The Gear That Helped Me Travel The World Without Ever Checking A Bag

I used to be a serial over-packer. On most trips longer than a weekend, chances were very good that I’d show up for my flight with an oversized (yet still near-bursting) suitcase that would top the 50-pound limit. More often than I’d like to admit, I had to choose at a ticket counter between paying an expensive over-limit fee or furiously cramming a few pounds of excess into my purse or backpack.

The turning point came when I found myself between jobs. I packed up my apartment in New York City, and started traveling…indefinitely. Since I’d bounce from country to country for months at a time, I made a rule that I would only use a carry-on bag. I knew it would be a challenge, but it simply wasn’t practical to travel full-time with a larger suitcase that I’d have to check. Not only would it mean paying fees for each of the many flights I’d take, but I’d also have to lug and lift it on the countless trains, taxis, rental cars, and ferries I took in what became two years of full-time travel.

From Spain to Thailand, Norway to Argentina, Scotland to Croatia (plus circling back to New York City every few months to swap out my clothes and check my mail) there were two pieces of travel gear that made it possible to globetrot for years without ever checking a bag.

Away’s Bigger Carry-On (from $295) is the most durable and lightweight suitcase I’ve ever owned. From country to country, this 7.4-pound case survived every bumpy cobblestone street, train luggage rack, and overhead plane compartment with only a few scuffs that buffed right out with the sponge that comes with Away’s suitcases. I never had a single issue with the zipper or 360-degree wheels.

Plus, it seems like there’s some kind of magic as to how much Away’s Bigger Carry-On can fit. Slightly more roomy than your average carry-on sized suitcase, it measures 22.7″ tall x 14.7″ wide x 9.6″ deep, and has a capacity of 47.9 liters. Away warns that while it’s designed to fit the overhead luggage compartment of major US airlines, it may need to be checked on smaller planes. (The majority of airlines list their carry-on size limits as 22” x 14” x 9”, so it’s slightly over those measurements.) That said, I’ve never had an issue fitting it on any plane — large or small, domestic or international — so that extra fraction of an inch doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. If you want to make certain that you never have to check your bag, however, you can either check Away’s comparison chart, or you can play it safe by buying their regular Carry-On suitcase, which measures 21.7″ x 13.7″ x 9″ and meets all airlines’ carry-on requirements.

While my carry-on suitcase contained all my clothes and toiletries, I still had a lot of gear to haul around while working remotely and country-hopping for months at a time. My laptop, for starters – plus chargers and an adapter, passport, reusable water bottle, travel pillow, eye mask, e-reader, headphones, and more. It’s a lot. So having a roomy, well-designed personal bag was the other half of my strategy to never check another suitcase.

When I discovered the Studio Bag from Caraa — which was founded by CFDA award-winning designer Carmen Chen Wu and Aaron Luo to craft form-meets-function bags that meet the demands of modern life — I knew I’d found the perfect bag to carry all of my tech and gear, but still fit underneath an airline seat.

Available in three sizes, this indispensable, sleek and chic bag has a place for everything. The large size Studio Bag ($450) measures 15.5” x 10.5” x 9”, and is separated into two main compartments lined with waterproof, antimicrobial fabric. The outer compartment features several pockets perfect for stashing items you want to keep handy, like adjustable netted pouches for water bottles, umbrellas, and charging cords, and a small clear plastic zippered pocket ideal for storing keys, earbuds or ear plugs, or a sleep mask.

The inner compartment has a dedicated 15″ laptop pocket and two adjustable pouches that can fit a pair of shoes, as well as a couple pockets for smaller items. Two discreet side pockets are perfect for keeping your phone and passport secure, but close at hand. Best yet, the clever convertible design allows the wearer to quickly and easily toggle between backpack, satchel, and crossbody modes.

Just like with my carry-on suitcase, I put my bag through the ringer 365 days a year for a couple years. The high-end, super durable water-resistant and waterproof fabrics, Italian leather trims, and metal hardware didn’t even look worse for the wear after all those travel miles.

I always keep the Away Bigger Carry-On and my Studio Bag from Caraa prepped and ready for my next adventure.

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