Best Travel Carry On Backpack

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Turns out, my innocent-looking May goals are considerably more difficult to put into practice than I thought. I’m getting ready to leave my apartment of 2 years and also plan a 3-month-long adventure in Europe and it feels like I have a really bad case of crazy brain and yet not much is getting accomplished. “Spinning my wheels” is a phrase that keeps coming to mind. There has been small progress – never did I think I’d be so elated to sell a piece of furniture on Craigslist – on both fronts, but it is still slow-going. There are about a billion unanswered questions that I’m going to need to find answers to in the next 50 days before I leave, but I’ve figured at least one thing out: my bag.

I decided very early on that I wanted to do this trip with only one bag, carry-on sized. I had so many reasons for doing so, but here are a sampling: I never wanted to need help with my bag, I never wanted to pay baggage fees, I never wanted to risk losing my stuff, I didn’t want to have to wait for my bags. If you want more information about carry-on travel, check out Rick Steves’ guide to packing light or One Bag.

Bags

So, once that was settled, I just needed to find the right bag. I fell in love almost instantly with Tom Bihn’s Aeronaut, but unfortunately it was just a little too steep for my budget (that didn’t stop me from lusting after it for weeks, however..). Once I wrapped my head around the fact that the bag would cost me as much as an iPad mini, I focused on researching other bags. I wanted a bag without wheels (so I could more easily navigate with my hands free), and that was a “convertible” – in other words, had backpack straps that could be tucked away so it can also be carried like a suitcase. At the risk of exposing just how much of a planner/researcher I really am, I’m showing you my spreadsheet of convertible carry-on sized bags. Maybe it’ll save one of you some researching.

You can access the spreadsheet directly (with clickable links) here. You should know that this list is by no means complete, there are quite a few other contenders that didn’t make it on. Check out some other great bag recommendations at One Bag One World. (I got lost on that site for a couple of days, by the way!)

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After a lot of consideration, I decided to go with the LL Bean Quickload Travel Pack. It was the right decision for me: it is an incredibly light bag, it is unassuming and comes in black, it hinges open like a suitcase so I can get at all my stuff without taking everything out and rummaging around, and it has a pretty big capacity.

As you can see, I’m pretty excited about it. As soon as it was delivered (which only took 2 days, which was wonderful), I promptly packed it the way I am planning to for my trip, and started testing the weight by walking around wearing it and holding it above my head. So far, so good. I have a feeling I’ll be doing a lot of that kind of stuff right up until the day I leave.

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Now that I have my bag, and my plane tickets to Europe, things are starting to feel very real, and scary and exciting at the same time. I can’t quite imagine what it’s going to be like or how I’m going to feel, but I’m ready to find out. The hardest part about packing my bag so far has been that once I packed it, I was totally ready to go to the airport and leave all my other belongings behind. Realizing that I still had to deal with all the other stuff in my apartment was a bit of a bummer.

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Other equipment shown in the above photo: the personal toiletries organizer from LL Bean, which I’ve had for years but is similar to this model, Toms shoe bags that come with your purchase of Toms, and a cube from Eagle Creek’s Pack-It system (I have the regular and half-size cubes).

  • Isabelle

    This looks so exciting, I can’t wait to hear all about this adventure! I should also mention that you’ve inspired me to rethink my own packing for this summer!

    • Stephanie Pellett

      I will tell you all about it, I promise! :D and ya, packing light is an endeavor. I wish you all the luck in the world with it haha I know I’ll probably struggle with it when it comes down to it!!

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  • Litehiker1

    Hi, thank you so much for providing this information and photos of the LL Bean bag. I have been on a lengthy quest to find the perfect carry on only travel bag and your research has really helped me. Are you still happy with this bag and with your packing list? Would you change anything? All the Best.

    • stephaniepellett

      Hi Litehiker! I loved this bag, and I still love it. I’ve used it on lots of small trips since my trip to Europe and it has stood up well – it still looks new and always surprises me with how much it can actually hold inside! And yes, I am still happy with my packing list. I didn’t really bring anything I didn’t need, and while I didn’t have a ton of room for souvenirs, it was still the perfect size for my purposes.

      Thanks for your comment! Best of luck on your travels. :)

  • nfsullivan

    Hi Stephanie! I’m really enjoying reading your posts… I’ll be travelling for two months in Europe in October so your tips are coming in handy. Thanks so much!!
    Nicole from Toronto

    • stephaniepellett

      Hi Nicole,

      So glad to hear my tips are helping! It sounds like you’re bound to have an incredible adventure. If you have any questions I’d be happy to answer them! Best of luck. :)

  • Sarah Struthers

    Hello! I am researching backpacks right now and was wondering if you had read any reviews or had any experience with either the LL Bean bag or the Ebag mentioned in your spreadsheet on Ryanair? I’ll need a bag that fits into their strict carry on dimensions. Any advice would help. Thanks!! :)

    • stephaniepellett

      Hi Sarah! So on my trip I actually never ended up flying with Ryanair. I did fly Easyjet (which I believe has similar carry on dimensions to Ryanair) twice, and once I took my bag on the plane with me, and the other time I checked it. The reason that those airlines are so difficult for carry on luggage is because they only allow one piece of luggage, *including* a hand-item like a purse. So while on other airlines I was fine bringing my backpack and my purse, on Easyjet I had to store my purse and contents inside my backpack which made it larger and heavier.

      While I can’t speak to Ryanair, I will say that on Easyjet they were checking some people’s bags in the gauge to double check if they were the right size. Mine was always fine, but once I was made to check my bag because it was too heavy for carry on baggage (don’t ask me why it matters, since I wasn’t checking another checked bag so the weight was still well below what my overall allowance was!!!) so be aware that the weight might matter also.

      Honestly, I was travelling mostly by train where carry on baggage allowances are never a problem (in my experience) and only flew twice within Europe, so the time that I checked my bag I was happy to do so as it wasn’t overly expensive and it was less of a hassle. Depending on the style of your trip, checking it every time might not be practical for you, but I would still maintain that carrying less stuff is always good!

      I would just try to compare the dimensions of the Ebag & the LL Bean Quickload against the Ryanair restrictions and then cross your fingers. Worst case scenario, you have to check it.

      Good luck! I’d be happy to answer any other questions you have. :)

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  • Jessica Chen

    I just wanted to comment on what an epic planner/researcher you are! Hahaha! I thought I was good at researching and planning…but I’ve obviously been beat! I’m now inspired to do the same thing and level up my researching abilities! :) PS, your blog is so enjoyable to read, I’ve right click new tabbed all the links to the articles I wanted to read as I was browsing and now it’s overtaken my browser…@__@

    • stephaniepellett

      Hey Jessica, haha thanks for your comment. I do love researching so I appreciate the compliment although I’m sure you’re just as good! So glad you’re enjoying the blog :)

  • Hey Steph,
    Just wondering.. did you look at the Osprey Fairpoint 40?
    I’m debating between that and the LL Bean Easyload.. the LL Bean is on backorder :/

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