Preparing to Travel with One Bag


“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” -Tao Te Ching

One of the earliest decisions I made as I began planning to travel over the next year or so, was to travel with just one bag. Not one rolling carry-on and a personal item. Just one bag. Moreover, that one bag had to be smaller than an allowable carry-on, and I wanted to carry less than 10 kg (22 lbs).

Joining the ranks of OneBaggers traveling the world felt instantly empowering. The idea of leaving behind checked luggage and the wait at the carousel felt freeing. Even a modest roll-aboard couldn’t match the excitement of hitting the ground sprinting in a new city upon arrival. Room not yet ready? No sweat. I’ll explore the city for a bit. Flight later than checkout? I’m good.

Sure, most places happily offer to hold your luggage, and I probably will use it from time to time.  But it’s really nice knowing I don’t have to. I don’t have to plan for the extra time. I don’t have to stop enjoying a moment because I have to go back to the hotel to grab my bag to rush to the airport. What makes this a practical approach for me, is the weight restriction I set and the fact that the pack itself is a smaller pack. I could easily put 18 kg (40 lbs) of gear in my bag and carry it. But I wouldn’t be thrilled about doing that as I wandered about a city. And I’d be more quickly pegged as a tourist if I was dragging a rolling carry-on behind me, or had a comically large pack on my back.

For someone who geeks out on gadgets and fashion, the idea of traveling the world with just a handful of wardrobe changes and minimal gear seemed like crazy talk. There was a moment in the middle of my planning when I almost threw in the towel and just said, “Hey, valiant effort, but a rolling carry-on and a backpack isn’t so bad.” But I am so glad that I stuck with it because the learning process alone was worth the effort. 

Much more important than achieving some target weight for my pack, this exercise was about examining the things I felt would be essential for my travels. It was a study in mindfulness and letting go. It was about simplifying the attachments that keep me tethered. Certainly, I’ve included things that would not diminish my experience if I didn’t bring them. But the process of scrutinizing each piece of gear I packed challenged me to think about what I wanted to get out of my traveling experience, and to make sure each item in my pack was deliberate. 

I easily got my pack under 10 kg (22 lbs), with one exception:  my work gear. Since my travels include work that enable my digital nomad lifestyle, I had to bring along certain tools that I might have left behind on a normal leisure trip. Without this added gear, my pack is less than 8.5 kg (18.7 lbs), way under my target weight. I’m going to count that as mission accomplished.

I read a great tip from some OneBag veterans and they advised not to manage against your total pack weight, but to manage each gram of each item. And if you are relentless about each 10/50/100g, they all add up to make an impact and you start to shave off significant weight. Here is a sample from my planning spreadsheet; it’s not the complete packing list, but it gives you an idea of how I thought about things. Below, are some tips on how I achieved that minimal weight:

GEAR SELECTION

One of the easiest ways to save pack weight is proper gear selection. Each extra cable may not be much in itself, but they add up quickly. So I made sure I got the best performing cables instead of the cheap ones that break easily and take longer to charge/transfer data. I could bring fewer of them, because I wouldn’t be waiting to share them across devices.

My default laptop power brick is 296g (0.65 lbs). My Anker replacement is more powerful, and half that weight. Choosing Cole Haan’s Zerogrand wingtips saved me 257g (0.6 lbs). All my deliberate gear selection saved me a total of 1.7 kg (3.72 lbs).

More power at half the weight.

SMART PACKAGING

A lot of packaging is wasted space and weight. Medications going into pill bags might have only saved 45g (0.1 lbs), but the savings in space from needlessly large pill bottles was the big winner.

Putting pills, like my dry toothpaste, into pill bags saves a lot of space and weight.

Toiletries are notoriously wasteful in packaging. I saved 286g (0.63 lbs) by moving them to more space and weight efficient containers. More efficient packaging saved 362g (0.8 lbs) in my pack.

I melted down my deodorant and poured it into a smaller (blister balm) container to set.

ONLY THE ESSENTIALS

If you’re sitting there obsessing over deodorant packaging and how many cables you should bring, then it really forces you to take a hard look at all the other gear you’re bringing. There was an additional 4.3 kg (9 lbs) of gear that I could have fit into my pack. Extra clothing, tech gear, random accessories, and other things I could easily buy on the road if I really needed them became glaringly frivolous and unnecessary. Could I have shouldered another 10 lbs of gear? Sure. But why? None of the things I was leaving behind was going to materially enhance my travel experience. At home they stay.

WITHIN REASON

There was a limit to how obsessive I wanted to be about cutting weight. It’s not supposed to rain where I’ll be traveling first, but a lightweight rain shell and dry sack are precautions where I don’t mind sacrificing the added weight. The secondary accessory bags I use to organize my gear within my backpack add up to about 300g (0.7 lbs). My backpack has nifty compartments that could have replaced some of these organizing bags. But I save weight where I can, so I can splurge where I want. In this case, all of the extra organizing bags were worth it to me because it would save me time on my travels to be able to easily pull specific gear from within my pack without having to unzip numerous pockets to search for it.

THE POINT OF IT ALL

I set an ambitious goal of 10 kg (22 lbs) for my pack weight. It was something that kept me focused and intentional about what I was putting in my pack. At some point, I was sitting there cutting off tags, labels, and extraneous fabric/material from bags and accessories (10g in savings, by the way). Obviously, that’s a bit hardcore and more effort than a lot of people would consider worthwhile. Then again, if I was going to that level of intensity for each item, it made me think long and hard about other things I was putting in my pack. It forced me to consider how each item would either be a distraction, or an enhancement to my travels. Ultimately, I can safely say that each item I’m bringing with me serves the purpose of allowing me to be more fully present to appreciate each new adventure that will come my way.

Just me, my sturdy shoes, the pack on my back, and the road ahead.

I Ate Domino’s Pizza Every Day for a Month and Lost Almost 2% Body Fat

Stack of Domino's Pizza Boxes

I ate pizza every two hours for a month and this is what happened:

I lost 4.6 pounds, 4.1 inches, and 1.8% body fat

Before you rush out to stock up on frozen pizzas, let me tell you how I did it.

FIRST, A WORD OF CAUTION, WITH LOVE

Firstly, before starting any drastic change in your nutrition or physical activity please consult with your doctor to ensure that it is appropriate for your current health condition. Please. Pretty please. Pretty please with pepperoni on top. I visit my doctor regularly and get quarterly comprehensive metabolic panels. I also track my weight + %BF + resting heart rate + blood pressure weekly. Plus, I’ve been doing experiments like this for four years now, so I’m very mindful when I try a new experiment.

Secondly, I’m not telling you that eating pizza all day, every day is a good nutritional choice. Aside from the cholesterol implications, your pizza is likely to have a lot of sodium and preservatives. I wouldn’t make a life habit out of it. So why did I do it? To make a point that if losing weight and reducing body fat can be done with a completely insane, extreme routine, then doing it with smart, balanced, healthy choices will be far easier and you won’t have to give up your indulgences.

Thirdly, I didn’t get a chance to get a blood panel done to baseline my cholesterol before starting this experiment. This is why I ask you to please consult with your doctor first before starting something this drastic. I went ahead anyway because in my last lab results my total cholesterol was under 160. But if I were to do it again, I would test before and after. Something to look forward to if I ever try this again. Okay, it’s just an excuse to have another month of pizza. 😉

PIZZA, OH, THE GLORIOUS PIZZA

I ate a large slice of pizza every two hours. That works out to one large pizza a day. The “every two hours” is key. Don’t sit down and eat an entire large pizza then eat nothing for the rest of the day. You’ll likely trigger a strong insulin response and store a bunch of those carbs as glycogen. By limiting it to a slice every two hours, I kept my body’s furnace going all day and minimized my insulin response spikes.

I actually started the experiment five weeks ago and in the first week I was trying to be very healthy in my pizza choices. I would make them at home, load them up with veggies, lean protein, and go light on the cheese. Thin crust, of course.

Chicken Spinach Pizza

Basil and Feta Pizza

Okay, that second one wasn’t so light on the cheese. Sometimes, you just gotta’ treat yo’self. But after the first week, I decided if I was going to share my experience in an article, that kind of dedication to making healthy pizza choices was probably not realistic for a lot of folks. It takes a lot of planning to make sure you’re making smart choices and healthy, organic ingredients can be a strain on your grocery budget.

So I switched it up. I started over. I decided for the next month to order nothing but Domino’s. That’s right, Domino’s. I figured most folks in the States could find a Domino’s (or your local equivalent) and it would be within a reasonable budget.

Hey, Domino’s, can a brother get an endorsement deal?

I chose from Domino’s specialty pizzas, all large, thin crust. If you choose the right specialty pizzas, they clock in under 2000 calories.

Domino's Specialty Pizza Calories

That’s fewer calories than a moderately active male my age and size needs to consume just to maintain weight (about 2600 calories), so I was already at an advantage. Most healthy women should consume about 2000 calories, so ladies, I’ve got you covered too 😉

Scary Stat: The average American consumes well over 3000 calories per day. Some studies peg us at more than 3700 calories per day. Yikes! So even if you ate a whole large pizza every day, you’re still eating fewer calories than most of our fellow Americans.

OTHER FOOD INTAKE

I knew that I wasn’t getting enough of my greens and veggies with this plan, so every other day I would supplement with a salad (125 cal), 16 oz of Jamba Juice Great Greens (140 cal), 16 oz of Jamba Juice Tropical Greens (210 cal), or a serving of Athletic Greens (40 cal). Please note that I went with Jamba Juice juices and not smoothies, which can carry well over 500 calories. Yes, I know this is still not enough veggies, but I really wanted to minimize outside variables from the pizza while still getting some of my greens. I usually eat well over the recommended amount of veggies per day when I’m not doing crazy pizza experiments. I promise, Mom.

#Fatterday. The stuff of legends. Yes, I still had my #Fatterday, consuming somewhere around 4000-5000 calories on Saturday. I wish I could tell you I could have done without it, and I probably could have any other time, but I had a lot of other things going on and the mental energy required for that much discipline was too much for me this month. Life intervenes. Plus, I don’t care how much you love pizza, you try eating it every day, all day, for a month, and you tell me if you don’t need a break.

Fatterday Example

If you’re concerned with all this unhealthy food, don’t worry. Normally, #Fatterday is in much better balance with my nutrition.

DAILY MOVEMENT

While eating pizza, I wanted to drop a safe 1 pound per week. I’d have to burn about a 3500 calorie deficit per week to lose a pound of fat. So:

6 x 2000 = 12,000 calories from pizza
5000 calories from #Fatterday
3500 calories for one pound loss

That’s 20,500 calories per week. Or just under 3000 calories per day. No prob.

My plan to do that was for every day:

Activity

This includes my Basal Metabolic Rate of around 2050.

Weight loss aside, I wanted to make sure I was taking care of my cardio health. Four times a week I would do 20 minutes of cardio at 85%+ my max heart rate. My daily step counts included those cardio sessions. Every third day I would do seated, chest presses (150 lbs x 50 reps, in as many sets as it took me to get to 50). Why 50 reps? That’s a subject for another discussion. 😉 BTW, my Fitbit would not have registered the calorie burn from my weight-training so that is not included in my calorie actuals.

Now, before all my personal trainer, professional athlete, and all-around fitness buff friends jump all over me, yes, I know this was highly inefficient. I could have gotten far better results with a more efficient regimen. But this was about consistency. Every day, for a month. If I started throwing barbell complexes in with this experiment, some readers trying to make small, healthy changes might be intimidated and miss the point of this experiment. For most people, a brisk walk is less daunting.

HERE COMES THE HOTSTEPPER

How did I do it? I parked my car on the other side of my work campus. Walking to and from my car added 2200 steps. I took walking meetings whenever I could, adding another 2000-3000 steps. Returning your shopping cart to the front of the store instead of leaving it right by your car adds another 150 steps (plus, it’s good karma). Doing laundry gets me over 2000 steps. Completely rearranging your closet and heavy-duty house cleaning, 7000+. Light tidying up, about 1000. These little things add up. Are you a busy parent running errands, chasing kids around all day, and shuttling them around? You’ve got this.

Watching a 30-minute sitcom? Stand up and shuffle back and forth while watching it. You’ll get an extra 1800 steps in, easily. The NBA playoffs were a great time to do it as I was on my feet for most of the game anyway cheering the indomitable, unstoppable Warriors (#JustSayOakland). Get well soon, Steph! Your Warriors brothers-in-arms got you while you recover. Moving about the whole time while watching the game adds around 9000 steps.

I also got myself a Stamina InMotion Compact Strider so any time I was watching TV or streaming online, my feet were moving. I could do it standing or seated in a cycling movement. If a mini stepper is out of your budget, just get an aerobic step platform. It’ll be about 20 bucks.

SERGE, YOU CRAZY

Yes, I know that 7 miles a day is a lot. 60 minutes of moderate activity is three times what the CDC recommends for a moderately-active adult (e.g. brisk walking). But if a geek like me who spends most of his day in front of a computer can do it, if it’s important to you, so can you.

I also went after an exaggerated activity target to make a point. If you want to eat pizza all day, every day, then this is what you’d need to do. Please, for the love of God, don’t tell me you’re going to make a habit of eating pizza all day, every day. But what this does mean is this: You could cut my targets in half, still be within the recommended healthy goals set by the CDC, and have a couple slices of pizza for dinner 2 or 3 times a week. That was my point.

WHAT’S NEXT?

After that much pizza, I’m off to do a cleanse to recover. I’ll take a break from the gym to give my body a break but I’ll keep up my steps. In fact, my Fitbit buddies can attest, I’ve even stepped it up (more than 17,000 daily steps average). Pun intended.

APPENDIX: THE GEAR

Here’s what I used during my experiment:

What Eating Slow Carb Looks Like

Spicy ginger-sesame shrimp salad

I’ve already discussed before how I automate my meals. Folks have asked me for a bit more detail on what eating Slow Carb looks like, so I put together a few quick pics.

Here’s what one month of groceries looks like (each pic is a week).

From those groceries, I will prepare 21-24 meals each Sunday that I will eat over six days (Saturday is reserved for #Fatterday, my spike day).

You can see, I eat quite well. Newcomers to Slow Carb (and meal automation) might think you are giving up on spontaneity and variety but you’re really not. I just build in that variety when I prepare my menus for the week. As for spontaneity, I still go out when an occasion calls for it. For the other times, most people aren’t as spontaneous and varied as they might think. For the next month, take a picture of everything you eat. I bet you’ll be surprised how often you fall back on your “usual” or some slight variation of it.

Friends and fam ask me for my recipes. I have none. I do it by feel and whatever looks good at the market. What I do have are formulas.

  • frittata – 1 part filling, 3 parts egg
  • stews – 2 lbs protein, 14 oz tomatoes, 2 tbsp tomato paste, veggies on hand
  • salads – dark leafy greens, crunchy veggies or nuts for texture, contrasting veggie colors for visual appeal, 1 cup protein
  • vinaigrette – 1 part acid, 3 parts oil
  • slow-cooked protein – 2 lbs protein, 1 cup broth, cooked in slow cooker or pressure cooker
  • sides – legumes (beans, lentils), fermented veggies (kimchi, kraut), veggies tossed with acid or lightly stir-fried

To all above, herbs and spices to taste. I play with flavor palates and, honestly, just experiment and have fun with it. But if you do need a few starter recipes to get you going, check out my Slow Carb Pinterest Board. Who knew Slow Carb could be so mouth-watering, right?

Of course, everyone always wants to jump to my #Fatterday. Here you go:

I’ve had two pretty epic #Fatterday Challenges:

I’ve had a lot of folks come to me excited about trying Slow Carb. Invariably, the #Fatterday is what sells it for them. Unfortunately, it tends to be the part they focus on too much. They forget that in order to earn my epic #Fatterday I am crazy disciplined about the rest of the week. The biggest mistake I see newbies make is thinking that if they just go a little lighter on #Fatterday so they can have an occasional fast carb here and there during the week, it will be okay. It will be…sort of. You must find something that fits with your lifestyle and is a balance between your happiness and results. The importance is consistency.

However. HOW. EVER. You must then adjust your expectations accordingly. The whole point of building these behaviors is that they are consistent choices, that you are teaching your body to fall into a rhythm. When you interrupt that rhythm it’s like coming to a dead stop then having to start up again. Law of inertia (and biochemical and metabolic cascades). That bowl of pasta during the week might not seem much to you–and in the grand scheme of life, it isn’t–but as far as your momentum goes it is very disruptive. You want to know how I lost 2.5 lbs every week for an entire year? Because I didn’t waiver. Not once. I was strictly Slow Carb six days and only spike one day. No exception. Weight loss is not linear. You cannot say, well, Serge, I’m okay losing 1.5 lbs every other week, so I can drift from Slow Carb 30% of the time. It doesn’t work like that. Momentum. Biochemical and metablic cascades.

I’m not saying you must stay strictly Slow Carb. Do whatever will be the right balance for you. Just know that you’ll have to temper your expectations accordingly. Measure your progress over months, not days and weeks. Understand that your results come from your deliberate choices. That’s all.

Okay, enough doom and gloom. Slow Carb was the program I found works well for me. Maybe you’ll find you like it. Maybe something else will connect with you. Over the years, I’ve dipped my toes into Paleo and Keto. In fact, you’ll see from my pics above, slow carbs seem spare. You’re catching me in my third year so I’ve been alternating with slow and no carbs during my week. If you’re just beginning, ease yourself into it with some legumes (beans and lentils).

Buon appetito!