So you’re going away for a few days for fun or work, and want to keep all your gear in a carry-on? First of all, smart thinking. If I’m going anywhere for under two weeks, I really do try to keep my packing as light as possible to avoid airline hassle, unpacking issues, and frankly, the fact that rarely do we need a massive suitcase for a trip under 14 days. When our friend Matt texted me the other day to ask about some of my preferred packing strategies and supplies for short trips, I was stoked: this is my favorite topic, if I’m being honest. (I did narrate packing for every trip my Barbies ever went on, often unpacking so I could re-pack a few times. My sister is a saint.)
Rapha’s Transit Backpack or the AW Ciabatta Bag have been my go-tos for under the seat this season. Now, I admit, I did list a couple of cons to the Rapha backpack when Matt asked me about it, because if you’re looking for a commuter-friendly backpack that can cram EVERYTHING into it, from gym clothes to lunch to bottles to your laptop, you might run into trouble. But if you’re looking for something more spacious and organized than a briefcase, but primarily for the same function, then I really do recommend it. I also really like the reflective fabric: super unique look and feel (almost like a shiny neoprene) and it does light up when it gets dark, so if you’re riding home at dusk, it’s an awesome choice.
The Ciabatta Bag by Andrea Wong has been my favorite since I got it a year ago: waxed canvas and leather, zipper at the top, tote bag style and super durable. It wasn’t cheap—$185—but as someone who trashed bags that are less pricey, I knew spending money on something I’d be able to toss around and beat up would be well worth it. It fits everything: computer, iPad, all my travel essentials—but it isn’t super bulky. And I love that it does pack down to next to nothing if I need to jam it ina suitcase.
Thule Crossover Expandable Suiter: Again, I have two options here, mostly dependent on how long the trip is and whether I’m using the backpack or the tote under the seat. If I’m going on a longer trip and using the backpack, I run the Thule Crossover Expandable Suiter 58cm roller bag. It’s a bit big and while it’s technically carry-on friendly, it definitely pushes the limits. But it holds A TON, and I love that it has the expandable option, so if I go somewhere and end up with a bunch of stuff I need to bring back, I can pop it open and get a couple more inches of room—but then it almost always needs to be checked, so be warned. This bag has been all over the world in the last year, and I have tried my best to beat the crap out of it, but it still looks as nice as when I got it.
Timbuk2 Custom Backpack: If I bring my tote bag, and the trip is shorter, I almost always opt for my Timbuk2 Custom Backpack—it goes pretty much everywhere with me, since it’s what I use for things like grocery shopping. The roll-top expands the size enough to fit a fair bit so you can cram a ton of stuff in there, and while it doesn’t have much by way or organization to it, the empty space makes packing clothes a lot easier. Mine has reflective accents, but is entirely done in different grays fabrics, and I freaking love it. Sporty, but still neutral and stylish.
Pro tip: Try to avoid double-backpacks when flying. It’s a pain in the ass to walk through the airport sporting two backpacks, so unless one can easily be grabbed by just the one strap duffel-bag style, avoid at all costs.
I’ve talked about these before, but never all at once, so let’s five into what’s in my carry-on.
- For air travel, especially between countries, I can’t stress enough how much I love having a travel-specific wallet that can hold your passport, various currencies, spare credit cards, et cetera. (I also love this because then I have a regular wallet that has some cash and a card, so if I have one stolen, I have some backup supplies.) I use the Rapha Transit Wallet, but anything like that (like this one, that’s only $17!) is great.
- Additionally, I live by these little silicone credit card holders that stick right on your phone case and can hold credit cards, licenses, etc. Gamechanger, since it helps avoid needing a wallet most of the time! (I give these as presents a ridiculous amount of the time.)
- I also have a leather envelope-style folder for papers. It comes in handy for when you need to print out tickets, or have business papers you don’t want wrecked in your bag. But this winter, I also found it was perfect for bringing home a few small prints that I found in London as Christmas gifts—they arrived home unscathed after six weeks of bouncing around!
- Extra USB stick and SD card if you do a lot of computer work or photography can be super helpful as well.
- A small notebook and a pen also make you pretty much always look prepared.
- Foldable nylon backpack: I bring one of these on every trip for a few reasons. One, it’s nice to not have to empty your backpack for a day trip if you’re using it for all of your gear already. Two, occasionally, you end up buying stuff on a trip that you hadn’t intended to, and the backpack can serve as an extra piece of luggage if needed. (This foldable backpack is a great option, and takes up almost no space in your packing.) I can’t list the amount of times we’ve used ours in the last couple years.
- Water bottle that actually closes. I’ve written about my worst mistake—cycling bottle that spilled everywhere and wrecked a ton of my gear—and having a bottle with a top that screws on and STAYS on is so important. A bottle like this one that won’t sweat when filled with cold water is also key.
- Greens powder (I like Amazing Grass Green Superfood Organic Powder with Wheat Grass and Greens) and protein powder (I like Vital Proteins Pasture-Raised, Grass-Fed Collagen Peptides) in individual packets, and a few different teas. I like being able to add greens and protein to my water or tea or coffee (more on which ones I use here) for longer travel days when food options aren’t great.
If you’re interested, let me know in the comments and I’ll do a write-up of what clothes/toiletries always come with me!
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