Regular PracticalHacks reader Michael W. recently commented on my post “A minimalist approach to packing for a short business trip” as follows:

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!

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

Not only is traveling this light possible, it’s easy. Prompted by Michael, I decided to take another look at how you can travel for 2-3 day business trips with nothing more than a medium sized backpack slung over your shoulder.

The process

In another few weeks a colleague and I will travel to visit a major customer in Florida. The purpose and focal point of the trip is a two hour meeting to take place at the customer’s offices. We’ll fly in the night before and get some dinner, go to the meeting the following morning, and when it’s over, head to the airport to come home. (I did not say this trip was going to be a model of efficiency; this is just the way this one has to be done.)

As with any trip, a starting point is to determine:

  • Most important: What do I need to wear to the meeting? (pair of dressy chinos, oxford shirt, sports jacket)
  • What do I need to wear on the way to FL? (chinos, polo or oxford shirt, and the sports jacket I need the next day)
  • What other clothing do I need to bring? (spare pair of chinos, extra oxford shirt, perhaps an extra polo shirt for going out the night of our arrival)
  • What else? The basics: socks, underwear, toiletries
  • Do I need my laptop? Do I need to bring/make a presentation? Any important papers? (In this case I don’t need to bring the laptop; I will bring a brief presentation, but I’ll only bring a couple of hard copies and the presentation itself on a thumb drive.)

With this information in hand, it’s very simple to determine what to pack. In this specific example, it only amounts to:

  • 1 extra pair of dressy chinos
  • a couple of oxford shirts, should a mishap somehow occur with one of them
  • a polo/golf shirt, should I decide to shower and change prior to going out for dinner
  • for this reason, I usually err on the side of bringing extra socks and underwear

I also know what I’ll need to wear when we travel:

  • chinos, some sort of shirt, and the neutral color sports jacket or blazer I’ll wear to the meeting

This last point is a critical one: when shopping I’ll often keep flexibility in mind when buying jackets, dress shirts and slacks. In this case I want to bring a couple of color combinations that work equally well.

Also, when attempting to travel with as minimal and simple a bag as possible, you need to wear a pair of (preferably slip-on) shoes that will work everywhere and with the different color combinations you’re bringing.

Other key issues

If you’re a runner and absolutely have to run every day, I’d suggest bringing a pair of racing flats, a pair of running shorts, and a singlet or the simplest of tee shirts to wear. Stuff everything in a plastic bag and put it in the bottom of your bag.

Also, the laptop is a critical issue. My ThinkPad is reasonably light, but let’s face it, it’s still a beast and so is the AC adapter. If I can go w/o the laptop, the chances of using a modest sized backpack or smaller carryon bag increase substantially! I’m not a slave to my BlackBerry, but in this case it works well for keeping up with emails, and I can always log on to the hotel’s business center computer to print a boarding pass or do something a bit more elaborate.

Suits: if you’re going for a few days and a suit is involved, you must use a larger bag. For that sort of trip, I’ll use my Air Boss. If an overnighter and I really want to travel light, I’ll consider wearing the suit and just bringing extra shirts, etc. in a light bag. My preference, however, is to not travel in a suit. Suits aren’t required all that much anyway – at least in our industry – so this isn’t much of an issue.

Shoes: if I have to bring a couple pair of shoes, this will also push me to a larger bag. As long as more formal wear isn’t required, I can usually get away with simply wearing a pair of shoes that will work for anything I’ll have to attend/do during the trip.

And finally, let’s admit it – this may be much easier for guys than it is for women — but I’d love to hear from any women who’ve adopted a minimalist approach to packing for business trips!

What it looks like

As Michael noted, my backpack is not enormous, and as I’ve written before, a backpack is NOT ideally shaped for packing clothing. But… with a little care, it’ll work just great.

Let’s return to the bundle method of packing. If you haven’t tried this, I assure you it works amazingly well. All I need to pack, as we identified above, is a pair of slacks, a couple of oxford shirts, a golf shirt, and socks/underwear. Piece of cake.

First, lay out the shirts (click on any of these photos if you’d like to see larger versions)  –

bundle packing 1

Add the slacks:

bundle packing 2

For my “core,” I’m going to use a golf shirt (use a high tech/moisture wicking type if you can – they don’t wrinkle much at all) and my undershirts/underwear/socks:

creating "core" for bundle packing

Wrapped up, the core in the center of the bundle:

bundle method of packing 3

Then wrap the bundle: slacks around the core; shirtsleeves around the core; and finally, the body sections of the shirts around the bundle. This is what it looked like when done:

the finished "bundle"

Finally, I gingerly placed the bundle into my backpack. This requires a little care, and you’ll notice that I’ve released the straps that are used to snug up the central section of the backpack to help facilitate this:

bundle in backpack - minimalist approach to packing

All that’s left to do is to carefully zip the backpack closed. The rest of my stuff – including the “11 essentials” – will easily fit in the remaining compartments. The next largest compartment on the bag is actually fairly large, so this works well. (The main compartment I used for the clothing measures appx. 16″H x 11″W x 4″D, by the way.)

Wrapping Up…

That’s really all there is to it. If you’ve never tried traveling in this manner, give it a try. There’s something very liberating about not having to drag a wheeled bag around an airport. Your stuff is always with you, you’ll never have to gate check such a bag, even when flying on regional jets, and when you get off the plane at your destination, you’re good to go…  just walk out of the airport!

Please comment if you’d like to share your travel tips and strategies; travel safe!

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15 Comments on How to go on 2 to 3 day business trips with nothing more than a backpack for luggage

  1. Michael W. says:

    I like the way you break down the analysis. So many travel tips on other websites are just “one size fits all” with a sample packing list. Instead you let us have a glimpse into your thought processes, which REALLY helps us work out our own travel approaches.

    At the end of next month (Sept ’08) I am flying to Bangkok and I’ll be multi-tasking – I need to scout out some international schools for my kids, scout out housing, and finally (through serendipitous scheduling) I get to compete in a Brazilian jiu jitsu tournament on the weekend. So I need comfortable clothes for the air travel portion, business casual for the school/housing search portion, and bulky uniforms for the recreational portion. Plus some knock-around wear for evening dinners with friends. Whew.

    Needless to say I won’t be able to get away with just a back pack (the jiu jitsu uniform, which is pretty similar to a judo gi – thick, not thin like a karate gi – takes up a ton of space just by itself).

    But surprisingly in my “trial” efforts at packing so far, a RedOxx AirBoss sized bag (I have the Rick Steves Classic) may actually be TOO big – even though calll\ing on international schools and visiting some real estate offices dictates more dressy clothing than just jeans and shorts.

    Right now I am experimenting with trial-packing a medium sized duffel bag (Timbuk2 “gym” duffel, 10x19x11=1500 c.i.) with my main items and a REI Flash ultralight daypack (17L, very thin materials) for “seat side” items (it’s a 12 hour flight just to Taiwan).

    I brutally squash down the bulky gi jacket by rolling it as tightly as possible, and do the same with the pants (wrinkles are not an issue here). It’s much more important to reduce “dead air space” than to worry about wrinkling, and this style of packing is really efficient, as I am discovering.

    I also “burrito roll” my grappling shorts (for the no gi competition) and no gi rash guard.

    Amazingly enough, by tight rolling these otherwise bulky items, I still have room left over, on the floor of the duffel, for a pair of Crocs at the other end (which I stuff with extra socks) and for “dress clothes” in the remaining air space above (I use the Crocs for walking around at the competitions).

    One end of the duffel is now packed pretty high, while the other end has ample room for my toiletry kit, pocket camera, doorstop, sink stopper, and other nicknacks. I don’t use a ditty bag or packing cube for my socks and underwear, instead I stuff them here and there into any open corners.

    Finally, the dress clothing – shirts and clacks – go into a thin, rectangular garment pouch that came with my former Costco wheelie. This rectangular zippered shirt pouch, not to be confused with a trifold garment bag, has plenty of room for one pair of cotton khakis, one pair of nylon No Brainer pants from Ex Officio, and several polyester polo shirts I picked up from Target’s athletic wear department (Target’s Champion brand is a great source for these washable, wrinkle resistant polos, which are “high tech” at a low price, and are NOT the polyester shirts of yesteryear). These items are folded flat, not “burrito rolled,” to reduce wrinkling (the pants have the new “high tech” anti wrinkle treatment which is a big help, I’ve discovered).

    The Flash daypack is used for items that need to come out through security (TSA “1 quart”) or that I want without reaching up to the overhead compartment during my long transpacific flight – a refillable water bottle, tooth brush and floss, Golite Wisp pullover for extra warmth, ear plugs, eye shades, neck brace – and I chose this ultra thin, low bulk daypack especially for its minimalist qualities (only $25, too) and (gulp) hopeful ability to pass Eva Air’s muster as a “personal sized back pack.”

    Finally, choosing what to actually wear is critical. What you mentioned about shopping for compatible color schemes and packing compatible items is, in my mind, critical. I seem to have settled on black twill pants on the one hand vs. khaki or brown pants on the other hand. They don’t seem to mix well – I still can’t bring myself to wear brown shoes with black pants, although sometimes black shoes will work with brown pants. On this trip, since the office workers in Thailand are fixated on black slacks, I’ve decided to wear khaki and brown for the pants so I look more like a tourist (which is a good thing) and less like an office drone. Your tip on loafers instead of lace-ups is well-taken.

    The color scheme for shirts is much simpler – black or gray seem to go with either pants. Synthetic short sleeved black polos pack very well, taking up minimal space and resisting wrinkles. Plus, I can sink wash them at my hotel and they will dry in a day. For casual time in the evening, I take along a couple of synthetic tee shirts, which save weight and dry quickly after sink washing. The tee shirts also double up for gym wear (with some ultralight runner’s shorts from GoLite) and pool wear.

    The SNEAKIEST aspect of ultralight business casual travel, though, is one you alluded to but didn’t spell out in a lot of detail – that we ourselves, in the form of our bodies, are, in a sense, a third piece of luggage, a walking clothes rack if you will, and we should “pack” this unrecognized “piece of luggage” carefully to maximize our carry-on capability.

    For example, if I am going to take ANYTHING heavy or bulky with me on a flight, I try to wear it instead of packing it.

    This starts with heavy leather shoes (or sneakers if you are pleasure traveling) worn instead of packed; with the sport coat worn and not packed (far fewer wrinkles if you put it in the overhead compartment after boarding, compared with even the most careful packing); a sweater, fleece, or hiking vest worn instead of packed; jeans (heavy denim) worn while the nylon pants or think cotton slacks are packed (if you must have jeans). And of course the “wear it don’t pack it” stakes are even higher if it’s winter.

    Well, I don’t see how you pull off these business trips with only a daypack – I mean I see it on the trip you described, but really this is only a SINGLE pack, which is simply amazing. What would you do if you needed a laptop? No water bottle? No food? (My transpacific flight is still generous with food, but domestic flights are getting ridiculous).

    With all the miles under your belt, you’ve got to tell us – would you rather carry two small/medium bags (day pack and a Gator, for example), one large bag (AirBoss or Steves Classic or Patagonia MLC), or one large bag AND a day pack (or Gator or your new RedOxx attache).

    How are the airlines reacting these days?

    When I last flew Eva Air, they counted my carry on bags and actually WEIGHED my main carry on. While their rules on the carry on “luggage” are quite specific in terms of dimensions and weight, they DO allow both a “personal” sized bag (backpack is mentioned) and a “shopping bag” whatever that means. Since some totes are bigger than your backpack and my duffel bag, I’m not sure how they decide what passes muster and what fails.

    Great article, thanks, you’ve made me think some more (witness above), hope to hear more on the topic over the months ahead plus your spin on slightly longer, more “fun” oriented trips (Disneyworld?) where you have to take along more stuff.

    I will post an update on how things work out for me on the Thailand trip, I’m really nervous about pulling it off without checking a bag and having my usual redundancy to the nth degree to fall back on….


  2. Michael W. says:

    BTW, I “almost” bought this back pack, it seems optimally designed for your “day pack’ overnight approach – some day packs are really optimized for school books or hiking – but I had to stop myself, my closet has almost as many bags in now as clothing:


    I’ll think about getting it for my wife when we go back to Thailand next summer. Steves says this is a good alternative to a full sized carry on for smaller people.


  3. Kevin says:


    First of all, thanks for the comments.

    Secondly, TAKE PICTURES of your packing for your trip (and the trip itself!) – and then if you are willing, write a 1,000-1,200 word guest post about your experience for Practical Hacks. Let me know if you’re interested.

    As for your questions about the day pack: water – I don’t bring my own bottle – wasteful, I know, but I just tend to grab a bottle in each airport; food – I’ll just throw 4-5 homemade energy bars in the bag; laptop – for the trip described, I could put it in the other large pocket in the backpack if I absolutely had to take it with me… but my preference these days is to ditch it if possible. For an overnight trip like this one, there is really no point in bringing it along. I would love to buy one of those mini laptops (ASUS, perhaps??) but need to do more research before pulling the trigger… plus some soul searching about how badly I truly need it.

    I am going on a 5 day/4 night trip next week and will use the Air Boss; I’ll take photos and hope to write a review. One of the reasons, by the way, that I bought the Metro briefcase is that it can be packed inside the Air Boss with a laptop, should you so desire.

    In any event, thank you for inspiring the post and let me know about the guest post idea.

    Thanks for your support of this blog; travel safe.



  4. Debbie says:

    Nice post! What I find funny is that as a woman business traveler, I think that WE have it easier. Let’s face it – women are, in general, smaller than men. I pack my minimal business clothes in 1/3 the space than my husband for the same number of items. Women’s clothing is more flexible than men’s because, if we plan ahead, we can buy clothing that is very compact, wrinkle resistant and will wash out and dry quickly wrinkle free. Our shoes are also much smaller and “squishable”. I pack in an old leather Tumi rolling laptop briefcase with a section for one day’s clothing that my husband “discarded” years ago. I find that my clothing and personal items take about one third of this 12″H x 16W” x 8″deep roller that is completely inefficient in terms of all the space the padding and compartments steal from the available space. My biggest problem is that I can’t get away with less than 3″ of paper and 2 reference books. It still is my favorite tote for a 2-day business trip. I pack very lean on the personal side.

    The one thing that you guys have over us is that generally you can carry more weight easier than most of us can. I am fit, but 12 pounds is 10% of my weight and the 18-21 pounds that my bag ends up throws me off balance. I pack the same for a 3 day or 3 week trip and my Airboss is half full and heavier than I’d like. I’ve picked up a mini luggage cart that I fold up and pop into the Airboss when boarding. The Airboss is amazing – I fly lots of puddle-jumpers and I’ve never had problems getting it into an overhead (but then I don’t over pack it). I have also used Redoxx’s Sun Chaser for going to week long conferences where I don’t need to tote a lot of paper (the beauty of getting the proceedings on a CD rom!).

    One hint for those who MUST exercise. SWIM! Most business hotels have nice pools. I am a lousy swimmer, but a bathing suit takes up way less space than a running suit and shoes. And since I’m such a lousy swimmer I get lots of exercise very quickly! ;)

    Great blog and keep up the good work!


  5. Kevin says:

    Debbie –

    Thanks for a great comment and some really interesting points; I guess I hadn’t thought it through very well. Your point about swimming is also terrific – I never think of using the hotel’s pool for exercise – this is very smart.

    Thanks again for contributing to the discussion!



  6. Michael W. says:

    Kevin, thanks for the encouragement, I’ll take some snap shots of my packing, see how the pix turn out, and in any case I’ll get you a write up within a couple of weeks after my return. Looking forward to your 5 day trip write up.

    Interesting comments from Debbie. I can see how a “mini wheelie” would be appealing if you didn’t have to pack much, but what you did pack is heavy. Debbie, do you carry the AirBoss AND the mini wheelie, or do are they used for different length or style of trips?

    I think what may be emerging here is –

    that there are different “niche” strategies for traveling minimally under different scenarios; and

    that most travelers don’t focus on the particular needs of a particular trip, they just take EVERYTHING.

    The “just take everything, with spares ” strategy used to work for me in the past, but eventually I felt like I was a porter moving around someone else’s baggage, instead of “traveling light” and enjoying my trip. It’s good to hear other people’s travel strategies, it’s helping me refine and focus on my own.


  7. Michael W. says:

    Here is a timely article from the Detroit Free Press, released today in light of NWA’s announcement that they, too are imposing checked luggage fees:

    Here’s one tip I agree with:

    “Choose lightweight, thin fleece instead of a bulky sweater. Beware of so-called travel clothing that is made of knit and weighs a lot.”

    Since I come from an ultralight hiking background ( is a good resource, has good products), I highly recommend considering a THIN synthetic zip turtleneck pullover, instead of a 200 weight (normal department store thickness) or even 100 weight(the “lighter” department store grade) fleece. For example, Marmot and Patagonia both make good ones, that are “dressy” enough for use at dinner (they sell these as “base” layers rather than as insulating layers, but I have found they insulate remarkably well: – Marmot’s “midweight” in synthetic or wool. – Patagonia’s “Capilene 3” or midweight. They also have wool versions.

    Smartwool has excellent wool long sleeve tees and zip turtlenecks in ultralight and midweight thicknesses. REI stocks them. They are nominally designed as “base” or “next to skin” layers, i.e. “tee shirts,” but when worn over a conventional oxford shirt look remarkably dressy and, yes, take the chill off a walk to a business casual meeting or cold conference room.

    The trick with all of the above, is that they are marketed as “shirts” but perform well as “over” or insulating wear.

    REI, Patagonia company stores, and other hiking stores are a great places to find these lighter, thinner alternatives to a full-fledged fleece.

    If you shop at Sportsmart or are sports oriented, UnderArmor has a line of synthetic tees that will work well as insulating layers IF you make sure to select the “loose fit” versions and not the Spandex versions!

    Finally, the athletic wear sections of Target and Walmart are excellent sources of high tech wicking, synthetic tee shirts, in long sleeve, that serve as a “warmth” layer.

    If a traveler MUST pack a conventional fleece (200 weight from Lands End or LLBean or Target or Wally World) for a trip to Minnesota in the winter, it’s probably a good idea to consider one of those “vacuum” packing bags. Fleece is just about as bulky as a sweater, despite what the Freep’s writer says, but at least it compresses much better. BTW, fleece is one of those things I DON’T like wearing to the airport. Sure it’s great when I’m cooling my heels – figuratively and literally – but when I dash for an airplane or start carrying my bags, I heat up too fast. I’d much rather have a zipper jacket or overcoat in those circumstances, they circulate the air much better when I need to, come off for security and go in the overhead.

    Another alternative is a fleece vest, if you are taking a jacket anyway. I highly recommend looking at the Patagonia R2 fleece vest, for the same price as the more conventional Synchilla vest, you get a high tech piece that compresses VERY well, is warmer, has zipper pockets, and works for camping, hiking, walks, and skiing as well as dealing with frosty airport and airplane aircon systems.

    To keep the wind from cutting through my fleece, and the rain off, I take along an ultra thin nylon windbreaker – about as “unconstructed” as I can find. My favorites are the Golite Wisp (pullover style, which can’t be vented “on the run”, but is incredibly thin and light), Patagonia Houdini (zippered, but a whopping $135 compared to the Wisp at $50), and Marmot Ion (zippered and comparable in price to the Wisp, but not as good looking as the other two). All of them are easy to find via Google, and some online vendors ship for free. Note that these are all “pocketless” and Patagonia explained to me that heavier materials would be required if pockets were included, since heavy items v like keys produce a lot of wear and tear in pockets. The next level up in windbreakers in the Patagonia and Marmot lines, with pockets, are, indeed, much thicker – less of a problem if worn, more of a problem when packed. Since I tend to carry a sport coat or heavier jacket, I want this piece to be as light as possible. But maybe not $135 lighter!

    I can’t agree with this comment from the Freep:

    “Take clothing you can wash in the sink and that will dry on a hanger in your room. Think cotton, Tencel, ultralight synthetic fabric.”

    The “cotton” remark just amazes me. Of course “washing in the sink” is what we all do these days (hence synthetic underwear instead of “tighty whities”, but if you want the clothes to air dry in less than two days, you MUST exclude all traces of cotton from the materials. Cotton is notorious for clinging to moisture and drying extremely slowly. Whereas an all synthetic polo shirt will dry overnight on a hanger, a cotton tee is still damp on the SECOND morning after. BTW, modern synthetics, even cheap ones from discount department stores, do NOT have the “sweaty” feel of the 1960’s era synthetics. My Patagonia ones breathe great (I originally bought them for hiking) and my wife’s don’t even need the old-fashioned “cotton panel” for breathing. I’ve also heard good things about Ex Officio’s brand.

    Finally, I have yet to find socks that will dry out overnight, or even in 24 hours, even when fully synthetic. They are just too thick, generally, to dry well, they don’t circulate the air well even when hung by the toes via safety pin on a clothes hanger, for maximum air circulation and drip drying away from the foot. The closest I have come to quick drying socks are very thin nylon dress socks. Target has these, but I like the 3 for $4.99 packages that are sold at Walgreens under the “No Nonsense” brand (deal with the irony of buying men’s socks in a traditionally female line!). I usually need more cushioning than socks this thin can provide, but I learned a little trick from Ray Jardine’s seminal book (Beyond Backpacking) on ultralight, transcontinental backpacking: just wear two pair at a time! It definitely takes “thinking outside the box” to try it, but two thin nylon socks DO provide similar cushioning to one thick pair, and when separated for washing and drying, air dry much quicker than one thick pair. Still, we are talking a 24 hour, not overnight, cycle here.


  8. Debbie says:

    In response to Michael W. You are correct – no way I carry both! The wheelie is for business trips where I need all my paper/books. Yes, it is heavy, but on business trips I don’t have to worry about hopping on subways or trains or doing stairs. Simple trip to airport/rental car/hotel/airport and I weight lift enough to be able to put the case in the overhead. The AirBoss is for longer duration trips with fewer papers and/or for situations where I may need formal evening dress.

    If you are looking for good socks to dry overnight I highly recommend Tilley’s fast drying travel socks. Both my husband and I have several pairs and they truly do dry overnight. They are also very supportive and I’ve bought pairs just for hiking because they are so good to my feet. The socks are expensive but worth every penny.

    The other item I can’t say enough great things about are Tilley’s Coolmax button down collar shirts. I bought all kinds of “quick dry wrinkle free” men’s shirts from LL Bean, Magellan, Travel Smith and only Tilley’s lived up to what they advertised. Their long sleeve shirts were too big in the shoulders for my beloved, but the short sleeved one fit great. We went on a 2.5 weeks trip to Italy and I brought him 4 shirts. He LIVED in the Tilley’s. It was super breathable and comfy and looked great. It washed and dried like a dream. One night just for fun I washed it, didn’t roll it in a towel and hung it up dripping wet and it was dry in the morning (FYI – I wouldn’t expect this in a humid clime). Unfortunately the prints the shirts come in currently are pretty ugly but they change patterns frequently (the one that toured Italy was a nice tasteful blue/yellow striped one). They are expensive, but again – totally worth it if you are someone who wants to take less and intends to wash.

    Micheal W is exactly right about the people that just take everything. I very much tailor my travel to only what I know I’ll need. I make packing lists in Excel for different kinds of trips. I note what I don’t use and it doesn’t go with me on the next trip. I find articles that say the way to cut down weight/space is to cut back on clothing. I disagree. My clothing and toiletries (including my washing kit) fit in an Eagle Creek half packing cube with room to spare. I am past the point of taking a spare B-suit “just-in-case” – I have NEVER EVER USED IT – the only time I have seriously ripped clothing is trekking through the woods where I got into serious wild rose bushes. The rest of my stuff is electronics and just other items that far out weighs the clothing. The toughest part is the power adapters. I tried “universal” ones that didn’t work. I have cut down on what I take (i.e. I take a spare battery instead of the charger for my very small digital camera) but I still can’t live without my cell phone and my iPod that I use as a PDA. I work for a government subcontractor and for security reasons I can’t have a phone with a camera. Try and find phones without cameras! They are out there, but unfortunately the one I have has a wonking big charger (bigger than the phone). The other item that I require (and others don’t) is my Bose noise canceling headphones. A luxury, yes – but I am so less frazzled when I travel by air – especially on those overnight trips – that I end up taking them. I find that it is those items, not my clothing, that takes up so much room (relatively speaking when you take a very small travel bag). Happy light weight traveling all!

    And Kevin – thanks for the great energy bar recipe!!!


  9. Michael W. says:

    For want of a better place to post (feel free to moderate or relocate), I wanted to share a few luggage/packing tips and get your opinion as I proceed to “over engineer” (as my kinder friends say) my trip to Thailand.


    Here’s the tip for those who don’t like a lot of background, which will follow: LLBean makes an excellent line of “Adventure Duffels” (or duffles) that are very adaptable (in the small and medium sizes) to the “carry-on, one-bag” style of travel which you and Doug Dyment ( so adeptly promote.

    These LLBean Adventure Duffels can be monogrammed (with a full name, not just initials) for $5 which is really neat and, with the simple addition of a piece of foam cut out from a camper’s sleeping pad (few dollars from Walmart’s sports department – you need the thicker foam, not the “yoga mat” thin pad), become very functional with the added “structure.”

    Plus, the current LLBean line has compression straps on top which help eliminate one of my big complaints about duffels, which is what I call the “duffel shuffle” or propensity of clothes and gear to shift and thump around. The compression straps don’t have as much “range” as the ones on some of the fancier travel bags (like the Steves Classic and, I believe, the AirBoss you promised us a review on) BUT the prices are just $29.95 for small and $39.95 for medium.

    Now for a little of the back story.

    Although the ’90’s saw me go over whole-heartedly to the “dark side” of wheelies (for the very reason Debbie mentions – portal to portal travel with mostly smooth, level surfaces in-between) I was actually an “early adopter” of the “soft sided luggage” principles which the original (pre-sale to Sears) Lands End promoted in the ’80’s – that soft sided luggage (no “skeleton,” no hard exterior like on the then-popular hard-sided Samsonite suitcases) is better than hard sided luggage, for most of the same reasons promoted in your travel articles –

    1. No space wasted on frame (and, now, wheels);
    2. Can be overfilled or underfilled, unlike hard luggage; and
    3. Can be compressed down for storage (a big plus, imho).

    Of course back then Lands End even sold a 26″ (yes, Samsonite sized!) soft-sided suitcase – all fabric and one heavy zipper to open it up. Needless to say, that was one son of a gun to try to haul around when packed, and I can see why wheels took over. Still, I wish I hadn’t lost mine during one of my moves….

    In the carry-on line, Lands End had a single compartment, more compact carry-on bag in traditional rectangular luggage style; a dual compartment version of the preceding, thicker and hence greater capacity; and a garment bag. You can find most of these on Ebay if you lucky. I had all three, but lost the single compartment version.

    Unfortunately, wheelies so completely supplanted soft sided luggage in the Lands End vein, that Lands End stopped making such luggage years ago.

    I also think Lands End dropped the ball, since apart from tie downs in one side of the dual compartment small suitcase, and in the single compartment version, there were no organizing features or adjustment, and you were limited to a thick, over-engineered, uncomfortable (leather pad) shoulder strap or the grab handles for carry options.

    I should send you my surviving sample so you can see how far Patagonia with the MLC, Rick Steves with his “Classic”, and RedOxx with the AirBoss have come. My gosh, the Steves weighs less (2.5 pounds) than the Land’s End which is much smaller, has three well designed compartments, tie-downs, and compression straps, two handle options, for long side or short side carry (neither of which require grabbing two handles at once or strapping them together, like on the Lands End bag), and cost about the same, in “absolute” dollars, and the much less functional Lands End bags from the ’80s.

    Anyway, although Lands End valiant effort to spread the gospel on soft sided luggage failed to find listeners, that old standby, the duffel, has evolved to where it has become a viable option for travel, as opposed to gym use and gear hauling.

    The evolution in duffles has been from those round tubes with a single zipper, which waste a horrible amount of space, to rectangular or trapezoidal duffels, sometimes with “big mouth” zippers that open up the top on three sides. Lands End went in the direction of very rectangular bags with three sided zippers (“big mouth”), while LLBean hewed to the trapezoidal ahape. I have both, and am surprised by the fact that neither company made a size that “exactly” nails the maximum legal carry-on limit. Actually, the Medium Adventure Duffle from LLBean comes close, but it is nominally a couple of inches over the 45″ total of three dimensions limit, and 1 inch over the 22″ in any single direction limit. As LLBean coyly says (to paraphrase) “ok for carryon – if you don’t stuff it”).

    While I am still within my packing goals of using the small Timbuk2 duffle (I snapped some film pix of this next to a shoe for scale), my wife now wants me to bring back some foods, makeup, clothing etc., so I really might need to take another bag. Last night I discovered that the Timbuk2 will actually fit into the medium LLBean, which gives me a way to carry the extra bag in a pinch, and at the same time reassures me that if I exceed the capacity of the Timbuk2 by the travel date, I can upgrade slightly to the LLBean and get the extra space I may need.

    But before I could accept the LLBean duffle, I had to perform some minor surgery on it:

    I cut off the darn handles.

    The main handles, on the top, the normal carry position. Now why did I do that? Because I HATE those “Velcro together,” dual handles. I can’t get into the bag without ripping them apart, they flop into the zipper opening and block access, and the Velcro uses every opportunity it can to catch onto clothing while I pack/extract. Finally, when the “throwers” – errh, TSA people – open to inspect, they don’t wrap the handles together, then subsequent handlers only grab one side and put stress on the bag throwing it around. (IF I check, which sometimes I have to do.)

    Fortunately the LLBean has redundant grab handles on both ends of the bag and, guess what, I like them better for carrying than using the so-called original “main” handles. The bag doesn’t knock against nearly as many people when carried pointing down. I can also use an lightweight, unpadded (less bulky is more functional!) strap on the anchor points, if I want.

    Meanwhile those neat compression straps on top assure the zipper won’t be stressed, and I can underpack without the dreaded “duffel shuffle.”

    Finally, the cut-up foam pad (sleeping mat) from Walmart – which has helped add necessary rigidity to many of my soft-sided bags – helps prevent sag and adds structure. It DOES subtract about 100 cubic inches from total available packing space, though. A free alternative is to find a large cardboard box and cut out an insert, though the useful life of the cardboard can’t compare to the foam pad.

    Well sorry to be so verbose, I don’t know how you keep your articles so short and punchy.


  10. Kevin says:

    @Debbie – Thanks for a great comment and the link to Tilley – I’ll have to try the socks you mentioned. I have several pair of Polartec socks and they are terrific, although like the Tilleys, they’re a bit pricey. I also own a pair (the original version) of the Bose NC headphones, but sometimes don’t bother with them due to their size/bulikiness. On our trip to Vegas (got back today) for instance, I left them home – opting instead for a pair of Etymotic ear buds and an iPod Shuffle. These ear buds block out a lot of ambient sound and take up virtually no space. I use them on my bike with an XM radio on occasion as well. In any event, thanks for your great comments!!

    @Michael – Comments like this are the reason why I’d like you to do a guest post about your upcoming trip. I hope you have a digital camera! I need to take a closer look at the Bean duffels – I must admit that I’m not familiar with them. Interesting, your comment about the handles. I have a similar issue with the dual handles on the Air Boss – but am learning to live with them.
    The only duffel type bag that I’ve traveled with extensively is made by Club Glove, the golf travel bag folks. It’s (prepare yourself) a wheeled duffel, however, and the extra weight and hassle I seemed to encounter every time I’d pull it out of the overhead on an airplane got to be too much… hence the Air Boss.

    My younger son joined us in Lost Wages and to my chagrin showed up hauling a conventional semi-soft-sided suitcase. He needs a bag, so the Bank of Dad is going to buy a Rick Steves Classic, test it out a bit, and then ship it to him. …thanks for your comments about that bag.

    kc 9.4.08


  11. Michael W. says:

    I posted an update on my trial packing experiments for my upcoming trip to Thailand over at your article on your 5d/4n trip to Las Vegas (or Lost Wages as you so aptly called it). Seemed better to post the longer trip stuff over there.

    On the “shorter trip” front (backpack for overnighter, this article), I was curious what size backpack you use – it’s hard to measure volume on backpacks due to the irregular shapes, but some makers post the volume. I am curious whether your backpack is smaller, or larger, in terms of capacity, than the Timbuk2 small gym duffel I originally started packing for Thailand – that duffel is only 1,500 cubic inches.

    I don’t know how often you scope out “lighter” backpacks (and other carryon options like totes), but if you like to window shop at “high end” stores, there are some very interesting, but absurdly priced, ultra-light bags you might want to check out at Patagonia – their Lightweight Travel Pack, Lightweight Tote, and Lightweight Courier, found here, respectively:;ws=false;ws=false

    The Pack and Tote are a whopping $100 bucks each. The Courier, which is their most innovative design, is $75. These bags are all made of silnylon, the ultra-thin, ultra-strong, ultra-slick material that’s all the rage in ultra-light backpacking. I got interested in this set of bags since they are so light and thin they pack as extra bags really well, yet they are tough enough to use as a carryon. With 1,400 cubic inches, the Courier could easily substitute for a duffle, and it weighs less than 10 ounces. Unfortuntately, it’s one of the funniest looking bags I have yet to see. I don’t think it will survive in the marketplace, and once it’s gone it will be missed by those who can appreciate its virtues, so it is worth checking out while it is still around. The Totes, on the other hand, were flying off the shelf when Patagonia had their recent sale, a lot of people were shopping (according to the sales clerk) for carryon gear.

    For those of us with champagne tastes but beer budgets, I found two really neat bags at REI the other day that you might want to check out, $29 for a 1,200 cubic inch, very light, very minimalist (but not flimsy!) daypack and $24 for a 2,150 (wow!) cubic inch tote that only weighs 8.5 ounces:

    These are much more robust and usable than the disappointing “self stowing” duffel and day pack I picked up recently from the Rick Steves website. The REI tote actually looks tough enough to check through in a pinch, if you went crazy shopping at your destination, provided you “wrap” the handles together to the luggage handlers don’t try to man-handle the bag using only one handle.

    I know you keep your eye out for useful gear that isn’t just another Eagle Creek re-tread, so if you ever find your way out to Patagonia or REI, see what they have and if you like these items. Quite frankly, I was surprised by the good design and high quality at REI at a budget price. They are finally getting their act together with their “house brands.”


  12. Bobby says:

    On my last trip to the west coast my bags made it two days after I did. On the way home a $150 jacket was taken out of my checked bags. It was at this point I knew I had to give the one bag travel a chance. After reading your site, and others I got everything together. This past week I had a two day trip so I thought I would give it a test run. The look on my wife’s face was priceless when I walked out with nothing more than a backpack. The trip was great and no stress at all about my bags getting there. The only problem was the pack was a top loader and the bundle was hard to get in. If I could find one that opened all the way around, this would be the ticket. I have looked at the Tom Bihn western flyer. But at $160 dollars I don’t know if this would be the bag for overnite trips. I also looking at the air boss or the new tristar for week long trips. Or maybe the WF and a small day pack for week long trips. I will not check a bag again if I have a chose. Thanks for a great site and all the info.


    Kevin Reply:

    Bobby – Congratulations, and thanks for sharing. A less expensive alternative to the WF is the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Duffel. It’s a different type of bag, but if you mostly travel for 2-3 day trips and don’t have to wear suits, it could be what you need; it’s $100. I’ve posted about it a couple of times here. If that’s too informal a bag for your needs, the WF may be a good option. I should have a Tristar in another week or two and will review it here. Thx. again.


  13. Hugh says:

    Bobby, Kevin: Two tips for lightweight travel, one a repeat from Michael W.:

    First, I have found where dress shoes are not a mandatory requirement I can get away with New Balance Cross-Trainer shoes in a dark color. I originally ordered a pair of New Balance 621 Cross Trainers from LL Bean in Brown /Green trim for an Alaska cruise. Great for daily workouts, and with jeans (or khaki trousers) I looked less like a tourist on land. The site now has the 622 model – see

    – so I suppose the 621 is no longer. The 622 appears to be identical, however. If I need a dressier pair of shoes, I will stuff my Bostonian slip-ons with socks and underwear, place them in shoe socks and use them as (part of) my bundle wrap core.

    Second, re: “The only problem was the pack was a top loader and the bundle was hard to get in.” – I had a similar challenge, but Michael W.’s follow-up comment to his review of the Rick Steves Appenzell pack led me to –

    – where I ordered one. I found he was spot on: they are great for a bundle wrap, and allow it to be placed in a top-load back pack without messing up the bundle if it has to be squeezed in. It can replace stuff sacks, too, and provide more options than they normally will allow.

    BTW, Michael’s review article at

    has some great tips as well, in addition to the comment above. I know it was written after this post, but what-the-hey…

    Thanks again for great one-bag travel ideas!


  14. Michael W. says:

    This is right around the one year anniversary of Kevin’s original post and my loquacious comments (which spun off into an article on the Appenzell – never volunteer!) and I have a few followup thoughts:

    1. Debbie’s comments on the utility of a small wheelie were prescient.

    After 3 intervening trips to Thailand, I am getting a wee bit tired of carrying all my carry-on weight on my shoulders, and also of trying to carry everything into the cabin in the first place.

    If I were just traveling for tourism it wouldn’t be so bad, but I have to pack athletic gear (jiu jitsu uniform and protective gear) and on the way back my wife wants cosmetics and clothes and often a fair amount of each.

    So I’m kind of forced into checking one bag, and that got me to rethinking the cabin bags.

    2. Trick is to keep the small wheelie light enough to leave room for clothing, since the EVA Air limit is 15 pounds for my carryon (they weigh it, too, although they don’t way the flight bag that is artfully loaded with my heavy carryon items).

    3. So I found two 5 pound wheelie solutions – an 18” wheelie from Walmart which is light because it is made from thinner materials (and is smaller to start with); and a 20.5” high tech Landor Sub 0 (it’s bigger in all three dimensions, so its actual volume is considerably larger than the Walmart wheelie). Both are under 5 pounds, according to my bathroom scale.

    4. That leaves me with up to 10 pounds of contents, and I can live with that. If I am going to bust the weight limit, I’ll stow the heavier items in my flight bag, temporarily, then move them to the wheelie.

    5. Yes I still need a flight bag, even though my luxury items and non-essentials are going into my checked bag. Besides offloading some weight (temporarily) from the wheelie, I like to keep some items near the seat instead of in the overhead bin, plus I need a destination bag anyway.

    So 3 bags it is, and one a wheelie at that. What a heresy! Where will it all lead to!


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