The perfect bag for any trip

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How to travel with a carry-on-sized bag as your only piece of luggage, and still have room for souvenirs

Eagle Creek Switchback 22 Wheeled Convertible Luggage
A bag like the Eagle Creek Switchback 22" travel backpack not only fits into the overhead bin (so you needn't check any luggage), but it can hold everything you need for any trip—and it comes with a zip-off daypack.

The best all-around luggage choice is—brace yourself—a carry-on-sized backpack with a zip-off daypack (or a seperate small backpack).

Hard-backed suitcases are cumbersome and heavy, huge frame packs are for hikers, and both need to be checked on airlines—a wholly unnecessary hassle.

With a carry-on-size pack, you can hop on and off the plane, sling your stuff on your back whenever you need to hoof it, and it’ll force you to pack light.

“Carry-on size” is determined by each airline individually, but is always measures by adding together all the dimensions (length plus width plus height).

Note that for many lately it has been slipping from the old 60" to around 45" total , so when shopping for a bag make sure it fits those smallest requirements. That way just about any airline will O.K. it. (Hint: With soft-sided bags, you can get away going over by a few inches, since you can squish them into acceptable-looking dimensions.)

(The bags featured below under "Carry-on Travel Bags" meet the requirement, as do—for ultra-light packers—the last two smaller bags.)

The best travel bags

CARRY-ON SIZED BAGS (40L–60L)

Wheeled bags

Eagle Creek Switchback 22 Wheeled Convertible Luggage
Eagle Creek Switchback 22"

22" x 14" x 9"
7 lb, 4 oz
(40L)
Daypack: 19" x 12" x 6"
» Details
High Sierra AT3 Sierra-Lite 22-inch Wheeled Backpack with Removable Daypack
High Sierra AT3 22"

22 x 13.5" x 9"
10 lb, 3 oz (52L)
Daypack: 16.5" x 12" x 5.75"

» Details
eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21-inch Wheeled Duffel
eBags Mother Lode TLS Mini 21" Wheeled Duffel

21.5 x 15" x 9"
8 lb, 11oz (45L)

» Details

 

Backpacks (no wheels)

Eagle Creek Digi Hauler
Eagle Creek Digi Hauler

22" x 14" x 9"
1 lb, 14 oz (44L)

» Details
eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender Convertible
eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender

22" x 14" x 9"
3 lb, 15 oz (54L)

» Details
Osprey Porter 30
Osprey Porter 30

20" x 13" x 8"
2 lb, 1 oz (34L)

» Details
 

468x60_Find the Best Selection of Carry-On Luggage

SLIGHTLY LARGER BAGS (55L+)

REI Stratocruiser Wheeled Convertible Luggage 25-inch
REI Stratocruiser 25"

Main bag: 25" x 15" x 10.5"
Daypack: 18" x 11" x 5"


Total: 10 lb 6 oz (80L)
» Details
Eagle Creek Soubleback 26-inch Wheeled Backpack
Eagle Creek Doubleback 26"

Main bag: 26" x 14" x 10"
Daypack: 18.5" x 11" x 6"

Total: 7 lb, 12 oz (57L)

» Details
Eagle Creek Rincon 90L
Eagle Creek Rincon 90L

Main bag: 30" x 12" x 14"
Daypack: 18" x 11" x 6"


Total: 5 lb 11 oz (93L)
» Details
 

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COMPACT BAGS (Under 45L)

Eagle Creek Flip Switch Wheeled Backpack 22
Eagel Creek Flip Switch Wheeled Backpack 22

22" x 14" x 9"
6 lb, 8 oz (36L)
» Details
Victorinox CH 97 2.0 20 Tourist Carry-On
Victorinox CH 97 2.0 20 Tourist Carry-On

20 x 14 x 9"
7 lb, 3 oz (37L)

» Details
Travelpro Maxlite 2 20-inch Expanding Spinner
Travelpro Walkabout Lite 4 20"

20" x 16" x 9"
9 lb (47L)

» Details
 

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Packing systems (the travel closet)

How you choose to organize everything in there is up to personal preference. Keeping clothes from wrinkling, that's a bit of a challenge. I've tried 'em all, and currently use a carefully tweaked mix of the methods below (except I've replaced the stuff-sacks with the "high tech" mega-Ziploc system—well, O.K., I still use one small stuff-sack for sundries that would otherwise get lost down in my bag).

  1. Nylon stuff-sacks help keep your jumble of stuff neat and easily accessible inside your bag. Keep clean clothes in one sack, dirty ones in another, and sundries in a third, smaller one.

    Roll your clothes to look like so many cotton sausages; they’ll wrinkle less, take up less room, and fit in the stuff-sacks better.

  2. packing cubesSoft-sided packing cubes. I use the sausage roll method of rolling clothes for this packing system as well. Interestingly, I find I like my own clothes in either the stuff-sacks mentioned above or the resealable baggies below (I go back and forth; my wife prefers the compression bags), but end up putting my kids' gear in these little cube-like bags.

    Maybe it's just that, since their togs are smaller (also, they have things like bears and ducks on them), it's easier to organize and see them all in these cubes. (I also use one for my sport sandals when I am on an active trip where I'll need them.)

  3. Compression bags for packing clothingCompression bags (a.k.a. Massive Ziploc baggies). OK, so these aren't actually made by Ziploc, and Ziploc is a brand name, but darnit, that's what they look like. You fold your clothes and slip them inside the big clear plastic baggie in flat layers.

    The trick is, there's the regular end of the bag that you seal by squeezing together the two flaps (just like Ziploc), but the opposite end of the bag is lined by a series of one-way valves that let air out.

    So once you've sealed the top, you flatten the bag, roll it up tightly, and then sort of lie on top of the thing and wrestle it for a minute to force all the air out of the other end.

    The clothes really do compress to half their original total bulk, though this does mean a certain degree of creasing and wrinkling (but you didn't pack wrinkly clothes, now did you?). An alternative for those who need to keep pants creased and shirts neat(ish) is:

  4. Eagle Creek Pack-It folding packing systemThe Eagle Creek Pack-It Folding System (Ripped Off from The Gap). The best way to carry dressy duds if you don't go the garment bag route (though there is a stripped-down garment bag version of this available).

    These folders come in various sizes (20" is the most useful) and are giant cloth envelopes of sorts that fold over from all four sides. You use a sturdy plastic sheet as a guide to fold each shirt and pair of pants (just like a worker at The Gap!). Layer the crisply folded clothes on the flat bottom panel of the open cloth envelope, then put the plastic sheet on top, fold over the four sides (Velcro fasteners), and viola: you have a rectangular package of clothing.

    OK, so it's not totally wrinkle-free, but it is one of the least wrinkly alternatives.

Where to buy the perfect piece of luggage or travel bag

  • PartnerShop at eBags.com PartnereBags (Ebags.com) - The single greatest collection of travel bags on the Internet, with nearly 2,500 choices for the basic luggage alone (plus purses, daypacks, messenger bags, duffels, wallets, iPad and electronics cases, and other travel accessories). Among the lowest prices out there, too, plus free shipping and returns.Partner
  • REI (REI.com) - For 65 years, one of the best all-around outdoors, camping, and adventure travel outfitter, with just about everything you need, whether you're a novice or a hard-core enthusiast. Lots of high-tech clothing designed for heavy-duty wear, tear, travel, and sport, plus everything from packs to personal mosquito nets to biodegradable detergent—and of course, all the basic gear for camping, hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking, skiing, canoeing and kayaking. It's actually run as a co-op, so if you become a member ($15 to join for life), you get 8% cash back on your purchases at the store at the end of the year (10% back if you use the no-fee, free credit card they give you, which also generates 1% back on non-REI purchases). They also have a special clearance-sale section.
  • Partner
  • Magellan's (Magellans.com) - Clothing, luggage, and lots of travel gadgets—some exceedingly useful, others merely ridiculous exercises in technology (seriously, who needs a portable oxygen mask, or a silver case that automatically dispenses credit cards?). Their prices could be lower, but they do carry some prime merchandise difficult to find elsewhere and Magellan's really is the place to go when you're seeking some obscure but useful travel gadget (and I don't mean the collapsible Lexan wine glasses). I order a lot of my electrical-adaptors-for-countries-you-can't-even-spell-properly from Magellan's.
  • Eagle Creek (Eaglecreek.com) - The premier manufacturer of soft-side luggage, duffels, packs, and various sorts of daypacks designed for travelers, not tourists. It ain't fancy—this is durable woven nylon territory, not leather or Kevlar —but the products are well designed, well made, long-lasting, and get the job done twice as well and at half the price of more pretentious luggage. For several years, while on the road I lived out of one what they now call the Eagle Creek Switchback 22" with shoulder straps and a hip belt that tuck away (for respectability at certain hotels). It measures right around the maximum size requirement for airplane carry-ons—so I never had to check my luggage. Eagle Creek also makes some of the best moneybelts and those space-saving vacuum-sealed clothes packing devices. You can buy Eagle Creek products from Ebags.com or the REI.com, PackingLight.com, or Magellans.com catalogs.
  • L.L. Bean (LLbean.com) — This Maine camping clothier and catalogue legend was selling flannel shirts long before Seattle produced its first garage band, and decades before J. Crew and Banana Republic co-opted the outdoorsy look and made it Yuppie. Their travel specialty gear is, as with most of their stock, head and shoulders above anyone else for durability, quality, and utility (if not always style). I used to go through about one travel bag per year from other companies before the straps would break, zippers need dentures, retractable handles bend, wheels went wobbly, or exterior feet and corner moldings got ripped off by airport baggage systems. My L.L. Bean bag survived more than 22 Transatlantic flights, a dozen more within the US or Europe, been to Asia and back, and gone on countless weekend car trips—and it's still being used by my kids whenever we travel. Best of all, L.L. Bean guarantees all merchandise for life.

Tips & links

Useful links & resources


GEAR, CLOTHES, & BAGS

Gear & clothing: REI.com, eBags.com, Backwoods.com, Travelsmith.com, LLBean.com , Magellans.com

Luggage: eBags.com, REI.com, Backwoods.com

Electronic converters: REI.com, Travelsmith.com

How to pack it all into a carry-on
  1. Lay out everything you think you’ll need to take and consider the pile.
  2. Put away any item that’s not really necessary.
  3. Take what remains, pack half of it, and leave the rest at home—you won’t need it.

Pack for ultimate mobility, versatility, and necessity. Make travek an exercie in simplifying your material needs.

When in doubt, leave it at home. Whatever you forgot or discover on the road you need (sunscreen, bathing suit, sandals) you can also just buy it in Italy—and have a nifty extra souvenir of daily life to bring home (I often come home with odd, foreign brands of toothpaste).

Speaking of which: you shoudl have a little space in your pack for accumulating souvenirs.

If, as you travel, you find yourself running out of room, stop at any post office to ship home the personal items you've found you didn't need, or just before flying home, mail your dirty laundry to yourself. This way, you can carry your new purchases instead of entrusting them to the Italian postal system.

» more

How to tell if you've overpacked
  • If it doesn’t all fit in one carry-on sized bag plus a daypack, you have overpacked.
  • If you can't lift your bag over your head and hold it there for 10 seconds, you have overpacked.
  • If you can't shoulder your load and walk five times around the block without breaking a sweat, you have overpacked (and should probably also hit the gym—all the walking you'll do makes travel in Italy an aerobic workout and you need to be ready).

Trust me, you'll be thankful later when you easily shoulder you bag and zip off to your hotel while the guy who sat next to you on the plane gets a hernia just trying to get his luggage out of the airport.

Cardinal rules for travel clothing
  1. Nothing white
  2. Nothing that wrinkles
  3. Clothes you can layer
  4. Lots of pockets
  5. Very few

Remember: Clothes take up the most room in your luggage, so be stingy with what you take. Take a maximum of 2–3 each of pants and shirts that can all mix and match toegther.

Believe me, it's easier to do a bit of laundry in your room every few nights than lug around a ton of extra clothing.

Only your immediate traveling companions will know you've been wearing the same outfit for the past three countries.

Socks, T-shirts, and underwear—the clothes that ripen quickly—are the easiest items to wash out and dry overnight.

Make sure you use a moneybelt

Keep your all valuables in a moneybelt: one of these large, flat, zippered pouched you wear under your clothes.

A moneybelt is like a wearable safe for your passport, credit cards, bank/ATM cards, driver's license, plane tickets, railpass, extra cash, and other important documents.

In your wallet, carry only a single day's spending money—maybe €40–€60. (Replenish this as needed from your stash in the moneybelt.) » more

Assorted packing tips
  • Some bags have zip-away straps and waist belts that convert the pack into a more respectable soft-sided suitcase for waltzing into your hotel lobby.
  • To keep the bulk of your bag under the carry-on requirements, layer any thick sweaters and coats and such to wear on the plane (you can strip down once seated).
  • Label your bag: Whatever sort of pack or suitcase you choose, be sure to put a slip of paper with your name, home address, and destination inside each piece of luggage as well as attaching a sturdy luggage tag with a concealed address window to the outside (some criminals peruse visible luggage tags at the airport, collecting the addresses of people leaving on vacation).
  • TSA-approved travel locksGet as many tiny travel locks you have zippered compartments on your pack and daypack. Make sure it is one of the special combination locks that have a red diamond-like symbol meaning they're TSA-friendly (baggage screeners carry a secret code and a special back-door key so they can open the lock if they feel the need to paw through your valuables and dirty undies).
  • Note that the TSA is considering once again will allow you carry small knives in your carry-on bag. However THIS RULE HAS NOT YET BEEN PUT INTO EFFECT (despite some early news reports to the contrary). For now, you will still need to pack any knife in your checked luggage. Here are the official TSA regulations.
  • Split up your stuff. If you're traveling with others and plan to check your luggage, distribute everybody's stuff throughout all the bags. Have your traveling companion pack some of your clothes and you pack some of his. That way, if the airline loses just one bag, both of you will have something to wear until it turns up.
  • Many bags come with zip-off daypacks, which is an excellent idea (or bring a small backpack). Keep in it your first-aid kit, sections of your guidebooks you stripped out for the day's use, tissue packs, water bottle, journal and pen, pocket knife, and umbrella.
  • Let's see. Besides a waterproof bathroom bag for the toiletries I think that's it.

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Packing links


GEAR, CLOTHES, & BAGS

Gear & clothing: REI.com, eBags.com, Backwoods.com, Travelsmith.com, LLBean.com , Magellans.com

Luggage: eBags.com, REI.com, Backwoods.com

Electronic converters: REI.com, Travelsmith.com



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