Carry-On Only (Onebag) Travel Tips for Women | Packing, Clothing, and Accessories
Why not simplify your packing routine and reduce your luggage to a single carry-on bag? Known as ‘onebagging’, this travel style isn’t just for men, women can master the multi-purpose minimalist and easy way of travel too. See how we make the most out of the space in our bag, along with the clothes we pack without loosing our style or comfort! Plus don’t miss the first two parts of this series where we cover women’s onebag tips for makeup in part one and feminine hygiene and toiletries in part two.
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A Special Note
As the title indicates, this post is aimed mainly towards women. So we thought it fit to diverge from our normal post style and have Shannon write this one. Although, Sergio contributed occasionally. That being said, while this article is focused on tips specifically for women when traveling, we encourage the guys out there who are, will, or aspire to travel with a woman to read this as well. We think it’ll help give them a better appreciation for what the women in their lives go through when travelling, especially when it’s only out of a travel backpack (onebag)!
As long-term and continuous travelers with a single carry-on bag apiece, we’ve learned to happily live out of our ‘onebag’. After more than two years with an Osprey Manta AG 36 carrying just about everything we own, I’ve found tons of ways to perfect my packing style, my clothing choices, and ultimately happily live out of a 36L bag indefinitely!
It’s important to note that I’m big on DIY (do it yourself), frugality, and being a minimalist. I tend to shy away from the ‘off the shelf solutions’ and prefer being creative and re-using goods. So, as you read remember that my style and approach is bound to be different from yours, but please take what works and make it your own!
Don’t Give Up What Makes You, You
If you’re a woman who does, or wants to travel with just a single carry-on bag and have done any research into the the long-term, lightweight, and extreme traveling lifestyle online, you may have noticed that it’s dominated by men. This was certainly the case when we started traveling and I searched and searched for anything I could find on tips and advice for women wanting to conquer onebag travel.
The information I found on onebagging led me to believe that generally speaking, I needed to minimize my travel backpack down to the absolute bare minimum. This didn’t sit well with me since it would mean foregoing many of the things I felt made me, me. In other words, I felt I would loose much of my femininity.
Compare that to the standard women’s packing advice that’s aimed towards women who are traveling with three to four times more luggage than I was going to be, and I felt stuck.
This simply wasn’t appealing to me, especially for long-term continuous travel.
Of the few tips I found from women who travel with a single carry-on bag, most were generally vague and unfortunately not as informative as I would’ve liked. Plus, when you add to that that every woman has unique beauty concerns and needs, I was getting nowhere fast!
Tip: I’ve since found the sub Reddit r/HerOneBag which is full of women that are eager and willing to provide plenty of advice and personal experience. It’s a great community for women who seek to or actively travel with a single carry on travel backpack or bag.
Again, what works for me is minimal (compared to most), but ultimately I refused to give up what I considered to be my bare essentials to still feel like me.
This post is focused on packing tips, clothing, and accessories, which rounds out the series of women’s carry-on only (onebag) travel tips.
Packing Tips for Carry-On Only (Onebag) Travel
Besides the electronics (laptop, camera, etc.) clothing and accessories are what take up the most weight and volume (by far!) in my 36L backpack (Osprey Manta AG 36).
The first thing most women have going for them is that our clothing is generally smaller and lighter than men’s clothing. So I can pack two or three shirts for the same weight and space to just one of my husbands’ shirts. Be careful though, as this perk can be a slippery slope in justifying over packing!
Packing Cubes - The DIY Type!
As a minimum, I’d highly recommend packing cubes, as they’re a must for bag organization.
Don’t pack everything in a packing cube!
If you think about it, you’ll notice that packing cubes are square and your bag is round. This equates to the square peg in a round hole dilemma!
To make the most of every square inch of our backpacks, we pack our smaller items (think under garments, toiletries, small electronics and gadgets, makeup, etc.) in our DIY packing cubes. The bigger items (think pants, jackets, long sleeve shirts, etc.) are used to fill in the gaps and empty spaces.
Fitting Your Carry-On Travel Backpack into the Airplane Overhead Bin
On larger planes it’s easy to fit a carry-on backpack into the overhead bin, no matter how full or poorly packed your bag may be. However, squeezing that same bag into the overhead bin on a small plane (think budget airlines) is another story.
We’ve flown budget airlines all across Europe (some international fares as low as $20 USD!) and it only took one time of having to unpack items from my backpack mid-aisle to make it fit into the overhead bin for me to re-evaluate how I was packing my backpack.
In other words, it’s not just a matter of not over filling your backpack or stuffing it full, it’s also important to pack it in a way that minimizes the depth of the backpack.
So, I avoid overfilling the bottom of the backpack and leave extra space at the top and the sides. This fills my backpack more evenly. For visualization, picture a backpack strapped on someone’s back. We pack the full height of it, top to bottom. We pack the full width of it, from side to side. We don’t pack to full depth of it, back to front.
This has saved us countless awkward moments of boarding small planes and holding up a line of people behind us as we attempt to shove our backpack into the overhead bin!
Clothing Tips for Carry-On Only (Onebag) Travel
I wish I had a magical method to packing an entire closet full of clothes into my 36L backpack but I don’t. Every woman who chooses to travel with a single carry-on travel bag will eventually have to come to terms with simply having fewer clothes (and less stuff overall). You can do it kicking and screaming or you can chalk it up to a challenge and get creative!
Everyday Clothing Tips
My biggest piece of advice is that you don’t need to buy fancy new travel clothes. Dropping large amounts of money on a merino wool this and a micro-fiber that is a personal choice but not necessary. Dressing while undertaking long-term travel is similar to dressing during your everyday life in that you already know what’s comfortable for you. So, use as much of what you already have as you can and only replace or supplement with something new, if you really need to.
Packing for a week is no different than packing for 2 weeks, a month, a year, or longer. It’s just a matter of how often you do laundry.
Laundry on the road is just a way of life. When hand-washing is my only option, it saves my sanity to wash a day’s worth of clothing daily. However, when we have access to a washing machine, we wash about every 4-7 days, depending on our activity levels.
TIP: Don’t forget to wring out your clothes in a towel after hand-washing them to make sure they’ll dry more quickly (or by the next morning)!
Many onebag travelers (men and women alike) recommend not traveling with jeans. They’re bulky, heavy, and take forever to dry.
I agree with these points completely, but I still love my jeans!
Of course, I also pack the seemingly obligatory pair of lightweight, quick dry, stretch cargo type pants (the color black seems a bit less of an advertisement that I’m a tourist).
Then I pack a great pair of jeans that make me feel good, comfortable, and sexy. For me, the space and weight are worth the value I get from them. Here’s why…
Since my pants stay clean relatively longer than my tops do, I’m not washing my jeans after every use like I do my shirts. So when I do wash my jeans, I plan in enough time for them to dry. Yes, the weight sucks, but for me it’s a tradeoff worth making!
I love my skorts, I always have. It’s the femininity of a skirt with the utility of shorts. I use them for every day wear, for jogging, for hiking, for stretching, for sightseeing… you get the idea. I pack two, but really I only need one.
The best features of my skorts are the draw-string waist, zipper pocket on the back of the waist band, and side pockets. The features I wanted on my skorts that they didn’t come with, I just added!
I sewed hidden pockets to the shorts (underneath the skirt) and added Velcro to secure the openings of all the pockets. Not only did this add more storage space, it also keeps my pockets and their contents more secure. It’s nearly impossible to see that I have pockets beneath the skirt and pretty darn tough to get into my Velcro-ed pockets without me feeling it.
I was not blessed with underarms that smell like spring flowers for 2-3 days after a good shower. So shirts are the one area where I pack more than I wish I had to because I have to wear a new one everyday.
I started out with all microfiber polyester shirts but found that there were days I just couldn’t get through the whole day without scrunching my nose at my not-so spring flower underarms. I’ve found that cotton t-shirts, although typically a bit heavier and slower to dry, go at least a day and sometimes two before they smell.
I carry four short sleeve t-shirts and one long sleeve t-shirt for layering.
Tip: Since I only have one long sleeve t-shirt, I usually wear it on top of one of my short sleeve t-shirt so it can go several days before it needs washing.
Referred to as ‘chones’ in our household, the type and number of underwear you’ll pack is of course a personal choice. I pack four to five pairs. Either synthetic or cotton work, as their light enough that either material dries relatively fast (especially if wrung dry in a towel).
Unlike my underarms, my feet do stay smell free for some time. So, I only need two or three pairs of socks in my bag.
If you’re looking for a highly rated sock with a lifetime warranty (unheard of, we know!) try Darn Tough Vermont socks. When our current socks wear out, Darn Tough will be our replacement brand!
I started with two standard bras and one sports bra. But since I’m willing to hand wash regularly, I was able to reduce it down to one standard bra (with an underwire) and one sports bra.
To make packing easier, I wear my conventional bra when traveling and only need to pack my sports bra.
TIP: If possible, when you’re actively on the move, like traveling from country A to B, or concerned your bag is to heavy or large to clear the restrictive baggage policies, wear your bulky and heavy items instead of packing them!
Digital Nomad Professional Work Clothing Tips for Carry-On Only (Onebag) Travel
Both Sergio and I are digital nomads and are able to work remotely with clients from just about anywhere, as long as we have reliable internet connectivity. However, I occasionally find myself needing to be on site to fulfill my responsibilities. While I hold a contract or project that requires this I’ve adapted to also packing professional work clothing. This consists of a cotton knee length skirt, two lightweight blouses, and a cotton dress. I can get over a week’s worth of different outfits when I mix these items with my non ‘professional’ travel wardrobe!
I’m not a fan of travelling with two pairs of shoes, but try as I may, my tried and true Altra Running Shoes just don’t go with professional attire. For this, I carry a light weight pair of slip-on shoes and ultra no-show socks.
Night Out and Dress Up Clothing Tips for Carry-On Only (Onebag) Travel
The key to onebag travel and keeping my travel backpack light (weighing in at about 15 lbs) is dual or triple functionality.
My professional clothing isn’t just for the rare times I need to meet a client or be on a work site. They double up as my date night, night out, and dress up clothing, and triple up as everyday clothing when I just need a bit of a wardrobe change-up!
Just because we travel long-term and continuously doesn’t mean we don’t need date nights. We’ve grown as a couple since our traveling adventure began over two years ago (although like any relationship, we’ll always have struggles!). Hence, we continue to set aside date nights and time together. And, one way I make date nights special is by dressing up a bit!
Seasonal Clothing Tips for Carry-On Only (Onebag) Travel
We’ve traveled in all types of weather. From the 120 degree Fahrenheit Egyptian dessert to wind-chilled negative digits in Canada, and just about everything in between.
For us, it’s pretty simple. We only pack for the current and upcoming seasons and weather conditions. When things change, we have Sergio’s wonderful mom ship us our gear or buy what we need on the road to stay warm, dry, or cool. Thanks Mom!
For example, in the summer we travel with our basic every day clothes. In spring, autumn, and winter we add a long sleeve shirt and a lightweight jacket (this year we didn’t purchase one, but rather had our REI Talusphere Rain Jackets sent to us in a care package). And in the heart of winter or for really cold climates we look for local thrift stores (or charity shops as their known in the United Kingdom) and buy thick sweaters, scarves, beanies, and gloves. We’ve also purchased thermals when it got really really cold and borrowed umbrellas from hotels, Airbnbs, and house sits when it was especially rainy.
Once the season has come and gone and there’s no need for carrying around extra clothing, rather than dispose of it, we donate it back to a thrift store. The exceptions are things we love or have invested in, like our jackets, which we ship back ‘home’.
Accessory Tips for Carry-On Only (Onebag) Travel
Adding accessories is a great way to mix up your look. You can change it, dress it up, or dress it down.
I realized how important this is a few months into our travels when I looked over photos from a variety of cities we’d visited. I quickly noticed I was wearing the same shirt and pants in each photo! It made since as I was wearing my most comfortable clothing for sightseeing, but I decided I needed to change it up a bit with accessories!
I travel with a necklace or two, earrings, a scarf in cold weather, and a beanie in really cold weather. I don’t want to be too fancy because I’ll stand out, but I want to be able to dress up a bit occasionally and change my outfit with different accessories.
More What to Pack and Style Tips for Carry-On Only (Onebag) Travel
Your Style Is… Yours!
Stay true to your style. More often than not, what you wear in your everyday non-traveling life is exactly what you’ll want and be most comfortable wearing in your traveling life.
You Matter Most, Others Don’t
Keep in mind that most people don’t really care or notice what you’re wearing. As long as you have enough clothing to be comfortable (I carry enough clothing for four to five days), there’s little need to pack much more. I find that no one notices that I wore the same thing three or four days ago and if they do (and they care) it’s almost certainly not someone I’m interested in befriending anyway.
When in Doubt Don’t Pack It
Don’t be afraid to pack too little! In my opinion (and Sergio’s) it’s better to pack less than more. You’re bound to over pack no matter what anyway. And if you don’t pack something and still really want it after a few days or weeks, it’s no big deal. Find a store (we prefer thrift/charity shops) and purchase it, or if possible have someone mail it to you!
TIP: Before embarking on extended travel, take a few shorter trips to ease into the transition and learn what you really need and what you think you really need!
You Can’t Have It All
Like life, what you pack will be full of trade offs. There are things I had to give up in order to have other things that were more important. For example, I gave up a beloved short A-Line haircut because it required hair product, a flat iron, and a blow drier. I kept my favorite conditioner, perfume, and makeup instead.
Rules Should Be Broken (once in a while anyway!)
Break your own rules and treat yourself on occasion!
If you miss a certain luxury you had at home, occasionally spend the time or money to enjoy it when you’re on the road. So, if it means carrying around a small bottle of perfume through a few cities, or spending a few dollars for a new piece of clothing and donating another, that’s okay! Remember, there’s no ‘wrong way’ here, it’s ultimately about what’ll make you happier!
Clothes and accessories are important, but don’t feel like you need to pack your carry-on travel backpack for a lifetime. Stores exist all around the world and you can either replace or add something to your carry-on bag at any time!
And as always, remember that this is what works for me… right now. But what I packed two years ago is different then what I pack today, and more than likely will be different two years in the future. The contents of my backpack evolve, just as I do!