Stuff We Like: Pack Light and Travel Fast, Part I

Welcome to Stuff We Like, a regular column where we shop and share items we think you’ll love. By reader request, I’m going to do a Stuff We Like series on one-bag packing and tools to help you organize and travel light.

I post pictures of my luggage on Instagram because I’m admittedly pretty proud of my efforts to streamline my packing so that I have one bag and one purse. Unless I’m bringing swag, notebooks, and items to give away, for most conferences and longer trips, I have one carry-on bag and one purse, and that’s it.

My research into traveling light began when I was planning a trip to Australia in 2014: I was going from Fremantle to Melbourne to Sydney, then to Hamilton Island and the Great Barrier Reef, then on to Brisbane. I was attending one conference (Romance Writers of Australia – thank you!) and two writing festivals that had invited me as an international guest (Melbourne Writers Festival and Brisbane Writers Festival – thank you!). I was going to be moving around a LOT, and midway through my family joined me. My goal was for each of us to have one backpack – larger ones for my husband and me, and smaller ones for the boys.

There is no shortage of sample packing lists, photo essays, and advice for one-bag packing, especially from people who are constantly on the road and move from one place to another. It’s kind of addictive to read them all, and I still have some saved in my digital scrapbook. All that research paid off, though, as I did travel for nearly a month through Australia with just one bag, and a small one at that.

That experience affected how I travel now, whether I’m going away for a weekend or for for than a week. Last year I traveled for several weeks from the US to Frankfurt and Baden-Baden, then Strasbourg, London, Peel (Isle of Man), Lancaster, then home for a night, and then to RWA in San Diego, plus an extra bit added on at the end for a funeral in Connecticut.

I switched out some clothing, but with the exception of the laundry I did at home and once on the road, I had the one bag with me.

My goal in just about every trip I take is to pack minimally, and travel with only the one bag, usually a soft sided backpack-style suitcase (in pictures above). I’ll go into greater detail in a future post about luggage options.

Why travel light?

  • Less waiting
  • Less worry about whether my luggage will fit in the overhead. As airlines charge more for checked baggage, carry-ons get larger and more abundant. I rarely worry that the bag I carry won’t fit. It nearly always fits, even on teeny wee planes. And I can often slide the bag under the seat in front of me in a pinch.
  • Less stress about moving quickly if I have to run for a flight or train. I’ve run from one platform to another several times with my luggage on my back.
  • Less indecision when I arrive about what to wear. I plan each day’s outfits, sometimes with an alternate – more on that later.
  • Less likelihood of a problem – no lost luggage if it’s with me

Many people have asked about how I manage this one-bag travel thing, so I thought I’d start with how I organize and streamline the number of things I’m bringing with me.

In future posts talk about packing lists, clothing plans, and the suitcases and bags themselves. The bags can be expensive (I stalked eBay for months to get a deal on the used one I still carry) and I’m a big proponent of using what you already have. Chances are you have a suitcase or bag that’ll work.

Plus, I know many of you are planning business or leisure travel this summer, and it’s a lot easier when you don’t have to lift or carry a heavy bag or set of bags.

Bottom line: you don’t need as much as you think you do!

So let’s get started.  (Note: some links herein are affiliate coded, so if you purchase using said links, I thank you very much!)

Airplane Travel Necessities

I have two sections for technology on my packing list, and one is for airplane travel. The rest of the items, which I’ll list below, I carry every day. But since air travel is its own special experience, here are a few things I keep with me that might make your trip more relaxing, too.

  • Noise-canceling headphones
Bose earbuds with black cords and clear plastic ear pieces
Bose QuietComfort Headphones

I had a Camel Camel alert for a drop in price on the Bose QuietComfort 20 ($249) (I know that is a LOT) earbuds for over a year before they went on sale, but they were worth the wait. They are small, lightweight, easy to carry, easy to charge and VERY effective in diminishing airplane roar, which tends to give me a headache.

Before I saved up for the Bose set, I had an Audio-Technica set that were about $50.

audio technica with on off square plastic on the headphone cord to activate noise canceling feature
Audio Technica Noise Canceling Headphones

The Audio-Technica did a terrific job as well.

And in a pinch, I always have basic earbuds in my bag.

Useful App! 

For very noisy flights and for noisy places, like the time I spent seven hours in an auto dealership service area waiting for a recall repair, I turn on a White Noise app. I’m partial to (cue up your jokes) Brown Noise (ok, let ’em rip!) because it absorbs chatter and television voices and doesn’t distract me otherwise. The White Noise app below has a free and .99 version, and I use it frequently.

White Noise Mobile App - free and 99c version

For airplane travel, it’s a lifesaver. I can’t listen to lyrics if I’m writing, and usually I’m writing on a plane. (Example: when I wrote the first draft of this post, I listening to a fake thunderstorm.)

Technology Items With Which I Always Travel – Always

Whether or not I’m headed to the airport, these are the items I always have with me – and I really mean “always.” I carry most of these items every time I leave the house. This streamlined shortlist of things I carry with me every day was refined after a lot of trial and error and travel. They’re helpful, and they don’t weigh much.

Tiny Tom Bihn zipper bag with nylon back and clear plastic front - I carry a bunch of stuff in mine

In my purse is a size small Tom Bihn clear organizer pouch with my tech necessities. I love Tom Bihn supplies, including the Aeronaut bag I carry (the one I haunted eBay for). They are not nearly the only options, but I like mine a lot. If I switch purses or need to move my things to a larger bag, the zip pouch of tech is always included.

It helps a lot to have your chargers and tech essentials in a bag that’s easy to grab and easy to see in your bag. These are also adorable:

Three soft fabric zip-top pouches for $3? Nice! And they’re light colors so they’ll show up in the deepest, darkest depths of your bag.

Amanda also loves this tech organizing bag:

The iSuperb A4 Multifunction Organizer Messenger iPad Handbag is $19, holds a tablet and a bunch of other things, and is available in four very cute colors.

You can find tech bag options everywhere, and they come in many styles, some large enough to hold tablets or computers.

7 by 5 canvas zip top bag with alphabet typeface printed on side

That one is just ridiculously cute!

Generally I stay away from bags that have hard covers or specific structures, because they take up room when they aren’t a little flexible. But one that’s shaped like a miniature train case might be ideal for you. Do what works!

And now… the chargers and tech!

Every phone and device comes with a cable, but I have found that carrying a bunch of cables of the standard 18″ – 2′ length just creates a growing tangle that’s a pain in my backside. I fish for a cable and invariably it’s wrapped around every other thing in my bag.

Here’s what I’ve got in my bag to make charging easier.

Micro-cables! 

I carry these three, the Griffin USB Mini Cable set ($8 with shipping), though I rarely if ever use the old-style Apple one.

If you’ve got the newer Apple port, there’s a mini cable for you, too – several in fact. This one, the Bewired, is $9 and 3″ long:

Micro-cables are great – this one, the JASTEK 8-pin multi-charger ($9) has a clip for attaching to a keyring or luggage strap:

All my micro-cables come with me, along with a backup charging battery. Currently I have this one, the ANKER Core 10k ($24), which weighs 180g/6.35oz:

Headphone Splitter

Several times I have asked myself, and my husband has asked me, “Why do you always have the headphone splitter in your purse?”

Answer: because having it can mean an extended period of peace and quiet when you’re waiting, traveling, or stuck, and only one device is working. Those needing amusement can plug their headphones into the jack and share a movie on one device in the backseat of the car or on an airplane. (Typically, for long travel times, we let each dude pick out one movie to download, and usually they conspire to get two they both want to watch.)

Black plastic headphone splitter

The Belkin Headphone Splitter ($5) comes in a flexible or stiffer y-shaped configuration, and is one of the handiest things I have in my bag.

And if you’ve a need for more than two pair of headphones, there are five-port audio splitters, too:

Belkin multi port headphone splitter in red

The Belkin Rockstar ($12-15) has five ports and comes in different colors, too.

Extras for Peace and Charging:

I don’t always carry this in my purse, but for travel where I know I’ll be staying somewhere overnight, I have one of these in my bag:

The Anker four-USB Charger Port ($25) turns one outlet into four USB charging hubs. When I travel with the family, I always have one with us. (There is a well-reviewed cheaper option for $13 as well.)

Along with the micro cables and headphone splitter, I have the regular things, like some Band-aids and sunscreen wipes and lip balm in the mini zip bag. I also have a very small pen and some miniature colored pencils for artistic emergencies. But for essentials in terms of technology, I try to minimize and streamline what I carry and where I carry it, so I can grab one little zipper pouch instead of fishing for a tangled cord in the bottom of my bag.

The same goes for my clothing, undergarments, shoes, and other stuff. I’ll expand in the next edition on the tools I use for packing, and on my packing list (which I will share – don’t worry!). I hope this will help make your journeys easier, whether they’re short trips to the coffee shop, or epic trips of a lifetime. Happy travels!

Wait – one thing! I’m going to be talking about travel, spring cleaning, and other organization tips using Google Calendar (and Google’s other free products) in the coming weeks in my Organization Academy newsletter. Sign up if you’d like more!

What tech tools do you find indispensable? Any gadgets or travel tech you can’t live without? 

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