my travel loadout

My Travel Loadout, or, a Road Warrior in Training

I now have the free time to travel for pleasure, my job has me traveling some, and there’s the potential for more travel in my future, so I’m starting to explore what equipment I need in order to do so comfortably. I kind of hate the term “road warrior” — as though it’s such a burden to travel, or some Mad Max thing. At least, it doesn’t describe my mindset yet, though I can see how people who are on the road a significant fraction of their working lives might start to identify with it, so I am at best a road warrior in training. On the other hand, reading Scott Eblin’s Business Travel Diva’s Rules for Family Vacations, I realized that I was doing most of the things he describes already, so maybe I’ve adopted the mindset more than I think I have.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking about my current travel loadout, including tweaks I tested on my recent Iceland trip.

The core of any loadout, it seems to me, is the bag or bags — the fewer the better. For a long time my Yak Pak Medium Flapdoozy Tech was my everyday bag for school and also my go-to travel bag, and I’d cram in my laptop, toiletries, and a couple changes of clothes and be set for up to four days. (Yes, that’s a MegaTokyo link. Shh, we were all sixteen once, and Piro has good taste in bags.) It was even nice-enough looking that I was comfortable wearing it with my suit and tie to job interviews and using it like a briefcase, and I liked that versatility. (Mine obviously didn’t have a MegaTokyo logo on it.) However it was starting to wear around the edges, and when the rubber lining on the inside started to come out, I knew it was time to find a replacement. Sadly Yak Pak doesn’t make the Flapdoozy any more — their current line is way too gaudy to double as a briefcase in my world — and I couldn’t find any extra stock online, just a lot of other people looking for the same thing, so I set off in search of a new bag.

What I ended up with was the Tom Bihn ID bag in black and steel, with a soft-shelled laptop case for my work laptop, a 13″ unibody Macbook Pro. In that color combination, it’s totally conservative enough to double as a briefcase for work, and it works well in that capacity. I like that the ID isn’t a Laptop Bag(tm), so it doesn’t scream “I CONTAIN A VALUABLE LAPTOP PLEASE STEAL ME,” and the soft-shell case is protective but transparent to X-rays so I can take it out with my laptop inside and run them through security unopened. I bought this bag for a business trip in early August, but it showed up the day I left, so I first tested it in Iceland. (I need to remember that “second-day shipping” doesn’t mean “you’ll get this in two days,” it means “you’ll get this in two business days, assuming someone is home to receive it”. Obviously for business travel I should have had it sent to work, but for general packages it’s just completely impractical for me to be home to receive stuff all the time, and I’m usually more busy before a trip than less.)

The bag is extremely well-made — the fabric is thick and tough, the zippers are the sturdiest I’ve ever encountered, all the seams are well-finished, and the buckle is rugged without being too stiff. There’s just a ton of attention to detail. I’m not wild about all the pockets — the front flap pocket is too small, though I like the document pocket on the back, and I’m still not sure about having my laptop behind another zipper after the flap is out of the way, but I’m adjusting, and I do appreciate the dividers for pens and so on, which I didn’t expect to like. It comfortably fits the stuff I was carrying in the Flapdoozy, though it seems less capable of overloading so I’m not sure how much stuff I’ll be able to fit in for longer-term travel. When I switch out my work laptop for my personal laptop, a 9″ Eee, as I did for Iceland, the bag can comfortably fit toiletries and a fleece jacket as well, so it’s not impossible, though I also had a checked bag along for that trip. I was specifically looking for a bag that wasn’t too large, since my tendency is to let cruft just accumulate in strata at the bottom of the bag, so a smaller bag forces me to think harder about everything I carry. The strap on my Flapdoozy was really nice, basically seatbelt material, and so I was dubious about Tom Bihn’s nylon webbing straps with adjustable pads, but it’s very comfortable. (I just went with the default, though Tom Bihn does offer several levels of strap up to “Awesome” — they’re all the webbing-plus-pad form-factor.) For someone with my… aggressive collarbone, the strap fit is really important. There’s also a waist strap, which I detached almost immediately, since I don’t expect to be biking with it much right now. The ID is a little big, width-wise, and not as wieldy on a crowded T car as I would like, but it’s extremely comfortable and well-made, and ultimately I’m happy with it as a replacement for my Flapdoozy.

Up next week: shoes and wallets.