Business Travel

Hand Luggage Only: The Big Lessons Learned

A little over a month ago, I announced my plans to roam Australia on the ultimate business travel trek, visiting every state and territory for work while using just a single carry-on bag. Now the journey is over, what key lessons have I learned?

If there was a single aim to Hand Luggage Only, it was to see just how sustainable the “living from one bag” approach was in the medium term. Almost anyone who travels for work has done an overnighter with just one bag (or perhaps more realistically, one bag and a laptop case), but sustaining that approach over a longer period requires a more focused approach. While it’s unlikely anyone would directly replicate this particular challenge, these are all issues you should think about if you’re packing light for any kind of trip.

Laundry remains the biggest barrier

If you look at the contents of my bag, clothes don’t take up a lot of room — and they didn’t. But the price of that compact approach was that I essentially had to hand wash whatever I was wearing every single day. That worked OK when I was in a warmer location for a few days, but in the final week, when I’d wake every morning and have to pack semi-damp clothes in a plastic bag before moving on, it seemed less appealing.

The alternative is to utilise the laundry in your hotel. That presumes that there is one, and that you’re willing to spend quite a lot ($3 a load for washing, the same for drying and $2 for detergent were the prices most everywhere I went). You also have to hope that there aren’t lots of other travellers queuing up to use the same facilities, which happened to me in Cairns. If you do want to rely on hand washing, pack your own sink plug — far too many hotels don’t have them or offer options that don’t work effectively.

Wireless broadband is great, but could be greater

In the course of the trip, I got the chance to test out all four of Australia’s 3G broadband networks in a wide variety of locations. (I didn’t carry a NextG device, but roamed onto that network via 3 when the need arose.) On the whole, I was impressed with how broad the coverage was across all the carriers. There were relatively few places I visited where there was only a single carrier to choose from — indeed, it was more common to find black spots where absolutely nothing whatsoever worked.

That doesn’t mean all of the services couldn’t bear improvement, particularly on the software front. To broadly sum up their flaws: NextG is still massively expensive, Optus has the flakiest network, 3 would be lost without a roaming partner and Vodafone has shockingly kludgy software. But even the most expensive deal is cheaper than paying for hotel broadband, and saves time on hunting down that elusive free Wi-Fi signal.

A small notebook makes a world of difference

In my working life during the trip, my PC would be the last item to go into my bag and the first to come out. From that perspective, having a sub-13-inch machine (in my case, the Portégé R600) made an enormous difference — I didn’t need to reserve a whole layer of space at the top of the bag to pop it in.

If you were less PC-reliant in your day-to-day work, there are plenty of netbooks that would fit that requirement as well . However, having spent the preceding few months working with a netbook, I quickly came to appreciate the difference that having some decent processor grunt (and an on-board optical drive) made for a full-time work machine, as opposed to an occasional device.

For financial or other reasons, that’s probably not an option for everybody. Mac enthusisasts, for instance, have no choice but to put up with a bigger model (and most seem more than happy with that compromise), and you’ll undoubtedly pay more for compact notebook models in the Windows world, but it definitely made the daily repack much simpler.

Flights are reliable, but still get there early

I might have had a bit of a whinge about the delayed flight from Perth, but in a month of travelling (and flying solely with Qantas), that was the only substantive delay I had to suffer through. Unfortunately, I’m the kind of person who has to get to the airport two hours early anyway, so I couldn’t really take advantage of this punctuality (and my lack of checked baggage) by swanning up at the last minute.

But there’s a good reason not to do that anyway — at least if you have long legs and hence want to put your case in the overhead locker. The earlier you board, the better your odds of getting some space to stow your bag. (And before someone cries out “selfish!”, on most flights I’d see dozens of people with two bags who put them both overhead, which to my mind is much ruder behaviour, especially if the flight is full.)

The powerboard is critical

I’ve rung out the praises of travelling with your own powerboard before, but it’s worth emphasising how useful this is, despite its relative bulk. Even if I was to charge everything else via the PC, there were locations where the powerboard’s role as an extension cord was vital. (In practice, too, phones recharge much quicker when plugged in than via the laptop.)


So the big question is: could I imagine doing it again? Probably — but I think I’d work harder on picking hotels with laundry rooms and building that into the schedule, and I’d get more organised on the phone front to cut down on the number of chargers and devices. I’d also probably try and avoid travelling on smaller aircraft.

The next level of challenge is arguably to try the same trick overseas, which adds new challenges in the form of roaming and power outlets, not to mention on-board liquid rules. Really, you’d have to be mad to attempt it. I’ll start working on those plans now . . .

Throughout May 2009, Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman travelled throughout Australia with just one carry-on bag for the Hand Luggage Only project.

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