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Carry On

Interview :: One Bag One World

by , May 16, 2014

Carryologists always want the simplest solution to carrying better. But it’s not always that easy, especially when we’re talking about travel. We’ve all been there: pre-trip, looking at our spinner with both hands on our hips as it brims with Ts and jeans and you say to yourself “but I need all of this, just in case…” 

That’s where Frank Brown comes in. The editor-in-chief of One Bag, One World, a website dedicated to keeping it simple, and more precisely – One Bag Travel. 

Frank has been a one-bag traveler for over 25 years. He’s worked as a TV journalist, talk show host, entertainment industry publicist, restaurant manager, sightseeing tour director, and has more degrees than you can wiggle a finger at, and now he travels the world promoting One Bag Travel. 

So we hit him with some questions just before he set out on his epic one-bag adventure and got the scoop on the world of the One Baggers…

one bag

Why the one bag? What’s wrong with two? Or three?

Those that follow the “One bag” philosophy find that trying to travel with more than one carry-on size bag, and perhaps a smaller personal item, opens them up to problems: lost luggage, theft, delays, injuries and so on. They all seem to have some type of checked luggage horror story. And let’s face it, how many people travel and say they want to take more the next time?

What kinds of people are drawn to one-bag travel?

This surprised me. I thought it would be mostly males in their 20’s to 40’s. I’ve found it’s almost equal between the sexes and the age range is from early 20’s to late 70’s.

What are the core principles behind one-bag travel?

The ultimate goal, we say, is to travel utilizing one carry-on sized bag without wheels. Not everyone can do this due to the nature of their travels, health issues or the items they have to take. At most, we suggest nothing more than an additional personal item/laptop bag or you’ll start getting into difficulty managing the load and being forced to check luggage. We don’t like to check luggage. (Whether or not you like wheels is a personal preference.)

two bags

Is there a particular mindset you need to have to succeed?

Yes, having the proper mindset is what makes someone a true “one bag” traveler. There are two parts:

1) The belief that it can be done;

2) The willingness to do laundry every two or three days.

Is it a case of the less you carry, the longer you have to spend planning?

Just the opposite, most one baggers have a core packing list of items they take on every trip and will then add depending on weather, reasons for travel, location, and so on.

What kind of clothes do you choose when packing and why?

I prefer to take clothes that are designed for travel – usually hand-washable blends that dry overnight and are wrinkle-free. I stick to basic colors that can be mixed and matched.

yellow packing cube

How do you decide to cull items? What makes it a ‘must have’?

This is the hard part and is unique to every trip. I start by making a packing list. I then go down the list and see if there are any items I can get rid of because something else does the same thing. One baggers love items that can do more than one thing.

Then I lay everything out, focus on one item, and ask myself if I think I really need or will use it enough to warrant carrying it. Sometimes it’s easier to buy an item along the way than leave home with it.

Do you take any extravagances?

Absolutely. I suggest that anyone traveling more than two weeks should take something that will make them feel more at home. For me it’s an immersion heater and a Swedish Army folding cup. I like a cup of coffee or tea first thing in the morning. In the U.S. most hotel rooms come with a coffee maker. This isn’t true around the world.

Having the immersion heater and cup also helps if I’m not feeling well and may want to make a cup of tea in the evening. This happened to me a few years ago in Venice. I caught a horrible cold and really wanted something hot to drink late at night. Unfortunately, the bar at the hotel had closed, there was no restaurant, and no way to get anything hot. Ever since then, I’ve traveled with a dual-voltage heater and the cup (and yes, the cup handles the heater without a problem). Together they weigh very little but make my journeys more enjoyable.

What bag do you choose to carry and why?

I have many bags and decide which one to take depending on the trip itself – where I’m going, what I need to take, the airlines I’ve chosen and any carry-on restrictions. My first choice bag is the Tom Bihn Aeronaut. It can handle just about anything. If I need something smaller, I like the Eagle Creek Adventure Weekender. With those two, I hardly need to have anything else although I will say the L.L.Bean Quickload Travel Pack would be the bag in third place. I prefer a one-compartment bag over one with multiple compartments. I’m also a fan of packing cubes, folders and sacs. My current favorites are the super lightweight Specter line from Eagle Creek.

These are convertible bags, meaning they have hide-away backpack straps allowing them to be carried by a handle as a suitcase, by a shoulder strap, or on your back.

packing accessories

Who inspires you in the world of one bagging?

Excluding my travels in the 70’s and 80’s taking only a garment bag on business trips, I was introduced to one-bag travel in 1990 by Rick Steves. He was not the guru he is today and had representatives in different cities selling his wares. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and went to hear about him and his beliefs. I was sold and bought my first convertible bag – the original Rick Steves Back Door Bag. That was a great bag: simple design, ballistic nylon, YKK zippers and internal tie down straps that you actually had to tie down. No clips. It was simple and well thought out. I recently found it in a storage unit I was clearing out and it brought back some great memories.

One of the reasons One Bag, One World was started was because there was really no place for one-bag travelers to congregate, ask questions and share information. At least those who wanted to discuss non-wheeled bags.

What brands do you think are rad right now? Who’s doing the most exciting stuff?

Tom Bihn always surprises with his designs. I don’t think one-bag travelers are looking for “rad”. They’re looking for functionality and durability. Of course they want the bag to look good but more importantly, they want the bag to do its job.

cable packing cube

What’s the least expensive carry option you recommend?

For someone on a very limited budget, I suggest the Campmor Essential Carry-On. It’s lightweight, durable, and only costs $30 U.S. I have the original version without the big logo. There is no structure to the bag so I suggest packing cubes. Surprisingly, even though it’s very inexpensive, it’s well made.

And the most expensive?

Tom Bihn, Red Oxx and Filson.

Can you tell me what role packing lists play in one-bag travel?

As I mentioned earlier, the packing list is an integral part of one-bag travel. I suggest travelers make a packing list before they even buy their first bag. By knowing what they’re taking, they can choose a bag that suits their “stuff”.

This also helps people from packing too much. If you stick to your list, you won’t get into the dreaded “I have more room in the bag so I can take more”. Not a good idea. The goal is to take just what you need and not to take as much as you can fit.

large packing cube

You’re about to venture out on one heck of a journey. Can you tell us about it?

I realized over the past few years I’ve become like most people and started to accumulate stuff. I became too complacent and felt bogged down. I didn’t feel as if I could just get up and go. I started to read about minimalism in general and realized that one-bag travel is the ultimate in minimalism. If I could live out of one carry-on size bag for weeks at a time, why did I need all this stuff? I’d much rather spend my money on experiences than things. So, about a year ago, I set up a goal to be out of my place and start traveling when my lease ran out. I have two months to go. My plan is to travel throughout the world, not only seeing new places but also looking for a new home.

I plan to stay in mostly extended-stay type hotels or corporate/furnished apartments. I’ve stayed in them before and loved it. I just had to show up with clothes, toiletries and a few items of technology and everything else was provided. When it was time to move, I could pack in a few minutes and be gone. I loved it.

Why did you decide to sell everything and hit the road?

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m well past the half century mark and feel if I don’t go now, I may not have the energy in the future. All the work I do can be done online so I can literally work from anywhere.

How are you preparing for it?

The basics are I’m selling or donating most of what I own, putting a few things into a small storage unit, and planning my travels around a few workshops and conferences I need to attend. The first few months will be spent traveling around the U.S. because I believe it’s important to see your own country wherever that might be. I laugh at those full-time travelers who think returning to or seeing their own country doesn’t count. It does.

storage unit

What items are you taking with you and why? 

I haven’t come close to finalizing a packing list. Unlike others who travel full time, I plan to come back to my “home base”, which is near my storage unit, every 2-3 months. This way I can change out clothes I have depending on the upcoming season. My first priority is finding a lightweight laptop preferably under 3 lbs that can do everything I need.

laptop

What items did you find hard to give the flick?

As you can imagine, I really like travel bags and travel accessories. I not only buy too many but get sent quite a bit to review. They are all in a walk-in closet and I’m having the hardest time getting rid of the items I really don’t need or use. Of course, there are also some sentimental and family items I’m keeping but that’s a no-brainer.

Have you set yourself any rules or goals to abide by on your journey?

1) No souvenirs. A waste of space and money.
2) Take my time. No need to recreate the tours I used to lead where we might stay in eight or nine hotels on a two-week tour.
3) Don’t plan too far ahead but try not to arrive anywhere without at least one night’s accommodation. As I’m getting older I like a little more comfort and it’s best, for me, not to arrive and take whatever is available.

Do you have any rock-solid travel hacks/tips that can make life easier?

The one key belief we were taught when I trained to be a tour director was to be flexible. No trip goes exactly as planned. Stuff happens. If you let yourself get stressed out, it could ruin your trip and make you sick. Stay calm, know your options, and by utilizing the principles of one-bag travel you just have to throw your bag on your back and concentrate on the problem in front of you.

pack it system

Anything you’d like to say that you think I’ve missed?

I suggest anyone who’s interested in one-bag travel, whether it be with wheels or without, come to our website, One Bag, One World, and explore. Not only do we offer quite a bit of helpful hints, but we have a terrific forum where you can connect with other one-bag travelers. It’s a place to ask questions, share travel tips and make new friends. You’ll find people from all over the world.

There’s also one key difference with our site over others in that we don’t tell readers what to do. So many other light travel sites tell their readers exactly what to do because that’s what they do. We, on the other hand, want to give our readers lots of options and information to let them decide what would work best for them. There is no one right way to be a one-bag traveler. There’s only what’s best for you.

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