When I watched the film Up in the Air, I was impressed that anyone could travel so frequently with such little baggage.

At the time, I hadn't traveled very much.  When I did, it was mostly on larger group trips - family, school, or trips with friends - where everyone had at least two very large bags.  I didn't think this was anything out of the ordinary.

Then I met a guy on a flight who traveled with only a carry-on. For every trip.

No baggage fees. No waiting for checked bags. It seemed very convenient, but I couldn't figure out how he managed to carry everything he needed in a single bag.

Enter Backpacking

In late 2012, I invested in a quality mountaineering bag that was about the size of my old carry-on so I could carry a single bag on my trip to Haiti.

Since the trip involved staying in the mountains, I viewed it more as a camping trip while I planned everything out.  A camping trip means hiking, hiking means a backpack, a backpack means traveling light.

I managed to pack 10 days' worth of clothing and gear into a mountaineering bag with no problems.

Ongoing Trips

Since I started working with WordPress full-time, I've also started presenting at open source conferences on a regular basis.  Since Portland is home to relatively few conferences (with respect to the nation as a whole), this equates to quite a bit of travel on my part.

For the first few trips, I still took my regular luggage to the airport.  I skipped checking my bags and opted for a smaller carry-on, but still had some sort of wheeled luggage to handle at the airport and on the plane.

After a while, though, I recalled my trip to Haiti and realized that my 10-days worth of gear for that trip vastly outweighed anything I took to a WordPress or JavaScript conference.  Since early 2013, I have taken a mountaineering bag on all of my trips rather than traditional luggage.


Unlike Ryan Bingham, I'm not going to tell you to empty a figurative backpack of friends, family, and other obligations.  Instead, I want to point out how freeing it's been to be the non-traditional traveler.

I can strap everything to my back and hike from one place to another without a hassle - as I did for several miles in Boston rather than wait and pay for an Uber.

I can easily carry everything down the aisle of the plane, meaning I'm often seated more quickly (and deplane faster) than my co-travelers.

Because my non-traditional luggage is smaller than usual, I take extra care when I pack to make sure I only bring the essentials.  Whereas I used to bring a lot of extra "stuff" on trips (I brought running gear, swim trunks, and 3 books to WordCamp Phoenix one year), I now bring only the things I know I'll need.

Clothing, my Bible, cables to charge my electronics, a neat toiletries kit so I'm not "that guy" after 3 days on the road.

Whittling down what I bring with me on the road has helped pare down what I keep at home, too.  Just the essentials, with a few added nostalgia pieces.  It's made me much happier not having to lug unnecessary junk from one point to another.

The next time you plan for a trip, will you be checking a bag or just living with a carry-on?  How much will you pack?  Did you make a conscious decision to include every item, or did unnecessary junk work its way in?