Everyone has their way of traveling and knows what works for them so there is no such thing as an expert. I can’t stand wheelie bags, for example, but a buddy that travels a lot more than I do swears by them, so what can you say… each to their own… However, there is always something to learn from how other people travel so here is how I do it. Maybe it’s useful, maybe not!
First… the bag… This is the most import decision when traveling. The first bag I brought was sold to me by a young guy (he must have been in his early 20s) in Adelaide. I told him I needed something to last a few months (since I didn’t have much money). He said that this is what everyone says and then they travel for 10 years or so, and so his advice was to buy the best bag you can afford, buy one to last. At the time I thought… how much has this dude traveled? What would he know? But I took his advice anyway and it turns out it just might be the wisest thing anyone has ever said to me!
Since then, I’ve tried just about everything – wheelie bags, hiking packs, bags with lots of pockets, narrow bags, fat bags, bags that attach to bags, semi-hard-shell bags, hybrid backpack/wheelie bags… the lot …pretty much everything except an actual suitcase. What I have settled on after many years is this one simple rule: the simpler the bag the better. In my case, I probably won’t buy anything other than a single compartment backpack with minimal additional pockets or gadgets. I want, more or less, a flexible bucket that I wear on my back. It’s just the simplest, and most versatile way to go.
I currently travel with 2 bags at all times (sometimes I strip down to one for trips of 2-3 days). Both bags are made by Mission Workshop (there is a shop down the road from where I live in San Francisco). There are these two models:
This set up will do me well no matter if I’m going on a week-long trip to a single city nearby, or if I’m on the road for 3-4 months and traversing multiple continents or, more importantly, multiple seasons (cause you need more stuff).
I carry both on (I never check in luggage). You can pretty much fill up both of these…60+litres of stuff, and sling them ‘casually’ over the same shoulder and no one will notice. Walk on the plane with a whole lot of stuff and avoid checking in anything. I also prefer backpacks because wheelie bags are a pain on stairs and they make a crazy racket if you are on cobblestone roads or paths (common in Europe) …plus they don’t shrink to fit a smaller load like a good backpack does, you can’t run with them, and you will always look like a tourist (which isn’t always a good thing; and when carrying a backpack, you can blend in a lot more). Finally, in case you find yourself going ‘off road’ a little in your travels, perhaps unexpectedly, then a backpack is more versatile and a much better look than a wheelie. Who wants to walk into a camp in the bush towing a wheelie? Errr… not me…and a bag makes a better pillow than a wheelie if it comes to that…
The 40L Arkiv has a strong steel buckle strap (you actually have to buy it extra) that you can use to really bind down the bag no matter how much stuff you have crammed into it… The Arkiv can also be extended with all kind of accessories. I experimented with this but I don’t really use them. I either carry it as just a bag with no accessories or (more commonly) I have two small side pockets added where I keep sundry stuff (mostly some simple ‘first aid’ things, my clear bag with bottles containing liquids, a few odd cables etc).
The 40L bag is just for clothes and I put this in the overhead bins. I put my laptop and stuff I need on the plane in the smaller bag down by my feet. I also use the smaller bag as a day pack. It is a perfect combo. Mission Workshop bags are hardwearing, durable, and simple. They just have one big compartment and you can stuff a lot of stuff in there…. They also have some nice little extras… the Arkiv bag, for example, has a tiny elastic ‘handle’ at the bottom of the bag which you can fit one or two fingers in…perfect for quickly slipping your finger into as you walk down the aisle of the plane and whip out the bag in record time. Awesome. It’s the little things….
The one gotcha with the Mission Workshops bags is that the shoulder straps sit very flat, which means that they are fine when wearing the bag with 2 straps, but if you casually throw the bag over one shoulder, they tend to slip down, which can be annoying.
Anyway, this post is meant to be about bags in general. I’m not sponsored by Mission Workshop by the way. Just calling it as I see it. If there are other bags of a similar type that you swear by, then please let me know! Always curious to check out other possibilities.
I’ll write more tips in future posts.