How to Choose a Bag to Travel Light?

Packing light is hard. But it’s totally worth it! Once you force yourself to pack smarter and lighter, your life on the road becomes so much easier. Finally you’ll feel like a bird, not packed like a mule.

A minimalist approach to packing will make you more comfortable and more mobile. By keeping things carry-on size, you can even save a lot of money by avoiding extra check-in fees. And did I mention you can skip the wait at baggage claim?

Sounds nice, but I know it’s still all too tempting to overpack. I’ve met some people hauling up to 30 kg (66 pounds) worth of stuff in their way-too-huge backpacks. This is nuts! They sweat, they curse, and finally swear they’ll never pack so much again. It’s not a fun lesson to learn.

I went through different phases myself. Back when I first started traveling, I was a little clueless and maybe a little scared. And so I packed like a doomsday prepper, filling my bag with completely unnecessary gear. These days, I travel with one carry-on bag weighing about 11kg or 24 pounds. It makes for light and easy travel — and I don’t miss a thing.

Intrigued by the minimalist one-bag approach? Then read on as I show exactly how I’m packing light, and share with you some of my best packing tips and tricks.


Wait. Hang on a minute.

One does not make a great burrito without a good tortilla. By which I mean: you can’t pack that well if you don’t have the right bag.

The best way to avoid overpacking? It’s to get a smaller bag. It will reduce the temptation to keep adding more things, and it will force you to prioritize.

Most carry-on size bags have a capacity of around 40 liters. For me, this is a perfect size if I’m staying in hostels or hotels (and not camping or anything). This size works amazingly well for a shorter trip, but even for full-time nomadic travel I found it pretty do-able; I traveled with just a 45-liter carry-on for two years straight without major issues.

If you’re not sure what bag to get, check out my list of best backpacks as I regularly update it with the latest reviews. Right now I travel with the Tortuga Setout, which is a totally amazing 45-liter carry-on backpack.

So why a backpack? And why not just get some wheeled luggage?

I think regular luggage is certainly fine for a stationary holiday in a resort. But if you’re going to be traveling around, those big rolling bricks get real awkward real fast. They’re especially awful on cobblestone streets, old windy stairs, dirt roads, sandy beaches, and so on.

A backpack is a lot more versatile. You can easily swing it onto the back of a tuk-tuk or a pick-up truck. Or you can tuck it under your seat in a bus, or easily secure it inside a locker. And if you need to run to catch that last train, you’re still light on your feet and might actually make it.

Many travel backpacks also come with clever features not usually found on suitcases that can make packing and organizing a lot easier.