The concept of one-bag travel is nothing new. There have always been some airline passengers who prefer to avoid the hassle of the baggage claim (and the risk of lost or damaged luggage) by taking only carry-on bags, and as airlines have steadily jacked up their fees for checked baggage, this approach has grown increasingly popular. As a result, luggage bins have grown ever more crowded, and airlines have begun placing tighter limits on carry-on baggage. Most airlines now allow only one carry-on bag (plus a small personal item, such as a purse or laptop) free of charge, and one, Spirit Airlines, now charges even for a single carry-on. Now, some ambitious travelers are striking back by taking traveling light to its logical extreme: no-bag travel.
Travel blogs and websites offer several accounts of adventures in no-bag travel. At BudgetTravel.com, one traveler describes trekking across South America with nothing but the clothes on his back; others have made extended trips carrying only a day pack small enough to fit under an airplane seat. Perhaps the most intriguing approach to no-bag travel, however, is the use of a travel vest or travel trench coat. Loaded with interior and exterior pockets, these garments allow travelers to carry all their belongings hands-free.
One example is the Suitcase Coat, which is lined with roomy mesh pockets that the manufacturer describes as "big enough to hold shirts/blouses, sweaters, pants, underwear." Other examples include the Carry-on Coat, with designated pockets for clothing, toiletries and electronic gadgets, and the Jacktogo, a 15-pocket bag that converts to a coat. The Jacktogo website includes an amusing video that shows a man converting the bag to a coat right in front of the airport security agent; however, a post at the One Bag, One World blog out that you're unlikely to get away with this maneuver in reality.
Although these products have been discussed in travel blogs and forums, they seem to be regarded mainly as novelties. However, we did find see one account by an adventurer who put this method of no-bag travel to the test. In 2010, travel writer Ralph Potts traveled around the world in 42 days, carrying only what he could fit in a travel vest. He brought one spare T-shirt, socks and underwear, washing these items daily, and reportedly stayed "fresh and odor free." He also pared down his toiletry kit to the essentials: toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, sunscreen and deodorant. It's worth noting that he his made his trip before the airlines placed their 3-ounce limit on all liquids and gels. Travelers today might have a bit more trouble accommodating the requisite 3-1-1 bag -- a single, 1-quart, clear plastic bag containing toiletries in containers of no more than 3 ounces -- in a travel vest.
Potts says that while his no-bag journey was enjoyable, he doesn't plan to make no-bag travel a way of life. Luggage does "make some aspects of a journey easier," he concedes, "and one can still travel ultra-light while carrying a small bag." Nonetheless, his experience does illustrate the point that it's possible to make a long trip with far less gear than most travelers assume they need. Potts suggests that many travelers overpack "because certain items feed into our psychic 'bubble of comfort' -- a kind of half-hearted attempt to bring home with us -- when in fact not much is required, in the material sense, to enjoy a great time on the road." Leaving those unnecessary items behind, he concludes, is "liberating" and allows you to embrace the experience of being on the road.
And, if more airlines start charging for carry-ons, you can have an ace up your sleeve -- along with your smartphone and a change of clothes.