The two biggest logistical hurdles I came up against in planning a month of travel turned out to be what to pack for a trip that would take me from Spain to Svalbard and climates in-between and how to carry it all. I will cover what to pack in a future post, but today I want to start with the carrying cases.
*Disclosures: I purchased all items that I used on my trip and reviewed here. None were provided for review purposes. This post contains some affiliate links. If you choose to purchase something through any of them, I will get a small commission but you will not pay more for any items. Thank you for your support!
Backpack or Wheels?
In doing my research I was quickly faced with a question of identity I had to answer: Am I a backpack or wheeled-luggage kind of gal? Do I check bags or carry on only? These apparently are quite existential questions with passionate advocates and an us vs. them mentality easily found across travel blogs.
As an in-between traveller I discovered a way to split the difference with wheeled luggage that could be worn as a backpack if necessary. I went with the IKEA UPPTÄCKA wheeled backpack. This combo bag can be worn as a backpack or rolled on wheels and it also has a detachable daypack.
This is a super versatile bag at an excellent price point. However, in use I discovered several cons that mean I won’t be using it as my primary travel bag in the future. The single-pole handle makes it less stable when rolling and the bag tended to tip over when I was pulling it behind me. The zipper attaching the smaller backpack to the main bag broke off while my luggage had its own mini-adventure from Brussels to Berlin (more on that in a future post). The bag, though it technically fits carry on measurements, in reality, it doesn’t fit in the sizing bins for many airlines and needs to be checked.
In addition to this suitcase, I also brought a duffle bag. I thought I could attach it to the wheeled bag using a Bag Bungee but found in practice that attaching a bag to a single pole handle means the attached bag swivels around and requires constant adjustment. As a result I ended up carrying it using the shoulder strap across my body.
I would have taken just the IKEA bag with my gear for summer weather, but I brought the duffle to haul the heavy duty wind-proof, water-proof cold weather gear I would need for my trip to Svalbard. Despite the fact that it was summer and 24-hours of daylight time when I visited, Svalbard is still closer to the North Pole than it is to Oslo and, especially out on the water where there are icebergs, it is COLD!
Two more bags joined my entourage along the way. Towards the end of my trip I was hauling the wheeled backpack, two cross body duffle-type bags and a backpack. Dos muchos. Never again.
One Bag to Rule Them All
In the future I plan to travel with a single carry on bag which will be this one that I picked up in Norway.
This expandable and convertible bag can be carried by its handles, used with a shoulder strap or worn as a backpack and is made by Samsonite (but I can’t find any information about this model online). Some comparable bags would be:
1. Campmor Essential Carry-On (Budget Option)
2. eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible (Midrange)
3. eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior (Probably what I would try next if I ever need to replace the Samsonite)
4. Tom Bihn Western Flyer (High End)
5. Red Oxx Mini Boss (Rugged)
Bags Within Bags
In that bag I will include a fold-up or packable backpack to carry as a daypack on tours when I don’t want to bring my luggage with me. This is the one I took with me to Europe and it was a lifesaver when my luggage was delayed for several days by a baggage handler strike in Brussels and it ended up being my only bag. The lack of structure meant I could stuff a lot into it which was useful since I had to pick up some extra clothes and underwear. My only quibble with it is that the flap covering the top front compartment tends to get caught in the zipper but otherwise, this lightweight backpack that folds up into its own small travel case came in incredibly handy.
Online, you can find a zillion different models of similar relatively inexpensive packable backpacks. I can’t vouch for their quality but mine has held up beautifully for light-to-moderate mostly city (not out on the trail) use. If you think you might need something more heavy duty, outdoor gear manufacturers offer similar items at slightly higher price points. This REI model is beloved by lots of travel bloggers, praised for its durability and backed by REI’s excellent warranty. For the most lightweight, pack-down-the-tiniest versions, Sea To Summit is your brand.
Another bag I found indispensible during my travels was a crossbody bag from Travelon (I found mine at Target). I ended up using this bag as a cross between a wallet and a very small purse. I could easily fit my passport, a pen, two phones, credit cards, cash, coins, a cleaning cloth for my glasses and lip balm which was my minimum have-on-me-at-all-times kit. I wore it as a crossbody bag but it can also be worn as a waist pack or used as a wallet with the strap removed. RFID protection, locking mechanisms on the strap and main compartment zipper and a slash-proof strap gave a sense of security as a nice bonus. My friend, Carolina, in Zurich marveled at how much this small bag managed to hold.
The third bag I will likely continue to roll up and include in my future travels is my black patent LeSportsac purse (similar model). LeSportsac bags are lightweight and stylish and the model I have withstood being crushed and crumpled up in my luggage yet consistently emerged unscathed and wrinkle-free. It was great for those occasions where I needed something bigger than the small Travelon bag but also something more elegant than my day-glo orange daypack. The only downside to this bag is that the lining is also black so it can make it hard to find items.
Packing Ultra Light
In my next post I will explore how to pack small enough to carry only a bag small enough to fit not just in overhead bins but also under the seat in front of you. Also, how do you pack light enough so that carrying everything doesn’t get uncomfortably heavy nor run over some airlines carry on weight restrictions? I did not succeed on this trip but I am determined to do so in the future.