Tyler Robertson

Resources for single-bag travel

Thursday, June 23, 2022

I get a lot of travel anxiety, especially when flying. A few years ago I realized it was because I was giving myself too many things to keep track of — security checkpoints are difficult enough on their own (especially on international flights), and struggling through a crowd with multiple bags and electronics is an easy way to completely overwhelm myself.

On the advice of a friend, I started finding ways to minimize my travel setup, and now have a single bag that I fly with, even internationally. The reduced load not only helps ease the stress at security checkpoints (there's only so many pockets I can keep a laptop in), but it's fully transformed the way I approach airports. While I'm still not the biggest fan of flying, the rest of the process is oddly relaxing.

I've finally honed and standardized my travel set up, and am documenting it here for future reference! If you're interested in single-bag travel, or want to try minimizing your travel stress, you may find a few of these items useful.

The Bag

I use a light grey Hynes Eagle 40L travel backpack, which is a fairly affordable $45 from their website. It seems to be regarded as low- to mid-tier, so there's definitely a lot of room to grow or invest in fancier bags, but it's a great place to start and has served me well for three years now.

40 liters is an interesting size because it's big enough to include a laptop sleeve and plenty of pockets, but not so big that you can fit two weeks' worth of clothing into it. I find that I can fit about 9 days of clothing and toiletries (more on that later), so it does require planning both in the packing and post-arrival stages. I also picked this size because it fits under the seat on most international flights, and some domestic ones. Now that we're entering a phase where it seems like all flights are fully booked, and there's never any room overhead, this is especially useful.


I should start with this: I'm basic as hell. If you do a Google Image search "white guy who works in tech", that's about how I've dressed for the last decade — t-shirts, hoodies, jeans, one or two button-ups. Nothing overly precious, or with specific care and handling instructions. If you tend to travel with lots of nice things that can't be folded, hit me up! I'm actively dreading having to travel with a suit next year and could use some tips.

I ascribe to Marie Kondo's methods for folding clothes, both at home and for traveling:

With the 40L bag, that method allows me to comfortably fold and stack pants, sweaters, and button-ups on one side, then stand the folded shirts up along the other. Socks, underwear, and toiletries can then either go above or on top of the other clothes, based on remaining room. I also recommend wearing layers on the plane, as that gives you more options to make you comfortable during travel, and saves room in the bag.

I tend to travel with relatively few pairs of pants usually two pairs that I swap between over the trip. I tend to wear denim jeans of various blends, and recently learned that apparently you don't need to wash jeans? I don't know how much I trust that, but so long as the occasion doesn't call for formal wear this strategy seems to be good enough.

Dress clothes can be folded flat and laid on top of the pants, but you'll definitely need to check with wherever you're staying to see if there's an iron or steamer you can use. Most hotels will have an iron available, and I've gotten used to unpacking as soon as I arrive, then ironing and hanging any nicer clothes.

Some recent—but highly recommended—additions to my travel wardrobe include the Superdry Packaway Overhead Cagoule Jacket (a light rain jacket that fits into the front pocket of my bag when folded away), a spandex Flexfit baseball cap (my dome is apparently very large, so I order XXLs from HatShopping), and clip-on sunglasses (yes really).


The primary devices I travel with now are:

Because most international flights have USB and power sockets now, I tend not to mess around with external chargers (I have yet to find one that isn't more hassle than it's worth). For the cables and adapters I do have to bring, I pack them away in a small drawstring bag. That keeps them from getting tangled in the other contents of my bag, and if I need to get to them on the plane, I can pull the smaller bag out and sort through it in my seat. For my last trip, I used one that came with my new glasses, but might upgrade to this waterproof one if I'm feeling adventurous.

If you're going to coil your power cables, learn the roadie wrap and invest in some velcro cable ties to keep them from getting tangled together. For shorter and thinner cables, like iPhone lightning cables, I use a method I picked up during my time working at the Apple Store: fold the cable in half, then half again, then form a loose square knot. I couldn't find any videos of this, but the end result should look something like the below:

It puts surprisingly little strain on the cables (which have a pretty short lifespan anyway if we're being honest), and makes them easy to pull out of a bag full of other junk.

For the laptop, use a bright laptop sleeve, if using one at all. I once lost a laptop in an airport security line because it was in a black sleeve that blended in with the x-ray bins (legend has it that it's still somewhere in Minneapolis-St Paul Int'l). This most recent trip, I went without a sleeve — the ambient anxiety around making sure it didn't get damaged helped ensure that I knew where it was at all times.

Wireless headphones are a must! I use Bose QC35s at home (that work paid for), and have started traveling exclusively with 3rd gen AirPods. They just happen to fit well in my ears, and stay charged long enough for most flights. Your mileage may vary with the fit, so find a pair you like and stick to them (maybe even get a spare).

The RG351V is a new addition, but quickly became a favorite part of my travel setup. In brief, it is a handheld video game emulator, designed to emulate the feel of the original GameBoy. On the recommendation of some great videos from RetroGameCorps, I have it running the AmberELEC firmware. Emulation is a bit of a legal grey area, so I won't tell you exactly what to do with it, but I will say that on my last flight I was able to play a certain monster-collecting classic for about 7 hours before needing to re-charge.

If you've got your smartphone with you, it's also a good idea to spend some time downloading activities that won't eat up the battery. For me that's long podcasts ("actual play" podcasts like Party of One or Friends at the Table can promise hours on hours of content), audiobooks on Libby, and books on either Libby or the Books app (most recently the whole Boss Fight Books collection).


Get a clear, reusable toiletries bag, and keep it stocked with items bought just for travel. That way, you're not pulling from the stuff you're using on a daily basis, and can pack everything up quickly. It also means that if you lose something on the trip (as I often do), you're not losing anything you'll need when you're back home.

No matter where you're going, pack sunscreen and moisturizer. Protect that skin!


Always pack a tote bag, just in case!

Bring an empty water bottle. I tend to have a 1L Nalgene bottle, clipped to the outside of my bag with a cheap carabiner.

Try to leave room for gifts if you can! Usually this means packing a little bit less than you might want, with the expectation that you'll pick up a few things during the trip. For me, I usually count on getting at least one t-shirt wherever I go (especially on work trips), plus a mug (or something of equal size) as a gift.

Preparing for travel

If you struggle with travel anxiety, preparation is going to be at least half the battle here. To make sure things go as smoothly as possible:

Make a packing checklist! Mine had three checkboxes for each item: one to make sure I knew where it was, another to check when I packed it, and a third to check when I did the final check and confirmed that I'd actually packed it.

Download travel documents to your phone (iPhone's "Files" app has an "On your phone" section, check for that), and print duplicates of anything that might be checked by border control. Recently this has included COVID documents, but might also be passenger attestations, details of where you'll be staying, emergency contact numbers, etc.

Don't fill your luggage! Fight the urge to use all available space, and always leave room to come home with more stuff. My last trip also had a few different destinations and some annoying layovers, so I used my spare room for snacks.

If traveling for work, put your work email/chat on your phone. I use Gmail and Slack, which let me quickly toggle notifications, so when I get back home they're easy to turn off again.

In the security line

Keep everything that needs to come out in the same part of the backpack, so you're not fumbling with stuff when it's your turn. Dedicate a single pocket or part of the bag for everything you'd normally keep in your pockets/purse (wallet, spare change, etc).

On the flight

Remember to wear layers if you can. This helps save room in the bag, but also makes sure you can feel comfortable in a variety of climates, and have lots of pockets for carrying things you might need on the flight itself.

Pull out whatever you need before boarding, and put it in the seatback pocket (also another great use for that spare tote bag!). For me this was my headphones, sweater, chapstick, and gameboy. For domestic flights where the bag won't fit under the seat, you can put it in an overhead compartment (or check it, as is becoming increasingly more common) and still feel like you have everything you need.

If it looks like the flight will be full, don't wait to find an overhead compartment near your seat, just use whatever available space you see.

When you arrive

While at the airport, sit down for a minute and put away anything that you won't need where you're staying — passport, gameboy, headphones, etc., all go back in the bag. This will make sure you're prepped for the hotel or whatever, but also serves as a time to double-check that you haven't forgotten anything on the plane.

Fully unpack as soon as you arrive wherever you're staying. If living out of a suitcase feels bad, living out of a backpack feels worse, so do everything you can to make the bag invisible until you leave. Hotels often have drawers and hangers for clothes, and I will dedicate a desk to electronics, even if I won't be working at that desk.

Have I missed anything?

There's a lot of information that could go in here, and I imagine I've probably left something out. If you're an avid one-bag traveler and notice something I've forgotten, let me know on Twitter!