Why a Totepack is the Perfect Personal Item for Long-Term Travel

If you’ve ever flown before, you know that any basic airline ticket allows you to bring one personal item on the plane. The dimensions of said item may vary between airlines, but generally speaking, it just needs to be able to fit under the seat in front of you. For short trips, maybe all you need is a purse, but for longer trips, it can be a well-sized compliment to your carry-on sized backpack or suitcase. And if you’re checking a bag, it will typically hold all the really important items that you don’t want to risk losing because of a layover – like your laptop or an extra set of clothes.

For our upcoming 2 month trip to Mexico, I have something very specific in mind. Because I’ll be carrying a 46L backpack as my main bag, I definitely want to avoid the dreaded overloaded backpacker look – wearing one on the front and one on the back. With so many options on the market for this type of bag, at a huge range of prices, I’m on a quest to find the perfect personal item for long-term travel.

How to Find the Perfect Personal Item

If you are facing a similar conundrum, here are some features you might want to look for:

  1. A usable water bottle pocket – a lot of bags either don’t have one at all, or they are not large enough to actually fit a Naglene or Hydroflask bottle. I like to stay hydrated, especially on the plane, and those tiny 8oz plastic bottles they give you just don’t cut it. And who wants to spend $4.50 on bottled water at the airport kiosk?
  2. A laptop pocket – this may not always be needed, but it’s nice to have if you ever plan on working remotely or writing during a trip. Even if you’re not taking a laptop though, it can be a nice spot to store important travel documents, etc.
  3. Made from a durable, dark fabric – this bag will be going under airplane/bus/train seats and getting touched by your shoes, enough said.
  4. Has at least a few pockets/internal organization and zips or buckles closed – you don’t want to be digging for your toiletries bag, your passport, boarding pass, etc. when you’re going through security or looking for something mid-flight. You also don’t want all your items falling out when you put it back under the seat.
  5. Can be used as a day bag when you get to your destination – it’s always good to have multipurpose items when you’re trying to pack light. For example, a small duffel bag would be nice, but wouldn’t make sense for sightseeing or hiking.
  6. Has a built in sleeve to slip over a suitcase handle – this is always nice but not absolutely necessary as I find you can simply perch a bag on top of a rolling suitcase, it just requires paying more attention.

The Top Contenders

With all these qualifications in mind, the top two style bags I considered were totes and totepacks (can be carried as a tote or a backpack – what a genius idea right?).

Now generally speaking, I would recommend a plain tote for someone who is looking for a more clean, put-together look, or anyone who is traveling for work.

One of my top choices was the Bellroy Tokyo Tote. It comes in two sizes – one 12L and one 15L – and it’s made from recycled materials which is always a plus. It features pop out style water bottle pockets internally which fold against the side of the bag when not in use to maximize space.

However, at $119 for the smaller model, and considering I would likely want to take the bag on hikes and all-day sightseeing, I decided it wasn’t the right fit for me.

Once I decided a standard tote probably wasn’t going to work for me, I moved on to totepacks. Bellroy actually has one with a very minimal, streamlined, professional look, but it had a $175 price tag and a very slim profile that had me doubting the usability of the internal space.

The number one feature that drew me to totepacks was obviously the versatility – I liked the idea of being able to carry it like a tote when going through the airport or while taking public transportation with my large Osprey carry-on, but like a backpack the rest of the time.

The Winner

After ruling out a lot of the options, mostly due to unpadded straps, lack of structure or no water bottle pockets, I decided on the Osprey Daylite Totepack. My main bag, the Osprey Porter 46L, has proven very durable, and I appreciate that Osprey’s materials can take a beating without looking worn out or dirty.

The top features that sold me were two very large water bottle pockets on the exterior (they can hold a 32 oz Naglene or Hydroflask bottle easily) and the hideaway straps. To me, there’s no point in having a convertible bag if you can’t hide the straps while using it as a tote.

While it’s a bit more outdoorsy and rugged looking than I would have preferred for city use, it met all my other criteria, and it’s also made from recycled material. The current price at Osprey is $90, and while I was able to buy it secondhand on Poshmark for $50, I think it is definitely worth the full price.

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