Traveling 18 days with only one bag.


18 days in Thailand, and only one packed bag.

Alisha Bube from the Travel Channel went on a trip to Thailand and tried her hand at minimalist packing. Here’s a compilation of the photos and stories from her travels.

Hi, my name is Alisha, and I’m an over-packer.

The worst part is it’s not even the fun kind of overpacking where I have endless adorable travel outfits to pick from and plenty of room for souvenirs. No—most of my trips involve massive backpacks filled until the seams are stretching with heavy mountain and photography equipment, and barely any clothes. I normally walk up to the airport check-in counters crossing my fingers that I’m not over the weight limit, but fully expecting to be slapped with an extra charge. After lugging my painfully heavy pack around the Balkans for weeks last fall I vowed to myself that I was going to travel light the next time I voyaged abroad.

Alisha wearing the rowena swing dress in marine blue
greenery at the spa

Fast forward four months, and I was a few days out from an eighteen day vacation to Thailand. It was do or die time, and I committed to the promise I had made myself by buying a new carry-on size bag (mainly because I’d feel guilty if I didn’t use it). Then reality hit me, that was it, one measly little backpack for nearly three weeks in Southeast Asia. I know that’s plenty for some travelers, but the notion seemed insane to me as I stared at the tiny vessel mentally calculating how to tetris my camera, clothes, books, snorkeling gear and climbing shoes into it!

Inevitably, the snorkeling gear was cut, but as I scanned my closet for clothes I was still on a hunt for workhorse pieces. I was looking for clothes that were cute, versatile, and wouldn’t need to be washed after one wear, so my Rowena dress qualified. The night before my flight I hadn’t quite managed to fit everything in my bag yet. As I downsized and repacked for the third time in a dimly lit airport hotel in Nashville, the unthinkable happened…I finally found the magical configuration that allowed the zipper of my bag to close!


I was looking for clothes that were cute, versatile, and wouldn’t need to be washed after one wear, so my Rowena dress qualified.

As I was about to embark on the daunting 27-hour journey from Tennessee to Thailand I decided to put the merino dress to the test, and see if I could make it all the way there without a wardrobe change. I normally keep a couple outfits handy on long travel days, since bathroom sink “showers” only go so far. Nobody enjoys sitting next to someone for hours on a flight when they arrive flushed from sprinting across a terminal on a short layover! The Rowena dress ended up being a great choice; it transitioned well from the chilly winter morning in Nashville all the way to the warm Bangkok spring. [Bonus points: The pockets came in handy for easy access to my passport and travel documents along the way.]

the streets of Bangkok
temple in Bangkok

After a quick stop in Bangkok (mainly used as an opportunity to overcome jet lag), I finally made it to my destination for the first week — Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand, and is a great base for exploring the mountainous region. You can’t make it far in the city without visiting one of its many stunning buddhist temples. The etiquette for entering the temples is to have your shoulders and knees covered, so wearing the Rowena dress while exploring saved me from having to carry an extra layer and having to stop to change all the time. My favorite temples were Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phantao in the city center.


Northern Thailand is a large agricultural region, and as a lover of Thai food I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn some local recipes to bring back home. I spent a couple amazing days at the Thai Cookery School trying my hand at a few traditional dishes, and devouring the best mango sticky rice I’ve ever had! (Update: I’ve tried some of the recipes back home, and they are still just as good!)

mango sticky rice

mango sticky rice

No joke, Chiang Mai rivals Portland and Seattle for coffee shops per capita!

Elephant experiences are everywhere in Thailand, but not all of them have the best track record for treating the animals well. I wasn’t planning on doing any elephant tours on this trip until I heard about the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai. It is a sanctuary and rescue center for these beautiful creatures, and offers a variety of experiences where you can interact with them in a way that doesn’t cause any harm.

elephant at the Elephant Nature Park
herd of elephants at the Elephant Nature Park

If you find yourself in Chiang Mai on a weekend, then your evenings will probably be spent at one of the Walking Street Markets. The roads are shut down for the night as vendors, locals, and tourists alike pack into the main thoroughfares of the city center to savor delicious street food and shop local goods. If you miss the walking markets, don’t worry, you can check out the daily Night Bazaar just east of the old city.


After all of the exploring and adventures, there is no better way to unwind than to stop in at one of the many spas in town and get a Thai massage. You can get an hour-long traditional massage at many places for about $10-15, which meant daily massages! Nimman House was one of my favorites, but if you’re in the city center, then stop at one of the Lila shops (they employ former woman inmates, giving them a way to re-enter the workforce).

“You can get an hour traditional massage at many places for about $10-15, which meant daily massages!”


So, how was it traveling with only a carry on for 18 days? Actually, not that bad! I think the critical part was packing a limited wardrobe of durable clothes that were all within one color scheme making it easy to mix-and-match. I also packed a portable dry bag that is made for washing clothes on the go (now a staple on my packing list for any trip). This experience will definitely influence how I select clothing and gear to pack on future adventures. I can’t promise I won’t overpack again someday, but it was really nice on long travel days to have a light, small bag instead of lugging around a heavy duffle or backpack!


Northern Thailand


  • Eat and shop your way through the Ratchada Rot Fai Night Train Market

  • Visit The Grand Palace

  • Walk Yaowarat Rd. and explore Bangkok’s Chinatown

  • Take a day trip out to a floating market

  • Visit Wat Arun (my favorite temple in Bangkok)


  • Go for a hike

  • Have an adventurous afternoon tubing or white water rafting on the river

  • Take a break and do a yoga retreat

  • Relax in some hot springs

  • Swim at a waterfall

Chiang Rai

  • Visit Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), and the many other temples in Chiang Rai

  • Eat to your heart's content at the night market

  • Go for a hike in the beautiful surrounding mountains

  • Take a daytrip to the Chiang Dao Cave

  • Relax in some hot springs

  • Swim at a waterfall


Southern Thailand

Ko Pha-ngan Island

  • Go to the infamous full moon party, a monthly dance and electronic music festival at Haad Rind Beach

  • Attend a relaxing yoga retreat

  • Relax on the beach

  • Catch an unforgettable sunset at the Three Sixty Bar

  • Take a hike through the jungle to a remote beach

Koh Tao Island (My favorite beach spot in Thailand!)

  • Get your scuba cert or spend a few days snorkeling along the stunning turquoise coast

  • Go rock climbing or bouldering

  • Relax on the beach

  • Grab a bit at Coffee Boat Restaurant (cheap and delicious Thai food)

  • Grab a paddle board and head out to the harbor to watch sunset

Khao Sok National Park

  • Hike and enjoy the dense jungle landscapes

  • Spend the night at a floating hut in the lake

  • Paddle amongst the endless limestone rock towers

Krabi (Railay + Tonsai Beaches)

  • Relax on the beach

  • Enjoy world-class rock climbing

  • Paddle at the base of towering coastal cliffs

  • Explore Caves

  • Hike with monkeys

  • Go snorkeling

  • Take longboat trips out to islands of Phang Nga Bay

Mac Bishop