The art of travel gear: Traveling with only one carry on bag

The last thing I want to think about when I’m getting off a plane is how heavy my bag is.

Maybe I want to walk around and grab a meal. Shoot some photos. Draw a little.

The first time I ever traveled abroad I had two bags. I didn’t question it, it’s just what you did.

The second trip I only had one. But it was heavy.

Now I travel with only a 20 liter carry on bag. It fits under the seat in front of me.

When I wear it, I’m light and agile.


Jump on that bus. Easy.

Walk a few miles to your hotel. No problem.

Get in a boat down the river. Let’s stand in line for an hour – piece of cake.

I once visited a friend in Mexico City. He works for the UN. In real life he did the same job Brad Pitt’s character did in World War Z, but no zombies.

By the front door in his house, he had a backpack.

He told me it was his “Oh shit!” bag.

If he had to go to Haiti or anywhere in the world at a moments notice, he would grab that bag and go.

He could live for weeks from just that bag.

I was amazed.

Of course I picked his brain about what was inside. And yes, I’m going to tell you everything, don’t worry.

What I learned from him changed how I traveled ever since.

Recently, I traveled India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand for four months with just a 20 liter backpack.

Here’s my list of travel gear.


Main backpack
I currently use the 20L Daily Backpack from Able Carry. I use it traveling and every day when at home.

Sling Day Bag
No, it’s not a man purse or a fanny pack. It’s a sling. Even Indiana Jones had a day bag. You’ll want to leave you main backpack in your hotel and take this with you when you’re out exploring.

Clear Toiletries Bag
Airport security has a deep fascination with your toiletries. The only times I’ve almost missed my flights were because of my toiletries bag being inspected. Mainly because of my contact solution. But to make it easy, any TSA approved clear bag will do.


In every bag, clothes take up the most space. You have to only pack for a week. This doesn’t mean seven different pairs of pants, shirts, underwear, and socks either.

The secret is wool. Not any wool. Merino Wool from New Zealand.

It’s a magical material.

It’s cool in hot weather. Warm in cold weather. Wicks sweat away. Dries fast. Doesn’t smell. Is anti-microbial. Doesn’t wrinkle. Prefers to be hand washed in cold water every now and again.

You don’t have to wash Merino wool once a week like your normal clothes. The CEO of Wool and Prince did a 100 day challenge wearing a wool shirt with much success.

Your destinations season and climate will determine what you pack.

The key is layering.

Tee shirts
I usually bring three tee shirts from Wool and Prince no matter where I go.

Long sleeve Henley
One Henley from Wool and Prince will be in my bag no matter what.

If I’m in a tropical place, I’m always wearing these hybrid shorts you can wear in the water, hiking, and anywhere else.

While not wool, virtually any pants by Prana are my favorite. Most wool pants feel too dressy to me.

I’ll bring 3-5 pairs of these boxers by Merriwool.

Three pairs of wool running socks by Darn Tough.

All-Around Running and Hiking Shoes
I’m not a fan of normal hiking boots. Which is why I use these shoes by Brooks. Which are perfect for hiking, running, and wearing for normal everyday use while traveling.

Anything by Reef is great.


If you’re going to a colder climate then you’ll want to think about a jacket.

Patagonia Nano Puff
Warm, windproof, water-resistant and uses incredibly lightweight and is highly compressible. I don’t even know it’s in my backpack until I need it.

Patagonia Torrent Shell 3L (for colder locations)
If you’re going to a cold and wet place. Get this to wear over your Nano Puff in order to make yourself water proof. Only bring this if you are going to a place where you’ll have to wear it all day and every day.


You can easily just use your phone.

But if photography makes you weak in the knees, use a Ricoh GR III. It’s a pocketable camera with the same size sensor as most mirrorless cameras on the market.

If you want a good camera that isn’t your phone that also does video, any of the Sony RX100s are great.

If you want to get your video camera wet, use a GoPro. I use the GoPro HERO Black 9. But used the GoPro HERO 7 for the longest time.


Convertor Plug
Depending on where you’re going in the world, you’ll need a universal adapter to plug in to.

Surge Protector
I plug this into my Convertor so I can charge multiple things at once while also protecting my gear from surges. The last thing you want is a fried laptop.

I used to use Apple products, but not anymore. Now I prefer a 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. It’s light and has an amazing keyboard.

Typically, I only use my Kindle when in route somewhere on a plane, train, or car. I have the basic, paper white version which I barely have to charge.

Solar Charger
You can easily charge this with USB and setting it in the sun. Having the solar option has come in handy.

Art Supplies

Moleskine Sketchbook
I bring two Moleskine sketchbooks because it only takes me a week to fill one.

Ballpoint Pens
I only draw with Bic ballpoint pens. Which is easy for me to stash a few in my backpack.

Self Defense

Zebra Pen G-402
This is a metal ballpoint pen I love drawing with. It’s also a great self-defense tool you can easily get on planes with and carry with you anywhere.

Streamlight 250 Lumen MicroStream Pocket Flashlight
You’ll use a flashlight more than you think. I’m probably still alive because of my flashlight making me visible to oncoming traffic, spotting random bottomless holes next to sidewalks.

I’ve been in an overcrowded train station in New Delhi at night when the power went out. I turned on my flashlight, aimed it at the ceiling, and it lit up the entire train station.

Even at home in San Diego, I bring a flashlight on all my runs. Just to be seen by cars and spot the occasional skunk so I don’t get sprayed.

Also, nothing will diffuse a situation more quickly than a flashlight.

Small First Aid Pouch Kit

I bring a small waterproof pouch full of basic first aid essentials. Having all these tiny items on hand will save you time looking for a pharmacy when you’re not in the mood or condition to go to one.

This pack is small and is generally no bigger than a fat deck of cards. I’ll take this first-aid pouch and put it in my day sling, when I leave my main bag at a hotel.

I’ve used every single one of these while traveling:

  • headache and pain relief pills
  • regular sized, water proof band-aids for small cuts
  • Neosporin or any other anti-septic gel to use with the band-aids
  • superglue in case you need stitches
  • extra contact case pre-filled with solution (if you wear contacts)
  • anti-acid tablets
  • Ciprofloxacin for treating and preventing certain infections caused by bacteria. Helps with bad cases of food poisoning.
  • Badger Anti-Bug Balm Tin.
  • mini hand sanitizer
  • $20 USD in cash
  • mini LED flashlight