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Onebag.com founder Doug Dyment joins host David Lytle to discuss the no-nonsense rules for packing wisely. Dyment reveals the secrets to the best bags and suitcases and teaches what to pack and how to fit it all into one bag -- even on a long trip. He also lets listeners in on surprising solutions to typical travel problems and shares the one piece of essential packing advice you should know before heading anywhere.

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Top Tips from This Podcast

See transcript below for links to more information.

  • 45 Inch Rule: Airline industry generally restricts overall dimensions of your bag to 45 inches. Length plus width plus depth.
  • Packing List: Always remember to create a list of what you need to pack. Use it to check off what you've already packed and bring it with you on your trip so you don't leave anything behind.
  • Ziplock Bags: Bring the freezer style bags which are stronger. Great for organization and keeping things from leaking.
  • Laundry: Don't overpack clothing. You can do your laundry in your hotel room.
  • Clothing: Limit your clothes to neutral colors so they all match each other.
  • Synthetics: Synthetic material travels better, avoid natural materials like cotton and wool.
  • Wheels: Avoid wheeled bags, they add unnecessary weight and bulk to your luggage, as well as remove potential packing space.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Announcer: Welcome to the frommers.com travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit www.frommers.com.
David Lytle: Hi, welcome to the frommers.com podcast. This is David Lytle. Today we are talking with Doug Dyment. He runs a web site called onebag.com, and it is all about the mysteries of how to pack everything into one bag.

Doug has traveled the world for most of his career as an educator and information technology consultant and tourist, and while doing so he has applied both his nitpicking inclinations and his engineering training to the issue of how to make travel an easier and more pleasant experience. Now he offers strongly opinionated advice on the art of travel on his popular onebag.com web site.

Doug, welcome.

Doug Dyment: Thanks very much, David.
David: Yeah, it's great to talk to you, too. So, does somebody need to have a background in engineering to be able to pack a bag well?
Doug: Only if you are as paranoid about it as I am, I would think. One of the values, I think, of my site is that the interests and expectations of somebody who is very nitpicky about all of this stuff, the normal person can just draw on without having to worry about it for the many years that I have spent on the topic.
David: Can you consistently pack everything into one bag?
Doug: Almost always. It is obviously trip-dependent. If I am flying to Canada for Christmas and have to take Christmas presents, then of course there is an extra bag that gets checked that is full of Christmas presents.
David: Sure.
Doug: But for the vast majority of travel, for business travel and pleasure travel, I just never check a bag. I have one carry-on bag and it always serves me just fine. I usually amaze people when I check in, but it actually works a lot easier than most people think. They just never really tried it.
David: Right. Do you travel with a laptop and an additional carry-on, or do you limit it to...
Doug: No, I include the laptop in my bag. When I am traveling, particularly on business travel where I not only need the laptop but I also need to carry business papers and things like that, I use a bag that essentially has three compartments, and the center compartment holds the laptop, and all the laptop accessories, and all the business papers and things. It really does all go in one bag, even if it is a business trip.
David: What are the measurements?
Doug: Well I don't know the exact measurements of my bag, but there is a sort of rule in the airline industry that the overall dimensions cannot exceed 45 inches, so the length plus the width, plus the depth. And you can imagine that bag manufacturers know this, so you can find a lot of bags that are slightly different ratios, but they all add up to 45 inches.
David: Right. Is that pretty much a hard-and-fast rule, or are we finding that sometimes those standards change?
Doug: No, that standard is pretty consistent. There is a metric equivalent of it that is used in Europe, but when you work it out their numbers are actually slightly bigger, so if you stay within the 45 inch rule, it works both in North America and pretty much everywhere else in the rest of the world.

It varies a bit. If you are traveling on very small commuter planes, they frequently won't let you carry a bag that size, but what they will let you do is not go through the normal checking procedures. You can check the bag planeside, which means that you carry it right up to the door of the plane, they take it from you there, but then they give it right back to you as you step off the plane; you don't have to go through baggage collection.

David: Yeah, I often had to fly New York to Indianapolis, and I actually enjoyed that aspect. The tarmac check is awesome. The fact that you can just walk up, they take your bag, and when you get off the plane you walk down the ramp, they give it right back to you.
Doug: Right, and you are not worried about losing the bag. And I arrange my bag such that if I am on a flight like that, I can pull out my laptop at the last instant and just take the laptop on the plane with me and have everything else go into the hold.
David: Right. So if you could offer one piece of advice for people when they are packing, what is it that you tell them to do?
Doug: Oh that's easy. Create and use a packing list. The biggest problem that most people have when they are packing is they are kind of winging it; the night before the trip they are putting things in their bag, and they are making decisions at that moment about, "Will I need this? Oh, I better take this? Oh, what happens if I need one of these?" That is what ends up making you take easily twice as much as you actually need. So for everyone, I say create a packing list.

In fact, really that is what my site is ultimately about. It is about introducing people to the notion of a packing list, giving them one to get them started -- although I encourage everyone to adjust it to suit their own particular requirements. But if you have a list then you know what goes in the bag. After you have done it a few times you know where it goes in the bag, and you never have to make these silly last-minute decisions to take along a toaster or whatever.

David: Right. It seems like it is just common sense, but I know, with traveling with various people, sometimes just seeing the size of bags of other passengers in airports... I mean, of course I don't always know what they are taking with them, but it seems like it is not apparent to people that you can travel conveniently with little belongings.
Doug: Absolutely.
David: And obviously a list is the most common sense way. I mean, it is something that my mother introduced me to with our weekly trips up to our lake cottage, was we always had to make a list of what we wanted to take with us, and then once we packed it we had to check it off the list.
Doug: There you go. So you were trained well, but most people are not, and as I say, they wing it. They make it up as they go along, and they just make too many bad decisions. So make a list, it is really easy.
David: Right, and that little check mark by the item also tells you that you have actually put it in the bag.
Doug: Right, and if you bring the list with you it also lets you be sure that you are bringing it home with you again as well.
David: Right, so when somebody goes to onebag.com, there is a printable list on your site.
Doug: There is. There is what I call the checklist version of the list, which is actually a half-a-page printable version of my list, and then there are many pages on the site which go into each item on the list in excruciating detail, and talk about why it is there and considerations relative to that item, and where you might find a good one if I have a particular recommendation, which I often do.
David: Sure. You had a couple of interesting things on the list -- I was reading through it. Ziploc bags. Why would somebody want to take Ziploc bags, garbage bags, plastic bags with them?
Doug: Well, Ziploc bags are often called, in travel columns, "the traveler's best friend," because they basically weigh nothing. Especially if you use the freezer-style bags as opposed to the really thin sandwich bags, they are really strong. They are just good for organizing stuff. Certainly, if you are carrying liquids -- I mean, I don't carry liquids, but if you do carry liquids, sticking them inside that gives you an extra measure of security. But they are just a good way of organizing small things and making sure little things don't get lost or forgotten, or disappear into the back of the bag somewhere.

It is usually good to have a half-a-dozen of them with you. As I say, they don't weigh anything, so they are just convenient to use. If you have things that are dirty they can go inside one of those and it keeps the dirt off of everything else.

David: Right, and the other item right next to it on the list that caught my eye was duct tape.
Doug: [laughs] See, I told you I was an engineer. That sort of thing is mostly for people who are going for longer trips. I mean, if you are just going to visit the relatives for the weekend, you hardly need to carry duct tape. But if you are going out for a month of touring around Europe, you might want to think about carrying a few things along that will help you mend stuff that gets broken -- both your own things, like a little sewing kit for clothing, for example -- and also you can often be in a hotel room and some little thing doesn't work and it's just annoying enough that it will make your night miserable and a little piece of duck tape will fix that, often.

Again, you don't need to carry a giant roll of it, just a little bit of it wrapped around a pencil stub or something and you've got enough of it to handle all kinds of little emergency repairs that can come up.

David: That's a good tip. Speaking of, like, a longer trip to Europe, I think that people don't think that it is possible, but you really can travel in a single suitcase for a long period of time. What are some of the tricks to that, what are the top rules for considering how to make everything fit in a small bag and make it last for say three weeks?
Doug: First a comment. I find that the worst trip to pack for is a trip that is about a week long because then you are just tempted to do things without planning long-term and you tend to take more stuff. But once the trip gets to be longer than a week then I find it easier to pack in a small bag and once you start thinking that way of course you can travel indefinitely.

One of the things that is really important and a lot of people just don't seem to think of and or dismiss it as too annoying or too complicated is, plan to do a little bit of laundry in your hotel room at night. And by a little bit of laundry, I don't mean necessarily every night but every other night probably. I'm thinking about things like socks and underwear because you don't really need to take three weeks worth of socks and underwear. If you take three sets of socks and underwear that will probably do you just fine.

And every night in about the same time that it takes you to brush your teeth if you have the right tools with you which includes the correct kind of travel clothes line and something to make sure that your sink can be stopped up to fill it with water you can just do your laundry, it doesn't take very long.

And once you realize that, that's very freeing because now you don't have to take tons and tons of clothing because it's going to get dirty you can just wash it all the time. I read in a magazine just recently a fellow did around the world trip with one shirt so if you can do that then you can certainly managed with the three shirts that I suggest on my packing list.

David: Right. I've learned from experience, early in my traveling, that I overpacked so much that it just weighed me down and.
Doug: And it was probably mostly clothing.
David: Mostly clothing, and I tended to wear the same few things over and over again. And you know, you're not going to be running into the same people, typically. I mean everywhere your go when you're traveling, you're running into strangers.
Doug: Exactly. It seems like the same thing to you every day but to all the people you meet, they've never seen you before and they have no idea that you've been wearing the same two shirts for the last three weeks.
David: Right. Yeah, you're clothed, that's the bare minimum that you need.
Doug: Of course, and you need to put some thought into what would be an appropriate shirt that will be good for you in a wide variety of situations so that you're not just doing this randomly. And you should think about color coordinating things when you are going on long trips. You should make sure that everything in the bag goes with everything else in the bag. So don't just pick your three favorite shirts that might not go together, pick things that go with everything else. Select on one or two colors as a common theme, and that just means that you can make mix and match all the things in your bag. And really have a variety of looks.

Women are more likely to complain than men that, oh, I can't possibly get all of this stuff in a single bag. But in actual fact they are a lot better than we are at accessorizing and making a few items look like a lot of items. And I get lots of letters from women who say, this is amazing, I followed your instructions and I got a different outfit every single day of the trip, and yet.

David: Right, oftentimes just by changing one item.
Doug: Sure, absolutely.
David: Right, so it's a good idea, I just know this myself as a tip, it's a good idea -- I mean you're saying to just pick one or two colors -- it's a good idea to make those colors neutral colors.
Doug: Sure, for me, my colors are blue and light gray. So when I'm traveling for any period of time, you look inside my bag, every article of clothing there will be some shade of blue or some shade of light gray and everything goes with everything else.
David: I tend to go for khakis and blacks.
Doug: Sure, that's another very popular combination. And it doesn't look so good on me but it looks good on other people.
David: And also I go for those because they don't show dirt as much, which stretches your having to wash time. Are there brands of clothing that you recommend that travel better than others?
Doug: There are certainly some brands that I've found useful myself. I tend not to recommend brands on the site at least as far as clothing goes because first of all I don't want people to get the wrong idea about the site that I'm trying to sell stuff. It's really a non-commercial site, sort of a hobby of mine.
David: Absolutely.
Doug: So what I talk about on the site more than brands is characteristics. Like what kind of fabric should you be looking for and what kind of construction is important and all of that sort of thing. There certainly are brands, there's a company, actually a Canadian company called Tilley that makes really good travel clothing.

There's a company based in, I'm probably going to get this wrong, Seattle or somewhere in that part of the world, called Ex Officio that makes a lot of really good travel clothing. There's a company called TravelSmith, they don't really make stuff, they are a jobber or for it, but they have lots of good travel kinds of things.

David: And what kind of material should be people look for?
Doug: They should be looking not, for the most part, not natural materials but man-made materials. We were brought up as kids to think that polyester is really ugly and horrible, and you should always use cottons and silks and wools and Rayon -- well not Rayon, that's fake -- but the natural things. And in fact that's changed hugely in the last 20 years.

You can now get clothing that's made out of synthetic material that you can't distinguish from clothing that's made of cotton or wool or whatever. And the synthetic material travels much better, it's much more resistant to creasing, it washes better, it dries much more quickly, it passes air better so it's better for climate control. It's just better all the way around.

Why people would ever buy cotton socks, for example, is a total mystery to me because they obviously don't understand the purpose of socks and realize that if you are designing socks and wanted to make them as bad as possible you would probably make them out of cotton. People should sort of educate themselves as to how this stuff works and again in large part that's what my site is about.

David: And as you said earlier, I think it's important for people to understand that for you this is just sort of a personal passion. The website that you have is noncommercial. We actually did some research when we were looking for someone to talk to about packing tips; we wanted to make sure that we had someone who was really just into it for themselves and not trying to sell anything.
Doug: Yes, that's actually an interesting point because it lets me make a comment here that I think is useful. You have to be very careful about travel stores and the like because, remember, that the travel store's goal is to sell you stuff. So you can go into pretty much any travel store in the country and they will give you a packing list, but what that amounts to is a list of all the things that they sell. I'm not putting down travel stores, I recommend several of them on my site, they are a great source of stuff, but make sure you are going there with your needs in mind not their needs in mind.
David: Right, exactly, don't pick the 10 things on their list that are convenient for them to sell to you, make sure that they fit your needs.
Doug: Yes. Travel catalogs are just filled with clever little things that make you go, oh, what a great idea, but if you buy them all, you'll have a 50 pound bag.
David: Right, thus defeating the purpose.
Doug: Exactly.
David: One of the things you recommend on your site is not using luggage with wheels, which struck me as sort of odd. I mean, I love being able to pull a bag behind me. Why do you recommend people not use wheeled luggage, and what is the alternative?
Doug: Well that is certainly a contentious topic. If you go through any airport today, or any luggage store today, you will find that wheeled luggage seems to be the way to go. I disagree. In fact, I have never met -- I have been on panels and things with travel experts, and I have never met a real travel expert who recommends wheeled luggage. The issue is this: well, first of all, let me say that for some people it is a necessity. People who are carrying professional equipment that is really heavy, people who are infirm for a variety of reasons and can't carry things; so there are certainly reasons why people would do that.

But why don't I recommend it in general? Because wheels sound like such a good idea. I mean, put wheels on your bag and you don't have to lift it, you can pull it. That's fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. Whenever you are designing anything, you have to think of the design process as a tradeoff. Every time you add a feature, there are good aspects to that feature but there are also downsides to that feature, and wheels are a great example of that.

Adding wheels gives you the ability to roll your bag. Now, first of all, there are lots of places where you can't roll your bag. If you are taking a tour of Europe, you are not going to find all that many places outside of the airports and the hotel corridors where your bag will actually roll. But still, it is nice to think that it could roll if you wanted it to. But the downsides are that it makes the bag heavier, it makes the bag a lot smaller, it makes the bag a lot more rigid.

Those sound like small things but if you actually do bag comparisons, if you take bags made by the same manufacturer, with identical outside dimensions, and you do tests on them, and you will see some examples of this on my site, you find that the differences are huge. You lose about a third of the packing space in such a bag. The bag gets 20 to 30 percent heavier, it becomes more rigid so there are a lot fewer places where you can stick your bag, especially if you are on public transportation or something like that. Those are all just huge downsides.

The actual bag that I travel with most of the time is actually quite a bit smaller than the 45-inch outside dimension that I mostly talk about on my web site, and when I leave for my trip that bag is by no means crammed full. There is still some space in it so I can bring home souvenirs and stuff like that. And it doesn't weigh that much, so dangling it on my shoulder and walking with it for considerable distance is not a hardship of any kind. But if I had gone and bought a wheeled bag there would have been a huge problem.

So yeah, there are lots of tradeoffs and they are not all good ones.

David: I have to ask this question or our listeners will send in angry emails. What bag do you use?
Doug: Well, it depends a bit on the travel, and I address this on my site. In my mind, I sort of partition travel into, is this business travel or is this travel for mostly touristing or adventure kinds of things? For business travel I look for a more compartmentalized bag, although I don't want too many compartments, because that also adds weight.

I use a three-compartment bag. The one I use-in fact, both of the bags I use-haven't been made for many years, so there is no point in telling you what they are, although I actually do mention it on the site. I do mention bags that I recommend for people today, and I give varieties of bags for the different kinds of travel.

If you really want to know, I use an old Boyt bag for business travel, and I use a bag made by Patagonia which they no longer make, again, for my casual travel. But the site is filled with suggestions about the types of bags to look for, and in many cases I recommend specific bags that I think are sort of the best of what is out there today. But you won't find any recommendations for wheeled bags, because I never use them and I don't have any great insights into what makes one better than another. I think they are all bad.

David: So if somebody is a fan of wheeled bags, they are not going to get...
Doug: Yeah, they will find lots of good stuff at my site, but not bag recommendations that suit their personal predilection, that's for sure.
David: Right. I mean, there are times when, for me, especially for like a weekend trip, it is just easier for me to pack a backpack and throw it over my shoulder...
Doug: Sure, sure, sure.
David: ... than it ever is to... I mean, the wheeled bags, for me, tend to be for business trips that I take when I need to pack a lot of paper, which is heavy, I have to wheel that around.
Doug: And you are going to a place where wheeled bags are appropriate. I mean, if you are going to Belgium for the week, you are going to deal with cobblestones and lots of other things, and you will be carrying the bag more than you will be wheeling it, except in the hotel corridor.
David: Right, right, because those wheels hit those cobblestones and they start pivoting on the handle and the flip over, and they are not always the end-all and be-all.
Doug: Right. You watch people on city streets with wheeled bags and you'll see that they spend half their time righting the back after it has tipped over, or twisted, or got stuck in a crack, or had to be dragged up a set of stairs.
David: We are just about out of time here. I have really enjoyed this conversation, and I think we could probably talk for another half-an-hour, minimum, about tips for packing. What is something that you want to leave our listeners with? Really, why should they try and live out of one bag?
Doug: Well, there are lots of reasons for living out of a single bag. Security is an important one. If you only have one bag to deal with, you don't have to check it, you don't have to worry about where it is, who has their hands on it, what they are doing with it, where it is going. Economy is another reason: you don't have to pay people to carry your bags for you, you are not stuck with extra baggage charges, you can use buses and trains and things instead of taxis and shuttle services. You don't have to get to the airport so early; you can certainly get away from the airport earlier because you don't have to wait half-an-hour for the bags to show up.

It is just a nicer way to travel. You don't have to worry about packing. We have all seen people in the airports that sort of look lost, and wonder where their stuff is, and the one-bag person, all of his or her stuff is dangling from the shoulder, and you know where everything is and you are just comfortable with it all. It is just a more stress-free way of moving about in the world.

And once you have done it even once, it is a revelation. You realize, "Oh, my heavens! Why didn't I realize this before? Why have I been hauling all this stuff?" So I encourage everyone to try it at least once, and then I promise you, you will be a convert.

David: Right. It is very much a Zen moment when you are able to get off the plane and get out of the airport, and actually be at your destination very quickly.
Doug: Exactly, exactly. A trip should not be associated in your mind with hauling belongings around. You don't need that much stuff to get around. And if you are out there in the real world, and you realize that you did forget something that was important, it is not that big a deal. Unless you are in the middle of a desert somewhere, most of the civilized world can supply you with all sorts of things you need. So you needn't feel that if you make a mistake at the beginning, you are doomed for your entire trip. That is not going to happen.
David: Right, exactly. Well, Doug, I really want to thank you for talking with me today. It has been enlightening. For our listeners, you can get more information on how to travel on one bag and how to pack, at onebag.com -- a very straightforward-named web site. Thanks a lot, Doug.
Doug: Thanks, David, I've enjoyed it.

[music]

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