Top 10 Essentials for One Bag Travel – Enjoy the Journey!

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Traveling for more than a weekend with just one bag seems like an impossible challenge, but with a little know-how you could travel indefinitely with just the trusty carry-on. Here are the top 10 essentials for one bag travel.

1. The Bag

Picking the right bag may be the most important part of a successful one bag trip. The standard size for most U.S. airlines is around 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches (56cm x 35cm x 22cm).

As for the style, a good duffel bag or sturdy carry-on will work if you’re staying in one place. A hard-shell suitcase is an even smarter choice if you want the option of checking it with liquids, like your favorite bottle of wine from your trip. However, you know we’re big fans of backpack travel here at NV. We like to be mobile and we’ll take just about any type of transportation. So, let’s look at some packs!

The Osprey Ozone Travel Pack 46 is a great choice. It has tons of interior space for a travel pack this size and a bunch of neat features like lockable zippers, special compartments and a direct access tablet sleeve. Plus, you can stowaway the harness and hip-belt to keep them from getting damaged when your bag is thrown around in a bus luggage compartment. And you can’t beat the lifetime warranty!

If you’re traveling on a budget, you might consider the Mountaintop 40L Hiking Backpack. It’s considerably less expensive, but lacks some of the features, durability and the warranty is very limited. Whichever you choose, go with the type that best fits your travel style and budget.

2. Clothing

Clearly, where you’re going and how long you plan to stay play a big part in your clothing choices. However, there are some simple things to consider when selecting your options. First, we’ll look at fabrics and other factors to consider.

Travel-friendly Fabrics

You may not need travel-specific clothing. In fact, it’s more a matter of the fabric than the style. Choosing the right material ensures comfortable adventures with fewer options. For example, knits are known to resist wrinkles. Patterns, especially in darker colors, are better than solid light colors for hiding wrinkle, stains and dirt. But let’s focus on the material types, as those often matter more to comfort than the weave.


Synthetics have all the qualities you want in travel clothes. Everything from underwear to golf polos are made from these materials. Chances are you have some exercise clothes made of synthetic fabrics you can use for travel as well. Just avoid anything cotton. It retains moisture, dries slowly and can be a breeding ground for microbes. We like 


Wool is another great choice. It’s natural, comfortable and sustainable. Best of all, it retains warmth when wet – a trait most other fabrics can’t claim. For travel attire, you’ll probably want to look for a blend. That way, you get the best of both worlds.

Wardrobe Options

Stick to a limited, coordinating color scheme. By planning interchangeable outfits in advance, you can minimize the clothing you need. When you stick to basic colors you can mix and match, you maximize the number of available clothing combinations.

Clothing takes up the most space in your bag, so limit your articles to groups of three so you can mix and match and stay fresh. Your basic list should have three shirts, one long pair of pants and two pairs of shorts for warm weather or two pairs of long pants for cold. Bring a nice shirt or dress, one sweater and one pack-able rain jacket. You can combine any of the items to make lots of different outfits and layer them for warmth. Because you generally only wear items once or twice, I cheat and bring extra socks and underwear so I don’t have to do laundry every other day; but you can get by with just three of each.

Also, traveling with one bag means frequent small loads of laundry so it is essential to choose clothes that dry quickly. If you are not sure, test items at home by washing and hanging them to dry inside. Anything not dry in the morning may cause trouble if you are on a long trip.

Final Considerations

You should have plenty of room to add extra items for specific climates. Bathing suits take up hardly any space, nor do scarves and light mittens. If you are going to the snow, you may have to wear a bulky jacket on the plane. For items left behind that you can’t live without, have fun and go shopping at your destination! Visit local shops and markets. Clothes make fun souvenirs and they are usually cheaper than the cost of checking a bag.

3. Travel Cubes

The minimalist traveler’s secret weapon, the packing cube, makes the most use of your limited space. They can be used many different ways; some travelers use two-sided cubes with clean clothes on one side and dirty on the other. My packing hack is to use several small cubes to compress my clothes and make it easy to pack and unpack my bag. Depending on your level of adventure you can even get some that are water resistant. Being budget conscience, I use this set of 4 that I ordered on amazon and they work great.

4. Sink Stopper & Clothesline

A universal flat sink stopper sounds unimportant and how did it make the list of top 10 essentials for one bag travel? Well, it’s an essential part of the hack. To carry fewer clothes, you need to do little loads of laundry along the way. The sink stopper like this 5″ rubber version allows you to do a quick launder in your hotel sink and stay fresh while you are on the road. I also recommend packing multi-purpose soap, like Dr. Bronner’s. It cleans everything from clothes to dishes to hair. Finally, an elastic clothesline like this one from Sun & Sheets makes it possible to hang laundry and one like this braided option doesn’t require any clothespins. You just stretch the bands apart and let them close pinch on the edge of you clothing items.

5. Ziplock Bags

Ziplock bags have a long list of uses. Use them for toiletries, lotion, and other bottles that might explode. They can carry excess food, contain wet clothing, be used for extra waterproofing for electronics and even as a cheap way to “vacuum seal” your clothes.

If you’re more adventurous, you may consider some waterproof bags for your travels. They’re more durable and easily out perform Ziplock bags, perfect for keeping electronics, documents, towels, and anything else you need dry. I have several of the lightweight Sea to Summit Dry Sacks, but I still use the handy Ziplock too. The durable one gallon freezer bags are the most versatile, but I like an assortment; wrap your toiletries sunblock and anything else that might open in transit, and bring two or three extras for all your unexpected needs.

6. Sandals or Casual Shoes

Wear your regular shoes on the plane to save space but pack a pair of flip flops or Crocs. Use them at the beach, as shower shoes or to wear around your hotel. I’m from Southern California, so I love my Rainbow Sandals! I use the New Classic Rubber Sandals with Nylon Straps. Rubber and nylon work great since leather will become hard and cracked when it gets wet.

7. Travel Towel

A regular towel takes up entirely too much space, so a travel towel is a definitely one of the essentials for one bag travel. Use towels provided by your hotel whenever you can, but packing a small travel version just makes sense. No need to be fancy here; I ordered a cheap Relefree Microfiber Towel on Amazon and it has survived six countries and counting. Use it as a blanket or pillow while in transit, a mat for sitting on the beach or grass, or even a sun shade.

8. Power Adapter

A power adapter with several outlets is essential even in countries with the same plug. You will be surprised how strange the placement of power outlets can be when you travel and it’s not uncommon to have only one in your room. I like my Ceptics World Travel Adapter Kit. It has two plugs and two USB ports so I can charge everything at once. Bring the adapters for the countries you need and leave the others at home to save space in your bag.

9. Backup Power Cell

This is a must for traveling. You are likely to use your electronic gadgets more often while traveling than you would at home. It becomes much more important to have your electronics accessible when you need them. You never know when you might need to get information or navigate. I use an Anker PowerCore 5000. It takes up very little space and has saved me a few times.

10. Cell Phone

Finally, the item that you were going to bring anyway! Let’s talk about all the items in your bag your cell phone can replace, and the cool things it can do for you while you travel.

The Basics

Your phone can function as a flashlight, music player, book, magazine, newspaper, calendar, notepad, and alarm clock, to name a few; so please don’t waste space on any of those items. With the use of some clever apps, your trusty smartphone can do even more.


Don’t use up space in your bag with a camera. The cameras built into phones these days are fantastic and those little wonders of technology may even be better than your old point-and-shoot digital camera. Unless you are a professional photographer, just use your phone for all the travel memories.

Language and Translation

You might want to get familiar with the language of your next destination and that little phrase book people used to use for travel is also an app (one less book in your bag). Use one like Duolingo before and during your trip to practice. For your on-the-spot translation needs, use an app like Google translate. It makes your trip that much more enjoyable when you know how to find the bathroom! Plus, it can even translate signs and text. Just take a pic in the app and voila!


Thank the travel gods, for the days of paper maps are dead and over. They’re now replaced by GPS. Use a clever map app to get more use out of your phone’s GPS while you travel. I use MAPS.ME. It allows me to use maps offline, which is fantastic when I leave the safety and comfort of my hotel’s WiFi. When you are in a new place, you might rely on it frequently while sightseeing. That’s at least one less item to fit in your bag and it can save you money if your phone plan has expensive hidden roaming fees. Just in weight savings, this easily qualifies as one of the essentials for one bag travel.

Guide Books

Ditch your old-fashioned travel guide book and get travel recommendations from an app. I like Culture Trip. It provides “hyper-local” information and recommendations virtually anywhere in the world you travel. You can use its features to search and filter your results based on the locations and attractions you really want to see.


If you are the adventurous type and frequently use unfamiliar public transport systems, apps like Citymapper and Moovit are fantastic. They cover all the options for traversing a city, from standard busses and trains to ride sharing. Put those apps to work and get the most out of your phone!

Those are just some of the many options for your phone. If that wasn’t enough, check out our article Travel Apps: 11 Travel Items Cell Phones Can Replace for many other ideas.

If you were able to keep things to a minimum in your bag you probably have some extra space. Don’t fill it with more “stuff” just because you can. Save room for souvenirs! Remember, if anything unexpected comes up or you actually did forget something essential, you likely can find it anywhere in the world you happen to be. So, no stress and enjoy walking past all the suckers standing around the baggage carousel.

The Nimble Voyager

Staff writers at Nimble Voyager have years of experience traveling the world simply and ethically. We strive to share that experience through informative articles to help others get as much out of the journey as the destination.

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Just great tips, no spam!