Packing – Luggage, Backpacks, and Bags

I’ve been thinking a lot about luggage lately.  I’m taking a graduate class in digital media and needed to do a capstone project.  I decided to produce a video about choosing luggage.  Someday, I may post it here, but for now…

An assortment of Luggage
An assortment of Luggage

I’ve talked a bit in the past about packing in a carry-on bag and I still promote that idea.  You may not agree, so I got out all my old luggage, took some pictures and I’ll talk about them a bit.

Standard Luggage

On my first couple of trips abroad, I didn’t worry as much about packing light. In fact, I checked a bag each time until a trip in 2014.  On one trip, the suitcase that I was using broke, so I had to buy a new one – in Europe.  Luckily, I was able to find one without much trouble, although my choice was somewhat limited.

Standard Hard-Sided Luggage
Standard Hard-Sided Luggage

I purchased a hard-sided spinner suitcase.  Although this suitcase can be expanded and many travelers like them for their durability, they are not my favorite. Typical of this kind of luggage is the lack of pockets on the outside of the bag. Inside, the suitcase has some dividers, but packing cubes would be handy.

I prefer luggage with wheels.  For years, I used a suitcase called a roll-aboard. A roll-aboard has two wheels, so you can roll it aboard a plane or train or just behind you as you walk.  They have adjustable pull handles, but also have regular handles so you can pick up the suitcase and carry it.  This is especially helpful when you have to go up or down stairs.

I thought roll-aboards were great until I was introduced to a spinner.  The spinner takes convenience one step further – it has four wheels so it can move in any direction.  It will stand on its own like a roll-aboard and can be pulled behind using two of the wheels.

The best way to move a spinner, though, is to push it.  If you set the suitcase on its four wheels, you can use the handle to push it along side or in front of you.  By using four wheels, there seems to be very little weight that needs to be handled.

Carry-On Luggage

Carry-On Luggage
Carry-On Luggage

Since 2014, I have been traveling with only a carry-on bag and a personal item.  I definitely recommend it.  I know that it won’t be for everyone and if this is your first big trip, you might not be convinced – at least not until you get there.

When I traveled with my family in 2009, I used a standard suitcase.  I enjoyed picking up art books at the museums we visited.  My suitcase got heavier and heavier.  How embarrassing it was to have to rely on my son-in-law – or sometimes, a kind stranger – to carry my bag up the stairs at the train station!

If you are traveling with a large tour, you may have someone to help with your bags, but there are still times when you will have to carry them – at the airport, from your hotel room to the collection point, sometimes out to the bus.   If you are traveling on our own, you will carry your bags often.

On domestic flights, there is almost always a charge for your checked bags – starting with the first bag.  On international flights your first checked bag is usually free.  If you check your bag and the airline loses it, what will you do?  If you don’t check a bag, you can leave the airport as soon as you get off the plane, but if you check luggage, you will have to wait for it – in your tired, jet-lagged state.

Do I have you convinced?  I hope so.  I will allow a minor exception to my carry-on only regimen.  If you intend to purchase a lot of souvenirs (or skeins of yarn) while you are vacationing, you will need a way to get them home.  When I travel, I’ve often bought more than will fit in my carry-on – its easy to overindulge.  The best way to handle this is to bring or buy an extra bag.  If I plan to shop, I pack my empty backpack inside my suitcase.

Then, on my flight home, I pack my suitcase full of items that would be easily replaceable and check it.  Most of my clothes can be repurchased at my favorite stores.  I pack my souvenirs, my electronics, and of course, my yarn, in my carry-on bag.  If, by chance, my checked bag never arrives, I will have to make a claim and buy a new travel wardrobe.  I have clothes at home to wear until the claim is settled.

And, because I carried them with me on the plane, I still have my precious souvenirs.



If I am just going away for the weekend, I use a backpack – I’ll be using mine for our trip to Japan. I love my backpack, because it opens all the way like a suitcase – I can easily see everything that is in it.  It has several smaller compartments, including one that is waterproof and a padded area that easily fits my iPad.

(If you want to see more about my carry-on bag or my backpack, I have reviewed them in the Travel Products Recommendations page).

Convertible Luggage

Convertible Bag - Wheeled Backpack
Convertible Bag – Wheeled Backpack

There are a few ways that these types of luggage are combined and can be converted from one type of luggage to another.  The most popular is a wheeled backpack.  One thing to keep in mind when purchasing a convertible bag is – will you ever convert it?  If it is a hassle to change it from one type of bag to the other, it may not be worth it.

I  gave up on the wheeled backpack that I purchased before I even used it.  It was too large and heavy to be used as a backpack and too clumsy to use as a roll-aboard.   Decide what you like and buy the best kind of bag in that category.

Personal Item

I am looking for a new personal item – a purse, a messenger bag, or a day-pack. There are advantages to each.

A purse will look nice – if I bring mine from home I will know where everything is.  There are many items in my purse, however, that I don’t need while traveling, so they would add weight to what I have to carry.  In addition, my purse does not have a cross-body strap, which is essential for travel.

Convertible Bag (same as above) with Removable Day-Pack
Convertible Bag (same as above) with Removable Day-Pack

I could bring a day-pack – a small backpack – so I would have my hands free for shopping.  Day-packs are usually roomy and have pockets where I can organize what I need for the day.  The disadvantage is that every time I need something out of the bag, I need to take it off my back.  In addition, because I can’t see it, the day-pack’s position may be an invitation for pick-pocketing.

A messenger bag seems to be the optimal travel bag.  A messenger bag generally comes with a cross-body strap so it will be harder for someone to grab it from me.  I can wear it so the bag is in the side front position so I have quick access and can keep my hands on it in crowded areas.  My hands can still be free when I am shopping. Messenger bags often have interior or exterior pockets, so organization is not difficult.

I think I have decided what kind of personal item bag to get – I am looking at a Tom Bihn messenger bag.  If anyone has experience with Tom Bihn bags, feel free to comment below.  ( I do not receive a commission from Tom Bihn – I just like their bags).

For years, I searched and purchased cheap luggage, looking for the the right fit.  When I bought my carry-on bag in 2014, I had to pay a bit more for it than I planned.  However, this bag still looks like new – the wheels and handles move freely and I don’t expect to be replacing it for several more years.

I’m hoping to have the same experience with the personal item bag.  A couple days ago, my daughter commented that I need a new bag for every trip.  This has been the case, when each cheap bag I buy wears out before the next vacation.  Tom Bihn bags are not cheap, but they have a reputation of quality and a lifetime warranty.  (They make a nice knitting bag, too).

Use the comment section below to tell me about the bags you use for travel. Do you think I’m making a good decision?



  1. Like you I have traveled quite a lot and gone through quite a few suitcases looking for ‘the one’. I now realize I don’t need to pack my entire wardrobe around with me (nor my shoe closet, sigh!) and on my next trip I will be doing the same and will be going carry-on only, with an empty bag included for my yarn purchases of course.

    So you are doing the right thing, paying the price for good quality is always the right way to go in the end.

    Have a great day!

    1. Welcome to Ms. Mae Travels! Thanks for your comments. Enjoy your trip and let us know how the minimalist packing went.

  2. I have the Tom Bihn knitting bag – I think it was called the Swift perhaps – very good quality, several years old, still lookin’ good.

    New reader via Ravelry –

  3. I have a smaller version of the Tom Binh Cafe bag – it’s definitely worth the money. Durable, roomy, a multitude of pocket and PURPLE!!!

    1. Welcome! I debated between a medium and large Cafe bag. I have a DSLR, so I decided to go with the large one. They didn’t have purple available now, though. I’ll be happy with gray.

  4. Like you I have gone through many suitcases looking for the perfect one. Got rid of my no wheel cases, 2 wheel cases, backpacks with wheels, and numerous tote bags. Bought 2 light weight 4 wheel cases….will see how they hold up. I carry a light weight, cross-over purse. I carry a mid-size, with a zipper top for security, purse because my shoulder gets sore if it is too heavy. As for the price of the Tom Bihn bag, I think that is reasonable considering the price of a good name purse. I am so in the mood for a european vacation!!!!!!!

    1. I don’t carry a purse every day, but I need something when I travel. I’m hoping this bag will satisfy me for a long time.
      Paris in the fall will be great! It’s not too late to join us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *