it doesn’t leak easily – “bathtub” design with a waterproof zipper should keep small spills inside the bag.

    So I recommend the Granite Gear Air Space for toiletries.

    BUT I didn’t get the RedOxx “shave kit” for toiletries. I got it as a “minimalist” seat side/check-through piece.

    Here is my thinking.

    On West Coast to Asia flights, the airlines are installing underseat electronics to service the LCD screens on the back of each seat providing inflight entertainment. This means even a small backpack won’t fit underseat any more – it will just hog valuable leg space.

    Yet, I need something to hold my neck cushion, water bottle (refilled after security), tooth brush, vitamins, and other items I like to have close to me during the flight. The RedOxx “shave kit” is an outstanding piece for this purpose. It is well made, “right” sized, and good looking. I can easily see carrying it on in my “one bag” and taking it out seat-side.

    The other use I am contemplating for it, which is a little more of a stretch but the real reason I bought it, is as the ultimate “mini” check-in piece. Yes, I know the whole point is to avoid check-in if at all possible, but the ban on bringing water into the cabin, except what you can refill, leaves me feeling like a lost camel when arriving after midnight in SE Asia and facing the prospect of one tiny hotel-provided water bottle at the end of a 20 hour transit.

    I’d much rather carry at least a couple of water bottles, and the RedOxx “shave kit” easily holds 3 24 oz “sport bottles” of water plus other “banned” items – like excess liquids in toiletries and pocket knives etc.

    The best thing is, for the return flight I can just pack it in my carry-on, if I am not carrying “banned items” any longer. I can also use it to carry my gym stuff if I go to a gym.

    Now I just have to figure out whether to use my new toy for my “seat side” items on my Asia flight this September, or for “mini-check in.” I think I’ll have to use if for the mini-check in (I don’t have another small alternative, conventional duffels are all too big) and see if a bag this small is just inviting loss by the throwers (baggage handlers) who might overlook it on the conveyor belt or in the hold.

    BTW for curious readers, this is definitely the “super size me” of shaving kits, it certainly is big enough to satisfy my minimal check-in needs, it’s NOT a small shaving kit bag.

    [Reply]

  14. Michael W. says:

    Yeah, I’m very impressed by RedOxx, I can see why Dyment at http://www.onebag.com likes them so much. I’d love to get their AirBoss but it’s a little out of my price range right now. It costs even more than the Patagucci MLC!

    The RedOxx shave kit is perfect – in concept – for my mini-checkthrough. It even has two zippers on the main compartment pouch which can be locked together using a TSA style combination lock. We’ll see if it gets lost. I’ll report back in October.

    I had to take off the “monkey fist” zipper pulls – I was worried they would “catch” on other bags in transit and open the shave kit by accident. In another example of good design, the “monkey fist” zipper pulls can just be “un-looped” and saved – I didn’t have to cut them off. I still can’t figure how they “hid” the cord ends! Also, the zipper pulls are on a regular full size zipper “tab” so there is still an ample tab left to grab once the pulls are removed. Some of my bags use corded zipper “pulls” only, without any metal “tab,” and while that might be “cool” as a “look” I don’t think it’s going to be cool when the cord wears out and there isn’t even a nub left for operating the zipper.

    Can’t grab water in the airport – not after a midnight arrival when the shops are closed.

    BTW Dyment has an interesting discussion on flat vs. coil zippers. Though I’ve never had a coil zipper fail on a backpack or other bag, he says the flat zippers are much, much stronger, and I can see that. I only have 3 bags that still use the more expensive “flat” zippers – my Land’s End Lighthouse luggage and Square Rigger attaches, this new Shave Kit, and a mesh “canoe” duffel from REI. Go figure.

    Please keep travel tips coming – they’ve been pretty good.

    [Reply]

  15. kc says:

    Michael,

    Thanks for the feedback – I appreciate it!

    The Red Oxx zippers are YKK #10’s; as you mention, they are amazing. It’s hard to imagine them ever failing!

    I am still intrigued by the Rick Steves bag… I am going to email them to see if there’s any interest in a head to head with the Air Boss. Who knows… ??

    Thanks again.

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  16. Michael W. says:

    I realized the focus of this article was on bundle-wrapping and roll folding, and not on use of a back-pack as a “onebag” (and it appears to be a MEDIUM sized “day” pack, not much more than a kid’s schoolpack, and not one of those ginormous old-style Euro backpacker set-ups).

    But I’m simply amazed you can travel overnight or for a couple of days with only a school-sized day pack and want more details on how you make this work for you.

    The bag you are using for your business over-nighters is not much larger than what I carry to knock around the City on day-trips!

    Ok, I’m not good at this. But I’m trying to learn.

    It would really help to have more details about your daypack “overnighter” set up.

    For example, in the article you mentioned using socks and underwear as the “filler” for both the shirt bundle AND the pants roll, but how many socks and uw do you carry! And what happened to your toilet kit (or is that literally all in your TSA “1 quart” bag?) Why do you fold your shirts and pants separately – on the RedOxx AirBoss and Doug Dyment onebag.com sites, they both advocate putting the pants in with the shirts (but admittedly the folks at RedOxx advocate the “military roll” technique as an alternative to “bundling”).

    It would be great to have more travel articles from you, especially on “ultralight business travel” now that the airlines are making it more annoying to check bags. Not to mention the delays at luggage carousels and lost luggage.

    Rick Steves has the tourism angle covered pretty well. I’m more interesting in the business travel angle.

    [Reply]

  17. kc says:

    Michael,

    I’ll develop a follow-up post. Under the right circumstances, this works perfectly!

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  18. Wow! Awesome idea.. thank you by da way Great blog, subscribed to your rss feed.

    [Reply]

  19. Kevin says:

    @Cheap…

    Thanks so much for stopping by – and especially for subscribing! The bundle method works extremely well – I use it all the time and it is amazing.

    There are a number of travel-related posts on the site… enjoy. Thanks again,

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  20. Followed this link through from your other post today.
    Will put some links up to my sites later today.

    Thanks Bob.

    [Reply]

  21. Very well done article. Not only do you give great directions on how to pack using the bundling method, but the before and after pictures you took validate everything you said. I have been packing this way for years and can attest to the fact that it works — and works well! My clothes arrive with a minimum of wrinkling. I do pack pants and shirts separately. Women have a bit more challenge than men in the toiletry area though. I pack my make-up in a small zippered pouch, taking only the most necessary items. Travel size bottles, or a TSA bottle set are essential. One more tip – I use an Eagle Creek packing cube for all of my small clothing items like sock & underwear. The cube makes a great “core” for my bundling, and keeps my small items together once I get to my destination. It just transfers to a drawer – nice and neat.

    [Reply]

  22. John says:

    Excellent article. I have a classic Classic Rick Steves, which differs markedly from the one currently on his website. I bought it ten or so years ago for a trip I made to Europe and Israel. I was there for 3.5 months and Steves’ bag was all I needed, along with the bundle method you describe. The new Steves Classic bag appears to be made of a much lighter material, and has more capacity than my old one, which is still in perfect shape and will be my bag of choice for an upcoming 3 month trip abroad.

    By the way, my light travel style got me stopped by Israeli security on my way out of Tel Aviv airport in 2000. They didn’t believe that a man of my age (44 then), and an American, could have been on the road for three months and be carrying so little luggage. They were very gracious, but suspicious.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    John,

    Welcome, and thanks for commenting. The Steves bags score well on the bang-for-the-buck scale, and it sounds as though the older Classic is an excellent bag. The current BFTB champ is the OPEC (Outdoor Products Essential Carryon; search for a review on the blog) at <$40! I imagine it's hardly the equal to your Classic Steves.

    Neat story about the Israeli security agents – !!

    Thanks again!

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  23. […] method is almost impossible to explain in words alone, but if you take a look at the Practical Hacks website, you can see a step-by-step description with pictures that shows how you create your […]

  24. Bill Balena says:

    This weekend I traveled to New York City. For a change I decided to only carry on my baggage. I bought a Tom Bihn Absolute strap and affixed it to my old Rick Steves Bag. I took a mix of dress and casual clothes.

    My wife and I arrived from different cities. She had never seen the bundle method before. All my clothes arrived wrinkle free. The bundle method allowed me to take more than ever before.

    My son who is a financial executive on Wall Street commented to his mom while I was away from the dinner table that for a change my wardrobe for this trip was quite impeccable. That has never described me and my travel wardrobe before

    Last night my wife marveled watching me bundle pack. All fit in my case including 3 new dress shirts, and a new sweater.

    She confessed that she brought 4 pairs of shoes. She bought 3 more pairs in New York. Sheepishly she asked me to bring two back since I had room. Everything fit. Heavy, but it fit.

    To add insult to injury, she took my Bihn absolute strap when she saw it because she said her briefcase is too heavy.

    On the way back I learned that Continental Express requires gate check of roll aboards. I breezed right on, and right off the plane. Loved walking past everyone else waiting for their bags.

    My next trip is in November. I now face the dilemma: Air Boss or Aeronaut? Couldn’t decide for this trip.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Bill, thanks for the comment. My wife arrived at ALB Saturday morning, and went directly to the “No Checked Baggage” kiosk at the Southwest ticket counter. Pat asked, “Why are all those other people standing in line?” (They were checking luggage.) Ya gotta love it. No waiting at the ticket counter, no waiting at baggage claim, just walk off the aircraft and go directly to your car.

    Whether you opt for the Air Boss or Aeronaut really depends upon the nature of your trip and clothing. In my mind, the Air Boss is a bit more suited to business wear, and as it’s a duffel, the Aeronaut is more appropriate for casual wear. Just my opinion, though…..

    Thanks again for visiting the blog and your comment!

    [Reply]

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