Here’s the great news: you don’t have to have embraced every tenet of minimalist living to decide to pack lightly while traveling. But if you do decide to pack lightly, you’ll likely end up with less hassle, less mess, and more fun. My sister Cait’s working on a little guest post about traveling lightly with a toddler, but in the meantime I thought it’d be nice to share a few of the bag options that we looked into when we decided to upgrade our luggage recently.
We’re hoping to do a bit of traveling this summer and with our upcoming trip to LA, we’ve been brainstorming an upgrade to the multiple duffel dance we’ve been doing for the past two years. I love those little duffels, but we’ve found we needed something a little bit more strategic, a little leaner, and a little easier to carry when traveling (especially when traveling with a kiddo).
I delved a bit into the world of travel gear blogs (Lord, almighty) to get some ideas for what’s best for lean travel. A warning: none of these options are the world’s sleekest. You’re not going to win awards for being the most fashionable traveler. Your bag might clash with your general sartorial vibe. But it will be durable and hardworking and sensible. (For readers who like their blog posts with a side of Anne of Green Gables references: Marilla would approve.)
Here’s what I was looking for:
+ Backpack straps: I recently decided to part with the enormous, bulky, Cheryl-Strayed-in-Wild-style trekking pack that I used for most of my twenties. The thing was a nightmare to pack neatly, too big to carry onto flights, and bulky to store with all of those flapping straps and clips. Most importantly, when it was full, I couldn’t really carry it. But! Backpacks are practical and a hard-cased, rolling suitcase is a non-option for tiny apartments and walking with a toddler (trust me on that last bit). Even more specific: I wanted to find an option with backpack straps that could be tucked away for travel (and storage).
+ Modest Size: You’ll fill the bag you have. You just will. So if you keep the bag itself a modest size and commit to only filling that bag, you’ll never overpack. Bonus: Smaller bags that fit carry-on limits mean never needing to worry about checking bags, which I avoid like the plague.
+ Easy Access: Nothing gets me flustered faster than trying to find something in a bottomless pit of a bag (just ask James!). I have almost literally no patience for rifling. I wanted a bag with a full zipper that allows the bag to open suitcase-style so I can gaze admiringly at my packing job and find that special pair of underwear I’m after in no time flat.
+ Compartments: The more the merrier. I like to keep my own things separate, separate, but if I’m also sharing my space with James and Faye, I want things to be even more compartmentalized.
Here’s what I liked best:
+ The Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 was a really tempting option. Naomi Davis did a nice post about her family’s longtime use of them and I was tempted by these no-nonsense, multiple compartment bags. There’s not a place nearby to go check them out in person, so I don’t have firsthand experience, but they come highly recommended and come with a lifetime guarantee. They have the easy access, carry-on size, and tuck-away backpack straps. They don’t have the full suitcase-style zipper that I really wanted.
+ The Patagonia MLC Headway just got a little bit of an overhaul, taking it out of dorky business traveler realm and planting it firmly into savvy traveling parent realm, with a little bit of vintage styling to boot. (It’s the bag we’ve decided on for now, so you know…just being very impartial here). It checks nearly everything on my list: compact, hide-able backpack straps, easy access, lots of compartments, lifetime guarantee. I’m even shocking myself and loving the brown and red bag pictured here. (#YOLO)
+ The L.L. Bean Quickload Travel Pack is the most Rick Steves-y of these packs. It’s the pack your dad might recommend (or mine), but before you scoff, it looks pretty awesome: there are lots of compartments, padded backpack straps that tuck away, wardrobe-style zipping, the whole kit and kaboodle. It’s currently backordered.
+ The Tortuga Travel Backpack was designed to include everything that I was hoping to find in one bag. It also has a few features the others lack: A waistband and super accessible side-pockets. It’s a little bulkier than when I wanted for myself, but a nice option for folks who plan to do a lot of walking with a heavy pack.
+The Osprey Porter 45 has a kind of cult following (along with just about every other Osprey bag). It’s a little bit less like a suitcase than I was hoping for personally, but it’s modestly sized enough to fit the bill for carry-on and minimalist packing.
And you? If you have a favorite pack to add to the list, please share!