I ran into something rather unexpected: it’s hard to choose a bag for a very short trip.
The scenario I found myself in: departing on a plane at midnight, and landing at 6am (destination time), then boarding another plane at 9pm (destination time), and returning home again at midnight. No hotel involved, just two flights, and work in-between each, before mercifully arriving home.1
Such a short trip initially seemed like it would be easy to prepare for, but as I started trying to plan it out, wanting to travel as minimal as I could, I realized that the task at hand was anything but easy.
First, I couldn’t decide on a bag — then I couldn’t decide on what devices to bring. I want to touch on former of these challenges, as I am hoping for more regular travelers to chime in with advice.2
I packed and unpacked the same two bags twice, trying to figure out which one to take, and even asked my 3 year-old what she thought (I should have listened to her). What I knew is that my kit would be as small as possible, and that I would be working on-site with a client the entire time. What I didn’t know is how much non-meeting work time I would get, so bringing any non-work items wasn’t something I entertained.
I chose a shoulder bag right out of the gate because I wanted a more professional look which shoulder bags garner, and I figured I would be carrying it for a minimal amount of time. (Also, I have been testing a shoulder bag for a review, and so this seemed like a good idea at the time.) This was, of course, my first mistake.
I agonized between taking the GORUCK 15l Shoulder Bag (review coming soon) and the Tom Bihn Founder’s Briefcase. In the end, I chose the latter as it felt smaller and, well, I have a soft spot for the bag. This was the second mistake.
So there’s two things to address here: the size of the bag, and how the bag is carried.
As most readers know I am a huge proponent for a backpack. The even weight distribution is not only better for your body, but far more comfortable to wear, carry, and allows you to do other things while the bag is on your back.
It has honestly been quite sometime since I regularly carried a shoulder bag, but I’ve been carrying one almost daily since the start of the year. Most of this is out of laziness of writing the review I have been working on for the GORUCK 15l Shoulder Bag, but some of it is out of a interest to see if I still prefer the backpack.
After this recent trip, the answer became pretty clear: backpacks are always the way to go.
Even with the short duration and carry times I did during this trip, a shoulder bag was supremely annoying. It was in my way, noticeable, and uncomfortable even after a short while carrying it. So even though the bag was physically smaller than my GR1, it felt much larger than the GR1. This is a simple matter of how shoulder bags hang and pull at our body.
The bag was just annoying most of the time. I still like the bag, but not for travel — not at all.
Size of Bag
The bag I chose to take with me is 13 liters of capacity — it’s a slim 15” laptop bag. You can see all the details here. I was trying to decide between that bag and the 15 liter GORUCK shoulder bag. My assumption was that the GR1, at 26 liters, would be far too large.
I wasn’t taking a laptop, or chargers. Just my phone, a notebook, pen, iPad, iPad keyboard, clean shirt. A pretty simple kit. But, my god, is 13 liters small. Far too small. I made it work, but the bag was stuffed full once I added in snacks and a water bottle after the security checkpoint.
My daughter had told me to pack the 15 liter GORUCK, and I should have listened (but she’s 3, so why would I). It would have provided that extra bit of room that I actually wanted — but had no clue I would need.
The biggest problem is carrying a beverage, or two. I personally wanted to carry a soda and a water. I promised my wife I would stay hydrated this time to lessen chances of my getting sick (again), so I wanted to live up to that. And knowing that I was landing early, I wanted to make sure I had liquids should nothing be open when I land.
I carried it all in the Tom Bihn, and it worked. Everything works, but it was a bit of a balancing act. Some would say I packed the right size bag, but the entire time it felt to cumbersome because it was too small. I felt like I was one inadvertent zipper pull from having my shit dumped out all over the place.
And so, I wished I had packed a different larger bag, even the 15L, (which holds water bottles exceedingly well in the main compartment).
I learned a very simple lesson through all of this: liquids take up the most space, are necessary, and need to be accommodated. Therefore: always pack a backpack, not a shoulder bag, when you travel.
If you travel regularly I’d love to hear what you are carrying and why. Again, a post on your own site would be the best, just send me the link to read it.