Jun 25, 2011

One Bag Travel

“Go light,” they said. “Take only one bag.”
How could I use one bag? I’m so used to traveling around the world with a multitude of heavy camera cases and a couple of large personal suitcases. One bag? They’ve gotta be kidding. 

Well, George Clooney's character does it in “Up in the Air.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGsRSLivx7A

There are websites that talk about the virtue of traveling with one bag. New websites are popping up all the time, and they mean one, small, airline-approved carry-on.

I’ve always been a traveler. I thought nothing of long trips to exotic places around the world while shooting documentary films for television. I’ve traveled with at least 16(sometimes more) large cases filled with rolls of film, batteries, lenses, tripods, lighting kits and, of course, cameras. Then there was the personal luggage. I would travel with two standard suitcases, one large, one small. But even by today’s standards, the small case was huge, and these wonderful suitcases are now sitting in my storage locker.

These days I am no longer traveling with big cameras, lights, lenses or film. The cameras are much smaller and now there’s no film or tape; just a hard drive or perhaps a memory chip. My personal luggage is usually one large cargo-type bag, and another if I need heavy winter clothes. 

However, when it comes to personal travel, I know I need to cut down on baggage. Many airlines now charge for a second bag and they may soon bring in charges for the first bag. The only sanctity left without paying needlessly is the carry-on. Especially if I’ve already scoured the Internet to find the cheapest air fares. But how to pare-down to travel small and light?

Travel guru/writer and broadcaster Rick Steves has been traveling to Europe for many years. For weeks at a time every year he has been writing his travel guides and shooting his TV shows for PBS, all this while carrying one 22x14x9 carry-on suitcase/backpack. And yes, he packs light and washes his socks and underwear when needed.

Before I go any further, I am not suggesting that people should carry luggage on their back if they don’t want to do this. George Clooney's character didn’t. There are a wealth of good roller/wheeled bags that fit most airline restrictions of 22x14x9, including some on Rick Steves website. http:www.ricksteves.com

There are also many websites that can help the traveler cut out needless luggage. I recently found a site called One Bag http://www.onebag.com/ This is a well written site by a seasoned traveler who thoroughly researches and extolls the virtue of the carry-on bag. Like Steves, he has been using one bag for years. He’s even designed the perfect bag for a travel company. You’ll see it mentioned on the site. There’s also an excellent site for traveling women: One Bag Girl, http://www.onebaggirl.com Other sites include: http://www.packinglight.net or http://www.wanderlass.com/2011/06/girls-rtw-packing-list.html

But how to perform the gymnastics of paring down my “stuff?” Well, change my thinking. I’m willing, able and game to try, and my wife and I planned a two week trip to Rome. So here we go.

It’s not how much you can stuff into a small bag, it’s how light can you can travel. Many of the most seasoned travelers don’t even recommend a roller/wheeled bag but a light bag with backpack conversion straps; light, easy to carry, good for running through airports if need be. Wheels take up space and they add a lot of weight to a small bag.

The MEI Voyager  http://www.meivoyageur.com/ is one of the most recommended suitcase/backpacks on the market (also recommended by One Bag and One Bag Girl). I ordered a black one. It looks more like a suitcase and was delivered within a couple of weeks. You can carry it like a suitcase with or without a shoulder strap. But you can also turn it on it’s back, pull out the back straps and, when needed, carry it on your back. It’s so light; three pounds plus your stuff. That’s five or six pounds lighter than a bag with wheels. Most airline restrictions are 22x14x9 with a weight restriction of 20 pounds or 10 kilos. Those extra pounds could mean that extra sweater.

My wife has a 22x14x9 carry-on, roller/wheeled bag and I now have my 22x14x9 Voyager bag. We also both purchased a Rick Steves shoulder bag; the Velocé.
This bag is the best shoulder travel bag I have ever owned, but perhaps a bit bulky as a day-to-day bag.

To pack our little bags, we employed the use of the EagleCreek “Pack-it” system. http://www.eaglecreek.com/packing_solutions/ One full cube, one double sided cube, two half  size cubes, a small “pack-it” folder for shirts and ties etc. and a “Quick Trip” small toiletry kit. I also have a three bag stuffer set for dirty laundry, shoes or other quick needs.  In the bottom of the bag I carried an extra shopping-style bag for those souvenirs and extras gathered on the trip.

As for clothes, in the full packing cube I was able to roll up two pairs of light trousers and two long-sleeve T-shirts. A couple of black T-shirts and a merino wool, roll-neck sweater. In the double sided cube, I stuffed a swim suit, (never leave home without one), special quick drying socks and underwear (http://www.tilley.com/Men-Underwears-Socks.aspx or http://www.exofficio.com/search/underwear) and a space for some gifts, etc. In the two half cubes, one was for electrical gear (charging cables for phones and ipod accessories, etc), the other half cube was for a mini first aid kit, a small quick dry towel, a kit comprising laundry soap, a clothes line and a universal sink plug for washing socks and underwear, if needed. When all the Pack-it cubes were filled, there was also enough room in the bag for a carefully folded blazer on the top of the cubes.

One thing I had difficulty with was the concept of taking only one pair of shoes. I had to wear them for everything. They had to be sturdy and they had to look good if we were to dress up in the evening. I took my very comfortable, black Mephisto walking shoes and some shoe polish. Shoes are bulky, so to pack extra shoes you might have to leave other items behind.

In my shoulder bag I carried a small umbrella, a wind breaker/rain shell, a thin down vest that folded into one of its pockets and acted as my airplane pillow, my 3-1-1 bag of liquids, a book and my travel documents, etc. And that was it, except for the traveling clothes on my back.

We took British Airways from Vancouver to London, through Heathrow’s Terminal Five with a connecting flight to Rome. Being herded through Heathrow was no problem and checking our bags on the Rome flight was a cinch. We caught the train from the Rome airport to the downtown Termini Station, then walked to our hotel, about three blocks with my Voyager bag on my back and my wife wheeling her bag. It all was very easy.

Our trip to Rome during Easter week was wonderful and eventful as we discovered the Roman Forum in the morning when no one else was around. It was magical having it all to ourselves. We climbed to the top of Saint Peter’s in the Vatican. Quite the climb, but well worth the view. And we experienced the best gelato in the world. Rome is a very special place and walking the streets for two weeks gives you a real sense of life, history and geography.

Our trek home through London was easy on the day of the Royal Wedding, and our flight over the Canadian Arctic back to Vancouver was thankfully uneventful.

The one bag experiment was successful. I didn’t crave any extra space. I had room for a pair of flip flops I bought and my wife bought me a lovely pair of Mephisto sandals that easily squeezed in the bag. By the way, they are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned.

It was an easy trip and I can imagine a full scenario and schedule of air, train, car and walking travel with this one bag. I’m sure any trip with this would be successful.

If George Clooney's character can do it, and enjoy it, so can I.