Travel Kit

Before I tell the epic story of our journey from the United States to Great Britain, I would like to describe some of the key components of our travel gear. Jenny requested that we upgrade our luggage when we began making plans for extended and extensive travel this year, and we made the upgrades after research and discussions about what we needed and wanted. Although the pieces we added were surprisingly economical, price was not the only driver for our decisions. I’ve been very happy so far, and expect that what we have now will be durable and serve us long into the future.

I had a few guiding principles in looking for new luggage, which I adopted from traveling light forums and websites, most notably this one.

  • Most radically, I was convinced that wheeled luggage doesn’t make sense–the wheel system might take up to 20% of the weight allowance and significiantly reduce the amount of room available in the bag. A suitcase that can turn into a backpack is more versatile than a wheeled bag, and the shoulder straps take up much less space than wheels.
  • Soft-sided luggage is preferable to the hard-sided kind, especially if it’s sturdy, heavy-duty nylon with strong zippers. No luggage is secure, not even hard-sided luggage, so that consideration isn’t even worth worrying about.
  • Rectangular bags maximize space. Airlines give allowed dimensions in terms of maximum length, width, and height, and the carry-on checkpoints are always box-shaped. Plane weight limits mean that a maximum-size bag might not be completely full, but flights are not the only time we need the bags.

With those points in mind, and following some of the websites’ recommendations, I found the eBags MotherLode carry-on, and the Eagle Creek No Matter What duffel bag, which carries an impressive lifetime guarantee. We got two of each. The MotherLode was my go-to bag for driving back and forth when we were on the west coast. Jenny wasn’t entirely pleased with the cavernous duffel bag, with no internal organization. We solved that problem with an assortment of eBags packing cubes, which Jenny loves. Their modularity makes them much more versatile than a traditional suitcase, and they even have handles so can be useful on their own, not packed into luggage. Low cost was a happy side-effect of following my luggage principles; we could have easily spent as much for one new suitcase as we did for the all the new carry-ons, duffel bags, and packing cubes.

We didn’t replace everything that we had; we’re using two traditional wheeled suitcases that we already had, mementos of my time as a rowing coach in Texas (although I was a volunteer, they were allowed to give me free gear). When we travel on an airplane, we also bring a stroller, a car seat, and personal items–a purse for Jenny and backpacks for Elena and I. It may look like a lot, but it really isn’t when you take into consideration the fact that we were packing for a six-month-long trip. In fact, we could have brought several more bags while remaining within our luggage allowance.
We can still fit all of this and ourselves in a compact car without sacrificing too much leg room. And if we go slow and I get the balance of duffel bags atop wheeled suitcases just right, we can move everything, including the kids, all at once.

We’ve seen at an extra benefit from the carry-on bags being convertible to backpacks–it’s that they make very good backpacks. Without a car, we do a lot more walking and are generally limited to what we can carry with us, but a big backpack means that isn’t too much of a limitation. One pack can hold everything that we need for a long day of sightseeing, for instance at the Knaresborough bed races. It can also hold everything we get on a substantial grocery trip, causing the half-mile walk home to be much more pleasant than it would be if we had to carry a dozen plastic bags the whole way. With Roman in the tummy pack and a fully-loaded backback behind, I’m always balanced and ready to go.

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