Around The World With One Bag (Part One)

Tokyo, Japan: Roppongi At Night

Every one of us has assumptions and attitudes that shape how we travel, but I had never directly considered my own until I was preparing to pack up and walk out my front door for an indefinite period of time.

Once I committed to making this open-ended trip, I began to ask “What am I going to bring?” and “How am I going to carry it around?” The answers to these (admittedly First World) questions took time to figure out — but what I’ve learned along the way has actually been key to having an enjoyable time while traveling!


It seems odd to me now that I had never considered what kind of traveler I was until Lauren and I started talking about which bags to use. We have a tradition while we’re packing for a trip — a kind of travel ritual at this point:

  1. She suggests that we share one bag.
  2. I tell her that I’m going to need my own bag.
  3. She then gives me a hard time because, between my clothes and books and gadgets, I bring along far more stuff than she does.

She’s right, of course — but I defend myself using something I think of as the “B.B. King Principle of Packing”: If you are willing to carry a bag without complaint, then you’re “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss”.

Lauren remains unpersuaded.

Maybe it was attrition — or maybe her insinuations that I’d want to bring a steamer trunk for a trip of this length were a bridge too far — but at some point, I resolved to carry only one bag on this trip… and one that would fit into an overhead compartment!

So, I had thrown my cap over the wall of a new style of travel to me. Now I had to figure out how to climb over that wall to retrieve it (and in the case of this metaphor, make “one bag travel” work for me.)

Our Bags / Ourselves

I shouldn’t be surprised when I find an internet community, fully formed and discussing whatever narrow topic I need to research — but I always am.1 Google quickly presented many forums and websites with people trading reviews and tips about their own “Global Go Bags”. Blogs dedicated to lightweight travel had suggestions about what to wear on your trip, what else should go in the bag, and exactly how to pack those clothes in as compact a manner as possible.

But after my introduction to this “One Bag” community — people who earnestly (and endlessly) debated ideas about the ultimate travel bag — I found myself asking… “Ultimate” for whom? Some people recommended backpacks for a Round-the-World trip — the idea that Lauren was keen on. We had some bad memories of dragging our rollerbags over quiet cobblestone streets in France and Italy, disturbing the tranquility of elderly locals who scowled at us for causing the resonant, tank-like rumble.

Giving P.T.S.D. flashbacks to World War II survivors was not exactly the low-profile, respectful vibe we were shooting for. We wanted to try something else this time — but we had different ideas about what to try. “It has to be a backpack”, Lauren said. “It’ll be fun… and better for walking around while we find places to stay.”

I heard her say those words — and found myself face-to-face with a personal prejudice: I didn’t care for backpacks… or backpacker-style travel.

Unpack Your Attitudes Before Packing Your Bags

It may be a sort of heresy in the extended travel community to say something like that, and I say it with many caveats. I don’t want to single out “backpackers” because that’s not exactly a monolithic group. It’s more about a style of travel which I see in a fair number of non-backpacking travelers as well. But I think it’s important to be up-front about your hang-ups in order to plan a successful trip — and in this case, for readers to make sense of my recommendations since I’m writing a series of posts about packing for an Around-the-World trip.

I’ve noticed that on many travel blogs and websites, it’s common to talk about subjects like “Which Bag Is The Best?” without even examining what make us each want to pack a bag and leave home in the first place. Certainly, the answers aren’t always the same — nor are the preconceptions about what makes for an enjoyable trip. And yet as important as these attitudes are, I think that they’re one of the more under-discussed aspects of travel.

Take a moment and ask yourself some questions like “Why Am I Leaving Home?” and “What Stuff Can’t I Really Live Without?”. Do you want to forget about your life at home while you’re away? Who do you want to meet on your travels? Forget what the guidebooks tell you — what do YOU think is really worth seeing in this world?

Your answers are probably driving almost all of the important decisions you make about any trip you’ve ever taken.

The Luggage Between My Ears

So — what are my “unspoken assumption and attitudes” about what makes for good traveling?

  • I love *international* travel.
  • I like to have a plan of where I am going.
  • I like cities more than the wilderness — and I like people-watching more than sight-seeing.
  • I don’t really care for buying souvenirs on a trip, but I don’t mind paying something for experiences — especially if I have those experiences for cheap (or free).
  • I don’t like hostels. In fact, I’ve always enjoyed seeing how great hotels treat their guests.
  • I like meeting local people or expats rather than being in groups with fellow tourists.
  • I have strong opinions about how to travel respectfully — which I try to live up to as often as I can.
  • I just married Lauren, who loves international travel as much as I do… but whose interests and tastes are slightly different from mine.


In the next part, I’ll show you how articulating these attitudes helped us do something very practical — pick our luggage! (…and once we were “on the road”, whether we made the right choices!)

  1. Viva La Internet! []

7 Responses to “Around The World With One Bag (Part One)”

  1. Linna Martel July 10, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    Rick Steves watch out! Very informative!

  2. Barbara Walker September 4, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    Great post! I am a veteran flight attendant and hoping to start my second career as a travel journalist. I have traveled in all the manners you mentioned, hostel, backpack, nice hotels etc., and found your post refreshing. You are absolutely right about figuring out WHAT makes you want to travel to know HOW you want to travel.

    I look forward to reading more on your journey.

    Safe Travels,

    • Justin Lancy September 5, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

      Thanks Barbara — Hope you also enjoyed Part Two of the Bag Series (and, if so, you’ll be happy to know that Part Three is coming this week!).

  3. Richard October 11, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    I have only recently become aware of the Tom Bihn product line. All my research has confirmed what you say, that it’s a very high quality line. I’m just curious if you’ve expanded your collection of his stuff, for different applications of your travels. If so, please describe. Your research is more thorough than mine, and would surely save me time.

    • Justin Lancy October 11, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      I have — and I intend to do deeper reviews of these items in the new year. In the meantime, here’s a thumbnail of my Tom Bihn experiences since posting this review:

      • Purchased a Checkpoint Flyer. Incredibly well-built, as per all TB stuff. Folding open the laptop container at the X-Ray machine works well and speeds things along. For me, I think the interior compartment is a bit smaller than I would like — but I tend to load bags up to the gills! Great bag.
      • Purchased a bunch of backpack packing cubes. Love these! Adds additional value to the idea of using packing cubes to contain your bag’s contents by giving you a daypack as well. I also keep a spare folded up for when I don’t want to unpack my clothes to use it.
      • Purchased zipper pulls for the Aeronaut. This is an accessory that I intend to add to this review: The zipper pulls reduce the rattling of TB’s heavy duty zippers which, when you’re running to catch your flight, has been compared to the sound of being chased by a Golden Retriever. Since installing them, things are much quieter.

      One more thing — Since I wrote this, I actually met Tom Bihn and Darcy Gray at their Seattle Factory. From my firsthand experience there, I can tell you that they are lovely people running a great business. I’m so happy to support them and, frankly, writing all this up for you makes me want to check their website for any new releases that I’ve missed.

      Hope this helps!