Something I think can fairly be said for all four of us is that we are borderline obsessed with packing light. I personally feel like I’ve pinned 90% of the “Packing Light Hacks!!” and the “How to Travel for 7000 Days in Europe with only a Carry On!!!” and the “How to Not Go Crazy While Wearing the Same 2 Shirts Your Entire Trip!!” posts. In 2010, when the four of us went to England together, we were so concerned about going carry-on-only and as light as possible that Shannon didn’t bring a jacket. To England. In the spring. (I am never going to let her live this down.)
Last year, realizing how much I travel for work and leisure, I decided it was finally time to upgrade my carry on bag from the little green rollaboard I got at TJ Maxx in 2008 to something more long-term. The requirements I had were as follows:
- Be small enough to take as a carry on on all major US airlines (especially Delta, which is what I usually fly)
- Be durable enough to withstand me putting it on floors of trains/buses, checking it if need be, setting it down on sidewalks (and probably in the dirt), and generally just tossing it around (my green suitcase failed on this point)
- Be able to be converted into a backpack or carried as a duffel (frankly, I’m a little tired of wheeled suitcases and love the mobility a duffle/backpack gives you)
- Come in a neutral-ish color
- Not be more than $300
This might not seem that complicated, especially given the budget, but let me tell you: my Type A personality really had a chance to shine through here. I started literally scouring the internet – I read dozens of Amazon reviews for probably 25 different bags each, pored over the packing light sections of the FlyerTalk and other forums, and searched through Pinterest for recommendations of what people somewhat interested in being a little fashionable (like I try to be…sigh) had tried and liked.
Long story short: I finally settled on the Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30 and ordered it in the Steel/Wasabi combo which had miraculously become available literally 20 minutes before I ordered (I feel like it was meant to be).
Turns out, this bag is actually amazing. It’s way more spacious than it seems like it should be, and the materials used just feel like quality (the zippers are pretty heavy-duty, which is awesome for a zipper assassin like myself).
The first chance I got to try it out was when I went to New York for a week at the end of September. My packing list included 5 tops, 1 sweater, 1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of leggings, underthings, a scarf, a pair of shoes, various small accessories, toiletries and makeup, and a curling iron, in addition to what I would be wearing on the plane (top/sweater/jeans/flats).
Suffice it to say I was pleasantly surprised that everything fit, with room to spare! This ended up working out well since towards the end of the trip, the weather got much colder than anticipated and I bought an ultralight down jacket that packed up and fit perfectly in the remaining space.
A few other things that make this bag so great:
- It’s a lot more structured than the average duffel, and that helps so much with keeping things organized. As long as it’s packed reasonably full (maybe to 75% or so capacity?), nothing is going anywhere.
- Zippers at the bottom parts of the main compartment on the left and right sides mean that the main compartment can expand into the side compartments if you have more things or bigger things to put in there. I haven’t used this feature too much, but I like knowing that it’s there.
- A zipper on the back/bottom side of the bag hides backpack straps that can be snapped into buckles that are tucked away into folds of the bag. I love these so much, and the bag is surprisingly comfortable as a backpack, considering it has no waist support or means of weight distribution aside from what you do yourself.
- Seriously, the space in this thing just feels endless. I waffled between getting the 45 liter (maximum legal size for US airlines) and the 30 liter (pretty much globally within the dimensions for approved carry ons, even for those wacky budget carriers in Europe. With whom I have never flown. But who knows what may happen someday??) and honestly, I think the 45 liter would have been too much room. The smaller size allows me to pack basically everything I need and a few things I want without going over the magic 10% of my own body weight.
- Tom Bihn sells their own packing cubes which apparently fit beautifully within the main and side compartments, but they were a little expensive for me so I went with Eagle Creek packing cubes. They still fit really well!
- Kind of as a side note, the Tom Bihn company itself seems pretty great. And their website has a very helpful and active forum of self-declared “Bihnions” (I don’t think I’m at this point yet, but I honestly could be someday) who are passionate about their bags and eager to help people who have questions about what bag to buy/what color to get/how to pack/where to travel/pretty much anything.
Basically, there’s pretty much nothing I don’t love about this bag. I’ve used it now for a long weekend trip to Seattle, a week-long trip to New York, a work conference in New Orleans, and several overnight trips, and I plan on using exclusively this bag for a 12-day trip to the UK at the end of May. This is one expensive purchase that I haven’t regretted for one second.
XO (I’ll think of a better sign-off soon),
PS: The Tom Bihn company had literally nothing to do with this post. I just did a bunch of research, found a bag I was interested in, and bought it myself. They didn’t provide me with anything – this is all me!