Her Packing List’s review of the Aeronaut

Have I mentioned that I’m currently obsessed with the Tom Bihn Aeronaut carryon/duffel/backpack?

A travel site for backpackers, Her Packing List, has recently posted a user review of the Aeronaut by Kit Whelan of Seek New Travel. Kit has used her Aeronaut bag heavily since 2009 and says it still looks almost-new. She calls it the Goldilocks bag, but warns that it’s not designed for carrying heavy loads for long periods of time.

Kit’s review makes me even more excited about the Aeronaut! Check out the full review for more details on how she’s used it and what her favorite features are. While you’re at it, check out Kit’s blog — she’s definitely getting added to my daily travel feed!

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Tetris level: Expert

Tetris level expert
Shared on Facebook by George Takei

When I saw that picture, my first thought was: Yeah, I bet I could do that.

After 6 years of road trips from Indiana to Ohio, New Jersey, and countless other destinations, I am a packing ninja. I have a natural talent for fitting things into small spaces. My mom and I lived in some pretty tiny spaces (speaking from a small-town Midwestern perspective, where 500 square feet is unbelievably tiny for an adult woman and her teenage daughter). One place we lived required me to get a new, stripped-down bed frame for my twin bed! I used to credit those experiences for my tight packing, but I realize now that it’s something I’ve always been able to do.

My first job was working under my mother in a custom Western/Equestrian clothing company, and tracing trim because my signature task. I fit those pieces every which way until I squeezed every square inch out of leather. I performed minor miracles with odd-sized remnants and scraps. I was anxiously perfectionistic at the time, and I thought I kept getting that task because it was one of the least important things to do. Yes, that was part of it, but looking back, I realize that I was actually better at it than anyone else!

It’s been important for me to realize that I have a knack for arranging things. Whether I’m arranging a storage shelf, making room for new groceries in the previously-consider-packed freezer, or loading our hatchback, it just makes sense to me. Things look full, but I reassure Hubs that I can rearrange for more room. He’s reluctant to believe me, but lo and behold, I make everything fit — often with more apparent room than there was before!

On our first few road trips, I get extremely frustrated with his packing style. Why on earth would anyone do (insert perfectly innocent misuse of space)? I thought it was the man’s job to pack the car (oh, early-twenties-me who thought myself so liberated and feminist, who knew that getting married would bring out so many gender stereotypes?), so I repeatedly let Hubs pack the car while I did other things. (I don’t know why, but I always have a million things to do the morning of a trip, especially now that we have the guinea pigs, and Hubs is always waiting around for me.) And then I got mad about how the car was packed, and usually repacked it myself.

After so many trips together, Hubs and I have reached some understandings. I drive first thing, because he can nap anytime but I can never fall asleep until mid-afternoon. I also drive after meals, because he gets “the itis” and needs a nap. He doesn’t eat full meals when it’s just him, but I can’t go without, so I let him take a nap (but sometimes switch out after only 45 minutes or an hour if I’m sleepy, too). And, no matter what else is going on in the morning, only I can pack the car if we have more than 3 bags. (And even then I usually re-arrange them a little.)

Unfortunately, ninja packing skills come at a price. Namely, I can fit so.much.stuff into my bags. I have debated about getting the beautiful but pricey packing cubes for the Tom Bihn Aeronaut bag I have promised myself for graduation. Some bloggers (of course I can’t find any to link to at the moment) say that packing cubes are actually one of the lease efficient ways you can pack. But if my goal is to start packing more lightly…well, let’s just say, some external packing constraints aren’t a bad thing. Ninja out.

 

Anticipation

One thing I’ve noticed about blogging is that it inspires me.

I started this blog after I fell in love with the Aeronaut maximum carry-on. This big little duffel made me think of Hubs and I working ahead during the week so we could dash off to Boston or Baltimore over a weekend. I dreamed of us traveling light, zipping back to our hotel for mid-day naps, and growing chummy with city after city on the Eastern seaboard.

Just after I started this blog, I decided to take the plunge and get an Arc notebook from Staples.  I started small — just a soft-backed notebook and the hole punch (which was pricey, but I planned to return it if I didn’t like the system). The beauty of the Arc system is that everything flexibly works together. It combines the ability to move things around like a binder and to flip it around on itself like a spiral notebook. They sell full-size and half-sheet notebooks in a durable hard-back or a lightweight soft-back, and you can punch any paper to add in.

So with my mind on my new travel blog,I immediately thought of how I could use this as a travel organizer. Translation: I can start being organized about our travel. 

I’ll write more soon about my history with travel organization, how I like to plan ahead, and whether I use travel books. For now, suffice it to say that I want a planning system that is light and flexible. I want it to fit print-outs without being too big. I want to be able to move things around and empty it out at the end of a trip (after transferring some notes to my digital copies in case we want to go back…because in my imagination, I’m that on top of things).

I also want to start prioritizing more clearly. I don’t want to plan trips down to the minute; I’m way too poor of a traveler for that. (One of these days I’ll explain just how bad of a travel partner I am, so you can appreciate Hubs’s patience.) I need lots of flexibility, and we’ve learned that life is better when we schedule rest in the middle of each day. Having lots of options printed in one place, plus the ability to take out and put back individual sheets, would be a great solution. Add a couple zipper pouches for room keys, transfer passes, money, receipts, and maps, and some flags to remind you of not-to-miss activities or restaurants, and you’re ready to go!

This seems to a be first comes office supplies, then comes organization situation. Now that I have such a customizable system, I find myself wanting to fill it! And luckily, I have a trip on the horizon to occupy me. I just ordered a free travel guide from indiana Dunes. We started off saying we’d hang out at the beach, but really, we’re not beach people. We only went to the beach once in Miami, and that was for 10 minutes to say we’d seen it. I’m excited about their Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail, and if I let Hubs know there’s butterflies, he’ll sure as shootin’ want to photograph them. Once Hubs books our hotel in Pittsburgh, I’ll be excited to start looking for things to do nearby.

Today I realized that I have the same kind of excitement about building a travel notebook as I used to have for scrapbooking. I recently gave up most of my crafty supplies part of our effort to consume less and de-clutter our household. I love scrapbooking, but I’m such a perfectionist that it takes me forever (and my pages look good, but not that good) and I find myself putting things off. I also stopped doing it because we have no “out of the way” space and I frankly don’t like to clean up after myself mid-project. I decided to embrace another hobby, knitting, that takes up less space and mental energy than scrapbooking, but I missed that focused time on recapping great memories.

Building a travel binder is like doing that, but on the front-end instead of the back-end. As I assemble information and maps, I can dream about the experiences we’ll have. I can think forward to everything, instead of thinking back. My efforts will be useful for making memories, not, well, remembering them. The entire time I work on my travel binder, my anticipation for the trip builds.

And really, isn’t anticipation always sweeter than reflection?

What are your best tricks for building and enjoying the anticipation of an upcoming trip?

My packing goal

PHOT0086.JPG
From Car Gurus. This is a near-exact replica of my first car, a 1990 Plymouth Acclaim, which I got circa 2003. Mine had the rain-guard upgrade…after-factory.

As a teen, I (sort of) lived out of my car. That’s a pretty generous packing area.

I had lived with my mom, but after she died of cancer, I bounced around a few different houses. I changed locations to start taking college courses and settled into living with a wonderful couple who are now second parents to me, but I still visited my dad often. And a weekend visit would mean the trunk of my car would be packed.

I was afraid to miss something. I wanted all my entertainment, and as many outfits as possible, at my disposal. I didn’t use suitcases often; instead, I would just fill up a few laundry baskets and totes. I would bring huge bags of makeup and hair tools, even though I’ve always been one to wear the same products every day and my hair always ended up in a ponytail within half an hour. But who cared? I had a huge car to stuff.

When I moved to grad school, I would have my car slam-full for 3-week trips home to Ohio. Then Hubs and I started doing joint trips to both Ohio and New Jersey. Around our wedding, we would literally have an entire hatchback filled to the brim; the passenger seat wouldn’t even recline.

I was so worried about being bored. Or not having the right clothes. Or shoes. Did I mention that I wanted all my crafts and hobbies? And I needed to take tons of books and papers, because I was going to be super productive. And with all that packing…I rarely crafted, almost never studied, and still ran out of clothes and shoes.

I’ve slowly gotten better. I’ve started flying places, and as a cheapskate, I have yet to pay for checked luggage. Our 9-day trip to India in March 2012 was a crash-course in dragging stuff I don’t need halfway across the world. I started experimenting with leaving things behind. At the same time, I started simplifying across my life. I gave up on crafts like scrapbooking and  glass mosaics. I enjoyed them but rarely worked on them because they take too much space (and, because I wanted each thing to be perfect, too much time). I fell in love with the Kindle and have sold off all but a handful of sentimental books and a shelf or two of professional resources.

Most importantly for packing, I weeded out my wardrobe, time after time, layer after layer, until I became ruthless. I didn’t miss the clothes I gave away or threw out, because they all had issues. They didn’t fit well. They had stains or holes. They weren’t my style. They didn’t match anything. They were never right for the occasion. They didn’t work. 

It turns out that when you pack mostly clothes that don’t work, you end up “running out of things to wear” no matter how heavy your suitcase is. Same thing with shoes; when none of them are comfortable, or they only match this one outfit for this one occasion, you’re going to be packing a lot of shoes to get by.

I’ll talk more in the future about my downsizing (rightsizing?) process and how I’ve learned to pack (and live) with less. But for now, I want to show you my packing goal:

Aeronaut
The Aeronaut, from Tom Bihn

One “maximum carry-on” bag with stow-away backpack straps. Without wheels. For me and Hubs. If the size doesn’t limit me, the weight will. (I imagine that Hubs and I will trade off carrying this and his camera bag.) I’m tired of being tied to bulky suitcases, even carry-ons. If we get to a city early in the day, I want the option to just go about our day, with our weekend suitcase in hand if we don’t want to swing by our hotel to check our bag.

And yes, Tom Bihn makes lots of custom-sized packing cubes. Yes, I want them. Especially the one that converts to a lightweight backpackI can’t wait to graduate so I can get this as my graduation gift!