Living Lightly with the One-Bag Lifestyle

By Leo Babauta

I’ve been on a handful of long trips this year and in recent years, and on all those trips, I lived out of a small bag.

I loved living so lightly, but every time I came home, it felt weird: all of a sudden I had about 10x more stuff. It didn’t feel in alignment with the light, minimal lifestyle.

So after a 25-day trip to Asia last month, I came home with a mission: to live only out of the same bag I traveled with.

I’ve been doing it for a couple weeks now, and I plan to keep doing it for as long as it feels right. I think of it as my One-Bag Lifestyle — though it’s not for everyone, and it doesn’t make me better than anyone, I really like it.

To be clear, I have more things than fit in the bag: furniture, an iMac, tools, a handful of books that I can’t bear to get rid of (about 10 of them). But as for clothes and other personal items, I boxed up everything else and am pretty much only using what can fit in my 21-liter backpack.

I don’t expect anyone else to want to do this, but in case you’re interested, I thought I’d share more about what I’m doing and why.

The Bag

I’ve been beta-testing an amazing backpack this year, the Minaal Daily, for about six months now, and I really love it. It’s not a cheap bag, but if you care about quality and live out of your bag, you’ll want to get something built well. If you’re interested, you should grab it here, as they just launched a Kickstarter campaign for it. The guys who make it are friends of mine, and are really good people.

I dragged this bag around for 28 days all over Europe this summer, with Eva and the kids. I carried it in Melbourne for a writer’s festival. I took it to San Francisco, Portland, Tokyo. And all over southeast Asia, on planes, trains, and hundreds of thousands of steps though the streets of Hanoi, Hoi An, Saigon, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Chiang Mai. I ride my bike to the grocery store with it.

Anyway, it’s awesome, and I don’t think I”ll get another bag for years.

Cutting Down to Fit in the Bag

I’ve been traveling for years with one bag, so I can easily fit what I need in something that’s less than 20 liters (my smallest was 15 liters). I’ve slowly winnowed down what I need for traveling, to fit in a small bag:

I wear a pair of pants and a T-shirt I can work out in, and some tennis shoes that are comfortable for walking. Packed clothing: workout shorts, workout shirt, a couple extra pairs of socks, a few extra pairs of underwear, a lightweight hoodie, lightweight rain jacket. Gadgets: I carry my 11-inch Macbook Air, iPhone 5, travel adapter, cords. Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, floss, nail clippers, razor, small electric clippers (for my shaved head), ear plugs, eye mask. Misc: Passport, notebook, pen, napkins.

I don’t bring running shoes, a Kindle, books, extra clothes, dress clothes, snacks. Obviously, this won’t work for many people, but I’ve simplified what I do on the road so I don’t need anything else.

I wash my clothes in the sink or shower when I travel, every day. It takes like three minutes, and is totally worth not having to carry a lot of stuff around. I work out by walking and doing bodyweight exercises, so my health needs are fairly lightweight. I see other people dragging luggage, or roller bags, waiting for their checked luggage, and I feel any trade-offs of living lightly are far worth it for me. I can walk around a foreign city all day without getting tired from the pack on my back.

Boxing Up My Stuff at Home

When I got home a couple weeks ago, I found a big cardboard box, and put pretty much all my personal stuff into it. This way, if I really need anything, I can still get it, but I’m going to see what it’s like to live without it.

I did make a few concessions:

I have running shoes. I have an extra pair of workout shorts and shoes and socks. Again, I didn’t get rid of a handful of books. Most books I did get rid of, but I kept about 10 books I plan to read in the next six months (fingers crossed). If I don’t read them in those six months, I’m going to (painfully) let them go. I have dishes — I’m limiting myself to one bowl, one spoon, one fork, one water glass, one coffee/tea cup. But we still have more dishes for Eva and the kids. Again, I still have furniture, an iMac, tools, and other shared things. Also, we now have a car, since we moved to Davis last year.

I wash my clothes by hand usually, in the sink or shower. I either wash an underwear and either shirt or shorts each day, or wait a few days and wash a small load by hand.

I might need a few extra things, as the weather gets colder. That’s OK, I’m not trying to suffer, just to live lightly.

The Costs and Benefits

Other than having to wash clothes more often, which only takes a few minutes, I haven’t seen any big costs yet. We’ll see, as the experiment continues. I’m not pledging to live like this forever, I’m only trying it out.

The benefits are subtle: I feel lighter. I don’t have a lot of stuff to take care of, to clean, to organize. I don’t have choices to make about what to wear each day (I wear the same things every single day). I really just worry much, much less about this part of my life, and that allows me to focus on what’s important to me: my wife and kids, my writing, running and working out, meditation, reading, eating healthy vegan food. That’s all I think about these days, and so far I’m loving it.

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