Business Travel

Hand Luggage Only: One Bag, One Month, One Continent

Your Road Worrier columnist has always fancied himself as a pretty compact packer, but in the month of May I’ll put that to a pretty severe test with the Lifehacker Hand Luggage Only challenge: doing my normal work, visiting every state and territory in Australia, and living completely out of a single standard-sized airline carry-on bag.

Every time we run a story about what you should pack when travelling, there’s inevitably a comment about how the most effective way to travel is not to check your baggage at all, thereby saving time at the airport and not having to worry about lost luggage. That means you have to keep within standard hand luggage dimensions, as well as carrying all the stuff you can’t risk putting in the hold at any time along with your clothes and other personal requirements.

In practice, that’s pretty feasible if you’re only staying away for two or three days, and as such it’s a tactic I regularly adopt when going on brief work trips. But it gets harder if you’re going to be away for a longer period of time. Judging by the dozens of people I see wielding two carry-on cases on domestic flights, lots of people like this idea but can’t quite manage to get everything into just one bag. (How successfully you can get away with that depends on your airline: Qantas allows two carry-on bags on non-regional flights, but Virgin Blue and Jetstar, both of which have separate baggage charges, are pickier.)

It’s always seemed to me that getting everything into one carry-on sized bag shouldn’t be that hard: with a compact notebook PCs and a decent smart phone, a large percentage of white collar workers should be able to get the job done. Add some clothes and toiletries and you’re essentially done. But it’s one thing to hypothesise about it, and another thing to actually test it over an extended period of time.

Hence Hand Luggage Only. For the whole of May, I’m going to be travelling with just one suitcase, which meets the standard dimensions for a carry-on bag. Everything I need to work, play and get around has to fit in that bag. To ensure that it remains a proper challenge, I’m going to travel around the country, visiting every state for various conferences and meetings and using as many modes of transport as are feasible. When I need to be based in Sydney (my home town) for work events, I’ll stay in a motel rather than at home (otherwise, frankly, it’d be too easy to cheat). It’s a work-based project, so I’m not going to be staying in backpacker venues, but in these tight times, I will also be looking for as many tactics as possible to keep the bills down.

I have some advantages going into the project. My career as a freelance technology writer means that I can get most tasks done armed with a PC and an Internet connection, and already requires me to travel a lot. Luckily, I’m monumentally unfussy about my appearance, so the thought of wearing the same three outfits (and the same single pair of jeans and shoes) for a whole month doesn’t faze me in the slightest.

There are some immediate challenges though. Several of the titles I write for demand high-resolution photography, so I’ve got to make room for my trusty Canon EOS 400D camera, even though that takes up a fair chunk of space. I’m a minor gadget freak, so I have to work out how many iPods, spare mobiles and USB drives I can afford to cram in. Roaming around the country means I’ll be facing variable weather, but I can’t afford to carry clothes for every occasion. And I’m reasonably tall, which means my clothes take up more room than would be the case for someone more compact.

I’m going to detail exactly what made up my basic starting packing list, and how I organised the trip on as lean a budget as possible, in subsequent posts this week. But these are the basic rules I set for myself:

  • Everything has to fit in one standard bag. Most of the travel involved is by plane, and the airline I’ll mostly be using (Qantas) is, as I’ve noted, not generally too picky about people taking on an extra bag. But that would make the experience unrepresentative, and less challenging.
  • Utilise as many modes of transport as possible. While I’ll largely be relying on planes, several train trips, the odd bus ride and even a boat trip are also on the agenda.
  • Visit every state and territory in Australia. Local business travel might be dominated by Sydney-Melbourne hops, but if I’m going to be on the move, I figure I should cover the whole country.
  • Save money wherever possible. I’ve booked hotels that are affordable (but still central — at no stage will I be renting a car), and it’s all been done in advance for maximum savings. Whenever I can, I’ll use public transport or a shuttle service to get to and from airports or other transport facilities. And I won’t be paying for any hotel dry-cleaning services.

I set off this Friday May 1 (first stop: Adelaide), and I’ll be posting regularly on Lifehacker about what works, what doesn’t and whether all the planning has paid off (look for the ‘hand luggage only’ tag or get an easy fix from There’ll also be some blow-by-blow commentary on my personal Twitter account (@gusworldau) Got any initial advice or suggestions? Share them in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman suspects that the laundry is where it will all go wrong. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.

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