Pack It Up

With an international trip fast approaching, I have been refining my kit. I’m fairly confident I’ve nailed it.

Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack

This very lightweight bag has a main compartment with 2 interior pouches sewn on the back panel, as well as the front pocket with diagonal opening.

Main Compartment

The bottom pouch holds a Patagonia Torrentshell packed into its own front pocket. The top pouch holds a bag containing a pair of Bose QC35, complementary audio cable and headphone splitter with Lightning adapter attached, and a Kindle Voyage. The main compartment also holds:

Front Pocket

  • passport wallet
  • sunglasses case
  • pencil pouch from Hobby Lobby to hold tissue, eye drops, Neosporin, hand sanitizer (once through security)
  • Wet Ones & Q-tips

Quick Aside on Health Measures

Wet Ones are to wipe the plane seat down (especially armrests). Q-tips are to apply Neosporin to the inside of my nose as a moisturizing and germ-prevention tactic. Drinking plenty of water also helps counteract the plane’s low humidity.

Aer Travel Pack

I have the Kickstarter version of the Aer Travel Pack. While I overall like the bag, I have a couple small qualms.

  1. Unless you are very careful not to overfill the main compartment, you will have a difficult time putting things in the front compartments.
  2. The shoe compartment takes up a lot of space if you use it. I’ve started rolling it up. Sometimes it’s okay for holding dirty laundry, though.

In the past, I’ve tried folding, rolling, and bundling clothes. For this trip, I ordered Eagle Creek Specter Tech Compression Cubes(recommended by Wirecutter).

Packing Cubes

I can only offer a true verdict on packing cubes once I actually travel with them, but I like the promise of an organized bag, the contents of which do no spill out upon opening it. And these particular packing cubes are impressive, allowing me to fit a great deal without overstuffing the Travel Pack.

The Medium holds:

  • 3 shorts
  • 5 t-shirts
  • 2 tank tops
  • 2 casual button down short sleeve shirts

The Small holds:

  • 8 pairs socks
  • 8 pairs underwear

So, I am able to pack 1 Medium cube, 1 Small cube, the Aer Dopp Kit, a pair of dress shoes, jeans, slacks, and dress shirt into the Aer Travel Pack’s main compartment and pull the Aer’s compression straps completely tight without any unsightly bulging.

Aer Dopp Kit

  • 1 quart liquids bag:
  • sunscreen
  • shampoo
  • conditioner
  • 2 hair products
  • contact solution
  • toothpaste
  • cologne
  • hand sanitizer
  • eye drops
  • soap bar
  • Anker SoundCore Sport
  • cartridge razor
  • toothbrush
  • disposable ear plugs

Charging Kit

The zipper pocket in the Aer’s main compartment also perfectly accomodates a 3 ring binder pencil pouch holding an Anker PowerPort Speed 5 port, Apple Watch charging cable, 6’ Anker PowerLine+ Lightning cable, and 2 1’ micro-USB cables (came with the PowerCore, I think). I’m keeping cables tidy with 6" Gear Ties; I am also testing Velcro One-Wrap thin ties, since they can be configured to stay attached to an unraveled cord.

A Note on Clothes

For this trip, I plan on wearing trackies, t-shirt, hoodie, and Vans on the plane to maximize comfort. This is not usually how I travel. On my last international trip, I needed to be in business casual when I got off the plane, and I had to pack much nicer (bulkier) clothes overall. I have a trip like that coming up next summer, so we’ll see how it goes then.

Aer Travel Pack & Dopp Kit

I love to travel, and I love bags. So when I saw the Aer Travel Pack on Kickstarter, I really wanted to back it. I selected the $194 Early Bird Bundle, which included the bag and a Dopp kit (will retail for $260). Then stretch goal after stretch goal started unlocking: gray Dopp kit, gray bag, special edition Kickstarter-green zipper pulls, and a packing cube.

I chose gray over black for better visibility among a sea of black luggage, and for a little more style. (The green zipper pulls help, too.)

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Travel Pack Features

8 Compartments

The #1 thing that made me want this bag is that it combines the hands-free backpack form factor with a traditional lay-flat compartment for clothing. The bag is a total of 33L (measuring 21.5×13.5×8.5 inches), and I was easily able to fit:

  • 1 suit
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 polo
  • 1 dress shirt
  • 2 undershirts
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of slacks
  • 3 pairs underwear
  • pajamas
  • belt along with a couple ties and pocket squares (tucked into a zippered pocket)

The shoe compartment is a little strange because of the way it juts into the main compartment. It’s nice to have a built in shoe bag with easy access, but you have to pack around it somewhat (maximize space by stuffing your shoes with socks, etc.). The organizational compartment between the front and the main (lay-flat) compartment contains an 1) open pocket, 2) pocket with flap, 3) velcro pocket, 4) zippered pocket, and 5) mesh pocket will hold Field Notes, Kindle, iPad 9.7” (maybe a 12.9” Pro), pens, and miscellaneous small items. A quick access top pocket is perfect for small valuables like your passport. The laptop compartment is absolutely huge as it’s meant to accommodate 15.6” machines. There’s also a convenient expandable bottle holder. The bottom front pocket is perfect for storing chargers. There’s so much space in this bag that I didn’t even know what to do with the top front pocket.

Straps & Handles

The backpack straps (like the back) are padded and while there’s no sternum strap, there’s a waist strap to help with the load. The bag also offers a top strap and side strap (just behind the bottle holder) for when you prefer to hand-carry the bag. There are 2 compression straps per side, and they really only affect the main compartment; you retain full access to the organizer with them secured.

Construction

The bag is supported by an internal frame sheet. It’s really well built; I haven’t come across a single loose thread, and the 900D heather gray polyester seems extremely durable. I like the zipper pulls (but I’d say the black ones seem better built than the green ones).

Dopp Kit

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This Dopp kit has a side strap for a handle, and 3 compartments. One is a quick access side pocket. The other 2 have a few elastic straps and mesh pockets for organization. The outside has a strap that you can stick your toothbrush in if you so desire.

Does It Make a Good Daypack?

Probably not. This is a big bag, designed to be a carry-on. And it does that job exceedingly well. There’s tons of space, pockets, and compartments, but the bulk of the space is in the lay-flat compartment.

More Thoughts

Check out Ben Brooks’ thoughts. He has had more opportunity to put the bag through its paces and has a strong sense of what makes a good bag. I thought his point about the padding in the main compartment was interesting, all the more so because he didn’t suggest removing it in his “Modifications” section at the end.

All in all, I am so happy with this bag and really can’t wait to put it to good use.

Europe 2015, Part 2: Estonia

This is Part 2 of a 4 part series about my first major international trip.
Read Part 1: Travel, Part 3: Spain, and Part 4: Germany.

The first stop on my trip was Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. It is on the Baltic Sea, a 3 hour ferry ride across from Finland. Estonia also shares a border with Russia and Latvia. The main reason for visiting was a special 3-day Bible convention with delegates from Estonia, Finland, Russia, Norway, Latvia, Lithuania, and various US states. However, I arrived several days beforehand so as to enjoy and explore the area.

Arrival

The Tallinn metro area has around 500,000 people and has an airport to match. It is relatively small, quiet, and feels Nordic with its blue metal roof, lots of windows, and wood floors. This airport was probably my favorite of the trip.

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I was advised ahead of time to stick with the airport’s recommended taxi companies, and for good reason. Taxi drivers from other companies will come up to you trying to get you to ride with them. And they have a reputation for taking advantage of riders. My taxi driver was pleasant and surprised me by driving right up onto the sidewalk of the hotel when we arrived.
1

Climate

Estonia is substantially cooler than my southern New Mexico home. Even in July, highs stayed between 65 and 75 degrees (roughly 18-25 Celsius). Within one week, cloud cover ranged from mostly sunny to overcast. Some days there was light, refreshing drizzle; Sunday morning it rained. It was beautiful. When it comes to weather, Estonia is a perfect summer destination for desert dwellers.
2

Tallinn

As a whole, Tallinn is a nice city. Estonia has modernized a great deal since gaining independence. The city center is very walkable, but there is also a good public transporation system made up of buses and electric trains. There are many nice hotels, such as the
Nordic Hotel Forum, which is located near the Old Town.

Old Town

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While many places have boring old city centers, Tallinn has the best preserved medieval town in Europe – and a lively one, too. It It’s really amazing: much of the city wall still exists, as do many of the iconic towers. It is made up of a lower area and a hill, called Toompea, where the national government and many embassies are located. People still live in this part of the city.
3
Each door has a unique appearance, which presents an interesting photography project. There’s a variety of restaurants to suit your taste, and we were never disappointed by the service. Old Hansa – though very touristy – has a very tasty cinnamon beer that I highly recommend. Pegasus, too, is an excellent restaurant. 4

Kadriorg

Kadriorg is a palace built by Peter the Great, and sits adjacent to the Estonian presidential palace. It is a great example of Baroque architecture and is surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Special Convention


7000 people attend the "Imitate Jesus" Special Convention in Tallinn, Estonia.&nbsp;
7000 people attend the “Imitate Jesus” Special Convention in Tallinn, Estonia. 

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The weekend came to a close with a 3-day Bible convention at A Le Coq Arena. Attendance hovered around 7,000 and there was quite a bit of media coverage. Seeing people from many different places and cultures all peacefully benefitting from Bible instruction was very special.

Next up: Spain!

  1. Fun!

  2. However, it may not be as great a winter destination; even the warm coastal areas have average highs in the 30s Fahrenheit.

  3. In fact, the old KGB office is now a luxury condo building.

  4. Ask about the building’s history.

Europe 2015 – Part 1: Travel

This is Part 1 of a 4 part series about my recent trip to Estonia, Spain and Germany. This part is about the actual travel. Read Part 2: Estonia, Part 3: Spain, and Part 4: Germany.

I recently had the opportunity to travel to several European countries. It was a fantastic experience overall, though there were snags. I suppose this is inevitable during travel, especially today’s air travel.

Getting to Europe

I booked through Expedia, resulting in tickets on several Star Alliance flights (American Airlines, Air Canada, and Lufthansa). There were a total of 5 flights (ELP > DFW > LGA > YYZ > FRA > TLL). A month or less before my departure, the last two legs of this journey were cancelled (not enough connection time). It was a challenge to get someone at Expedia to help me, and it took several weeks before I had replacement e-ticket numbers.

After making it to New York, the flight to Canada was cancelled due to inclement weather. I was provided the following options: 1) fly from a different New York airport, 2) fly through Turkey and arrive late, or 3) wait until the next morning for a flight. I chose Option 3, and the agent was able to reserve seats for me on LGA > YYZ > FRA > TLL, but was not able to print out the Lufthansa ticket for the last leg.

After finally making it to Frankfurt, I spoke with a customer service agent in one of the terminals. I was informed that I would have to leave the terminal, go to the lobby, and get tickets printed there, then go through security. Frankfurt am Main has a terrible lobby. Ticketing and luggage check-in are separated, and not clearly labeled. I went to “Check-in” and was told it was the wrong counter and they were unable to help me (after waiting in line for 15 minutes). I was directed to the Ticketing counter. The agent’s computer was kaput. So she called … you guessed it, Check-in … and asked them to assist me. The same agent that said she was unable to help was able to help, and printed my tickets within 5 to 10 minutes.

An Aside About Airports

ELP: Small, nice-looking airport (I love the patinaed copper roof). Easy to navigate, but terminal food options are lacking.

DFW: I know many people dislike this airport, but it’s acceptable in my book. I like the train between terminals.

LGA: Never make me go back here.

YYZ: Phenomenal airport. Large and beautiful with free wifi and abundant electrical outlets. There is plenty to do in the terminal while waiting.

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FRA: Okay airport. A bit of a maze, and I had to zig-zag through a duty-free store to get to my gate.

TLL: Small, quaint airport with a bright blue metal roof and some wood flooring.

CPH: Not particularly memorable, as it was a short connection. But one of the hallways we walked down was beautiful.

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BCN: Again, never make me go back here. Large, with terminals that stretch on forever, offering practically nothing but vending machines. There is very little notice on which gate your plane will be at (perhaps this is partially a Vueling issue). I can’t recall if there was free wifi (I doubt it); there are almost no electrical outlets.

Notes on Flying

  1. In-flight entertainment system comes at the cost of having advertisements forced on you during take off.
  2. Round-trip tickets may be cheaper, but if you’re planning on multiple destinations, one-way tickets are probably better for sanity.
  3. The entire trip, I lugged around a rolling carry-on and my Cote&Ciel Isar Ruckack (read about the bag here). Vueling did not give me any trouble about this, nor did any other airline. As long one bag fits in the overhead compartment and one under the seat in front of you, it’s all good.

Thoughts on Trip Length and Activity

3 weeks might have been a little long or a little rushed; I’m not sure which. I tried to balance doing and relaxing. So many people come home from trips exhausted. Overall, I don’t think the trip caused me to feel this way, but the flights home were a real test due to my poor planning (FRA > BCN > TLL > FRA > YUL > LGA). In line with Point 2 above, I should have purchased a one-way ticket to Estonia and a one-way ticket home from Germany.

The next part in this series will be about my week in Estonia.