How long can you travel with just one backpack?

Living from just one bag is an admired feat by many communities, including those who subscribe to simple living, minimalism, travelling, sustainability and so on. Having all of your necessary possessions fit with you wherever you go is a freeing thought: you can literally move wherever you want without being tied down. But how long can you actually travel using one bag? A few weeks, months or indefinitely? Well, let’s break down each component.

The bag

It may depend slightly on both the bag and airline, but generally, 45L is around the maximum size that still qualifies as carry-on luggage. It also tends to be roughly the size that is required for indefinite travel, although as you will see below, there are a lot of factors and other things to get right. Some of those who are experienced and well prepared may manage long-term travelling on 35L and even as little as 25L. 

It’s not just the size of the bag that matters, but its composition. Firstly, it’s important the bag has many sections, so it is suitable to carry a wide variety of possessions (i.e. separate space for  laptops, outside clip to carry water bottle). This is even more important if you’re carrying equipment for a hobby, like skiing.

Quality is also very important. Bags like these ones that are premium quality and extremely reliable and waterproof are vital if you’re going to travel for more than a few months. Buying a cheap bag is a false economy, as in the long run you will be replacing them and can end up spending more. Furthermore, if there is one thing you want to be able to rely on when living abroad and out of one bag – it is the bag itself. It needs to endure heavy and sharp items, the rain, scrapes, being pulled about and so on. A cheap bag can let you down at the worst moments (i.e. half way through a hiking trail).

Possessions

Knowing how to be smart with possessions will get you further in your journey with just one bag. This means having versatile items – things that double up and have multiple uses. Having work-out shirts that are still wearable in a cafe for example, and versatile footwear that is both reasonably smart as well as comfortable and durable. Another is that baby shampoo can be used as to clean laundry, wash hair and even as a soap. This helps reduce the total amount of items you need. 

Items should also be smart. High tech, breathable materials that do a reasonable job at repelling bacteria can save you from having to wash clothes as frequently as you do at home. These also tend to dry very quickly if you decide to wash them in the sink/shower on your travels. Thick towels and 10 pairs of cotton underwear is setting yourself up for a two week holiday at the most.

Lightweight items are also necessary. Turkish towels and microfiber towels are two good examples of this as they’re extremely compact and dry quick. These are the sort of items you have to invest in if you’re going to make it in your travels with a backpack. Even underwear and socks you can find compact and lightweight materials that can make all the difference.

Packing

Rolling your clothes stops them from getting creased makes them more accessible when finding things and ultimately is space-efficient. Packing cubes are also great and can increase the utility of travelling with one bag for longer. You will be fed up with one-bag life if you do not have your packing game in check. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to find pull everything out just to find one item.

Destination

If you’re planning on camping then one bag would likely not be viable. If you’re staying in hotels, you may not get as far as if you’re in AirBnB’s, apartments or even hostels, who usually have more facilities for cleaning your clothes (unless, like most do, you just clean laundry in the sink or shower). Regardless, travelling for more than two weeks with one bag will require you to get used to the idea of improvising when it comes to washing.

Furthermore the actual destination matters too! Travelling to Los Angeles for example is relatively simple, you need shorts and t-shirts and maybe one jumper and trousers in case (but you could literally survive without given their year-round warm weather). Compare this to travelling eastern Europe or Canada in the winter, and one bag may be more difficult without space for having multiple boots/footwear and such.

The verdict

As we can see, it depends on a few factors. In a warm climate, for someone who is happy being minimal and is well prepared with their light, well-packed versatile clothing, you can travel indefinitely until the bag breaks (which can be years with a good quality bag).

For those who need more stuff, perhaps they’re photographers or they’re fashionistas, then one bag may not evem be enough for a few weeks. It seems if you can make it 6 weeks travelling in one bag with your possessions, then that is likely all you will ever need. The only caveat to this is seasonality – if a country’s winter comes around and it’s minus degree celsius, then requirements become completely different.

Victoria Brewood
victoria@pommietravels.com

Hi I'm Victoria, a British girl from Manchester. After graduating from university I decided there was more to life than the hours between 9 and 5, so I packed my journalism degree into my suitcase to travel the world and find a way to make money at the same time. I now call London home, although I still travel whenever I can. I hope to inspire you to be your own boss, live life and see the world.

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