Warning: The following post is kind of long, and chronicles my quest to find the perfect luggage for my trip. If you’re not into luggage, you may want to skip it. I’ve been told I’m a little… obsessive on the subject.

I’ve got a bit of a thing for bags. I like backpacks, messenger bags, luggage, totes, all that sort of thing. I wind up carrying around a lot of stuff from place to place, and that has made me very aware of what makes a good bag. A lot of it comes down to function and purpose: some bags work better for some things than others do. I own a number of different bags that I use for different things. I’ve got bags for my laptop, and for my clothing when I go on trips, and for hauling around my game books, and for carrying my gym shoes and water bottle, and so on.

So, I’ve been putting some thought into the luggage and packing for my trip to Ireland. My initial plan was to bring a moderately large upright rolling suitcase that I would check on the flight, and a smaller messenger bag/laptop bag for carry-on. However, after looking how my trip plan was shaping up, I decided that wouldn’t be the best way to do things.

The problem I saw was that I was going to be doing a lot of traveling by bus around the countryside, and relying on public transport in the cities. That meant that I’d be hauling my big suitcase with me on these things. Now, anyone who has used a rolling suitcase knows that the wheels work moderately well on smooth, flat surfaces – like airport floors – but are pretty much crap on anything rougher. And, seeing as I was going to be doing things like getting off the bus at Cashel for a couple of hours to see the Rock of Cashel, it looked like I was going to be dealing with a number of rougher surfaces.

I started rethinking what I was going to do for luggage. And what I was going to pack – if I was going to be hauling my stuff from place to place on buses and taxis, I needed to cut down on the amount of stuff I was planning on bringing. Research time!

One Bag proved to be very useful in clarifying my thinking and getting me started on planning what I would need, and what I would carry it in. While I am less focused on the minimalist approach the site advocates1, it did give me a good starting point to make my own decisions.

After doing a fair bit of looking around and reading reviews, I decided that I would base my luggage on what I could carry on the plane. This meant one carry-on bag, plus one “personal article” – in this case, my laptop bag. I would pack a week’s worth of clothes, and make use of laundromats in Ireland periodically2, cutting down the number of clothing articles I would need to bring.

I want a third bag with me, as well – a small messenger-style bag that I can carry around with me as I go sight-seeing, one smaller than my laptop bag. I plan on packing this flat into one of the other bags for the plane ride, though.

Carry-On Bag

I did a fair bit of poking about to find a good carry-on bag. I need it to be big enough to hold a week’s worth of clothes: a couple pairs of jeans, four or five t-shirts, two or three sweatshirts, a sweater, socks, underwear, and my good hiking shoes3. Weather in Ireland in the fall is generally fairly warm, but with frequent rain, and the possibility of cool days and strong winds. Also, night is not so warm, so I want to be able to layer my clothing, hence the large number of shirts, etc.

While these would have still left space in the suitcase I had originally intended to bring, it was more stuff than I could fit into any of my current carry-on size bags. I needed something bigger, so I went looking. While I was shopping anyway, I decided that I wanted a bag that had multiple carry options, including backpack straps.

My top couple of choices were the Sky Train from Red Oxx and the Aeronaut from Tom Bihn. Both had great reviews and included all the things I was looking for. In the end, I went with the Aeronaut for a few reasons: it was a little bigger, it was a little cheaper, I liked the colour4, and I had already had a really good experience dealing with Tom Bihn previously, when I got my laptop bag. I included the Absolute Shoulder Strap5, and packing cubes designed to be used in the bag.

On my GenCon trip this summer, I got a chance to try the bag out, and it was pretty much perfect. I had to pack a few more things for the trip than I plan to bring to Ireland6, but I didn’t bring my hiking shoes. All in all, it should work out just perfectly.

Laptop Bag

I had been sold months before on the Id from Tom Bihn, and I love the bag. With the addition of a Brain Cell, Snake Charmer,  and Absolute Shoulder Strap, it is a great case for carrying around my laptop, iPad, and a few other things. I brought it down on the GenCon trip, as well, trying it out in concert with the Aeronaut, and it worked wonderfully.

However, with all the stuff in it, it bulges7 and is not quite as manageable as I want it to be – not for a long trip like this. When I’m carrying less crap, it’s pretty much perfect, but it’s not quite big enough for the stuff I want with me on this trip.

I looked at a few other laptop bags, but none of them were really in the running once I started looking at the Empire Builder from Tom Bihn8 – it’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for, and will come in handy on other occasions, as well9. It holds my Brain Cell and laptop, along with the Snake Charmer and a bunch more crap, in a nicely-organized, easy-to-access manner. The design on the bag is tremendously smart, with nice little features and extras that I keep discovering.

My one complaint was the colour choice. I wanted the Black/Cardinal/Steel colour combination, but the Cardinal isn’t going to be ready in time, so I went with the Black/Steel/Steel10. That said, it’s a small complaint, and the bag is very impressive.

Shoulder Bag

I had the perfect bag for carrying around during the day: the Paladin Mission Go Bag. It’s a deceptively simple design that seems a little awkward and inefficient to pack, at first, but once you get the hang of using its features, it reveals itself as brilliantly designed and able to hold a whole lot of stuff. I actually have two of them – the Coyote and the Black – as well as the Paladin Mission Pack that is designed to be used with the Go Bag. And I love them dearly.

But then a couple of people – one of them Irish, and one who travels to Northern Ireland on business frequently – gently suggested that carrying a bag with such a military design might not be the best idea, especially considering the violence this summer. Neither they nor I think it likely that the bag would draw any sort of negative attention, but perhaps best not to take any chances. From all I’ve heard and read, Irish folk in both the Republic and Northern Ireland are friendly and welcoming, but I’d hate to have my holiday spoiled because of what bag I decided to carry. That would be dumb.

So, I decided to go with another bag, even simpler in design, but able to hold a great deal of stuff without being stupidly large. It was my second-choice small shoulder bag: the Red Oxx Gator Carry-On Bag. I already owned it, and it folds up nice and small to pack into one of the other bags for transit, and then unfold for my day trips out sightseeing.

Last-Minute Addition

That was it for luggage until this morning, when my friend11 Chris sent me a link to the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack. For thirty bucks, it struck me as a remarkably convenient thing to have on hand, in case I needed an extra bag for souvenirs, hauling my laundry to the laundromat, or stuff like that. So, I ordered one, and will be bringing that along with me, as well.


So, I’ve got my luggage picked, and my packing list done, and everything looks ready to go. I leave in a little under three weeks, and am pretty much all set.

  1. I also don’t care as much about wrinkles as the site seems to. []
  2. According to all the travel books I’ve been reading, these laundromats aren’t hard to find, and many of them offer a wash and fold service, so I can drop off the clothes in the morning, go see the sights, and pick them up in the afternoon. []
  3. These are what I will be wearing most days on the trip, but I will be wearing my lighter, easier-to-remove-and-put-on shoes for the plane flight, both because of comfort and because of convenience getting through security. []
  4. The one I got is red, but not the Cardinal red that is on the site. I like the Cardinal better, but it wasn’t made available until after I had bought my bag. Oh, well. []
  5. Which is awesome! []
  6. Yes, even though the GenCon trip was two weeks shorter, I brought more stuff. No laundry and plenty of sweating during an Indianapolis summer, not to mention toiletries. I’m not bringing toiletries to Ireland, because the regulations for transporting such things mean I wouldn’t be able to bring enough to last the three weeks, anyway, so I might as well just buy them there. []
  7. Maybe it’s just me, but I find a larger bag that does not bulge is far easier to manage than a smaller bag that does bulge. []
  8. This is starting to read like a love letter to Tom Bihn. What can I say? So far, they’ve impressed the hell out of me, and I love their bags. []
  9. For example, it holds all the stuff I need to run my bi-weekly D&D game, replacing a much larger and more awkward backpack. []
  10. And kudos to Tom Bihn’s customer service for making it easy for me to change my order when the Cardinal was delayed an extra month. But I still would have preferred the Cardinal. []
  11. And enabler. []

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