So after my last trip to Europe, one thing I didn't write much about was my attempt at one-bag travel. Well, it was at least what I would call one-bag travel; some purists would say that since I had a carry-on and a personal item, that wasn't technically one-bagging it. Whatever. I was traveling light, and I didn't check any luggage going out on my long-haul flight.
I got really excited about the idea of carry-on only travel as I was planning for my trip. I visited web sites like this one, and this one, and, knowing that I had a trip with lots of legs and travel on all manner of planes, trains, subways, and buses, I was sold.
The premise of one-bag travel is pretty simple — pack really light, and cut out "just in case" items. This is somewhat difficult for me, as I like to be prepared for anything. But when I began planning what I wanted to take on my trip, I found that I could still take the sorts of essentials I like to have (sewing kit, eyeglass repair kit, mini roll of duct tape, enough band-aids for minor surgery) and still have plenty of space in my suitcase. And I did cut out some of the more ridiculous always-prepared items I might have otherwise taken.
The primary way to fit everything into a carry-on is to cut down on your clothing and shoes. I planned to take only two pairs of shoes, plus an odd little pair of lightweight shower flip flop things, and I bought a travel clothesline, sink stopper, and laundry soap sheets to do some wash in the sink (I also planned to, and did, make use of the washer and dryer at our house in Ireland).
I also asked for (and received) a new bag for Christmas, and based on the advice of the one-bag experts, I went with one without wheels, the eBags Weekender, a relatively inexpensive foray into the wheel-less bag world. This was a major mind shift for me, as I've always used wheeled suitcases, but I believed the arguments. They were, to sum up: without wheels, your hands are free; without wheels, you don't have to worry about cobblestones in Europe; without wheels, you won't have to worry about stairs; and wheel-less bags are lighter and have more interior space than wheeled bags.
I was all ready for one-bag travel. And then two things happened. One was that I developed a foot problem, and my podiatrist recommended taking my air cast in case I needed it (I did). The other is I came down with some sort of cold/sinus infection/plague just before I left. As a result, I was suddenly lugging around an unexpected air cast and small pharmacopia of cold remedies in my bag, which made it weigh a lot more than I was expecting it would.
(As a disgusting aside: sadly, none of the cold remedies cleared up my illness, even a z-pack...what finally ditched it was throwing up pure stomach acid when I had food poisoning. Nothing burns out your throat-schnoz-ear system faster.)
So, cue me with my heavier-than-expected bag, walking through the various transit systems of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The first annoying thing was that the chest straps that helped make it more stable also made it a pain to take off. So when I was waiting for the subway or on an actual subway car, I'd have to weigh the effort of undoing all the straps against the weight hanging on my back. But the second, far more concerning thing, was all that weight on my back. Turns out, my back is not that strong. As I walked through the endless tunnels of the London Tube system, my shoulders ACHED, and I began to long for wheels — even when I encountered stairs. Said stairs and cobblestones were few and far between when compared to the amount of regular, flat pavement.
The longer I went on my trip, the more unhappy I was about my bag. Everything else worked pretty well. I did laundry in my hotel rooms, and learned the important lesson that things dry much faster if you roll them in a towel after washing them. I discarded a book after I finished it, with a Bookcrossing.com marker in it. I used solid toothpaste and shaving cream sheets and Lush solid shampoo (okay, maybe that last one doesn't count...I use those every day).
I enjoyed not having a ton of stuff to keep track of, and not having to worry about carting around a steamer trunk-sized suitcase. I just really, really, wanted wheels, to the point where I thought about trying to find a store selling one of those collapsible luggage carts to start using on my bag.
So this year I decided to buy a lightweight wheeled bag. I lusted after the Zuca Pro, but went with the MUCH less expensive Skyway No Weight Ultra. It's only about 2-3 pounds heavier than my eBags backpack, but it has sweet, smooth, ultra-stable wide-stance wheels.
Then I put it to the test. Without an enormous amount of thought put into packing (I took three books, a weight no-no, and too many toiletries and clothes), I took it on the closest thing to a European trip you can do in the U.S. — a six day train trip to Boston. Cobblestones? Not so much, but there were definitely brick streets and stubbly D.C. Metro platform edges. And the Boston T's long subway corridors, punctuated with odd half-flights of stairs, were pretty much the exact equivalent of the London Tube (okay, maybe there wasn't quite as much gap to mind). Thanks to Metro's rampant escalator failures, I also got some experience at carrying it up and down full flights of stairs.
My verdict? Wheels win. Wheels win so much, it's not even funny. It was totally stable on the bricks and platform stubble, and pulled just fine. It has a nice rubber carry handle that I could grab whenever I needed to reach down and carry it on stairs, and because of the light weight, it was no big deal any time I needed to do so. And I popped that sucker up in the overhead train bin with no problems at all.
I'm going to keep my wheel-less bag, as I think there will still be some travel situations where it will be the better bag, and if I do ever need to travel with two bags, having one wheel-less, lighter-packed bag will be really handy. My old asshole-sized carry-on (you know, the one that's just a leetle bit over the appropriate size, which meant I never actually used it as a carry-on) will be the casualty of the new suitcase purchase.
I'm looking forward to one-bagging it again in Europe next year, with wheels. Now I just need a Kindle to deal with that too-many-books problem.