Avoid checked luggage at all costs. It’s expensive (especially if it’s overweight). It’s clunky. It’s essentially the worst ball-and-chain that you’ll want to lug around on a lengthy trip. Plus, there’s all the extra waiting time at the baggage carousel and the risk that it may not make it to your destination airport.
Most airlines will give you one personal item, and a carry-on bag at no charge. Unless, of course, you’re flying with one of those ultra discount airlines that nickel and dime you for everything. As a rule, this carry-on bag must fit within 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm) and be 7 kg or lighter. However, in hundreds of flights, my carry-on bag has only been weighed or measured once and that was on a return trip from New Zealand.
Backpack vs Suitcase
This isn’t even up for debate. A backpack is always preferable to a small carry-on suitcase, as you’ll be able to enjoy your day with it instead of dragging a suitcase behind you from A to B until you finally get to a hotel.
Unique Design + ID
Choose a unique color or design for your bag, and attach a colored ribbon or other unique markers to it. This will ensure that it doesn’t get easily mistaken in the sea of black in the overhead bins or baggage carousel. Also, affix a bag tag with your phone number, address, and e-mail.
The best backpack has many compartments, YKK-branded authentic zippers, is water resistant, made of a durable material, and has a breathable back. For heavier packs or longer days, choose one with waist and chest straps which take the weight off your back; don’t become the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
While many compartments are handy, they have to open in the correct direction! A perfect pack, that when laid on its back, opens from the top to expose its entire contents like a drawer. This will avoid having to rummage around digging to the bottom of your pack, destroying your carefully organized masterpiece!
Keep liquids and basic bathroom essentials and medications in an exterior compartment by themselves for easy access and removal at airports. Heavier and clunkier items (such as shoes or camera equipment) should be put in first as they are the hardest to work around. Laptops should be in an entirely separate compartment that is protected from bumps and pressure as well as easily accessible for removal at airport security.
Any and all straps should be tucked into itself before bringing aboard an aircraft — especially if checking it as the straps may get caught in the conveyor belt. If any part of the bag gets tangled up in something, airline staff will cut the straps instead of carefully trying to figure out how to safely remove it.
If you’re mixing and mingling with your backpack in large crowds, luggage locks may be wise. However, choose combo ones instead of keyed ones as they keys will easily get lost. A carabiner can also be handy to ensure a purse or daypack isn’t snatched from your side. With a money belt that has RFID protection, the same feature on a pack for storing backup cards and ID can be a valuable addition.
The ULTIMATE Travel Bag
After years of using my favourite hiking backpack that flaunted many of the features I felt were essential, I finally upgraded to Nomatic’s Travel Pack. This is a pack specifically designed for travel. I wracked my brain trying to dream up something else they could’ve added, but they completely hit every single important feature on the head. Even with the rather hefty price-tag above US$300, it’s worth every cent if you can afford it.
It was previously a kickstarter project and they are now selling tons of them, and for good reason. They’ve put a phenomenal amount of R&D into designing the perfect bag. They surveyed thousands of travellers to dream up the best features. It wasn’t just some group in an office tossing ideas around. This sucka works in real-life! See their web site for the complete breakdown of awesome features or watch the video below.