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Buying Luggage and Travel Accessories

Pauline Kenny

I am not a light packer. We have never done a trip to Europe with only carryon bags. We always have a bag of hiking gear, a bag of computer gear and bags of clothes. We usually travel in the spring or fall, so I am packing for warm weather, cold weather and wet weather. For years I have been searching for my perfect luggage solution and I think I have found it.

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On our trips to Europe, we always have a rental car and don't usually take trains, so we are not handling our luggage that much. If we were taking trains, we would pack lighter. We stay in vacation rentals for one or two weeks each, so are not packing and unpacking that often.

This is how we pack: one rolling suitcase each, one small duffel each - these are both checked luggage; one carryon bag each with computers, change of clothes and abbreviated toilet kit in case checked luggage gets lost, and things for the flight (noise canceling headphones, books, magazines, iPod, sandwiches). More details below. Steve is our suitcase model for these photos. We leave in a week for a summer trip to Europe, so luggage and packing has been on my mind!

Suitcases (Checked Luggage)

Briggs & Riley luggage

We each check two suitcases; one 25" rolling suitcase and a 22" duffel. A few years ago I got Briggs and Riley luggage and I really like it.

  • Briggs & Riley Transcend 25" rolling suitcase
  • Briggs & Riley Transcend 22" duffel

I bought them from eBags. The photo to the right shows Steve with both suitcases.

The 25" rolling suitcase rolls well, is very manageable to lift and carry and I like the soft shape of it (it is not a rigid suitcase). There are big outside pockets for maps, etc. Inside there is a divider that lets you put clothes you don't need immediately on the bottom, then stretch the divider over them, then more on top of that. The divider has two zippered pockets that are handy. There is a "suiter" for suits or shirts on hangers that fits into the top (we don't use this and it can be removed). We pack our clothes, shoes, toilet kits, and other miscellaneous things in the rolling suitcases.

The 22" duffle sits on top of the rolling suitcase, with a special sleeve that fits over the rolling suitcase handle, so you can easily pull both through the airport. The 22" duffel fits perfectly on top of the 25" rolling suitcase. The duffel has one large area inside, but has extra pockets on top and in front. It zips around the top and all the way down the front, so you can pack and unpack it easily. We pack one duffle with all our hiking gear - boots, socks, rain jackets, polartec sweaters, water bottles, Tilley Hats, hiking books and maps. In the other duffle, I put more books (it is best to put books in your smaller suitcase because they are very heavy and you don't want the suitcase to go over the weight limit), and all those things that don't fit into the rolling suitcases. We don't always take the second duffel.

If I was planning to travel by train, I would take a smaller rolling suitcase (22") so it would be lighter to carry, and a duffle. I like to have two smaller suitcases instead of one large, heavy one, because they are easier to handle. The duffel has a shoulder strap, so you could have in on your shoulder and carry the rolling suitcase.

Checked Luggage: Weight Limits and Other Restrictions

Always check with the airline for the latest luggage restrictions. They change all the time. Many airlines now have a weight limit of 50 lbs per bag on an international flight. British Airways has a limit of 51 lbs per bag and allows two checked bag for economy and premium economy (for international flights). Delta Airlines has a weight limit of 50 lbs per bag, and allows two checked bags. For flights within Europe, British Airways allows only one check bag for economy, so check with the airline to see what you are allowed to check.

I bought a small scale that weighs suitcases from TravelSmith. It is a hook with a scale attached. Use it to pickup your suitcase and check the weight.

I remember checking in with British Airways many years ago, with a big 24" Tumi rolling case (it was much deeper than my current suitcase) and it weighed over 70 lbs!! I had a lot of books in the case. The agent just laughed and checked it through. Those days are long gone - now you pay for excess weight and the airlines are not happy with heavy bags.

Packing Accessories

Packing Cubes for Clothes

I love these things! I didn't think I would like them - the whole idea sounded stupid to me - but I gave them a try and now use them all the time.

  • Eagle Creek Pack-It Cube
  • Eagle Creek Pack-It Tube Cube

I bought them from eBags. TravelSmith also sells them. I use the Pack-It Cube for clothes, usually t-shirts or tops. I put all our short sleeved shirts in one, long sleeved in the other. I use the Pack-It Tube Cubes for socks and underwear. You can get a lot more things into the same spacing using these cubes, plus they help you organize your clothes, making them easier to find.

Eagle Creek Packing Cubes

25" Rolling Suitcase packed using the Packing Cubes and Tube Cubes

Packing Cubes for Electronics

The Pack-It Padded Cubes are perfect for packing electronics and computer gear.

  • Eagle Creek Pack-It Padded Half Cube
  • Eagle Creek Pack-It Padded Quarter Cube

I bought them from eBags. Frank, husband of our moderator Chris, is the most organized person that I know. I was poking around his office one day when I saw these cubes and he showed me how he used them to pack computer stuff. They are perfect! I use a quarter cube for my mouse and computer cords, another for my external hard drive, and a half cube for my GPS and accessories. The quarter tubes are a good size for most things and the padding protects your electronics.

Eagle Creek padded quarter cube

Computer things in the padded quarter cube

Extra Bags

Baggallini "Zip Out Shopping Totes" are great for extra bags on a trip. They fold up very small, into a pocket on the bag, are light weight, are made of strong nylon (you can check them as luggage) and come in bright colors (always fun). I got three of them for this trip: small, medium and large. The small one I will use as a book bag in the car (to hold maps and guidebooks), the medium one to take grocery shopping and the large one to hold dirty laundry and use as an extra bag if I am bringing things home.

Baggallini Zip Out Shopping Totes

Small, medium and large Baggallini Zip Out Shopping Totes

Carryon Luggage

Briggs & Riley luggage

I use the smaller 20" rolling suitcase for carryon and a purse (which I will put in the small carryon because British Airways now allows only one bag on board). Steve has a backpack for carryon.

  • Briggs & Riley Transcend 20" Rolling Carry-On
  • Briggs and Riley backpack

I bought them from eBags. The photo to the right shows the red 20" carryon attached to the suitcases that I check.

In my carryon, I pack our travel computers, our other electronics that we don't want to put in the checked luggage (cell phones, GPS, external hard drives that we use with our computers, digital camera, small video camera), plus a change of clothes and some toiletries for both of us in case luggage gets delayed. I put a jacket for each of us on the top, easy to get at, in case we need it.

In his backpack, Steve has the things we need on the flight - Bose noise canceling headphones, my iPod, his OQO (very small computer), books, magazines, sandwiches for lunch. His backpack also works well for carrying a computer, so he sometimes keeps his there.

If I manage to get everything organized, the rolling suitcase goes in the overhead and stays there, and the things we need for the flight are in the backpack.

Carryon Luggage: Weight Limits and Other Restrictions

Check with your airline for the current carryon restrictions. Most airlines allow a purse/computer bag/personal bag and a small carryon. British Airways allows only one carryon, and you cannot have a purse as well - just the one bag. My solution to this was to get the largest carryon they allow, so I can put my purse into it.

Make Sure you Can Handle All your Luggage

We bring a lot of luggage, but we always make sure we can carry it ourselves. The duffel attaches to the handle on top of the rolling suitcase and my carryon rolling suitcase attaches piggy-back style to the larger rolling suitcase. Steve has a duffel and a rolling suitcase, but his carryon is a backpack, so he wears that.

Briggs & Riley luggage

Steve with our two bags that will be checked (blue) and our carryon suitcase (red)

How Much Do You Pack?

I keep a detailed packing list for each trip and note what we did not use and what we needed that I failed to bring. Each year I fine tune the list and we always use most of what we bring. When packing for a trip, I lay everything out on the bed, go over it with Steve, then pack it a day or two before the flight. Sometimes I pack our hiking gear a week ahead, so that I know it is done. Packing is never fun for me and involves lots of washing, ironing and fretting over what to bring.

When we travel, we do laundry once a week, usually at the vacation rental, but we drop it off at a laundry if there is no washer. We bring seven days of clothes (but 10 days of underwear in case we don't get laundry done), assuming we need a few days for the opposite of the expected weather. For example, I am packing summer things for this trip, but will bring a few long sleeved tops, a jacket, a rain jacket for hiking and a polartec pullover in case the weather changes.

Since we do longer trips and stay in vacation rentals, I usually bring some cooking things. For this trip I am bringing a small pot with a tight lid to use for cooking rice, a small steamer basket, a good knife, a couple of wooden spoons (many vacation rentals have grubby wooden spoons), two plastic food containers to store leftovers or to use for a picnic lunch and an apron. I also bring a few food necessities (yours will be different!): 2 cups brown rice, sea salt, kuzu, two ramen packets, instant miso soup, granola bars.

We also bring some DVDs to watch in the evening, Steve's juggling balls, a couple of books each, and sometimes a knitting project for me.

Does anyone remember those "Get Smart" TV shows from the 1960s? I watched them when I was a kid and remember that he carried small capsules instead of suitcases - add water and you had your whole house! That is how I want to travel. No suitcases, but everything with me. Or the way people traveled in the 1800s, with stacks of trunks delivered to their hotel, where they stayed for a month. That was Slow Travel.

Travel Purses

I like the healthy back purses and have used one for years, at home and when traveling, but my one complaint is that the strap does not go across your body. When traveling I like to have my hands free, especially when dealing with luggage. For the trip we are about to take, I searched for the perfect travel purse. I like a travel purse that is small, but has enough space to hold a full wallet, small wallet, sunglasses, small camera, cell phone, map and has a good shoulder strap, long enough to go across your body.

I rejected the "Small but Mighty Bag" (too small and too much of a wallet with a strap) and the "Silver Lining Travel Purse" (I can't remember why I did not like it), both from TravelSmith. Then I did two visits to the local travel store and looked about about 30 purses. I bought an Eagle Creek small shoulder bag and thought it was perfect, but it turned out to be too small. Many of the purses in the travel store were either too small (they included all your wallet features and were not meant to carry a wallet in, and I could not get used to that) or had too many pockets for specific purposes (I carry a BlackBerry and it won't fit into the cell phone pocket).

I ended up with a purse that I think will work - the "DayMakers of Santa Barbara". A simple regular looking purse, with a long shoulder strap that goes across the body (it can be adjusted to shorter), an outside zip pocket on one side, outside open pocket on the other (good for maps), a large zipped compartment, and security features (steel cable in the strap, strong material for the purse).

DayMakers of Santa Barbara

Simple shoulder bag from DayMakers of Santa Barbara

Resources

Discounts on travel gear you'll need on your adventures - UltimateCoupons.com

Deals and coupons for travel gear can be found at BensBargains.net

Read more about Packing for a Trip to Europe and Packing Light.

Want to talk about packing? Go to the Everything About Travel forum.

Bringing Your Electronics to Europe: All about adapters and converters and what you need.

Cell Phones in Europe: Different solutions for having a cell phone in Europ

Coping with Jetlag: A different approach to jetlag.

Europe Trip Planning Checklist: Checklist for preparing for a trip to Europe.

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