Packing (not so) Lightly: 22 Days, 1 Carry-On

Packing (not so) Lightly: 22 Days, 1 Carry-On

I’m a minimalist at heart, so I’ve been digging Rolf Potts’ No Baggage Challenge. He’s currently traveling around with just ScotteVest clothing (a sponsor) and the bare essentials, cleaning his clothes nightly and blogging from a bluetooth keyboard connected to his iPhone. If I ever dreamt about carrying luggage, that would have been the dream.

We’ve yet to truly vagabond and go on extended long term travel for months at a time so we still consider 22 days in Europe a fairly long term trip. Despite this I’ve still stuck to my policy of bringing just a single carry-on sized bag.

It’s been some time since I checked luggage. I believe the last time was a couple years ago on a cruise to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Montego Bay, Jamaica. For that trip it seemed to be a necessity because of a few formal (suit & tie required) dinners on the ship, although if I was to do it all over again I’d rethink how I’d handle those days. Other than that trip though I’ve traveled with just a simple messenger bag that can tuck under the seat in front of me on a plane. This works out ideal because it forces me to pack light and only bring the essentials.

This trip is just a bit of an exception to my rule in that this time my carry-on doesn’t fit under the seat, but I still stuck to my guns and only brought a single carry-on bag. Knowing that this is a longer trip than we’re accustomed to I did some research to find what would be considered the best of the best for backpacking. My final decision was the Osprey Porter 46. Aside from the rave reviews, the bag expands to the exact dimensions of the smallest of the largest sized carry-on allowed on any carrier. That’s ridiculously confusing let me try to clarify, the airline that has the smallest size restriction for carry-on bags will still allow the Porter 46.

Granted it’s a bit early to start judging the bag, but so far I’m very pleased with it. It sits well on my back, cinches down tight, and has a convenient duffle bag style side handle (conveniently in the exact spot where I instinctively go to grab after removing it from my back).

Although the bag has so far been flawless, there’s been one big downside, but that’s a result of my packing. Or better put, it’s a result of my packing needs.

Weighing in on Working from the Road

This adventure is my first experiment in living a location independent lifestyle so I have one major need. I need a laptop and an internet connection. Living location independent has of course different requirements for different people. For travel writer Rolf it’s simply an internet enabled device that he can easily write and upload from.

I wish I could swing that, but being a web developer my needs are a bit more hefty. Although I could technically write code from my iPhone, I have made adjustments in the past using FTP On The Go, it’s not an efficient use of time and completely rules out slicing the images necessary to make the sites that we design. There’s no getting around my need for a laptop.

This is what took me out of the comfortable weight range. By no means did I pack a lot of stuff and by no means does my laptop weigh a lot (around 6lbs with the powerblock), but when all is added together and placed on my back it tires me out more than is ideal.

Although Marla doesn’t have a laptop with her, the bag that she packed is also heavier than would work best for her. As a result of the combination of our time traveling from Monday afternoon to Tuesday morning (no sleep) and heavier backpacks than we’re used to wearing, we’re left to contemplate shipping some of our things back home. The extra weight wouldn’t make any difference if we were staying in one place, but since we need to be mobile, and the second half of our journey involves hiking the Italian Riviera, we’ve got to have our gear, and ourselves, in tip top shape.

I’m not sure that we’ll go that route it’s just a consideration at this point, but I think there’s a valuable lesson to be had. Once you think you’ve packed lightly for a trip go back and ditch 1/4 or even 1/2 of your things. If you’re not feeling uneasy by how little you’ve packed then you’ve packed way too much.

How much luggage do you normally travel with? What can you cut out from your packing that will make your bag uncomfortably light? Let us know in the comments.

9 responses to “Packing (not so) Lightly: 22 Days, 1 Carry-On”

  1. Adam King Avatar

    Well, considering I used to go 4-5 days in deep wilderness with only rope, knife, and light food, I’m not sure I can weigh in on that quite like everyone else will.

    My city traveling experience isn’t as vast as you all. Anxious to see how the luggage experiment works out.

    1. Jeff Sarris Avatar
      Jeff Sarris

      That’s exciting, we’re definitely not wilderness type people so it’s interesting to hear that perspective. So no tent, nothing? That has to be quite the adventure 🙂

  2. James Chartrand - Men with Pens Avatar

    All I can say is… Do not ditch the laptop.


    Was just wondering when I reached the end of this – would actually keeping the extra weight not quasi-train you both to be able to carry it easily by the time you reach the Riviera?

    And I’m curious. What’s IN the backpacks? What would you keep? What would you ditch? (Do not ditch the laptop.)

    1. Jeff Sarris Avatar
      Jeff Sarris

      Ha! Don’t you worry, the laptop is the one thing that’ll definitely stay no matter what. I just think it’s interesting that the little bit extra weight seems to make such a big difference.

      I was actually thinking the same thing about “training” ourselves to carry more, but at the same time there’s no reason to exhaust ourselves quicker than need be and have our experience suffer. Shipping stuff home isn’t ideal, but we’re always learning.

      My bag is basically 6 days of clothes, toiletries and the chargers and whatnot for my various electronics. So aside from a few shirts and stuff there’s not much I would ditch. Marla’s bag’s a different story though because she packed quiet a bit of clothing apparently. She’s the one that will benefit most since her bag is just about as big as her right now 🙂

  3. maria Avatar

    Quick question for you… its about the very attractive water bottle I notice hanging from your Porter. :):):): How do you mange to carry this on a flight with carry on luggage? Its the fluids (water, toiletries etc) that are causing me a pain transitioning from a check-in to carry-on pack.

    1. Marla Sarris Avatar

      That’s a great question! We both carry a Klean Kanteen whenever we travel and hook it up to our Porter with a carabiner on the outside of the bag. You can’t fill it with anything before you arrive at your destination due to the no-liquids-while-traveling rule, going through security at the airport. And we’ve only been stopped once by airport security to swab the inside to make sure it wasn’t a dangerous liquid. 🙂

      In the past I have carried a small pouch with a travel size body spray, travel size soap, shampoo & conditioner but on future travels I won’t even be carrying any of that anymore. Typically wherever you stay there will be some kind of toiletries provided, whether you’re staying in a hotel or even an airbnb rental, the owners typically have everything you need. And really if they don’t you could stop at a convenience mart and pick up a trial size of whatever you need. Good luck with your carry-on transition, it really is a much nicer feeling – not traveling so heavy. 🙂

      1. maria Avatar

        Thanks for the detailed reply. On a recent flight inland from Birmingham to Aberdeen I had my water bottle confiscated – even though it was empty. They told me that no containers larger than 100ml. Its seems to be open to interpretation as other security teams have taken the view that its about the fluids not the container size. I’d hate to loose my lovely water bottle :((

        1. Marla Sarris Avatar

          Oh that totally sucks! We haven’t run into anything like that yet. I bet if it’s empty, dry & inside your bag, you wouldn’t get hassled but I could be wrong.

  4. Derek Parker Avatar
    Derek Parker

    I just recently purchased the exact same bag. I work in Afghanistan with my family in the U.S. and my girlfriend in the UK. Needless to say, I travel a lot. This past July, my girlfriend and I went to Greece together. This was before I purchased the Osprey and I packed way too much. This time, I am flying to England and we are traveling to Ireland for a road trip. I leave in a few days and have already packed what I need. A bit more than I need, actually. And still have room in my pack for a few souvenirs.

    You brought up the point of needing a laptop. While I love my laptop, I have found it very convenient to travel with my iPad. I enjoy the feel of a keyboard, but my iPad works just fine. Now that the iPad mini has been announced, I think I will be transitioning to that. I have SIM cards that work in several countries, so it can double as a GPS and I almost always have data. In addition to my Osprey, I have a Merrell minimalist messenger bag that is sized for the iPad. In it, I can fit my iPad and my travel wallet that has my passport, credit cards, and tickets. It’s tiny, so it counts as my one personal item that I can have with my carry on. This keeps me from having to dig things out of my bag once it’s been cinched down. It also makes check points less of a hassle.

    Another thing I’ve done in the past you may be interested in trying: I have a 40 oz. Hydroflask stainless steel wide-mouth water bottle. When traveling, I’ve used it to store hygiene items inside with ziplock bags. You can store your toothbrush, toothpaste, and a travel packet of antibacterial wipes in it. Then, when you reach your destination, you have a 40 oz water bottle that’s pretty much indestructible!

    Safe travels! 🙂