One Bag to Rule Them All (and more international travel tips)

I’m just heading out on an international trip, and I’ve been meaning to write a rave review of the bag I bought a year ago, so here goes.

Let me start by saying that I don’t care much about this sort of thing: I don’t need the perfect bag, pen, belt, watch, etc. – as long as it’s functional, I’m fine.

That said, international economy air travel is its own special version of “how can we make this even more unpleasant?” and my biggest gripe is the insult-to-injury-ness of the lost time spent after 24+ hours in the air, as you wait at 2AM in the baggage claim for the roller bag they forced you to check.

Which is why I didn’t buy a roller bag, I bought a duffle.

It’s this Tumi Alpha 2 Double Expansion Travel Satchel bag, which, in my experience, has the following benefits:

Tumi Alpha 2 Double Expansion Travel Satchel
Tumi Alpha 2 Double Expansion Travel Satchel
  • It has more packing space than most small rollers, because roller bags (especially smaller ones) have lots of wasted internal space for the handle hardware.
  • It is soft, so it squishes up well
  • I have yet to find an overhead compartment (domestic or international) it doesn’t fit in
  • I even once had a stewardess walk by and say, “wow, what a small bag”

Getting a week’s worth of clothes into this bag, as long as you’re sensible about toiletries and shoes, is easy. Last year I managed a two week trip (NY – India – Uganda – New York) with just this bag and a briefcase (OK, I was pushing it a bit).

The one big caveat here is that it doesn’t roll. So if it’s going to be your main bag, you have to have a decent amount of upper-body strength to comfortably get through the airport. I think it’s a good trade in exchange for being 100% sure that you’ll be able to carry on a bag that easily fits a week’s worth of clothes.

As long as we’re at it, a few other bonus travel items that keep me sane:

  • YogaPaws: this is a new one as of last year, and to my surprise they
    YogaPaws. Image from Wanderlust and Lipstick

    work for 95% of the yoga poses I want to do, and I now bring them on every trip I take. They take up the space of a pair of socks and you can do yoga anywhere as long as the floor/ground is clean enough. Since my biggest international travel challenge is falling asleep when I fly east, not having to think twice about being able to do yoga every day, even if just for 15 minutes, is heavenly.

  • Slipper-like running shoes: back when I was transitioning back from
    Nike Flyknit 4.0
    Nike Flyknit 4.0 (why did they discontinue them?!)

    barefoot running I bought a pair of Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit mesh running shoes (sadly, that model has been discontinued but some places still have it in stock). They take up almost no space in my bag, I can wear them with a pair of jeans on a casual day, and I can still run five miles on them without issue.

  • Meditation Podcast: I don’t have a regular meditation practice at home, though I’d like to. For my last few international trips I’ve been more consistent about meditating for 15-30 minutes before going to sleep. Not only is that a good practice for winding down, but it reminds me that emailing up until 5 minutes before turning out the light is not what I do at home, why would I do that when I’m on the road?

    Kindle Paperwhite
    Kindle Paperwhite
  • Kindle Paperwhite:I love this device so much more than I’ve ever liked an iPad. It costs less than $100 (which is great, and it means I’m not stressed about traveling with it), it’s lightweight, lasts at least a month on a single charge, creates no eye strain, and I can’t google something from the book and then get distracted by my Twitter feed or whatever else.
  • Eye cover: essential for the plane, whether a hat to pull over my eyes or eye shades, these are much more important than those bulky, uncomfortable neck pillows. Oh, and no movies on flights unless I’ve got two 8+ hour flights, otherwise I never fall asleep.
  • Foam earplugs: no noise cancelling headphones or other such
    3M E-A-R Plugs
    3M E-A-R Plugs work best for me

    nonsense, for less than $0.10 a pair I keep out the roar of the jet engines, which helps me stay asleep and lessens how tired I feel after a long flight. These E-A-R Plugs from 3M don’t fall out my ear like other shapes do.

  • Sleep aid: I stick with over-the-counter, and find that Benadryl and/or Melatonin do the trick, and help me get through the first few nights.
  • Global Entry/TSA Pre: this is just for U.S. citizens, but it’s great at the end of a trip to breeze through immigration (with my always-fits-in-the-overhead-carry-on) and get from the gate to the curb in 10 minutes or less.

That’s pretty much it for me.

Any other essentials you’d add to the list? Throw your suggestions into the comments, I’d love to know what’s missing.

3 thoughts on “One Bag to Rule Them All (and more international travel tips)

  1. These are awesome tips. As always, the first thing you should pack is your patience. Experienced travelers have a very hard time remembering that not everyone traveling knows what they’re doing.

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