I have a shameful secret: I'm a former overpacker. For the last 20 years, whenever I traveled for business, I took two suitcases and a laptop bag. Yes, that's right—two suitcases. One was always a 28-inch checked suitcase, and the other was a 22-inch piece of luggage that I usually checked, since I also had a laptop bag.
It was embarrassing when I'd spot colleagues eyeing my pile of luggage at the airport baggage claim. It was more embarrassing when my bags wouldn't fit into the back of the airport shuttle with everyone else's luggage. And then there was the time on vacation in Barcelona that my shuttle driver stashed my laptop bag on top of everyone else's luggage and, when he opened the rear door to unload, my bag crashed to the ground, breaking the lovely bottle of Spanish wine I'd tucked in next to my iPad. That didn't end well.
I knew I had to travel lighter, but I wasn't sure where to start. I had to find the right bags to help me maximize my packing while minimizing my luggage.
So this year, I've finally learned the trick of traveling light—or at least, lighter. I'll never be that woman who backpacks through Europe with only one change of clothing and the desire to handwash my unmentionables in a hotel sink. But I can go on a four-day business trip with one carry-on suitcase and a laptop tote or a backpack that serves double duty as a handbag. I realized that no one at a conference cares if I wear the same black dress on Wednesday that I wore on Monday. And it's really okay to limit myself to two pairs of shoes for the entire trip—one for business meetings, one for the hotel gym.
SEE: Cruising connected: How to stay online when traveling the world (TechRepublic)
What's helped the most has been finding exactly the right bags and accessories. I compiled a TechRepublic gallery of the best bags I could find that serve multiple purposes. You can use them for business, or you can use them for vacation. And don't forget accessories. My new lifesavers are packing cubes, particularly Eagle Creek's compression packing cubes that tightly pack multiple items in a small space. I know it's counterproductive to packing light to figure out a way to bring more, but it works, and it allows me to manage with one small carry-on suitcase.
There's a range of suitcase styles you can opt for, but the ones with four 360-degree wheels are my favorite. No more pulling suitcases—I simply push them. And the new smart suitcases, such as those from Bluesmart, Raden, and Away, are genius. I reviewed these suitcases last year, and I liked how Bluesmart and Raden provided apps to help you weigh and locate your bag at the airport, and I liked the simplicity of Away and its hard-shell case and USB charging port.
The style of a bag also matters. The bag you carry on your shoulder or back will be the one most people notice first, so finding exactly the right backpack or laptop bag is essential. For guys, I particularly like the looks of the WaterField backpack with its rugged design, or the Rule #5 line of backpacks, or the Victorinox Swiss Army touring bags, which are perfect for the less-formal tech world. But sleek leather designs for men and women also make an impact. Knomo makes a few backpacks and totes that offer RFID-blocking pockets and room for laptops and gadgets of all sizes.
And for those times that you simply have to take more, such as for a trade show, consider a rolling duffel. They come in sizes ranging from 21 inches to 32 inches, and the soft sides allow you to stuff far more than should be allowed into one bag.
SEE: Photos: The best suitcases, carry-ons, and backpacks for business travel (TechRepublic)
Questions to consider before choosing a suitcase
- How often do you travel?
- Is your travel primarily domestic or international?
- How long are most of your trips?
- Does the suitcase meet all airline requirements for size, whether checked or carry-on?
- What is the minimum number of clothing changes you can manage?
- Can you lift the suitcase when fully packed?
- Do you prefer a hard-shell case or a soft-sided bag?
- How will you lock the bag to secure it?
- Are smart suitcase features such as a USB port or an app important?
Questions to consider before choosing a laptop bag or a backpack
- What devices do you typically take on a trip?
- Will your laptop fit in the bag?
- If the bag is bigger than required for your laptop, is there an inner sleeve option?
- Can the bag serve double duty as a handbag, if needed?
- Are there exterior pockets to stash small gadgets and charging cords?
- Is the bag within airline requirements for carry-on size?
- Will the bag fit under an airplane seat, or will it need to go in the overhead bin?
SEE: Video: The top 5 travel tech essentials (TechRepublic)
Less is more when traveling
Whichever bag you choose, don't take more than you need. No one has ever bragged about learning to pack more for every trip. People do, however, brag about packing less; until I found the right bags for my travels, I never realized I'd be that person.
It's freeing to no longer have to wait in long lines to check my luggage, and have delays at baggage claim. I have to admit to feeling a certain smugness at the LaGuardia airport last month when I saw a long line for people checking their bags, and I was able to walk right through security. Last year, I would have been in that line.
- The Cowa robot suitcase follows you to your destination (CNET)
- 10 tips for coping with international business travel (TechRepublic)
- Five apps for staying entertained on long flights (TechRepublic)
- Review: iPass Wi-Fi service for connectivity on the go (TechRepublic)
- Smartphone survival test: OnePlus X ideal for international travel (ZDNet)
- Tips to get the most out of Wi-Fi on a train (TechRepublic)
- 10 tips for traveling IT workers (TechRepublic)
- Five apps for arranging ground transportation (TechRepublic)
- Travel and business expense policy (Tech Pro Research)
Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.