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When you don’t travel very often, the piece of luggage you tend to pick out is often an overlarge, inefficient bag of questionable quality. Frequent travelers know picking the right backpack means finding one that doesn’t merely hold your things but is useful, well-designed, and ultimately durable.
Your luggage – backpacks, carry-on, daypacks and the rest – are arguably the most essential gear for a traveler. Even if you have travel insurance a torn backpack can stop your journey in its tracks. These are the backpacks that have been travel tested over countless kilometers to keep up with your boundless wanderlust.
Osprey Sojourn 25-Inch 60 Liter (Convertible Roller-Backpack)
There’s a perception that wheeled luggage isn’t quite as cool as the hiking backpack that every student abroad in Europe seems to be lugging around. Not that there’s anything wrong with them – a few of my favorites are listed below – in most cases wheels are more comfortable, especially if you’re carrying a daypack. (Yay, no double-turtle for you!) For those of you not ready to give up backpacking completely, the Sojourn comes with straps if you need them in rougher terrain.
The Osprey Sojourn is my current backpack of choice and extremely well constructed, resisting the beating it’s taken as checked luggage all over the world. As for the size, the Sojourn 60-Liter is a sweet spot for a single traveler and 80 might cut it for two light packers.
The Kelty Coyote 80 is a hiking backpack which does well as a travel bag because it’s front loading (you really don’t want a top loader), put together with two reinforcing fabrics, and pockets, pockets, pockets.
At 80 liters the Coyote will probably encourage you to pack a lot more than you need (here’s how to put your backpack on a diet) so if you really like to travel light, the Kelty Redwing 50 might be the better size. Whichever you go with, remember it’s best to only fill up 80% of your bag to pack like a pro.
Swissgear ScanSmart Backpack (Carry-On)
The SwissGear computer backpacks are a perfect combination of padding plus pockets to protect a variety of gadgets. I have been using one which has gone with me everywhere for the past 10 years, with only two minor signs showing its age. Swissgear’s line of backpacks are just big enough to be good weekenders for business travelers or anyone who takes short trips – a great gift for the minimalist in your life.
There’s nothing fancy about the REI Stuff; it’s a single large pocket bag with two side holsters for bottles or smaller items. The nice thing about the REI Stuff is that is folds up into a small little ball for easy packing in a larger bag when it’s not needed.
Microluggage Scooter (Bag You Can Ride)
The Mirco Luggae Scooter is one of the most fun things I’ve ever reviewed because it makes being slightly late to an airport gate fun. As the name implies, the Micro Luggage Scooter is a carry-on sized bag that can be ridden as long as your legs are up for it. A good way to combine a workout when traveling.
Protect What You’re Packing
No matter how good of a bag you buy, be sure to think carefully about what you check in, remove old bingo tags, and prepare to track and recover your luggage if it does happen to get lost by an airline.
What are some of your favorite bags you would have added to those mentioned above? Let me know in the comments below!
Travelers and fathers seem almost impossible to shop for since they never seem to want anything and dismissively scrutinize what gifts they do get. While you can fall back on the old reliable combo of socks and wine for dad (a purchasing paradox that may never be solved) when it comes to frequent travelers they generally want better – not more, stuff.
Size, battery life, durability and weight aren’t factors that mean much to a laptop that sits on a desk all day but for those of you who carry an electronic baby on your back regularly, they’re crucial factors to consider before purchasing your next one. Read more.
All this means that any mobile you buy now has the potential to last you 3+ years without feeling like an abacus so if you want to save more for your travel budget with less on electronics purchases, here are the best phones for your pocket. Read more.
I’ll add that if you’re in the United States, although it’s Verizon-only, the Droid Turbo is basically a Moto X on steroids. Less aesthetically pleasing but much more powerful with exceptional battery life.
These are the best point and shoot cameras of 2014, though if you’re on the market for a DSLR I recommend you check out the gear some of my favorite travel bloggers are using. Read more.
Best Carry-On Backpack
So many of you have left comments and written me echoing my fondness for SwissGear computer backpacks; one I’ve been using for over 10 years now. They’re incredibly durable with enough pockets of varying sizes to find a home for anything you’re traveling with. Padding makes them a comfortable carry while at the same time protecting valuable gadgets.
Motorcycle Books And Running Genes
- I first read about Dr. Yannis Pitsiladis MMEDSci., PhD, FACSM in The Sports Gene, a book by David Epstein about what makes super athletes different than the majority of us. Dr. Pitsiladis is a Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Brighton who has done research on obesity and the detection of doping in athletes but his passion is running. He travels around the world studying the genes and environments of the world’s top runners (often on his own dime) and created the largest known DNA bio-bank from world-class athletes.
- Ted Simon rode around the world on a Triumph motorcycle during the early 1970s and wrote one of the best travel books ever. Jupiter’s Travels is his account of the trip, 78,000 miles over 45 countries. Before the trip Simon was already writing as a journalist and Jupiter’s Travels flows on every page. In 2001, when he was 70 years old, Simon took the trip again – a similar route on motorcycle – and wrote Dreaming Of Jupiter. His observations from the first trip to the second one 30 years later are truly fascinating.
Conduct A Covert Minimalist Survey
It’s always best to begin with some gentile probing to find out what type of replacement gadget or updated backpack the traveler you’re shopping for is lusting for – yes, minimalists still want things – they’re just pickier about them. Don’t be afraid to ask as generally they tend to know exactly what they want; preferring to get just the right gift over the thrill of a disappointing surprise.
There’s one way to test the reliability, usefulness, and battery life of any tech – travel extensively with it. You might know some of the tech gear and gadgets I travel with but I was curious to see what devices made the essential list of these bloggers who are also on the road most of the year.
The more you travel the more scrutiny you give to every gram you pack so if you’re looking for the right phone to hike with you through the Pamir Highway or the DSLR that will endure Lithuanian winter, you’ll probably find it in the backpack of these travelers.
Kate McCulley (Adventurous Kate)
Laptop: Macbook Air 256 gigabyte (GB) hard drive; Phone: Unlocked iPhone 6, 128 GB; eReader: Kindle Paperwhite; Tablet: iPad 2 (don’t travel with all the time; only occasionally); External hard drives: (2); International adapter: Portable power strip (US)
Kate McCulley quit her job to travel the world. Four years and 50+ countries later, she’s still traveling, and now teaches women how to travel the world safely and independently. You can follow her @adventurouskate on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Jodi Ettenberg (Legal Nomads)
Laptop: MacBook 11″ Air, 512GB, 8GB RAM plus Roost Stand for 11″ Air; Keyboard: Logitech bluetooth keyboard (for the Roost) and mouse; Camera: Olympus EP-3 with aspherical f/1.7 lens; Phone: iPhone 5; eReader: Kindle
Jodi Ettenberg quit her job as a lawyer in 2008, thinking she would travel the world for a year. Now almost 7 years later, she works as a freelance writer, public speaker, and soup eater, documenting her adventures on her site Legal Nomads.
Derek Baron (Wandering Earl)
Laptop: Macbook Pro with Retina display 2013, Phone: Nexus 5 64 GB
Derek left home for a 3 month trip to Asia in 1999 that has still yet to end. Want to know more? You can ask him directly on Plansify.
Barbara Weibel (Hole In The Donut)
Laptop: MacBook Pro 2014 13.3 with Retina Display with 500GB HD, 16GB RAM, 3 GHz Processor, two power bricks; External Hard Drive: Western Digital My Passport 2 terabyte; Cables: HDMI to HDMI for viewing movies from laptop on TV; Ethernet with Thunderbolt adapter;
- Wifi Extender: Rockland n3 USB adapter
- Phone: iPhone 4s 16 GB; Sim Card from Truphone; Audio: Yurbuds Ironman headphones
- Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL1 with two 32GB SDHC cards, two batteries; Lenses: Walk-around is my Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM ultra wide zoom. Additionally, carry a Tamron SP-70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD telephoto and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM prime lens
Flashlight: Nebo Larry 8 LED Light with Magnetic Clip; Scale: Brookstone Electronic Luggage Scale; Speaker: Brookstone Mobile Mini BT Speaker with Bluetooth connection for iPhone; Battery: Brookstone USB Backup Battery
After years of working at jobs that paid the bills but brought no joy, Barbara Weibel realized she felt like the proverbial “hole in the donut” – solid on the outside but empty on the inside. Determined to pursue her true passions of travel, photography, and writing, she started her blog, Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel, and set out to see the world.
Dave Dean (Too Many Adapters)
Laptop: Asus U36-SD 13″ display, 512GB hybrid drive, 6GB RAM, Windows 7 (It’s still going fine, but is now 3.5 years old so I’ll be looking to upgrade early next year); Phone: Google Nexus 5 32GB; Tablet: Google Nexus 7 32GB (Theoretically a joint purchase with my girlfriend, although I totally monopolize it.)
- eReader: Kindle Keyboard 3G
- Noise-cancelling earphones: Shure SE-215
- Main camera: Olympus PEN E-PL3
- Action camera: GoPro Hero3 Black
External drive: 1TB Seagate; USB Wi-Fi adapter: Alfa AWUS036H; Chargers and cables: Far too many, mostly thrown in a small dry bag where they tie themselves in knots. I’ve also got a small travel-sized power strip with 3 plugs and a USB socket.
Dave has been based out of a backpack for the last few years, writing about travel and tech from anywhere with half-decent Internet and a great view. You can find him at Too Many Adapters and What’s Dave Doing?
Gary Arndt (Everything Everywhere)
Laptop: 15″ MacBook Pro Retina, 16gb RAM, 500gb flash drive; Smartphone: iPhone 5 with 64gb storage; Camera: Nikon D300s; Lenses: Nikon 18-200mm VR, Nikon 12-24mm, Nikon 50mm f/1.4, Sigma 150-500mm; Shutter Release: Trigger Trap cable + iPhone app; Tripod: Oben Carbon Fiber tripod and head
- Storage: 2, Western Digital 2 TB USB 3 drives
- Speaker: Sol Republic DECK bluetooth speaker
- Headphones: Parrot Zik bluetooth headphones
- eReader: Kindle Paperwhite
- Tablet: iPad 2
Power Cable: Monster Cable Outlets to Go, 3-port USB power strip; Mouse: Apple wireless mouse; Misc: Assorted power adapters, extension cord, USB cables, SD card reader, neutral density and circular polarizing filters.
Gary Arndt sold his house in 2007 and has been traveling the world ever since. He has have visited all 7 continents, over 165 countries and territories around the world, every US state and territory, every Canadian province, every Australian state and territory, over 125 US National Park Service sites and over 275 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Gary blogs at Everything Everywhere.
Juno Kim (Runaway Juno)
Laptop: MacBook Pro 13inch retina display, 2.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5; 8GB RAM; Phone: iPhone 5; Tablet: Acer iA6
Juno Kim is a travel writer, photographer, trained mechanical engineer, and life-long nerd who left her cubic farm to reclaim her creativity and inspiration. She enjoys digging information passionately if it interests her, like astronomy, comedy shows, and musicals. Currently she’s on a quest to find the place where she can call ‘home’ while publishing her work on Runaway Juno. You can also find her on Twitter @RunawayJuno and the Runaway Juno Facebook page.
What Are Your Go-To Devices?
A laptop and phone seem to be essential electronics these bloggers (and pretty much all of us) can’t travel without provided we’ve got enough batteries to stay charged. From there, depending on personal interests and focus of our work, it varies quite a bit. I’m curious, what gadgets are always by your side on a trip? Any ideas for new additions to your backpack from the lists above? Let us know in the comments right below!
The other day I posted on Facebook an article of mine answering the question, ‘do you need a Pacsafe to protect valuables while traveling?’ – and reader Armanda added they can help prevent your bag straps from getting caught on belt loaders. Armanda is a part-time ramp agent at a regional international airport in the northeast United States as well as a full-time student studying Hospitality and Tourism Management. She was kind enough to answer a few more questions about her job plus some insights into how are bags really are handled once out of passenger sight.
What exactly is a ramp agent?
The responsibilities of a ramp agent can vary greatly from airport to airport and airline to airline. I work in a smaller regional airport, so we do quite a lot. We are responsible for sorting as well as loading and unloading the baggage and cargo on the planes. We also make sure the flight crew gets the necessary paperwork they need and call the city for fuel and/or lavatory services, and deicing (these are all handled by the city ramp workers at my airport and not the individual airlines ramp agents). We make sure flight attendants get ice and any other supplies they may need (not including catering services at my station). We also marshal the planes in and out plus wing walk. We are also responsible for cleaning, searching, and securing the planes that stay overnight at the airport to make up the outbound flights in the morning.
I always tell people, that we’re a lot like a NASCAR pit crew. When we have a plane on the ground we have a lot of things to get done in a short amount of time (barring delays), and safety is always our top concern.
In larger airports, a ramp agent is usually assigned to any one of the tasks I mentioned, and will do that same task for their entire shift. The job can be very stressful and very physically taxing, and at my particular airline, we make just above minimum wage. Most of us keep the job as a second part-time job for the flying benefits. With my airline, we fly stand-by for free! As well as our immediate family members. However, every airline is different, and every airport is different. Some airlines contract out their groundwork.
What is an average day like?
Once again, every airport is different. At my airport, in the summer months when our flight schedule practically doubles, the days are usually crazy. There are always many, many things going on at once, and communication and attention to safety are critical. One of the things that I love about this job is that every day is different, and you just never know how it’s going to play out. Some days your planes come in early, and everything runs smoothly and you get out early. Other days all of your planes are delayed, and nothing runs smoothly and you end up getting stuck two, three, four, or more hours longer than your scheduled shift. It can be grueling at times, working in the elements under high stress, and you’re not always able to take a break for a snack or a drink.
In the winter months, we have fewer flights and shorter shifts and a lot more down time, but we also have snow, ice, and brutally cold temperatures to work in and around making things a bit tricky! We also have pretty continuous computer training that we need to keep up to date on. The amount of training varies based on how many different types of aircraft your station services.
How bad (or well) are bags actually treated?
I cannot speak for every airport, but it has been my experience that bags aren’t treated as badly as people think. However, things happen. You have to keep in mind, that we are almost always under time constrictions, and we can’t place every bag carefully on the baggage cart, or on the belt, or in the bin, there’s just no time. I can only imagine that in bigger airports, this is even more so. Most of the time we have to work very quickly.
What is the most fragile thing you would consider packing? Anything we definitely shouldn’t put in a check-in bag?
As far as checked-in luggage goes, I wouldn’t put anything in your bag that you wouldn’t want to lose. There are just too many variables and too many unknowns. Having worked in an airport, it is clear to me how easily a bag can get lost or damaged, I am actually surprised it doesn’t happen more often! Especially in the larger airports that deal with hundreds or more flights a day.
I know that is not what people want to hear, but if you want to be safe, don’t check anything you wouldn’t want to lose. Definitely don’t check medications, it amazes me how many people make that mistake and then get mad at us.
I also would avoid checking liquids/lotions/etc. or anything breakable. I would absolutely recommend a suitcase with a hard case exterior. These hold up much better, are easier to stack, and have no straps that get hung up on belt loaders, or other bags leading to damage or getting lost. They also protect your clothing and whatnot from the elements. Your bag will definitely be spending time outside and we don’t always have enough covered carts to go around.
How much time or contact do ramp agents have with a single bag?
Again, it varies from airport to airport. But at my airport, I and/or other ramp agents will handle your bag at least two times, possibly more if there are delays and passengers change flights, or if flights are cancelled. At larger airports baggage goes through a much more complicated system, however, I am not familiar with this.
Anything travelers probably don’t know, but should, about checking in luggage?
I strongly suggest using baggage with as few straps, pockets, and zippers as possible. These are constantly getting hung up on equipment and other bags causing damage, and adding a safety hazard to our work environment. Just last week I was lifting a gate checked bag over my head to pass to another co-worker and the arm strap fell down and smacked me in the eye, luckily my eye was not scratched!
If you have to travel with a bag that has a lot of straps and pockets such as a hiking pack on a backpacking trip, find a way to at least keep the straps contained so they wont get caught up in equipment. The other thing I see all the time is car seats being checked as they are. You definitely want to put car seats in some sort of container, a garbage bag at the very least. The straps always always get caught on something, and a car seat is definitely not something you want to be compromised.
Strollers as well, make sure the straps are secured and tucked away before checking them. Ask the counter agents if you need to, they should have packing tape, zip ties, or garbage bags. However, it is best to be prepared upon arrival. Another thing is, pay attention to the weight restrictions of your bag. I see handles get ripped off pretty regularly simply because they are not designed to carry the amount of weight that has been stuffed in the bag. The same goes for zippers, if they are busting at the seams because you have stuffed as much as you possibly can in them, they will more than likely bust at the seams, and your clothing, shoes, etc. will end up all over the ramp, or the bin of the plane, or the carousel.
Pack light, pack secure, and pack smart! Don’t let luggage ruin your adventures!
Thank you again Armanda for sharing your advise, experience and expertise with us!