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Thursday, February 12, 2015

VNAFlyer's Packing Guide for Carryons (and Packing Them)

Logging lots of miles on a plane each year, on both domestic and international flights, I have developed a routine that I follow when it comes to being equipped. I usually try to survive just with what I have in my carry-ons, but on some trips, especially those back to Vietnam that always turn into resupply missions, I'll have to use my checked baggage allowance. Even then, what I bring with me on board doesn't change much.

The Hardware

Generally I like to travel with a laptop backpack and 21" a spinner rollaboard suitcase, which follows most carriers' restrictions of one carry-on suitcase and one personal item.

Ogio Urban, with laptop section
opened out for security screening.
I choose a backpack over a briefcase or shoulder bag because I frees up both of my hands, and balances out the weight in the bag. The key features I like in a backpack:
  • TSA-checkpoint friendly laptop compartment (it flips out on the X-ray belt so you don't have to take out your laptop)
  • Separate padded tablet compartment
  • Quick-access pocket, to put items in during security screening (like wallet and phone)
  • Reinforced and ergonomic top handle, easy to hold and someplace I can loop my security cable through.
  • Pass-through for a rollaboard handle, so my backpack can sit on top of my suitcase
  • Sternum strap, to help distribute heavier loads
  • Bottle holder, to free up hands for other things
For the past few years I traveled around with an older Ogio Urban, which I liked but it was missing the pass-through (so I would just loop my armstraps around the handle) and the sternum strap. It had plenty of pockets all over, so was never left wanting for storage space.

Recently I started looking for a new bag, and out of sheer luck I found my bag's almost-exact clone. The differences were that it had a both a pass-through and a sternum strap! It was also rebranded as a Kenneth Cole Reaction bag, which makes no difference to me (and in fact I would prefer if it didn't have the emblem affixed to my bag).

For my rollaboard, I personally think that it's a waste of money to spend hundreds (much less thousands) of dollars for luggage. The baggage handlers, walls, floors, and overhead bins don't care how nice your luggage is. Neither do, for the most part, your fellow travelers.

Samsonite LIFT
My preferred features for a rollaboard:
  • 4-wheel spinner
  • Shallow accessory pocket, for storing small items at security screening
  • Rigid handle
  • Lightweight, under 7 lbs/3.2 kgs
  • Grab handle at the bottom
  • Curb guard
Right now I have a Samsonite LIFT lightweight spinner. Now, I know Samsonite's quality has been questionable in recent years, and honestly I would never pay US$200-300 in full retail price for one. 

However, if you go to one of those reseller stores, like Ross Dress-for-Less, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx, you can always find Samsonite (and other) sets for cheap. At US$65-80 per rollaboard, these are almost disposable... or at least you won't feel terrible after it gets it's first scuff.

Additionally, Samsonite and American Tourister are owned by the same company. I happened to walk through my local Target store today and found my carry-on rebranded as an American Tourister, and being sold brand new for US$69 on sale.

As long as the suitcase lasts at least 5 years, you're already ahead. And new or not, I prefer changing my suitcases that often anyway to get the latest features and design.

It's important to note that while 22-inch suitcases are allowed to be carried on on U.S. airlines, they are slightly too large be allowed on most of the other world's airlines, which is why I opt for the 21-inch.

The Goods

As for the actual items I pack, I have a mental list of basic essential items to have onboard with me, so some items on this list may not be for everyone.
  • Wearables
    • An extra change of clothes - never know when you'll get stranded at a connecting airport, or need a change during a flight
    • Extra socks (to walk around in, but NEVER wear them into the lav!)
    • Eyeshades
    • Earplugs
  • Personal care
    • Toothbrush/toothpaste - it's the one thing a non-status economy passenger can do to feel human again after a flight
    • Floss
    • Sanitizing wipes - lavs are gross... and have you never wiped down your seat and tray table?
    • Personal wipes - lavs are still gross
    • Hand sanitizer - planes in general are gross
    • Lotion or moisturizer
    • Contact lens case/solution/drops
    • Glasses - the air on the plane will dry out your contacts
  • Electronics
    • Laptop/tablet
    • Noise-cancelling headphones (remember your adapters!)
    • Battery pack - in case you need to recharge your phone or tablet, and there's no outlet
  • Accessories
    • Laptop security cable
    • Pen
    • Sunglasses
    • Collapsible water bottle
    • Flashlight - a small compact one, because you never know when you'll drop something!

One last tip: DON'T overpack. Being weighed down by bringing things you won't even touch onboard or use on your trip will just make your travels that much more difficult. Dead weight is no fun... get rid of it!

Would you add anything to this list? Share in a comment below!

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