How to Pack for Two Years, One Bag at a Time

Over the next two years, I’m going to be on the road.

A lot.

Entering the world of the road warrior, I frequented the Flyertalk forums, among others, and discovered the cult of One Bag. Remember George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air? (If not, go watch it right now.) As a frequent business traveler, he offered some practical advice to his rookie co-worker, who’d packed way too much. He glided through the airport as though a champion on ice; she stumbled, carrying too many things, losing a battle with her high heels and oversized luggage.

“That’s exactly what it is, it’s luggage. You know how much time you lose by checking in?… 35 minutes a flight. I travel 270 days a year. That’s 157 hours. That makes seven days. You’re willing to throw away an entire week on that?”

One Bag insists that we bring too many things, and often fail to bring things that we actually need. Even the writer Susan Orlean has admitted, via Twitter, to such travel truisms as “You will bring six pairs of shoes, all of them the wrong ones” and “You will pack 4 books and 3 magazines to ‘catch up on reading.’ You will fail to make it through one New Yorker.”

To maximize my packing efficiency, I’ve devised a set of rules of thumb that helped me get everything I need for two months to fit into one carry-on.

  • Only a few things are a true pain in the ass to replace: prescriptions. Memory cards for electronics. Your passport. These things get priority.
  • Don’t get too attached to specific products, especially liquid products that you can’t bring on planes. Hotel shampoo works just fine.
  • Because you’re going to be seeing different people every day, none of them will realize if you’ve been wearing the same clothes every single day. You’re the only one who’s likely to notice.
  • If you’re on the kind of trip/vacation where you’re going to be seeing the same people every day–a cruise, organized group tour, road trip, family vacation, school outing, summer camp, band tour, reunion, corporate retreat–remember that by the last day of the journey, there is approximately a 100% chance that everyone will be completely drunk beyond belief. This is a normal human coping mechanism for when you’re forced to be around a large number of people, all out of their element, for such a long time. It also means that no one is going to think twice about your outfit because they will be actively trying to forget that the whole thing ever happened.
  • Between the pinched shoulders, endless waiting at the carousel, occasional lost/delayed luggage, and time spent hunched over your luggage going through “all of this crap,” bringing less/lighter luggage is something you’ll be thankful for 100% of the time. Compare that with the 20% of the trips in which you’ll ever think, “golly, I wish I had my gray jacket and those beaded sandals I never wear right now.”
  • Your gray jacket, seriously? Isn’t there a business transaction/landmark monument/family member that deserves your attention even more than your clothes?
  • You’re halfway across the state/country/world! People understand that. Take pride in adopting a rugged traveler look.
  • If you really need your gray jacket, you can always buy yourself something similar when you get there/find yourself in that situation. And yes, the things for sale at your destination are going to be suitable for the climate.
  • Things can be washed.
  • Things can be replaced.
  • Substitutions exist.
  • If you have to ask “should I bring this?”, you don’t need to.
  • If you find yourself inventing a situation to justify bringing something, don’t bring it. Your boss will not spontaneously rent a boat in the Everglades and hold a mandatory costume party onboard; you will not suddenly take up polo, clam digging, or yoga. Unless you can name five types of swallows or have last-row tickets to the Indy 500, leave the binoculars at home.
  • Taking fewer things, and knowing just what you brought, means you’re less likely to lose something or leave anything behind.
  • Packing fewer bags means it’s easier/faster/more possible to change your accommodation, take last-minute excursions or side trips, and generally engage in the glorious serendipity of travel.
Now, go and see the world already.
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