November 22, 2023

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things: Carry On Edition

I don’t know about you, but I'm a total gear nerd when it comes to having the right packing tools and items to keep me comfortable on a trip. I’ll spend hours reading reviews and searching for travel blogs and Youtube videos before I decide which one is right for me. It's totally extra, but maybe you can benefit from the time I've already put into it, and what better time to share than a week when practically everything is on sale?

Below is a list of my favorite carry-on items & where you can purchase them. 

1. A hardside carry-on suitcase.

There's nothing wrong with softside luggage, but I prefer hardside for two reasons. 1. Liquid spills and rain slide right off, and 2. It keeps me from overpacking. I don't need the temptation to shove more things in my suitcase just because the fabric is flexible enough to let it happen. The overhead bin isn't expandable.

My current bag is the smaller Away carry-on in Petal. The price has climbed since I bought mine in 2020, but it has held up nicely and has a lifetime warranty.

2. The perfect personal item.

For me, the key to making carry-on only travel work is getting the largest personal item allowed without going over. Standard personal item measurements are 18"x14"x8", and I'm deeply offended every time a bag advertised as a "personal item" goes slightly over or significantly under these dimensions. I don't need a cute rounded top that scores off 3" of space on either side. Do you know how many pairs of socks and underwear that could have been?!

I'm currently using a Vera Bradley backpack that has a ton of compartments for organization and a passthrough sleeve so I can easily slide it onto my suitcase handle. I got it to replace the now-extinct Vera Bradley Lighten Up Go Anywhere bag, which I dragged around the world until the handles came off and would rebuy immediately if it ever got a reboot.

Why do I keep buying Vera Bradley bags? Three reasons: 1. There are so many organizational compartments that don't take up extra space. 2. I love their "ReActive" line, which is made of a lightweight water-resistant recycled material and not the standard quilted cotton you'd normally associate with the brand. 3. I happen to live near a Vera Bradley Outlet that has options you won't find online and at much better prices. Bonus reason: tons of cute patterns and colors to choose from if that's your thing.

The version I'm carrying came from an outlet and is a slightly different model, but this one is pretty close. And yes, I did take a flexible measuring tape with me into the store because I'm not paying Spirit Airlines an extra dime.

Alternate Option:

I don't own this one and can't speak to the quality, but based on size and organization, this seems like a decent dupe for the Vera bag I will forever be chasing, at a fraction of the price.

3. Packing Cubes.

There's no way I need to explain these to you; I'm just here to tell you they're on sale. I also like the idea of compression cubes, but the only time I've tried one, the zipper broke in half immediately, and everything in that bag was excessively wrinkled when I got to my destination. 

P.S. If you're going carry-on only, don't even bother buying the cute little sets that come with multiple sizes. The large ones are about the same length as a carry-on suitcase if not larger, and they'll save you no space. I use a mixture of 3-4 small and slim sizes and maybe one medium. Usually I skip the medium and just lay my jeans flat.

Small Ebags Set of 3:

Slim Ebags set of 3:

Slim Amazon set of 4:

4. The perfect travel pillow.

I swear I'm not being paid to say this, but Cabeau travel pillows are the only brand I've tried that didn't make me immediately want to chuck it down the aisle of the airplane. Most u-shaped pillows push your neck and head forward into the most unnatural sleeping position, but the Cabeau pillow is designed with a semi-flat back so that it sits flat against the seat while still supporting your head. I bought a new one last year because the carry sack for my old one ripped beyond use, and I have to say the new carrying case is about 10x better quality than the old version. Will I sleep on a plane? Probably still no, but I can't blame the pillow anymore.

5. A reusable liquids bag.

I finally divorced Ziploc bags the day the zipper broke in the 11th hour of almost being done packing for a trip to Brazil. I was so over it and desperate to get to bed that instead of reaching for a new bag, I grabbed packing tape, sealed the top of the quart-sized bag, tossed the whole thing into a gallon Ziploc, and called it done. I ordered these as soon as I got home and have never looked back. They hold noticeably more than a regular quart-sized disposable bag, but not so noticeable that TSA cares. The only thing I dislike is that I didn't buy them years ago.

 Set of 3

6. Waterproof footwear.

There's nothing more miserable than going on a trip and soaking your only pair of sneakers in the rain. Been there, done that, bought the emergency Walmart rain boots.

For years, my go-to packable rain shoes were Hunter Tour Boots (fitting name, right?) They're pricey, but I've had mine for over seven years and use them regularly at home as well as on trips, and they are still in good condition. I've never seen them go on sale, but they've been worth the full price to me. I skip the bag they come with and roll each one individually with an elastic hair tie to save more space.

(Jan. 2024 update: My Hunter Tour Boots finally died. I ordered a replacement pair in the same style and size and was disappointed to find they have a noticeably smaller calf area. I even tried sizing up and still no. Gonna have to change my recommendation to these are great, but only if you have slim calves!)

If you prefer something more versatile or compact, let me introduce you to my newest waterproof footwear obsession: Vessi shoes. 

Vessi makes "The world's first waterproof shoe," and my bathtub and I can confirm they really are 100% waterproof. What's great about Vessi shoes is they look like regular sneakers, so you can still pack and use them even if the chance of rain is low or zero. The only downside is they don't exist in half sizes, and my half size feet had trouble finding a good fit. The Weekend style pictured below suggests ordering down a half size, but I found the 7 a bit snug on my 7.5 toes, and the 8 was falling off of my ankles. They're still wearable, but if they ever expand their size range, I'd buy more.

(P.S. I googled "Vessi coupons" when I bought mine and was able to find a $25 off code.)

7.  An external charger capable of holding multiple phone charges.

I've never depleted this thing in a single trip and almost definitely did not need as much power as I invested in, but I bought it for a 17-hr flight to Australia where I brought my Nintendo Switch. It has since come in handy during bad weather with power outages at home, and I don't ever have to worry about remembering to charge it in the hotel before a return trip.

8. Concert Earplugs.

I've tried multiple brands over the years, but these are my favorite for comfort and sound quality. They fit well, never fall out, and aren't visibly noticeable if you're not looking for them. They even come with multiple sizes so you can get the right fit without having to guess. I probably would have tried the pro version if it had existed when I bought mine, but I'm happy enough with the regular style.

9. Mini Air Pump for pool floats.

Okay, I don't ALWAYS travel with this, but I always take it to Back to the Island now that I know it exists in such a compact size. My lungs give it five stars.

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