Packing for Overnight Trips Without Using the Overhead Bin

I love my rollaboard bag. I usually carry a 20″ Briggs & Riley for trips up to 5 or 6 days.

But I actually hate to have to use it. That’s because I hate to board 30 minutes before departure. I’d rather stay in the lounge working, and board last instead of first. But even if I’m flying first class I need to board early to avoid being shut out of overhead space.

And flying coach? Fugget About It

I hate checking bags of course, both because of the risk that the bag doesn’t make it and because of the time suck on arrival waiting for the bag. Some airports are worse than others of course, the late night Washington Dulles hour-long wait for a bag is just soul-sucking.

So there’s little that makes me happier than a simple day trip, I have my laptop bag and that’s it. I glide through the airport. I leave the lounge less than 25 minutes before scheduled departure. I have a smaller footprint weaving through other passengers as I exit the terminal. (Airports are for moving, people, not for standing in the middle of the concourse to talk about what you want to go eat.)

But I also like simple overnights. If I think ahead, I can limit myself to my laptop bag, even on a business trip.

  • I can fit a pair of pants, button-down shirt, undershirt, socks, and underwear in my laptop bag along with razor, toothbrush, and my freedom baggie.

  • That goes along with my noise cancelling headset, laptop and phone power cord, MiFi, sunglasses (and laptop).

  • I’ll plan ahead what I’m packing so that I can wear the same pair of shoes, and the same jacket if needed. That also means I can wear the same belt.

I have a good amount of room in my checkpoint flyer laptop bag (I still use it despite having precheck most of the time and not having to take out my laptop anyway, it’s still a great bag). And I don’t mind overstuffing it, it remains comfortable using Tom Bihn’s absolute shoulder strap.

Here’s the laptop bag, full for an overnight trip.

    overnight packing laptop bag

Careful packing and planning ahead for your wardrobe is something I will admit to doing.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary: why don’t you use tethering on your phone instead of the mifi? I ditched the mifi a few years ago and have been happy with tethering on my iPhone with an ATT iPhone, which functions when I’m on the phone also. Actually has faster speeds than the dedicated Verizon mifi ever had. Less weight, one less charger, and it’s always handy, including using the (somewhat) cheap international data packs they sell for 30 days. Having been there, done that, I can say for sure it’s a better option.

  2. there are many things I am no good at. however, I pride myself on being an expert packer. quite often I am scrutinized at immigration because the agents can’t believe I am packing so light for an international trip. my three top suggestions include:

    -do not pack toiletries or medicines that you don’t need (you can always pick this up later, even if it means deciphering some strange advil equivalent whilst hungover in a japanese pharmacy)

    -travel with a duffel instead of a rollaboard. i highly recommend the J. Fold line of duffel bags; they are casual but not gym-like and hold more than they appear to.

    -ditch the laptop and get a netbook. i use a chromebook for my travels: super-light, easy to remove from my bag. google docs lets me do just about anything i need to on the road.

    my two cents!

  3. Over the past year I have flown 250,000 miles around the world while nomading and have never once used an overhead bin unless required to by bulkhead seat (and certainly not checked a bag).

    I travel with the North Face Surge II backpack which has: 13″ MacBook Air, iPad 2, underwear, socks, 9 American Apparel tri-blend t-shirts, 2 button down shirts, 1 jeans, 1 shorts, power adapters, toiletry bag, and finally @penguinoh. What more do I need? It fits perfectly under the seat in front of me, is always accessible, never a nuisance to others, and lets me be mobile in a city for the entire day without storing anything.

    Rollerboards annoy the crap out of me at airports. They triple the lateral space a person takes up when walking, and I always feel like I’m tripping on one or being cut off walking behind someone with one.

  4. This is encouraging. I’m headed to HKG via LAX 2 hotel nites and two plane overnight (F CX & OZ) I’m thinking of trying to use just my laptop backpack. 🙂

  5. @Ben Thanks, my BP is a NF Surge, I’ve used it everyday for several years. Lost valuable Concorde Room time a couple year’s ago @LHR when the security swab cause a search. Guy asked me about usage. I said everyday. He said it wouldn’t hurt to clean in out, dust, lint, etc in the corners, I guess. Great Pack.

  6. I often do trips less than 3 days with a single backpack as well. If you remove a laptop in favor of a tablet or a netbook, you do reduce ton of space as well as save on the weight.

  7. All I can say is none of you are girls. ; )

    Assuming I can manage with only 3 pair of shoes, I may manage with one checked bag and one large carryon. Maybe. (Not take toiletries?!!! I bet you guys leave your curling iron at home, too.)

  8. @mbh – It isn’t gender, it is priorities. I’m short and can pack about four days worth of clothes into a 19 liter backpack. Sure, I’m not packing spare shoes in this equation but again, it is priorities. You can also pack sample packets instead of 1-3 oz toiletries.

  9. Traveling Light Rules:

    #2 If it doesn’t fit, you don’t need it.

    I use a Patagonia MiniMass messenger bag. Enough room for my iPad Mini or Macbook Air 11″, plus 1 change of clothes tightly rolled up, and a small toiletry kit. I still have room left to add a book or snack according to trip needs.

    If I am carrying small items to deliver or gifts, I have been known to ditch most toiletries since any hotel I’ve been to will give you a toothbrush and anything else you need.

    I do not travel for business however, only for leisure/personal reasons. If I’m going to Thanksgiving or a funeral, I wear the suit onto the plane.

  10. I can pack for a three week trip. With just a carry on and my purse. But I always plan on doing laundry. I wear my heaviest pair of shoes and take one other pair. I don’t bring my laptop just bring my tablet and wireless keyboard.

  11. I’m similar to Wendy. Carry-on only (even on longer trips). And if the trip is only a few days, I usually take a very small rollaboard (much smaller than my “standard” 20-or-so-inch carry-on rollaboard).

  12. Sorry, but some of these comments strain my credulity. How can one travel for 5 or 6 days with merely a messenger bag, in the middle of winter? And I am assuming @Wendy means her carry on is a rollabaord, and her purse is a large tote-type bag, not some dainty little change purse.

    As a low-maintenance woman who doesn’t use appliances (blow dryer, etc) nor require much in the way of fashion diversity, I cannot believe a person can fit 3 weeks’ worth of necessities into a tote or messenger bag, especially if traveling to an area that has anything less than perfect weather. Rain, snow, cold…all require additional accessories. And what of travel through different geographic areas, i.e., a chilly, wet city to a jungle (Lima to Amazon), or an area covering different cultures (the Middle East)? For those types of trips the least I have been able to get away with is a rollaboard and large, underseat tote bag.

  13. As a female, whether traveling for three weeks through Africa or a going on a weekend trip down to LA, I always pack the same 19″ rollaboard and only bring that plus my purse (which is actually tiny, not one of those “I can fit three small children in here” things that some women tote around). I’m actually on the hunt for a smaller rollaboard, but haven’t been successful — not sure such a thing exists.

  14. @Gary,

    They no longer make that bag, and despite what it says on their web site (I asked them about it) are not planning a redesign. They say their rail system and newer bag designs replace the need for that bag.


  15. For women, I think it depends on three things (at least when I compare myself to other females who travel much): first, how big are you? I’m a good sized person, and my size 4 sister can pack 3x the clothes in the same sized suitcase; second, how “low maintenance” are you? Do you need your moisturizer and makeup? Curling iron? I do, but apparently some women are fine just going without (I suspect that this may also go along a Mason/Dixon line division, to an extent–Southern women usually need our beauty products); and lastly, how much do you care about fashion? If you are okay wearing some version of the same thing day after day (or doing laundry on vacation), it’s much easier than if you want to dress like the women in the magazines and look fabulous everywhere you go. I’m working on downsizing after dragging 3 large suitcases all over Venice last year (a true nightmare you will appreciate if you have ever been to venice—a bridge with steps every 100 feet). This year, for a three week trip, I am TRYING to keep it to one large case and a carryon. We’ll see . . . . (the shoes are the biggest challenge.)

  16. @Ben Hughes – The only bottoms you use are a pair of jeans and a pair of shorts? I’m hesitant to bring jeans to EU because they take forever to dry and we’ll be washing our clothes in the room. What shorts do you bring?

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