Since returning from a 6-week international trip at the end of June, I've been meaning to write this unsponsored love letter to a piece of gear that completely changed the way I travel. But let's start with a story...
A wild idea appears...
The year was 2015, and everyone was huddled up in one of the rooms at Gather to hear Rob, Nat and Vaughan talk about packing like a pro for always-on-the-go geeks. They covered topics ranging from: how to ranger-roll clothing (for both men and women) and dealing with dirty laundry down to how to deal with security and customs, amongst many other travel-related topics.
Towards the end of the presentation (which they run pretty much at any conference they're happen to participate in), Vaughan showed off the bag that he used as a carry-on and he "lived out of for 21 days" (his own words).
Those six words resonated with me. I had plans to go on a longer journey soon, and the idea of travelling without checked luggage slowing me down seemed great. While the trip was still in the route planning stage, I already knew what I'd want to take with me: very little.
Two ways to travel
Usually, travellers pick one of those common methods to travel:
- one or two suitcases full of all possible clothing and accessories one might need; or
- empty suitcases to accommodate for all the shopping to be done at the destination.
Neither interested me as: a) I wanted to travel as light as possible; and b) I was travelling on a budget. After the packing presentation, another option became possible: one single carry-on, which would force me to pack light and yet focus on the essentials.
After a quick analysis of the weather forecasts in all of the places I'd be stopping, it became clear I could pretty much do away with most bulky clothing and focus on just good tees, comfortable underwear, and a pair of shorts. All that remained was finding a good bag to fit all into.
When a bag is more than a bag
Enter Minaal. After becoming famous with their Carry-on 1.0 bags on Kickstarter (one of which was the bag shown off by Vaughan at the Gather presentation), this group of clever kiwis went back to the drawing board with all the feedback they received from the first batch. A few months later, out came the Carry-on 2.0, and its sister bag, the Daily.
Sadly, I had just missed out on their Kickstarter campaign for the new bags. However, pre-orders were still available online, with the caveat that I might not receive mine in time for my upcoming trip. Luckily, a week out from departure, the bag, packing cubes and mobile toolcase arrived. \o/
A picture is worth a thousand words
While I could write a lot about this bag, I prefer to show it to you. Without further ado, here's a photo of the bag, before and after packing:
Of the items in the photos above, I left out the following things:
- trainers and running gear (let's face it, I wasn't going to use them anyways)
- 3 white tees
- the 15" laptop
3 continents, 6 countries, 9 flights. One bag. I'm now spoiled, and I can't think of a reason not to travel light like this anymore. I love this bag.
After 49 days with this bag as my only luggage, I compiled a small list of tips to aid myself (and maybe others) on future trips:
- If your bag looks heavy, people will notice. If they notice, they might ask you to weigh it. Carry-on limits vary between airlines and sectors, but a good rule of thumb is to keep it around 8-9kg.
- You're likely to hit the carry-on limit before your bag looks full, so re-pack it a couple of times and weigh it to avoid nasty surprises at the gates.
- If you're short on time, don't bother ranger-rolling underwear or socks. Your items might not be as easily distinguishable inside your bag, but you won't lose as much space as if you didn't ranger-roll bigger garments. Make sure to re-roll them at your next stop.
- If you're planning to do laundry every week, pack 8 units of everything you use daily. Helps to be clothed during laundry days.
- Thermal undershirts are your friends.
- Merino. Merino. Merino. Merino. Merino. Merino. Merino. Merino (repeat after me). Merino wool has natural anti-bacterial properties, dries quickly and is lightweight.
- Don't bother packing toiletries you're likely to find at your destination(s). If you're packing your roll-on deodorant that you can find next to your hotel, you're doing it wrong™.
- The above tip has an exception: pack a mini (micro, if possible) toiletries kit (sometimes known as travel kit), to be used exclusively in-flight. No one likes a smelly row buddy. Bare essentials: deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash.
- Make sure to repack any toiletries you do take on the plane into the smallest containers possible -- remember: space is at a premium in a carry-on. Be prepared to refill them at your destination(s).
- Get yourself as many pairs of ExOfficio's boxer brief underwear (or your preferred garment from them) as you can afford. Trust me on this. Having tried a few different pairs of travel underwear during this trip, nothing beats the ExOfficios.
- While I took both in-ear monitors and over-the-ear headphones, I would suggest sticking with one or the other. The in-ears had a surprising amount of noise isolation, which pretty much convinced me to ditch the big ones in future trips.
Hat tip to Rob and Jason for proof-reading this post before publication, and to Aaron for the photo tweets.