Travel Bag Face-Off for Conference Travel

I love to attend academic conferences, though there are few things I hate more than having to check my bag along the way. I tend to carry very little with me, doing laundry along the way so I can avoid the lines, costs, concern over lost luggage, and hassles associated with checking luggage while flying. The conferences and peers I work with along the trip often take all my energy to manage, and the last thing I want is to encounter airline or train or bus hassles with my stuff. After my last trip to the UK and Ireland in April, when I was asked to check my carry-on luggage (that seemed to bulge at the seams), I vowed to never do so again.

Why didn’t I notice that my proposed carry-on luggage was overpacked? Wheels. Yes, I used wheeled luggage that should have fit into the overhead bins, and never considered that the airlines might ask to weigh it; I thought if it fit in and could zip, that was that. How wrong I was.

Thus began my quest for the perfect bag, one that was designed and tailored for people like me, those who seek to travel light and only with a single bag that will be unchallenged at the airport as being within the Maximum Legal Carry-on (MLC). Aided in my search by some other travellers fanatically interested in the same goal, I turned to sites such as One Bag and One Bag One World for reviews, advice, and suggestions for packing smarter, lighter, and better. Yes, the wheeled ones that lose 1/3 of their capacity carrying the handles and wheels while also doubling their weight will have to go.

With all this said, and considering my own specific needs and concerns, I have narrowed the world of realistic bags down to two, both of which come from small American firms that specialize in travel products for consumers looking for just the right bag that is light, lasts forever, and expresses a certain individuality–no mass-produced pieces here!

 The first bag I am considering is the Sky Train from Red Oxx, a small firm that hand produces all their bags in Montana. They are known for their quality and attention to detail in an array of bags that come with a lifetime guarantee and are known for their rugged characteristics:

The other bag I am considering is the Aeronaut from Tom Bihn, a firm that also hand-makes their bags, though this time in Seattle. Their bags are also known for their quality, along with a design sense unmatched in the industry:

I read nearly every review online about these two bags, and after making a list of the strengths and weaknesses (for my needs, as neither have any inherent weaknesses), I was at a complete draw. They both have backpack and shoulder straps, as well as a variety of handles. However, as these bags are only sold online and in their own stores (they both have exactly one store, just near their factories), I could not see, touch, or compare them in person. Not knowing what else to do, I purchased them both, and will try them out with my travel clothes and items in my apartment to see which will work best for my needs and stuff.

Let the best bag win! More to come once I try them out . . .

10 thoughts on “Travel Bag Face-Off for Conference Travel

  1. I’m going to have to go through a similar process when I’m back in the UK, as I want to get a proper professional bag for carrying around my laptop and various papers rather than the big canvas one that serves that purpose at the moment. I have an irrational craving for a red leather shoulder bag, but whether or not that will happen remains to be seen!

    1. I suppose a “professional bag” is really a personal decision. I want a rugged bag that will last, though will not draw any attention to me for any reason. I want to fly under the radar!

  2. I travel with this one:
    (I have the regular version, and it was cheaper (280 euro) where I bought it from, but this gives you an idea).

    When I moved to the US, my parents gave me one of these Rimowa suitcases, and I’ve been totally hooked ever since. After my regular carry-on broke down, I decided to get this one. They’re incredibly strong and incredibly light at the same time.

    1. What a cool bag; how does it fit in the overhead? A well-made travel bag is worth its weight in gold, I have found. Well-worth the investment.

  3. Oh, this is so so helpful Jeffrey! I intend to do pack one light carry bag for my trip to Europe this fall. I am changing locations most nights and just cannot see sightseeing with some giant American-tourist luggage behind…which is my norm.

    I was thinking Osprey backpack at REI. I love American made tho. I also had no idea about the wheels and was eyeing a wheeled backpack. Now, I won’t!

  4. @Christiana-

    Thanks for your comment. I received both bags and after testing them both inside, I settled on the Rex Oxx bag and just ordered a bunch of accessories for it. I will blog more about this all when I receive them later this week.

    One thing is for sure, I do not like to be separated from my luggage for any reason! I travel lightly and wash along the way. It makes travel so much easier in that you are never terribly inconvenienced.


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