My husband — as he’ll be the first to admit —has a serious luggage fetish. Over the years, our closets and attics have become jammed with suitcases, backpacks, daypacks, duffle bags, satchels, stuff sacks, and zippered pouches of every configuration. In times of stress, I can always divert Rich’s thoughts to a more cheerful direction by uttering the magic phrase, “I saw a suitcase today that might interest you…”
Paradoxically, Rich’s goal is to travel with less luggage. We both love the greater freedom and mobility of packing light. But having tested this to the limit in our recent luggage-free travel experiment, we accept the fact that most journeys require more clothing, toiletries, and electronics than we can carry on our persons, even when we’re wearing the kind of outerwear equipped with upwards of a dozen pockets. So our quest continues for ever-better, more minimalist options. In case you’re considering downsizing your luggage, here’s what we’re using now and exploring for the future.
The Ultra-Light Roll-Aboard Suitcase
One heft of the IT World’s Lightest Carry-On — a mere 3 lbs. 8 oz. — and we were hooked. We bought the original model measuring 21 x 13 x 7.5 inches; current versions are slightly larger. We’ve dragged these bags everywhere, including three months of train travel, and they’re still going strong. There are other bags worth considering, many in the 5 lb. range; when they exceed 8 lbs., you’ll want to consider carefully whether they’re worth the weight.
You’ll also want to make sure your purchase meets current airline regulations for cabin baggage. These vary widely, but a safe bet would be 22 x 18 x 10 inches including wheels. And you’re going to want wheels, unless you’re tremendously young, fit, and hell-bent on proving that being cool is more important than moving about comfortably. The four-wheeled models are great for smooth terrain such as major airports but tricky to maneuver on cobblestones or rough pavement; two wheels, spaced as widely apart as possible, provide better stability on uneven ground.
The Roll-up Bag
This week a friend wrote me about the Rolo, a flat bag you carry rolled up like a yoga mat, then unfurl and hang up on arrival. While the roll-up design makes it impractical with the small laptops we often carry, for some shorter trips Rich and I are thinking of trying a Rolo for our combined clothing and a daypack for the electronics. I’ll let you know how we like it.
If we do tote our electronics about in a daypack, we may need to consider something along the lines of the Pacsafe Luggage Venture Safe 25L GII, which comes with elaborate security features including anti-slash wire mesh embedded in the fabric and RFID-blocking technology to keep thieves from stealing your data. Right now, my valuables are generally tucked inside my 17-pocket Scottevest, so I carry a discount-store daypack that sends out a don’t-bother-it’s-not-worth-it vibe. In the unlikely event it gets stolen, the thief will be disappointed to discover it contains little more than snacks and bottled water.
Whatever luggage you choose, you’ll want to secure it with a padlock that has a combination you set yourself. Many newer models display a TSA logo indicating they can be opened by the US government’s Transportation Security Administration, allowing them to search your baggage. (Don’t get me started on the kind of world we live in, where having strangers authorized to open your bags while you’re not present is defined as a safety feature.) We carry a metal cable for attaching bags to fixtures in hotel rooms, and fit our daypacks with zipper clips, which require sufficient fiddling and tugging that you’ll be alerted to any attempts to get them open. Our big, colorful luggage tags discourage thieves (who prefer to make off with anonymous bags so if caught they can claim it was “an honest mistake”) and contain contact information that might help us get them back.
Exploring the world of luggage design is a never-ending journey. And this is a good thing. Because just a few minutes ago, Rich suffered one of those ghastly data losses that plagues the life of every computer user from time to time. Luckily, this occurred just as I was about to send him the link for the high-tech daypack. I know he will cheer up immensely when he sees the subject line “luggage that might interest you…”
Have you found any luggage or travel gear especially useful on the road? I'd love to hear about it!
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I don't accept sponsorships of any kind. The products mentioned in this post are here because I thought you might find them interesting. I haven't tried every one of them, and I welcome your input and feedback.
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If I were to recommend any roller, it'd only be IT. I looked at one many years ago and was impressed that it was one of the very, very few that did not allow the trolley to take away inside compartment space. That's key, and most luggage makers don't care about it. It drives us nuts, though.
11/6/2015 06:00:38 pm
You've mentioned the Tom Bihn luggage to me before, Ryan, and I will definitely check it out if/when my beloved IT bag finally disintegrates. I like the small, lightweight daypacks too; as far as I'm concerned, less is definitely more!
5/28/2017 03:32:39 am
I just finished your Railway Nomad book. Loved it. We did a much shorter Eurail trip a couple of years ago and I used my Scottevest for that. Trouble was there were things that I didn't find until the end of the trip! I also love Tumi bags. They are expensive but can be found relatively cheaply on ebay. They are very sturdy and never seem to show signs of wear. I have an expandable one which is handy after I have bought a few things. I love Tumi travel purses too and have a Tumi back pack. Not quite traveling without luggage but it worked a treat on the trains. Thinking of trying Tom Bihn soon.
5/28/2017 04:01:00 pm
Rich and I finally had to replace our suitcases and went with Biba. Our bags are almost as light as the IT but are more durable with a wider wheel base, and they are expandable, which is nice. We just tried them and so far so good! In April Rich took the Rolo on a ten-day trip to France. It's great for clothes and a few toiletries, and his daypack took stuff that couldn't be rolled. A different configuration and he liked it. So there's always an excuse to buy more and different luggage!
11/6/2015 06:03:46 pm
Yes, we are wondering about that too. The extremely tiny versions of toiletries that we carried on our luggage-free trip might work, if placed carefully. But I guess I'd still be carrying my Kindle in my vest pocket. If we do try the Rolo, I'll keep you posted on how it works.
11/7/2015 10:21:08 am
I picked Osprey luggage to travel 4 months in SE Asia. Only used the carry-on size with wheels, I think it weighs 4 lbs and is incredibly well designed and durable. I recommend the brand for any travel! Available in both USA and Europe.
11/8/2015 10:29:37 am
I wasn't familiar with the Osprey brand, Elizabeth, but checking out their lightweight Ozone line, they look great! At 4 lbs the Ozone 36 seems like a great option. Rich will be thrilled to hear there's another luggage line he needs to check out!
11/11/2015 06:19:18 pm
I'm curious to know what luggage you use to go back to the US for 4 months. I'm here in Sevilla for the 2nd time, & resorted to bringing a regular suitcase AND a carry-on this time (to my dismay), because I was seriously shy of warm clothes last year!
11/12/2015 07:41:44 am
We always use the IT roll-aboard bags described in this article. But we have the advantage of having someplace to keep clothes in both locations, so we don't need to carry everything with us. Traveling to other places in colder weather is more complicated, of course. When we do, we carry heavy coats and bring neutral trousers and cashmere sweaters, which pack small but are quite warm. Situations such as business trips, where you need a more extensive and nuanced wardrobe, are trickier to manage out of a carry-on. If you really don't want to check luggage, you might consider buying stuff when you arrive. Seville has an endless supply of cheap, trendy clothing stores; often the garments only last a few months anyway, and any that still have life left in them can be donated to Humana when you leave. Hope you have a great second time in Seville, Elizabeth!
11/12/2015 04:47:55 pm
Thank you, Karen! I realized I wasn't very clear in my last message...and to think I'm here as an English teacher! Hahaha. I'm here for my 2nd school year, that is to say 9 months each time. And on a beggar's salary! So in addition to luggage I'm interested in knowing about the cheap, trendy clothes you speak of...are you referring to the "Chinos"? If you have any specific recommendations I'd love to know them. But back to the luggage...I was interested in knowing about larger bags, for checked luggage--perhaps IT & Osprey are a good place to look for them too. I did bring a checked bag, & this time had to bring a carry-on as well to accommodate the extra clothing, which I hate because I like to travel light too, & also it's the maximum allowed. I'm thinking a larger, lighter checked bag might allow me to ditch the carry-on.
11/13/2015 05:13:33 pm
Elizabeth, I can't advise you about larger luggage as I don't buy it any more, but I'd start by checking out the lightweight brands mentioned in the article. I don't recommend ditching the carry-on; it's a good idea to have essentials with you in case checked luggage goes astray. Also, two light bags are a lot easier to manage (in taxis, buses, up stairs, etc) than one heavier one. As to the cheap clothing stores, you can shop at the Chinos, but that stuff sometimes falls apart in the first washing. You usually get better value at H&M, C&A and other mainstream stores on Sierpes and Tetuan. I would love to see your blog, even if it's not too active right now; please do send the link! Thanks!
11/13/2015 05:26:53 pm
Thank you, Karen! That is all really helpful information. Here's a link to one of my blog entries:
7/4/2017 01:33:02 am
I have the Rolo and what makes it perfect for road travel is that I use a mini hygiene kit (Delta Gear). Most of my toiletries are bought at my destination to refill my mini kit. When I start motorcycling interstate, I'll invest in RedOxx's Big Bull Rollup, a huge step up from my Rolo. I like these types of bags since they keep items off the floor and readily accessible
7/4/2017 04:09:45 pm
Yes, the Rolo is great for keeping clothes and mini toiletries organized. My husband is particularly fond of it, and I'll tell him about RedOxx, which does look like an amazing piece of luggage. Thanks for the info and enjoy your interstate motorcycling!
3/10/2022 05:08:06 am
This is a very informative—edifying article to all. Thanks a lot! Continue to post!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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