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Authored by Andrew McGuire

Traveling with one backpack is a skill to be learned and perfected. Even the most seasoned travelers fight the urge to over pack, and most will probably admit to throwing extra items into their bag at the last minute.

Though practice makes perfect, and over time I’ve managed to hone my packing skills to the point where everything fits into one travel backpack, whether it be for 2 months or 2 days. 

There is something liberating and exciting about being able to live out of just one piece of luggage. When you’re hauling heavy bags it’s awkward on public transport, inconvenient to drag across town, and airlines will hit you with extra fees.

You’re less likely to travel off the beaten path with all that weight, and it’s difficult to find your things when and as you need.

So if your resolution for the new year is to travel lighter and pack less, consider the following rules.

10 Tips For Traveling With One Backpack

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7 Days – That’s the Rule!

Do you really need 10 shirts? Probably not. If you can’t wear it more than once or if it can’t easily dry overnight, don’t pack it.

Of course if you’re going on a hiking trip and will be sweating all day, it’s probably not feasible to wear your shirt twice (but throw some powder detergent in a ziplock bag just in case!).

However, if you’re just planning on sightseeing, chances are there should be no problem wearing at least some of your clothes twice.

Go for tried and tested favorites (no one in Australia will ever know that you’re an outfit repeater), and don’t pack more clothes than you need. A very wise traveler once said “You can change your outfit every day, or just change your city!” 

Lightweight Clothing

Think about the fabric of your clothing! Only pack lightweight clothing that can be easily rolled up in your backpack.

This kind of clothing is easy to carry, saves space, and will also dry much easier should you need to do some laundry during your trip.

Don’t Forget Dark Colored Clothing

Not only should you think about the fabric of your clothing, but you should also consider its color and functionality.

Darker clothing is less likely to show stains and is easier to pair with any pair of shoes or pants that you bring along. Dark t-shirts can be both dressed up for a nice dinner or dressed down for an athletic activity.

Wear Your Jeans & Jacket For More Space

Wear your heaviest and bulkiest clothing while traveling! I usually wear a pair of jeans and a jacket onto the plane. These two items alone will take up a majority of your pack space (you can also apply this rule if traveling with heavy hiking shoes).

If it’s too hot for a jacket, tie it around your waist or around the straps of your pack.

Never More Than Two Pairs of Shoes

NEVER bring more than 2 pairs of shoes. One pair of shoes should be a sneaker that can double for athletic activities and also going out for a casual meal.

If you must bring a second pair of shoes make it a pair of shoes for more formal occasions or nicer meals. The only time I break this rule is if I slip a pair of lightweight flip-flops into the side of my pack.

Montana from Jambu

Toiletries: Pack Only the Essentials

Only pack toiletries that you can’t buy at your travel destination. Unless you’re traveling to an isolated or ultra rural location, you can save a lot of space in by buying toiletries upon arrival. 

If you’re staying in hotels, the majority of the time they provide the essential toiletries for you. Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, soap. Most will have toothbrushes, razors, and toothpaste available for you too. You’ll find that picking up toiletries on the road is super easy, and often cheaper than if you were to buy them at home.

Bring Your Travel Books

Reading is one of the best ways to pass the time during long hours in transit. But books are heavy. Period. And they take up a LOT of unnecessary space in your bag.

While I am a huge fan of guides like Lonely Planet, and being able to read a novel while waiting for my flight, these are easy enough to carry on a Kindle or e-reader. And a great way to save space is to print out city guides instead of carrying around a bulky book.

If you do travel with a book, only take the one. When you’re done reading, you can swap with other travelers who are always willing to trade. Or hit up the hotel/hostel library where guests can exchange books.

Roll Your Clothes – Don’t Fold

Instead of folding or balling up your clothes into your pack, roll them up. You’ll be surprised at how much space this can save.

This also makes it easier for you to more efficiently dig through your backpack’s contents without dumping everything out.

Invest In A Quick Dry Towel!

I first bought one of these wonderful towels as an impulse buy at my local sports shop. However, it has quickly become one of the first things I pack.

If you’re staying in a hotel there may be no need for this item. However, if you’re like me and stay at hostels then this may be a lifesaver. It even doubles as a beach towel if you’re going to a more tropical destination.

Pack Necessities First

Finally, always pack your necessities first. Underwear, t-shirts, socks, and the items that you will definitely have to use. This way if you run out of room while packing you can leave out those less important items, and you won’t have to dig through your bag to pull them out. 

When you’re looking for your next travel companion, make sure to check out the best travel backpack reviews with the Backpack Boss.



Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack


Mountaintop 65L Internal Frame Backpack


OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack 50L


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Andrew has been traveling since birth, and now has a family that loves to travel with him too.  By his own admission, his obsession with backpacks might be a bit much, but they are at the center of how we get around as travelers after-all!

He’s been to 35+ states and ​21 countries. His favorite countries are Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands and Thailand. You can find him blogging about adventures with backpacks at Backpack Boss.


  1. Good article. My last 2 trips across the USA have been wih just a backpack and it was great! I also rolled the underwear for the number of days I would be traveling. Didn’t have to worry about lost luggage or wait to claim my bags.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Mona! Congrats on traveling across the US with just your one bag – agreed – it’s so much more convenient and hassle free especially when navigating airports and skipping the baggage carousel!

      Happy travels :)

  2. In my country (India) we are used to a “What if” packing style. We want to travel light, however we always fear – what if we need xyz duirng the travel. We end up over packing only because of this. Your post is extremely useful. I will remember this when I pack the next time.

    Looking forward to reading more posts from you as part of UBC.

    Do take a look at my latest post for UBC:

    • Glad we could set you up with some ideas for traveling lighter in 2017 then Mayura :) Haha I’ve adapted the rule that if I throw something in on the basis of “just in case”, I have to leave it behind :D … works really well actually!

  3. Oh, it is definitely a skill you have to learn. I travel with two packs. I tried to decrease it to just one, but it wasn’t working for me. But I will try again – eventually :-D

    • Practice makes perfect though; A skill to be perfected slowly over time for sure! Happy travels Zascha :)

    • Zascha – I have been traveling with two bags for years but used these tips to get down to one bag but then had a kido which then ballooned into more than two bags! It’s always a challenge but let me know if you have any other questions.

  4. Happy New Year Meg! Superb write up. 2 questions. What is one backpack, carry-on or check-in bag? What is backpack size in liters? Please let me know. Thank you and may goodness return to you and your family :)

    • Hey Josephine,

      Thanks so much for the questions. The purpose of this post is to help you with whatever backpack you already have. These tips will help you save on space with the travel backpack you already own. If you’re looking for the best travel backpack you can check out the review I put together on the website link here:

      Each of the backpacks have a different Liter size and it’s broken down on the post I put together. The carry-on and check-in bags are going to be much smaller and if you’re looking for a few to check out, it might be worthwhile to take a look here:

      These range from 40-45L so you can use all these tips to get as much as you can into them. Let me know if you have any other questions! Thanks Josephine.

  5. Great advice! I pack a traditional carry-on rolling back usually and a day pack with my electronics and camera. But I think I do pretty well considering I am usually left wondering what more I can bring because I still have space left…no matter how long my trip is!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Jessica! If you still have space left, I’m impressed! I need to master your packing skills lol … extra space is never a bad thing, means you can hit the shops while you’re away and not have to mail it home :D!

  6. Thanks for sharing. of these are helpful for a trip.

    • Glad you found the post helpful :) Happy travels!

  7. Great tips! I like to layer my clothes especially when I plan to bring a bulky jacket.

    • Thanks Amy :) Layering clothes is definitely the way to go!

  8. Great tips Meg. We would love to carry just a carry – on size bag. Would be so nice. We have a lot of camping gear and a leatherman so we need a bag to go under the plane. For short trips and non camping trips we will definitely take on your tips for a smaller bag. You are so right about darker clothes. As soon as we take something light coloured, stain instantly. For us light colour clothing is a no go.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Lesh :) Yep, With big equipment like camping gear it’s never really feasible to travel with carry on only … but we can dream right!

      I’ve stained so many white shirts that it’s not funny … always black now :D!

      Happy travels!

  9. I don’t think I would ever go back to traveling with more then one back pack again. Life is so much easier!

    • It’s very much like that!!! Happy travels :)

  10. Hi Megan,

    First time here and found this very useful.

    We’re avid travelers but I’m still perfecting the art of packing. The thought of one backpack is wonderful and scary at the same time!

    Our next trip is to Namibia where there’s nothing and no one for days and days. We’ll be 4 people travelling by 4×4 but considering all the supplies like water, gas, food, tents, sleeping bags emergency vehicle supplies and a whole bunch of essentials so we don’t die in the desert, means very little space for personal ‘essentials’ and clothes.

    One idea I had was to make most of my day clothes quick dry sports wear and of course warm gear for the clod desert nights.

    I’m definitely going to follow your guide! Maybe, just maybe I’ll surprise my hubby when I throw my one backpack into the back of our 4×4! LOL

    • Hi Astrid, so glad you found the post helpful, thanks for stopping by our blog! Don’t worry you’re not alone – I think I’ll still be perfecting my packing skills until my last travel days!!

      Namibia is one country I’m dying to get to – have heard so many amazing things, I’m sure you’ll have a fabulous time!

      Quick dry sports wear is a great idea for this kind of trip. You could also look into a product called the Scrubba Washbag if you’re on the road for long periods of time – essentially a portable washing machine! Great little compact bag with nobules inside that act like a flexible washboard. Easy way to wash your clothes in minutes and you can easily slip it into your backpack. And if you’ve got quick dry sports wear it shouldn’t take too long to dry :)

      Have a fantastic trip! Let me know if you get it all into the one pack! Happy & safe travels X

  11. Hey Meg,

    Hubby’s been to Namibia a couple of times. And he’s told me awesome things about it. I’m super excited!

    I told him I’m packing only 1 backpack and he laughed at me! But I’ll surprise him yet!!

    Thanks for the tip on that Scrubba Washbag!

    • Haha I find being laughed at or told I won’t be able to achieve something makes me even more determined to do so :D Good luck!

    • Hi Meg, Astrid – if you are interested, we’ve created a discount code for MM and her readers to get 15% off at Scrubba – MAPPINGM15

      Happy Trails!

      David @ Scrubba

    • Thanks David, appreciate it!

  12. Nice article. I was one of those who packed too much when traveling. I then purchase a 48L carry on backpack and I will not go back to luggage. Using packing cubes and rolling my clothes really saves me a lot of space. I also weight until I reach my destination before I purchase a lot of my toiletry items.

    • Adam,

      That’s fantastic news. I’m glad to hear that the tips worked out for you. It’s tough to go back once you’ve made it to a 48L carry on backpack. Have fun out there!

  13. Make sure you wash all non-natural clothing e.g. acrylic (eg fleece), polyester & cotton/polyester mixes plus lycra in a Guppy Bag (from so that non-biodegradable microfibres don’t enter the waste water and the ocean

    • Great tip / reminder – thank Carol!

  14. Nice article!I like to travel but i need 2 or more backpack because i have more clothes.Thank for sharing a great article.I will follow your step.

    • Maybe you could look at getting a large / deeper backpack with more carrying capacity – 80 L packs are pretty large and usually cater to everything you need :)

  15. I totally agree, though with a year of traveling we brought more like 10 days of clothes for each of us (as some won’t be seasonally appropriate at all times).

    • Nice work – 10 days of clothing for a years worth of travel is excellent packing skills! Hats off to you :)

  16. It was nice to see such a realistic approach. ? Just a question, and I hope I’m not getting too personal/creepy, what about feminine products/hygine? Has it been more of a challenge while on the road? I would love for Danielle to do a video about what it’s like to be a girl and living the van life. ? Thanks! I love your content!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Laur :) This post was written by Andrew, which is why there’s not any input on female hygiene in that sense, but I don’t personally find it a challenge, I’m on the pill which regulates my monthly and allows me to know exactly when I need to access hygiene products. I’ll always have a small amount of backup with me in my travel first aid kit anyway, but I’ve not found it an issue finding sanitary items in shops overseas :)

      Hope that helps! So glad you enjoyed the post :)

  17. Nice… Well every traveler has something favorite Luggage that he or she don’t want to loos at any coast for traveling. I also like traveling & some important Luggage in my bag for traveling.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Pat :) Yes, I agree, when you find a favorite bag it definitely makes packing easier!

  18. You really did a great job. I was making some mistakes while backpacking the backpacks. I found your article on the web, and It has given me some interesting tips. Thanks for sharing this great post. Have a good day.

    • Thanks Suhana, I’m glad that the post was helpful for you. Happy travels!

  19. Megan, I am so wanting to pack up and sell my trailer, make my leap.

    Take the money and run!

    I would like to cross from BC to NF, then start in England.

    It’s not bravery unless your scared…

    To say I’m scared,,

    How do you leave behind a life that is drowning you and full of downers and jump for it?

    I’m 47, 2 grown sons, I’m strong and don’t mess with me, but!


    • Hi Marie, thanks for reaching out – sounds like you’re thinking about quite an epic adventure!

      Definitely finding the courage to get started and take the leap can be the biggest obstacle to overcome. Typically I tell people that they have to make a commitment to themselves that they’re doing it – ie tell yourself it’s happening, convince yourself it’s happening, and move forward with the planning. Hopefully, as you start putting real plans in place, excitement will take over fear and replace any scared emotions with positive energy that will keep pushing you forward towards taking the trip :)

      I’ve found the mental hurdles are often the toughest!

      I hope you do manage to fulfill your dreams and take the leap!

      Thanks for reading :)

  20. Great job. This is so helpful for me by giving such important tips

    • So glad to hear Boda! Thanks for reading :)

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