With a little planning, careful selection of clothing and clever packing you can easily travel on 3-4 day business trips with nothing than one medium sized bag.  Even with a netbook and its power brick along for the ride, my bag weighed less than 14 lbs.  Why travel with one bag? No chance of lost luggage; no baggage fees; no risk of pilferage; no waiting around in baggage claim; no bellman fees; no lugging multiple bags around;  in short, more freedom and independence! It’s easy – I’ll show you how…

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A few basics:

  • Use a packing checklist – and challenge every single item you include on it
  • What you wear on the plane is just as important as what you pack
  • Choose versatile, wrinkle-free clothing with colors that are easy to match
  • Discard anything you don’t absolutely need
  • Cut weight wherever you can, e.g., if bringing contacts solution, bring 1½oz., not 3 oz.
  • Opt for lightweight, quick drying undershirts and underwear
  • Opt for versatile shoes that work equally well for business and casual wear
  • Choose a lightweight bag designed for “one bag” travel

The trip

For the purposes of this article, I’m planning on a 4 day/3 night trip.  Day 1 is a travel day with a casual dinner in the evening; Days 2 and 3 require business casual attire with a sports jacket, and Day 4 is a travel day with casual wear.

The bag

Patagonia MLCFor this trip I’ll use a Patagonia MLC.  Purportedly a “maximum legal carry-on,” the bag in fact is a bit smaller than airline regs allow for carry-on luggage.  As such, it’s perfect for 3-5 day trips.  As a bonus, it’s loaded with features that are convenient for the one-bag traveler:

  • 3 ways to carry: conventional handles, shoulder strap, or stowaway backpack straps
  • Main compartment with zippers that cover 3 full sides of the bag – handy for packing
  • Separate compartment for laptop, papers, additional clothing
  • Small compartment perfect for 3-1-1- liquids bag
  • Elliptically shaped compartment for keys, business cards, pens, etc.

What to wear upon departure

In this case I need to have a sports jacket with me.  Rather than pack it, I’ll wear it – along with a pair of dressy chinos and a high tech, moisture wicking polo.  Add a pair of shoes that are casual enough to knock around in but dressy enough to wear with a jacket, and I’m set.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I always opt for darker slacks when flying, should the flight attendant or fellow passenger spill something.

What to pack

Given what I’m wearing while traveling, all I need to pack are a few dress shirts and underwear.  But it’s here – and with your toiletries – where you can save a lot of weight.  As always, I use the “bundle” method for packing…

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My bundle - 3 dress shirts, a pair of chinos, & underwear as the core - in the main compartment of the MLC

A word about underwear/undershirts.  If you want to minimize weight, buy a few pair of ultra lightweight, washable/quick drying socks and undershirts (my apologies to my female readers, but the same general principle works for you, too.)

1 pair Tilley travel socks; 2 pair Terramar underwear - all weigh just a few ounces and dry overnight

1 pair Tilley travel socks; 2 pair Terramar underwear - all weigh just a few ounces and dry overnight

These socks and underwear take up very little space, weigh less than their cotton cousins, and are extremely comfortable.  By only bringing a couple pair of each you save a lot of weight; washing them out in a hotel sink takes only 2-3 minutes; hang them over the shower rod or towel rack and they’re completely dry by morning.

The same goes for undershirts - pack one or two - and wash them out at night

The same goes for undershirts - pack one or two - and wash them out at night

I’ve washed undershirts by Wickers and TravelSmith in hotel sinks in the evening with excellent results.  Here’s how:  wash them out in the sink with warm water, hand soap and/or a little shampoo, rinse thoroughly, wring out the excess water, and then spread them on a dry towel.  Roll up the towel, wring it tightly for 15 seconds, and hang them to dry.  Just like the socks and underwear, they’ll be dry by morning.

If you’re skittish about using hand soap or shampoo, bring an ounce or two of concentrated laundry detergent in an appropriate plastic bottle.  If you haven’t tried this before – give it a shot – it’s easy and doesn’t take much time at all.

Once I zip the main compartment closed, I move on to toiletries…

My non-liquids bag:  a cut-off toothbrush, razor, travel deoderant, floss, contacts case, extra lenses

My non-liquids bag: a sawed-off toothbrush, razor, travel deodorant, floss, contacts case, extra lenses

That’s a standard toothbrush that’s been hack sawed down to ~4″ in length. It saves a bit of weight and is easier to get into a ziploc bag.  Don’t bring a full sized stick deodorant – it’s surprising how much they weigh.  Note:  plastic disposable razors weigh less than the model shown here; this happens to be my preference and I’ll live with the weight in order to use a razor I like.

My liquids bag:  the bottle at the bottom contains Edge shaving cream; the small spray bottle above contains a tiny amount of cologne; toothpaste; contact lens solution; on the left, Bacitracin

My liquids bag: the bottle at the bottom contains Edge shaving cream; the small spray bottle above contains a tiny amount of cologne; toothpaste; contact lens solution; on the left, Bacitracin

The cologne is certainly optional.  Both the cologne and the shave cream are double bagged (they’re inside ziploc “snack” bags). Only the most anal retentive TSA screener will notice. (The Edge shave cream was dispensed from the regular can into a 2 oz. plastic bottle – MUCH lighter than the metal can that Edge comes in!)  This is the smallest tube of Bacitracin I could find; fortunately it doesn’t weigh much.

Finally, I throw some disinfectant wipes in another ziploc bag:

In this case I've packed some Clorox brand wipes - they claim they kill cold and flu viruses on contact

In this case I've packed some Clorox brand wipes - the manufacturer claims they kill cold and flu viruses on contact - handy for wiping down tray tables, TV remotes, etc.

The non liquids bag is packed in the MLC’s secondary compartment; the other two bags shown above go in the small zippered compartment on the front of the bag.  This makes it easy to grab my liquids bag at the TSA checkpoint.

What’s left??

The only things left to pack are my Asus Eee PC 1000HA netbook, its power brick, the charger for my Blackberry, and a few odds and ends:

Blackberry charger; misc. meds; Platy foldable bottle; jump drive

Blackberry charger; misc. meds; Platy foldable bottle; jump drive

A few folders and a notepad; Asus Eee 1000HA in its neoprene sleeve; power brick

A few folders and a notepad; Asus Eee PC 1000HA in its neoprene sleeve; power brick

The Asus, non liquids bag, files/notepad and electronics go in the secondary compartment of the bag:

The second compartment of the MLC easily handles the Asus netbook, power brick, Blkberry charger, folders, non-liquids bag, etc.

The second compartment of the MLC easily handles the Asus netbook, power brick, Blkberry charger, meds, folders, non-liquids bag, etc.

Here’s the entire bag, fully packed; as you can see, there’s room to spare:

Packed Patagonia MLC

In total, the bag weighed 13½ pounds. That included, by the way, my car keys & a couple of pens. Whether slung over my shoulder with the strap or on my back with the backpack straps, the bag was quite comfortable.  I did note that the MLC’s shoulder strap weighs close to 8 oz. – some may wish to ditch it in favor of the backpack straps, which are ergonomically shaped and very comfortable.

Traveling light requires nothing more than planning carefully, wearing the right clothing while en route, and having the courage to ditch non essential items while embracing high tech clothing and all its benefits.

Sources / Additional Reading:

Doug Dyment’s One Bag – the bible of traveling light

Tilley Travel socks

Wickers V-neck undershirts

Terrarmar underwear

Patagonia MLC bag

TSA compliant bottles for liquids

Platypus Platy – foldable/rollable water bottle

How to create a customized packing checklist

All about “Bundle” packingan earlier Practical Hacks post featured a photo illustrated explanation of what bundle packing is and explains its benefits: A Minimalist Approach to Packing for Short Business Trips. In many respects the post above is a logical extension of this old post; enjoy – and travel safe!

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11 Comments on Business Travel Light: 4d/3n, 1 bag, w/ computer, 13½ lbs.

  1. Michael W. says:

    Hey, reading your list and seeing your actual packed stuff really helps me to better visualize how this would work for me, although I think you have the “light” “no extras” part nailed down a lot better than I have. I think I would add a few things for my own short trips, although you’ve really hit the “essentials.”

    No flip-flops for padding around your room or in the shower?

    I take it you refill the Platypus water bottle post-security.

    BTW at San Francisco International two weeks ago, they didn’t require removal of my TSA “one quart” pouch through security, apparently they have the new scanning x-rays that don’t require hand inspection of liquids and, while it’s not official yet, they don’t seem to care what liquids you pack through (I had a 4 ounce bottle of eye saline in there too). During transit and on return, though, I had to present the TSA pouch for inspection.

    Sounds like you didn’t carry a rain jacket or windbreaker or sweater? Or umbrella?

    I take it that you will just be moving from one comfortable habitat to another (all indoors and temperature regulated). Me, I get cold in over-air conditioned taxis, restaurants, and movie theaters, so even in the heat of summer I need to bring along warm gear – usually packed, since the only time I actually get hot is rushing through the airport. You are lucky or warm blooded or both, you don’t seem to need warm things even now, in the dead of winter. What, no watch cap, no neck gaiter, no gloves (well I don’t need those either, at least), no sweater or fleece, no long johns?

    It’s hard to believe that your very minimalist outfit – judging from the list and pictures – was up to 13 1/2 pounds. I carried a lot more than you are showing in the Appenzell on my trans-pacific flight two weeks ago, and was only a tad over 15 pounds – but I guess I didn’t carry any type of computer or DVD player, and the 3 pounds they weigh converts to a lot of clothes, which are much bulkier.

    It sounds like you really are “one” bagging this business trip – no second bag this time?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Michael,

    Thanks for your comment. My primary reason for bringing a 2nd bag was my old laptop – or workout gear. If I absolutely wanted to workout but wanted to do so in a manner that minimized weight, I’d bring along cheap flip flops, a tee shirt, and a pair of running shorts – and then use the hotel swimming pool.

    As for the 13.5 lbs, keep in mind that the bag weighs around 3 lbs., the Asus weighs around 3 lbs., the power brick weighs perhaps half a pound, so I’m close to 7 lbs. without any clothing or other stuff.

    I never carry an umbrella; if I were planning on being outside much and thought I’d need it, I might throw in a windshirt. Much of my business travel, once I’m at my destination, has me in hotels/conference centers much of the time. Never a hat, neck gaiter, etc. If above 35* here and my destination is warm, I’ll often leave the winter jacket in the car and hump it into the airport with just a sports jacket. Keep in mind that I live in the middle of nowhere and getting from the parking garage into the airport requires a few minutes at most – and in one case, 30 seconds.

    The Platy is filled post-TSA; if I’m lazy, I’ll leave it at home and buy bottled water. I know. Expensive and wasteful. Sorry. Depends upon my mood.

    There are a few other things I’d like to have along – a styptic pencil, my magnifier, etc. – but sometimes I get a big kick out of seeing how far I can dial it back. It’s amazing how easy it is to over pack, and once you get started, it’s hard to rein it in.

    Thanks again – glad to see you made it home ok from your latest adventure!

    [Reply]

  2. David says:

    Nice post. Thank you. I’d love to hear more of your impressions once you’ve used the MLC. Do you think the Aeronaut is bigger?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    David,

    Thanks for commenting. I like the MLC just fine. My biggest issue is Patagonia’s calling it “MLC” when in fact it’s quite a bit smaller than the maximum carry-on size, and a couple of the chintzy details (the zipper pulls, for instance.) Within its limitations, I think it’s a fine bag.

    [Reply]

  3. David says:

    Kevin:

    I am curious about how you measured the dimensions of the MLC — filled or empty. I am surprised that Patagonia would overstate by as much as one inch.

    The MLC is rounded rather than square. This also limits what it can carry. On the other hand, the rounded edges in my opinion make it look better and feel better as a backpack.

    Have you tried the Tom Bihn Aeronaut?

    David

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    David,

    It’s difficult to measure a soft sided bag, but I did so 2 or 3 times on different occasions. I filled the bag with some folded towels and used a tape measure. The bag is simply smaller than the dimensions on the Patagonia site.

    Both the MLC and the Air Boss have rounded corners to help avoid “hot spots” and accompanying wear. And, as you point out, the bag is more attractive as a result. I love the backpack option – and the MLC looks much better in that mode than does the Steves Classic.

    Tom Bihn is sending me an Aeronaut – it should be here any day now. I really look forward to checking it out. Another bag of interest is the Timbuk2 “Suitcase,” but thus far they’ve not been seduced by my sweet talk… perhaps some day. :-)

    [Reply]

  4. Kevin says:

    One other comment: as for cologne, it’s relatively easy to put (i.e., spray) some cologne into a sample sized perfume/cologne bottle. Put the sampler bottle in a ziploc snack bag, and you’re set – and it weighs very little.

    [Reply]

  5. Hunter says:

    Great article! I am using the tips in on my current trip to NYC for 6 days. I tried to put Edge Shaving gel in a bottle like you did and it did not work out too well. Seems like it needs the pressure of the can. Did I do something wrong?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Hunter…

    I have no idea. I put the Edge gel into a 2 oz. container until it was full. I had to put some in, tap the bottle on a hard surface, put some more in, repeat, etc. – did this about 3 times. The shaving cream was good for about a week and a half – in fact, for the first week or so, it’d come out of the container as though it was under pressure. It worked fine. I’ve been buying these little bottles from a place called Detailer’s Paradise. Hope this helps.

    kc

    [Reply]

  6. todd says:

    now you’ve got to cover the Eagle Creek Overland

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Will look into it; thanks.

    [Reply]

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