I spend a lot of time traveling, which means that I spent a lot of time planning, researching, and selecting my travel gear. Here’s what I’m currently using for personal carry-ons these days. Obviously, I can’t use all at once, but each bag has its own purpose and use.
Tom Bihn Pilot Bag
I love this bag; it’s my go to travel bag. First, it’s made right here in Seattle (just down the street from me). It’s the perfect companion for flights. The bag measures in at 13 litres or 800 cubic inches. It’s small enough to fit under the seat with room left for your feet, and large enough that it can even work as an overnight bag.
The front of the bag has three pockets, the center pocket is perfect for a water bottle (I like to use a small 8-ounce bottle and then stuff necessities under the bottle). The two side pockets have more pockets inside, pen holders, an o-ring for your keys, and more. This is where I store my Kindle, all of my chargers and cords, my camera (in a padded case), my toothbrush, my eye and sunglasses, and random extras that fit.
The back of the Pilot has a large opening that includes two pouches for organization. That’s where I hide snacks and other goodies. The opening can fit my Lenovo ThinkPad (in a sleeve) and my Surface Pro 3. The outside of the bag has an open pocket for magazines and the like, and unzips partially so it can be placed over the handles of a roller bag. However, I hate checking my bag but travel with three bags, so I use it as a temporary area for my messenger bag so the airline boarding agent doesn’t get upset with me. See the picture here.
The Pilot comes in different colors and fabric. I have the one pictured above, which is 400d Dyneema®/nylon fabric and very water (and sand, as tested by me) resistant. If the Pilot is too large for you, Tom Bihn also makes the smaller Co-Pilot.
- Dimensions: 15.4″ x 11.4″ x 5.1″ / 390 x 290 x 130 mm
- Weight: 1050d high tenacity ballistic nylon: 1 lbs 8 oz / 680 grams; 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop: 1 lbs 1 oz / 475 grams
- Volume: 800 cubic inches / 13 liters (ASTM Standard Measure)
- Lifetime Guarantee
- Made in Seattle
- $150 at TomBihn.com
Timbuk2 Large Commute Messenger Bag
I travel mostly for business, and sometimes I need more of a laptop/business bag for my travels that’s a little larger than my Pilot bag. I also use this Commute bag as my daily work bag. First, this bag is a workhorse. I’ve had the exact same one since 2010, and it’s been on 80+ trips with me, plus to and from work for almost five years.
The front has two adjustable clasps on the flap, so you can expand this bag quite a bit and still close it. This comes in handy for adding your jacket while at the airport, or just walking around. After opening, the bag has a large center section for all of your gear (it’s also great for quick overnight trips). Then, also in the center is a smaller zippered pocket, many little pockets, pen holders and a separate non-pocketed area (great for stuffing your boarding passes quickly for easy access).
The back of the bag holds a laptop, which can fully un-zip and is TSA compliant. Yes, even if you’re not in pre-check (or the pre-check lane isn’t open), you don’t have to take your laptop out of the bag. It stays secure in the padded laptop holder with a thick Velcro band. There is also another pocket that on the bag side for your tablet, or papers, etc. The back of the bag also has a luggage pass through to attach to a roller bag.
- Dimensions: 21 x 16 x 2 inches
- Weight: 2.5 pounds Volume: 1403 cubic inches / 23 litre Fits Laptop up to 17″
- Lifetime Warranty
- Origin Info
- $90 at Amazon.com
Tom Bihn Medium Cafe Bag
The Medium Cafe Bag is one of my favorite travel messenger bags to use when I’m touring about town. It’s not too large or bulky, but I can carry everything I need for a day out in it. In the main compartment (which is covered by a flap) I usually carry my wallet, camera, phones, battery pack charger, a water bottle, not to mention all the little ever day items like pen, notebook, chapstick, sunblock, etc. The inside has two pockets that fit a cell phones (and yeah, I carry two), and a two pen holders. The front of the bag has a zippered pocket where I keep all of my beauty/life items. Also, sometimes I like to go about my day with my Surface Pro 3 on me, and the back open pocket perfectly fits an SP3 vertically.
This bag comes in many colors. I have the green (it was the only color in stock when I was at the store), but so wish I had it in the Black Dyneema to match my other bags. It also comes with an optional waist strap for just $10.
- Dimensions: 12.2″ x 10.6″ x 2.9″ / 310 x 270 x 75 mm
- Weight:1000d Cordura®: 14 oz / 410 g; 400d Dyneema®/420d nylon ripstop: 12 oz / 330 g; 420d HT nylon Classic Parapack: 13 oz / 370 g
- Volume: 475 cubic inches / 8 liters (ASTM Standard Measure)
- Lifetime Guarantee
- Made in Seattle
- $65 at TomBihn.com
Kate Spade NY Ellen Cross-Body Handbag
I needed a nicer, smaller bag that I could carry to work dinners. Also, I like that this bag is small and thin enough that it can be carried against my body, under my coat. This is good for when I’m walking about town, or boarding the plane.
This Kate Spade bag has an exterior pocket for your smaller items (best if they are more flat) and a larger interior pocket for your phone, wallet, etc. Inside the bag there are two cell phone pockets, and an interior zippered pocket where I stash my lip balm, sunscreen, etc. The shoulder strap is adjustable for a great fit.
- Dimensions: 13.4 x 10.4 x 2 inches Made in China
- From $186 at Amazon.com
What is your favorite personal sized carry-on bag? Leave me a comment and let me know what you’re carrying on these days.
A quick disclosure: some of my links above are affiliate links. If you click and buy something, I make a very, very, very small percentage of the sale and it makes me happy and inspires me to write more posts like the one above.
I love cross body bags, I can’t use any other purse! I really like the Medium Cafe Bag, I may have to get one of those for my next big trip! I have a messenger bag for work trips. I don’t particularly like it, but it is convenient.
Oh gosh YES! My go-to carry on bag JUST broke yesterday and I am so going to check these out!
What would I do without my Kate Spade cross body?! I don’t know and I certainly recommend them too. Just the right size for everything.
Totally a fan of cross body bags! LOVE the Kate Spade! 🙂
Wow, so many things to consider. Informative read!
I’m all about traveling light!
I LOVE the Kate Spade purse.
I have a small Kate Spade cross-body bag that’s super lightweight because it’s nylon. Love Kate Spade! I
OK the cafe bag is SUPER CUTE. This was actually really interesting, cheers!
I’m a backpack kind of Traveler but the bags here look good, I might try swapping from backpack. Thanks for the post
Yes!!! I am so over trying to squeeze as much as possible into my little handbag! Definitely looking into a TimBuk2 ! Thanks for the great info including dimensions!!
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