City Guides

Why One-Bag Travel Is The Perfect Way To Kickstart Your Marie Kondo Lifestyle

Channel Your Inner Marie Kondo & Experience The Zen & Tidiness Of One-Bag Travel

Travel Blog

Unless you’ve been living under a mountain of trash bags filled with old clothing, you’ve been watching Netflix’s “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.”

In the show, people drastically and painstakingly declutter years of junk from their homes. And, in the end, they feel like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. They feel free. And everything they’ve kept “sparks joy” in their life.

There is a good lesson here that can be easily applied to travel. Specifically, we challenge you to apply the Marie Kondo method to how you pack.

The Goal: Limit yourself to a single carry-on sized backpack or suitcase when you travel.

It doesn’t matter how long you plan on traveling — it can be three days or three weeks. The challenge is fitting everything you need in one carry-on sized piece of luggage.

It’s not as tough as you might think — it just requires a different mindset. But don’t worry because we’re going to walk you through a step-by-step process to turn you into a bonafide one-bag traveler.

And before you know it, you’ll be breezing through Europe (or wherever else your travels take you) while all the other schmucks schlep their 50 lbs suitcases around.

The Zen of One-Bag Travel
(And How It Will Change Your Life)

Best Carry-On Backpacks

One-bag travel forces you to cut back to the essentials.

We’re talking one, or maybe two, pairs of shoes.

One or two pairs of pants.

A couple shirts.

A minimal amount of underwear and socks.

A heavy laptop? You might want to just stick to your smartphone or maybe an iPad.

An extra jacket? Ehh, maybe not.

Books? Those things are heavy and bulky.

Shampoo, conditioner, soap, makeup, moisturizer, shaving stuff, skincare products, deodorant… all that stuff is heavy (And you’re not disciplined enough to pack light then the TSA will have no issues throwing away all the liquids that don’t fit in a quart sized bag).

The process of cutting back to the essentials isn’t easy. You’ll struggle. You’ll repack your bag multiple times until you’ve perfected it.

But something happens once you’re on the road without tons of stuff weighing you down. You start to realize that you don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy.

There is no “out of sight, out of mind” because your shoulders become very attuned to every ounce you’re hauling around. You might even start leaving things behind because you don’t want to lug it around.

Traveling With A Lot Of Stuff… No Fun.

But, through this process, you start to actually enjoy not “owning” a lot of stuff. Yes, there will be some inconveniences but you’ll start embracing this new minimalist lifestyle. Train stations. Flights of stairs. Crowded streets. Cobblestones. Tiny hotel rooms. All these things seem to disappear because you’re able to navigate everything without worry.

And, once your travels are over, you might just find that this new “minimalist” lifestyle starts transferring back to your everyday life.

Do you need all this stuff? Does it, as Marie Kondo says, “spark joy?” Probably not.

Personally, after living out of a backpack for months, I had a bit of an extensional crisis once I returned home. I had so much stuff. I had boxes of things stuffed with crap I hadn’t seen in years. I had more clothes than I knew what to do with. I had random junk stuffed anywhere junk could be stuffed.

This triggered a purge of Marie Kondo proportions.

And now, after every trip we take, I find myself with the urge to clear out all the junk I’ve unconsciously collected.

Step-By-Step Guide To One-Bag Travel

Perfecting one-bag travel takes a bit of trial and error but don’t worry because we’ve listed a lot of practical tips below to help as you embark on this journey.

Step One: Get A Carry-On Sized Backpack or Suitcase

Best Carry-On Backpack | Tortuga Setout

To truly grasp one-bag travel you need to get your hand on some luggage that’s small enough to be considered carry-on size. Each airline has slightly different size requirements but it’s usually around 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches.

We prefer traveling with backpacks because its hands-free nature lets you navigate things like cobblestones, stairs, and crowded train stations much easier than a suitcase. But no worries if you prefer a suitcase.

There are a number of travel backpacks made specifically to adhere to carry-on size restrictions.

We suggest checking out any of the following travel backpacks:

Related: Read Our Guide To the Best Travel Backpacks

Step Two: Get Organized

Tortuga Setout Divide packed
Packing Cubes Keep You Organized

Marie Kondo loves using containers to make sure everything has its designated space. This same concept can also be applied to travel packing.

Our first suggestion: Packing Cubes & Packing Folders

Packing Cubes are lightweight zippered cloth pouches allow you to easily compartmentalize clothing and other items in your bag. We put socks in one bag, underwear in another, t-shirts in another, etc. Everything has a home so you know exactly where to find everything (and how to repack it all again).

Packing Folders follow the same idea but they’re made for bigger items like shirts and pants.

Related: Read Our Guide To The Best Packing Cubes

Step Three: Choosing Your Clothes

packing cubes - fold and stack

Gather everything you think you’ll need and throw them on the bed.

Next, if you’re like most people, you’ll need to cut at least half the stuff you just pulled out.

Really think about what you need.

Do you really need more than two pairs of pants?

Can you get by with only two pairs of shoes? Absolutely. You can honestly get by with one pair but that might not be for everyone.

Related: See Our Guide To The Best Travel Shoes

You only really need a few shirts. You just need enough underwear for a few days.

Our point is that you need way less than you think because people forget that they can do laundry while traveling.

Consider picking up clothing made from fabrics that lend themselves to travel (durable, wrinkle-resistant, odor-resistant, stain-resistant, quick-drying, etc.). Some of our favorite brands are Bluffworks, ExOfficio, Wool & Prince, & Western Rise.

Related: Our Guide To Ultralight Travel Clothing

Step Four: Toiletries

One of the quickest ways to weigh down your bag is with toiletries. It’s easy to add 2-3 pound of stuff without even thinking.

Only pack the things you 100% know you’ll use. If you think you might use something then you’re better off buying it on the road if/when the occasion arises.

Personally, we limit ourselves to shampoo, conditioner, body-wash, basic cosmetics, chapstick, toothpaste, deodorant, and a few other odds and ends. Most everything else we’ll buy while we’re traveling.

Step Five: Electronics

Luckily, your smartphone has basically replaced your computer and camera. Personally, we travel with an iPad Pro and we also use our compact Sony RX100 digital camera but we end up using our iPhone 95% of the time.

Step Six: Get Packing

The moment of truth. Can you fit everything in your bag?

Test it out.

Try wearing your backpack for 20 minutes. How does it feel? Too heavy? Do your shoulders hurt? If so, consider cutting back a bit.

Don’t worry if it takes a few tries to really hone it in.

Step Seven: Enjoy The Trip

Best Carry-On Backpack - Train Seats
Just you, your bag, and the open road.

Have fun 🙂

James Feess
Follow Me
No Funny Business

The Savvy Backpacker is reader-supported. That means when you buy products/services through links on the site, I may earn an affiliate commission—it doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support the site.

Thanks For Reading! — James

Questions? Learn more about our Strict Advertising Policy and How To Support Us.

Travel Blog

Related Reads

City Guides

Choosing Travel Insurance

Travel Packing Lists

Back to Top