As the publisher of a Web site that teaches people how to travel with just their carry-on bags ("The Travelite FAQ" at Travelite.org), I get regular inquiries from people with travel-related questions. And even if the questions aren't exclusively about Disney parks, you might be surprised to know that going on a theme park vacation comes with its own baggage (no pun intended).
Have you ever found yourself with aching shoulders or blisters on your hands from carrying cumbersome bags around the parks all day? Have you discovered that your bag was too big to fit on the rides, or too small to fit your bare essentials? Do you forego a bag or purse altogether because you're a guy and you don't want to be caught carrying a "European" a la Jerry Seinfeld, or you don't want to have to lug your handbag in your hand and have trouble carrying your soda and corn dog at once?
In today's article, let's look at some of my top picks for "travel totables," including my description of why I recommend them. There are many bags out there, but these are made by reputable companies whose products stay on the market for longer than one season (making it easier for you to find later when you're ready to go travel shopping).
Do you have a bag you can't do without when visiting the parks? What is it, and why do you like? Send me an e-mail!
I call these "carry-in bags" because they are perfect for carrying into the park. These hands-free solutions are all smaller (which means you can take these with you on most attractions) than a carry-on, but are larger than your typical ladies' pursewhich means enough room for things like hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, a water bottle, cell phone, a travel journal, and other odds and ends.
The Civita backpack is so light you'll barely notice it's there. Photo courtesy of Rick Steves.
If you've ever watched the Europe Through the Back Door series on PBS, Rick Steves is the series host and the world's best evangelist for light travel. What makes the Civita Day Pack different from any other backpack is that it is made of a velvety soft (yet sturdy) microfiber that collapses into nothing. You can either use this as a carry-on bag on your flight, or roll it up and shove it into the corner of your luggage, and it will take up the space of a pair of socks.
Globe trotter and light-travel advocate Rick Steves, host of the PBS Europe Through the Back Door series, on the Rhine River in Germany. Photo courtesy of Rick Steves.
Most backpacks sacrifice portability for excessive sturdiness with tons of padding and thick fabric (Civita Day Pack weighs less than nine ounces). But you don't need that kind of toughness unless you plan to carry all your textbooks with you to the park, and you certainly don't need it if you only have a few small items to carry, just because you plan to purchase some souvenirs to stick in it during the day.
The Timbuk2 Metro mini messenger bag is cute, colorful, and very totable. Photo courtesy of Timbuk2.
You might be familiar with the popular bicycle messenger bag that are popular with college students and offered an alternative to the two-strap backpack format. Messenger bags are larger shoulde bags that traditionally have a single wide strap that is worn diagonally across the chest, with the bag slung askew across the back. Their appeal are in their simplicity, with a big flap closure in the front that when open, provides a gaping mouth for easy access, and their sturdiness.
Timbuk2 is a leader in bicycle messenger bags, and its Metro Mini shrinks the messenger bag down to a size closer to a shoulder bag. The inside is lined and is waterproof, and this bag is extraordinarily sturdy. Most of Timbuk2's bags come in a variety of colors, and the Metro is no exception.
The unique shape of the Healthy Back Bag makes it easy to identify. Photo courtesy of Ameribag.
Chances are you've seen the unique teardrop-shaped Healthy Back Bags by Ameribag around town and in the parks. This bag gets my vote for being not only the most unique-looking bag on this list, but also the most comfortable single-shoulder bag. You can tuck a surprising amount of stuff in a Healthy Back Bag, and if you want a more balanced fit, most people should be able to extend the shoulder strap to its fullest and wear it across their chest like a messenger bag. I'm not a huge fan of one-strap purses, but these bags are designed to hang perfectly balanced over your shoulder without the body getting in the way of your arm.
Healthy Back Bags come in a variety of colors and materials, including leather, polysuede, microfiber, and distressed nylon. Healthy Back Bag collectors also like to purchase their limited edition tapestry models, since the fabric design changes every year.
Guys, you'll be happy to know that a couple of the fabric types are rugged enough to look like manly travel bags.
You can also purchase these in retail stores and mail order companies such as LL Bean.
The Save Your Back Bag takes the Healthy Back Bag and gives it a twist. Photo courtesy of Norm Thompson.
My honorable mention in this category goes to Norm Thompson's Save Your Back Bag. Norm Thompson is a travel merchandise store based in Portland, Oregon, which has a solid mail order catalog business. Their Save Your Back Bag is very similar to the original Healthy Back Bag, but with an interesting adaptation: The bottom of the strap clips off, and you can unzip the shoulder strap and split into two narrower straps. Clip the two ends of the bottom portion to the bottom corners of the triangular shaped bag, and you can now wear this as a backpack! Very clever (and you'll often hear me say, "I love clever!").
The only compromise with this novel design is that the bag, when worn as a regular shoulder bag, isn't quite as comfortable as a Healthy Back Bag. Which one you choose will probably depend on personal prefererence; they are both solidly stitched and durable.
The Stella tote turns a regular purse into a backpack. Photo courtesy of Bagsforme.com.
Are you looking for something a little more traditional in the way of a shoulder purse, but still interested in being able to be hands-free when you're carrying that tray of food at Tomorrowland's Pizza Port or holding your child's hand and the barely touched cup of soda he's too distracted to drink from?
The Stella is manufactured by Ellington Leather, but they produce a version in a very soft and supple nylon that's great for travel. The Stella is deceptively simple: When you pull up the two straps together, it's an ordinary shoulder bag. But pull each strap from the sides, and its clever design automatically cinches up the purse on top, pulls the straps taut, and in two secondsvoilawithout any zippers, snaps, buttons or buckles, your purse is now a backpack!
The Stella gets my vote for simplicity and cleverness in design. The nylon version packs really well, and contents are very easy to access. If it has any down side at all, it's that the top closure is a pair of magnets (that are hidden under the liner), so if you want to carry a lot of smaller items, you want to remember to tuck them into the inside pouch that has a zipper closure.
If you really want a zipper closure on the top, Norm Thompson has yet another "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" purse called the Petite Sussex Tote that uses a similar design concept. Unfortunately, its contrasting strap color is a little distracting and unnecessary for such an understated bag. And yes, they do have a larger Sussex bag, but it's really huge.
Also available in leather for $219
Two views of an Army canvas map case. Photo courtesy of Mike Rohde of Rohdesign.com, who first discovered this bag when shopping for an Indiana Jones halloween costume, and has since adopted it as an everyday bag.
My final recommendation for a carry-in bag is for the bugdet-minded traveler who prefers spending the money on fun park stuff than for buying travel bags. Check under the cushion on your couch, because for less than $10 you can get your very own Indiana Jones-type map case. Color selection usually includes khaki, black, olive, or cami, and you should be able to find them in most military surplus store or online.
These shoulder bags are large enough to carry a light jacket, paperback, travel guide, pocket camera, and soda bottlejust be aware that the straps are usually on the narrower side, and I can't guarantee their strength if you decide to carry your pair of 25-pound dumbbells in them.
This category includes bags that are of interest to specific types of people.
The Parent Survivor Bag can be used as a regular bag even after the kids are out of diapers. Photo courtesy of Eagle Creek.
For many years, travel bag manufacturer Eagle Creek sold a wonderful diaper backpack that people swore by. It was sturdy as everything else Eagle Creek made, it came with a sturdy folding changing pad and room for all the stuff baby needed... and its unisex look made it hip for dads to carry around (because I bet you know some dads who prefer not to carry the pink quilted diaper bag with the baby kitten drawings on them).
Alas, Eagle Creek no longer makes that particular model. In its place is the Parent Survivor Bag, which is still a very good diaper bag... but it looks more like a shoulder bag than a backpack, even though it has similar features including hideaway backpack straps.
That said, there's no diaper bag on the market today that I'd recommend over this one.
The Aeronaut, Tom Bihn's flagship travel bag, gives travelers an alternative to the ubiquitous rolling upright. Photo courtesy of Tom Bihn.
A "travelpack" is a soft-sided bag that is usually sized to fit on a plane as a maximum-sized carry-on bag, but what differentiates them from other bags is that they always have stowaway backpack straps, allowing you to carry them as a shoulder bag or a backpack. This makes travelpacks the best choice if you plan to do anything beyond carting your luggage from the curb at the airport to the curb at your hotel.
The luggage manufacturing industry went through a period in the mid-1990s when they sold a lot of travelpacks, and then the rolling upright boom hit. All of a sudden, these companies switched over to clunky bags with scoping handlebars and wheels. Fortunately, a handful of companies still make very good travelpacks, including Tom Bihn.
Never heard of Tom Bihn? They're a smaller company out of Seattle that specializes in bags that are travel-friendly. They don't make just travel merchandise, though. They sell all sorts of sturdy and practical bags... to me, it's the direction Eagle Creek should've gone when they instead decided to go high-tech with their newer models (if it ain't broke...).
I really like the Aeronaut, their travelpack. It's extremely sturdy, but what makes it special is that it's so streamlined. There aren't a lot of danglies that can snag or tear. One example is the side handles, which you use to shove it into the overhead bin of an aircraft. The handles are easy to grab, but because they are flush against the side of the bag, they don't stick out and take up extra space. I realize that's a minor feature, but it's attention to detail that gives them brownie points.
[Full disclosure: Tom Bihn provided me with a sample of their Aeronaut to try during my recent trip to Alaska. I had Alex use it as his main bag, and provide feedback for me throughout the trip while I got made observations.]
One Bag is an a classic travelpack. Photo courtesy of Patagonia.
I can't pass up mentioning travelpacks without mentioning Patagonia's version. Like the Aeronaut, the One Bag is simple in style but extremely sturdy and something you can use for years if not decades. It has a larger front opening that might make packing just a tad easier, although its exterior design is not quite as streamlined as the Aeronaut. The main downside is that Patagonia's Web site doesn't really give you a good idea of what the One Bag looks like (other than its frontal shot).
Almost as many colors as Baskin & Robbins has flavors of ice cream, Travelsmith's carry-on has fewer calories. Photo courtesy of Travelsmith.
If you're like most travelers these days, you want one of those rolling uprights. Well if I can't talk you out of it with a recommendation for the Aeronaut, consider the Travelsmith Ultra-Organized Rolling Travel Carry-on. It's definitely smaller than its larger cousins, but it has whimsy! It comes in 28 colors/fabrics, and is one of the few rolling uprights that's small enough to fit in the underseat (although snug). Have to walk up and down stairs or unpaved streets? Collapse the handlebars and carry it as a shoulder bag with its own shoulder straphow many rolling uprights let you do that? In addition, each of these comes with a matching tote bag, making it a perfect carry-on pair. Put the rolling carry-on in the overhead, and put your tote by your feet.
I have one of these, and for most people it's perfect for weekend travel or a shorter trip. If you travel with lots of stuff, just use this one as your carry-on and check in your larger bags.
What to put in those great carry-in bags? In a future article, I'll take a look at what kinds of things you want to take with you to the park.
(Send an email to Lani Teshima)
A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company. When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, you can usually find her at the gym, slogging away those slow miles on the treadmill as she trains for the WDW Marathon (held in January). She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ. In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alex attend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).