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Traveling Light: Bags for Adventure Travel

Adventure travelers aren't your typical tourists, so of course their luggage needs are different. I've decided to break my posts on travel bags into two sections, the first for adventure travelers and the second for traditional tourists.

There is so much to consider when choosing your luggage and other bags for adventure travel. Adventure travel is so often filled with adversity, making packing a pretty nerve wracking venture in itself. I speak from experience. I've learned a few lessons the hard way. While I was in Costa Rica, 5 minutes of carelessness lost me my passport, debit card and cash. In this post, we'll work through things one should consider when choosing luggage to make your trip safe, secure and happy.

Think about your environment. Imagine being there. Try to imagine yourself moving around in your destination
  • Will you be in a busy city or in the wilderness?
  • Is crime a problem where you are going?
  • Is the climate hot and arid, humid and rainy or cold and icy?
  • How are you getting around the place you are going?
  • What activities do you plan to do?
  • Where are you staying?

Now that you have thought of these things, think about what kinds of bags would hold up in these conditions and transition between activities and places.

Now, imagine that you are your bag. What are you going through?
  • Are you shoved into a tight overhead compartment?
  • Are you strapped to the roof of a bus?
  • Dragged through a rainstorm?
  • Dropped in mud?
  • Put on conveyor belts?
  • Carried to the top of a mountain?
  • Stuffed to capacity with souvenirs?

Now that you've imagined your bag's experience and your own, lets think through what you need.

Everything you take with you should fit on your back and in your hands.

Being able to carry everything at once makes you mobile and independent. This way, whether hopping trains or walking from your hotel to your rented car, you won't have to make multiple trips or need help carrying your stuff. This ability to carry everything at once makes moving around faster and lessens the chances you will loose a bag or have one stolen. Keeping yourself mobile and independent is determined not only by your bag but by how much stuff you bring. Bring only what you need, and make sure that what you bring serves a variety of uses. For help on what clothing to bring, check out my post on choosing clothing for travel.

Like your clothes, your bags should be multi-functional.
There are tons of bags on the market that work well as a carry-on and can also take you up the side of a mountain. There are bags that roll through airports and then convert to a backpack for your schlep across town.
The Meridian from Osprey is one such bag. It is a rolling bag with hidden backpack straps and it features a removable day pack.

Osprey isn't the only company to have thought of this. REI, The North Face, Eagle Creek, High Sierra and others carry bags with removable day packs and convertible backs.

Compression straps make it easy to make your bag fit in that tight overhead bin. If you're planning to do lots of hiking, a carry-on that is also a day pack is a great option. I'm bringing the Aura 50 50 by Osprey as my carry on because it will be a perfect hiking pack in the hot, arid environment of northern Oman.

There are even bags that function as a hiking pack and a dry bag! Think about the activities you want to engage in on your trip, and pick your luggage accordingly.

Location, Location, Location
Drybag Backpacks from SeallineIf you're headed to a hot and dry area, a waterproof bag isn't really necessary. A waterproof pack is crucial if you're traveling through a jungle by boat or just headed to hike in areas where is rains more often than not. Sealline makes several awesome backpacks that are also dry bags

Get it to fit and keep it dry! If you plan to bring a more traditional looking bag, but want to keep your clothes dry, invest in a waterproof compression sack from Sea to Summit. Protect Your Laptop If you plan to bring your laptop or e-reader with you to a wet locale, it's smart to invest in waterproof protection. Sealline makes light weight, waterproof cases for laptops and e readers

A padded, waterproof sleeve for your laptop
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Oh, and donkeys, camels, and elephants too!
If your bag is going to travel down lots of conveyor belts, external straps and buckles are likely to get snagged, tangled or broken on those belts. Look for a bag that is streamlined and still has features you need. Compression straps make it easy to squeeze your bag into tight spaces, like an overhead compartment or under your seat on a bus.
Is your bag going to ride on top of a bus or on the back of a donkey? Make sure it is weatherproof and has loops or straps that make tying it down easier. If I'm headed to a place where I know my bag will get muddy, thrown around and generally mistreated, I take my North Face Base Camp Duffel. It is weatherproof and tough, and features compression straps and backpack straps. Patagonia also makes a rugged weatherproof duffel called the Stormfront Duffel.

Keep it secret, keep it safe.
If crime is a problem, lots of external pockets on a bag is bad. You want a bag that is hard to get into and has secret internal pockets. Don't keep anything important in an external pocket. Top loading packs usually close with a drawstring and then have a top pocket that gets buckled over that drawstring. A bag like this takes a while to get into and you'll notice if someone starts rooting around while it's your back.
If pickpockets are a concern, find a bag you can wear on your front or your back. Look for bags that strap to your body securely, so that a thief can't easily pull it away and run. NEVER keep your passport, money, ID and credit cards in your bag. ALWAYS keep that stuff on your person, preferably hidden under clothing. Do your homework before you go. After my bag was stolen in Costa Rica, we stopped at the police station to have an official report written. Another tourist was there and told me all about his troubles. He locked his passport, money, credit cards and laptop in the hotel safe to go for a swim in the ocean. When he got back, his room was locked but the safe was wide open and his stuff was gone. Apparently the employees had keys to everything. Crucial information like this is often on the internet. Try to talk to people who have traveled to your destination. They may know places to avoid or scams you might encounter.

Looks can be deceiving...
What does your bag look like? Is it brightly colored and new, or worn and drab? If you are headed to a poverty stricken area, a brand new, brightly colored bag may get you unwanted attention. A boring, dirty, earth-tone bag that looks worn is probably better. Check out military surplus stores for bags that are functional tough and don't scream wealth. Don't advertise that you have money. A nice bag usually has nice things inside of it.
Want to make fast friends? Do a little research and see what the locals carry. Try to talk to someone who has spent some time where you are going. My friend Kirsten spent a semester in Barcelona. She says, "Backpacks marked you as a tourist, all the locals carried briefcases." If I ever go to Barcelona, I'll be sure to bring a pack that converts to a briefcase, or buy a briefcase when I get there.

A few other ideas...

-When I flew to Dubai, I was worried the airline would lose my bag, so I brought the bare minimum and didn't check anything. I bought so many souvenirs while I was there that I didn't have room for them in my already full luggage. So I bought an inexpensive rolling suitcase, put everything in it I wouldn't mind never seeing again and checked it when I returned. I carried meaningful and irreplaceable things in my carry on. Thankfully, my bag wasn't lost. I happily arrived home with all my stuff. Lots of companies make super lightweight, ultra packable duffel bags. Most of them stuff into an internal pocket. You can throw one in your luggage so that you'll have an extra bag to make room for your souvenirs. Patagonia makes the Lightweight Travel Duffel, The North Face makes the Flyweight Duffel and Eagle Creek makes the Packable Duffel

-While I was in Oman and the U.A.E, I really wished I had brought a small, cute handbag. Since I am going back, I'm going to take one this time. The problem though, is keeping my number of bags at two, one as the "carry on" and one as the "personal item." The airline won't let me take three, even if one is tiny. So, I'll leave the handbag empty and pack it in my carry-on. Remember that pretty purse from my post about travel clothes?

Well, JennyNDesign on Etsy makes awesome handbags for travel. Their straps adjust so they can be used as purses, hip bags and across the body like a messenger bag.