It’s my impression when reading travel blogs that the authors just pick up and go somewhere without much ado. I don’t think I know how to do that. And of course, maybe that’s not really how it works for them—they just don’t write about it!
It’s been a habit of mine, over the years, to gradually upgrade what I travel with. Since I was going to be away for four weeks, I decided to check a 25” suitcase and bring as much as I was able (without being weighed down) as carry-on luggage. The luggage guides suggest a larger checked bag for longer than a week, but I’m, to put it gently, petite, and anything bigger would dwarf me and possibly be pretty unwieldy, so instead I worked to squish everything into the 25” suitcase and my wheeled 22” carry-on, with the help of packing cubes and compression bags. As it turns out, weight limits would mean a larger suitcase would have exactly the same contents spread around more, or you pay the rather large overweight baggage fees.
I first decided that it was worth replacing my older wheeled carry-on when I compared its weight (11½ lbs) with newer bags the same size. For a while I gave serious consideration to the idea of a rolling carry-on bag with a detachable back-pack ( the High Sierra 22″ Wheeled Backpack
and Eagle Creek Switchback Max 22 Travel Pack are two that I considered). Ultimately, I passed on the detachable back-pack idea because seeing these in the store made it clear that, while convenient, the backpacks are rather small and I could squeeze more into a larger “personal item” such as a tote-type purse. I then found myself choosing between two brands of regular wheeled carry-on bags (Travelpro Maxlite 2 22″ Expandable Rollaboard; High Sierra Evolution or High Sierra Elevate ) at 6-7 lbs.
The Travelpro Maxlite 2 ultimately won out over the High Sierra bags because it has one large outside pocket (which I like to use for easily accessible overnight necessities just in case the checked bag goes missing: a light robe, tatami slippers, and a microfiber towel) as opposed to two smaller ones. It’s also big enough to hold a poly folder that carries useful paperwork such as my itinerary, travel insurance policy details, maps, etc. I leaned towards High Sierra initially because I have a High Sierra wheelie book-bag I use for work every day and it is very sturdy, so it will be interesting to see over time if choosing the TravelPro carry-on was the right call in terms of durability. I chose the two-wheeled carry-on as opposed to a spinner because it was lighter and slightly larger. It turned out that the carry-on tended to tip over if the outside pocket had anything in it of any weight, but as long as I kept the heavy stuff in the body of the bag it served well and was comfortable to wheel around, even with my rather large “purse” (see below) slung over the handle. Maybe the spinner would have alleviated this problem, but I was glad for the lighter weight of the model I chose.
United Airlines stipulates that a “purse” can be up to 17” x 10” x 9”, or 36 linear inches—about the size and shape of a gym bag. Ultimately I found one of these around the house which served me well.
It has a small, zippered outside pocket in which I placed snacks and a pair of socks I slipped on going through security when I had to remove my sandals. I was glad I did—since these were the only two times I wore the socks it was astonishing how grubby they looked when I got them home and I’m grateful not to have had to walk through those airports’ who-knows-what with bare feet! (N.B. It was summer in the U.S. and hot in Nicaragua and there is no way I would have been comfortable in shoes and socks, even in the notoriously cold atmosphere of an airplane at 30,000 feet!) When boarding the plane, I was able to slip my actual purse and my netbook into this bag and therefore be carrying on only the wheeled bag and the gym bag/purse, per airline requirements.
Meanwhile, knowing that in Nicaragua I’d be walking a lot and possibly using public transportation or shared taxis during this trip, I decided to invest in a shoulder/cross-body bag with slash-proof straps, RFID protection (to stop my credit card information from being read and used by identity thieves) and tucked away zippers:
I also invested in one of PacSafe’s RFID-protected bifold wallets and a larger folder-type wallet, also RFID-protected (now discontinued), in which to keep my passport, tickets, boarding passes, baggage claim tags, etc. This was probably overkill, but it was useful on the two days I was traveling and might be even more useful for a frequent traveler.
The Pacsafe Rfid-tec 100 Bi-fold Wallet turned out to be perfect for my needs. I kept U.S. dollars in the zippered inside pocket, together with a credit card on days when I would need it (I brought a second one as a back-up, but didn’t carry it around with me). Nicaraguan Cordoba bills went into the un-zippered section of the billfold, and change in the zippered outside pocket.
Holds Lots and Lots of Stuff!
The shoulder bag was also an invaluable purchase and I used it every day. Two side pockets with snaps to close them were sized just right for carrying a small umbrella which proved useful more than once, since I was in Nicaragua during the rainy season and when it rained, it frequently came down in buckets! The other side pocket was sometimes used for a water bottle, although, interestingly, I didn’t feel as much need for one as I do in Southern California. My Spanish school had water available during the mornings, and I typically sought out a juice or a smoothie in the afternoon. I didn’t feel the same frequent dehydration and need to be sipping water constantly as I do in Southern California, where it gets pretty hot and the humidity is so very low.
The padded inside pocket of the bag was used for my Nexus 7 Tablet
on days when I wanted it with me, and for my wallet, and I was able to put my smartphone in one of the two padded phone-sized slots in the outside pocket (in its holster) so I was able to check email, etc., whenever I had access to WiFi. I also took an older unlocked smartphone and put a Nicaraguan SIM card in it when I got there, but actually only used it once.—the majority of my appointments and arrangements to meet with people were managed by email and Facebook chat. In addition, I carried my house-keys for each homestay on the provided keyring, a small make-up bag, bug spray, my tube of bentonite clay to soothe mosquito bites, my small dictionary and Spanish notebooks, my Flip camcorder (which I carried in the ridiculously tiny padded pocket designed for a miniscule mp3 player), the Flip’s mini-tripod (never used),
a cylindrical combination back-up battery/flashlight that was invaluable for recharging electronics on the fly, for its small size and weight, and for its flashlight function, which I used almost every night for one reason or another, and was invaluable when the power went out. In the large back pocket I put receipts and other useful notes and documents. I also carried a lightweight but strong, squishable shopping bag that folds into a pocket on its inside. I used this bag to disguise my netbook, which I carried most days so that I could work on blog posts using the Wi-Fi at the Spanish school and in various cafés in the afternoons. I didn’t actually feel in any danger throughout the month I was there, but I thought it wise to be cautious when carrying my only means of uploading video clips from the Flip camera, which needs a USB port, and my only non-virtual, decent-sized keyboard.
I had hesitated as to whether to take the Nexus 7 Tablet (2012) as well as the netbook, since I knew I would use the netbook’s real keyboard over a virtual keyboard whenever I wrote blog posts.
It turned out to be a wise choice to include the tablet as I actually had time to read for pleasure and could not have carried in hard copy the number of books I actually managed to finish while I was in Nicaragua.
Next week: Other really, really useful things I took to Nicaragua, and a few that could have stayed home.