I’ve committed to a new travel strategy. Committed as in this has been my go-to packing method for the past year. I’ve had a   handful of both major and minor trips that I’ve taken and all of them have one thing in common: I’ve only packed a backpack. Whether it was a five day trip to New York, a week in Maui, or four weeks in Italy, I’ve taken roughly the same amount of items with me. Additionally, I’ve found myself evangelizing the strategy more and more, so I figured I would go ahead and document it for those interested.

When I first taught in Italy in the summer of 2018, I noticed a spectrum of how students packed. Some came with two extra-large, oversized rollers (which was on the comical side), while a couple others had very little more than a knapsack. Quite honestly, it’s very likely these students actually under packed, but I came to admire the strategy and wondered if I, myself, could have gone with just one bag.

After returning home, I stumbled online to a whole community that, in fact, subscribes to this mentality. I’ve found a fairly active community on Reddit and came to learn a new lexicon of terms like one bagging, digital nomad, and capsule wardrobe.

  • onebagger : A onebagger is someone who temporarily or permanently lives out of one or two bags, possibly owns transportation, and possibly uses dwellings. (source)
  • digital nomad : a type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles. (source)
  • capsule wardrobe : a term coined by Susie Faux in the 1970s that means a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion and popularized by American designer Donna Karan, who, in 1985, released an influential capsule collection of seven interchangeable work-wear pieces. (source)

This strategy has been particularly helpful leading an Italian study abroad program given that we are moving around a lot and rollers just simply won’t cut it on the cobblestone Roman roads.

What exactly to pack is highly dependent on your destination, but I’ve found a couple items to be essential: 1.) the bag and 2.) packing cubes. The bag is a given, but compression packing cubes are a whole game changer when it comes to being able to pack a lot of material into a small space.

Mexico City, Mexico

For the bag, I landed on the Tortuga Outbreaker. Tortuga is a boutique brand that makes the bag specifically for this style of travel. You might be saying, “Why not just get a hiking backpack?” This would suffice but they are often incredibly large and also more like a traditional top-loading backpack, meaning that items can fall to the bottom and are hard to find on the fly. Bags like this one are designed to act more like a standard piece of luggage with a front-loading section for clothes and top-loading section for electronics.

I have the smaller 35L size, which is just enough space to pack well, but not bulky enough to feel like you are super touristy on a six-month backpacking excursion. The Outbreaker is their top-of-the-line, flagship bag (I actually bought mine secondhand to save some $), but the biggest upgrade in my opinion is that it is waterproof. I learned that waterproof is necessary the hard way when I hiked in Northern Italy with Jim Groom last year. It rained the whole way and I was never able to get the smell out of my last bag, so waterproof is now a must.

I also really enjoy that it has lifters in straps that are adjustable (so you don’t feel the impact of all of the weight directly on your shoulders) and the detachable belt. The bag has held up relatively well. Given that I’m the second owner, I was interested in testing the durability. It’s ripped in a couple places on the shoulder and only one non-necessary zipper is no longer functional. Not bag given the mileage I’ve already put it through.

Four weeks of clothes for Italy

Here’s my packing list for four weeks in Italy in the summer:

  • Four t-shirts
  • One long sleeve dri-fit shirt
  • One lightweight UPF sun hoodie
  • Three short sleeve button ups
  • Two pairs of shorts
  • One pair of flexible workout shorts/swim trunks
  • Two pairs of travel pants (which are awesome!)
  • One rain coat
  • Five pairs of boxers
  • Two pairs of merino wool socks
  • One merino wool buff
  • One pair of Tevas sandals
  • One pair of casual shoes
  • One pair of Sperrys
  • One hat

On the accessories side:

  • Apple MacBook
  • MacBook charger
  • iPad
  • Amazon Kindle
  • iPhone charger
  • converters
  • packable day bag
  • couple pairs of headphones
  • Water bottle
  • sunglasses
  • toiletry bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, and hair gel
Fully packed bag

Depending on how strict I wanted to get on myself, my guess is I could still trim back even for four weeks. The interesting thing is the more I’ve done this, the less I’ve packed. You simply get more comfortable with bring less quantity and invest in more quality clothing that doesn’t need to be rotated and washed as often. As technical and activewear continues to grow in popularity, it’s becoming easier and easier to find products that moisture wicking or odor control built into the fabrics. Merino wool is fantastic though slightly itchy and pretty pricey. I have one merino wool shirt and can imagine it ever being a go-to shirt, and I usually just prefer comfortable tri-blends. And, of course, winter brings a whole other level of complexity with colder weather. I’ve learned the key here is layering, so I usually have a quarter-zip sweater, a shell jacket, and then a packable down jacket, which gives me both warmth and multiple wardrobes.

We’ll see how long I keep this up. I can imagine looking back and thinking how silly it was to follow this trend, but on the other hand I am not sure I know how to go back. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend perusing the Tortuga blog, which contains a wealth of information that I have found immensely helpful in the long run.