spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Bags, backpacks, and day bags, oh my…

Today, let’s discuss suitcases, carry-ons, and day/touring bags.  We’ll choose bags, and then fill them later.  Squee! Containers of all kinds are my Kryptonite, so of course I love carrying something nice that also keeps my travel stuff organized.  Note that nice does not necessarily equal expensive.  I also hate paying for more than I need.  I’ve carefully researched and chosen some travel bags recently, and thought I’d share my opinions on the subject. Once upon a time, all my disposable income was spent on me, and my sister and I used to shop together like pros.  I fell in love with a luggage collection called “Color on the Go” by Diane Von Furstenberg.  It featured blue suede-ish material with white leather accents.  My sister fell right with me, except she loved the pink version.  I can’t remember what the original price for my luggage was, but I do remember paying close to $300 for the 2 pieces I got.  I got a “feed bag” carry-on style tote and a 20″ rolling carry-on.  I promptly named the rolling one “Diane.”  No idea why I didn’t name the other one “Von Furstenberg” at the time, but I will do so now.  My sister and I learned lessons with these bags: she learned that they should never be checked, as her beautiful pink suede bag came off the baggage claim belt with a bunch of black grease marks on it.  I learned that “Von Furstenberg” was great for the plane since it had a crossbody strap and fit right under the seat in front of me, but still had issues.  I hate carry handles, sigh.  “Diane” was kind of a pain due to being pretty heavy even while completely empty and not having spinner wheels.  I always got compliments from the flight attendants, though.  Of course, this line has been discontinued for some time now. *sniff*

Meet "Diane."

Meet Diane,

Meet "Von Furstenberg."

and her buddy Von Furstenberg.

Worry not, fellow OCDers, my set has matching colors!  My shade is the one on the bottom.  These beautiful bags are now reserved for when I travel completely alone- like when I surprised my sister and mom by popping over to NJ for 30 hours for my sister’s baby shower last year.  My sister realized I was at my parent’s house the night before the party when she spotted Diane in the hallway 🙂 Anyway, my daughter was born, and I was starting to plan her lifetime of travel.  I decided to buy a luggage set by Traveler’s Choice.  It included a large 28″ Pullman, a 26″ rolling duffle, a 24″ Pullman, a 22″ rolling carry-on, and softsided carry-on duffle bag.  Pretty sure I paid less than $150 for the whole set from Overstock.com, many moons ago.  It was a good bargain, and I used those bags for many years.  I still have the softsided bag, and the last suitcase of the set only broke a few months ago.  Lessons learned since purchasing that set: a 28″ suitcase is way too big to handle, even with good inline wheels, and a bag that big is almost impossible to keep under the 50# weight limit on most US airlines.  I also learned that a 26″ rolling duffle is pretty much the perfect size of checked suitcase for my family; fully stuffed, it just reaches 50# (49.5# on our last trip)!  Now that we are a family of 4, this is what we use. Suitcases: I recently replaced the 26″ rolling duffle from the Traveler’s Choice set with a 25″ one from eBags, and took her on her first spin to Ecuador.  So many organizing sections.  It was perfect, and the blue color is absolutely luscious.  The eBags brand is awesome- I have the Piazza crossbody bag for weekend errands, the Kayla Town Square which I take to work every day, the Bistro lunch tote, and have gotten laptop backpacks for my husband and father.  All are excellent quality, with really well-thought-out organizational features.  Plus they have a great warranty.  I got this for about $145, which is a great price for the quality.

I love you, transporter of mundane things.

Hello, lover.

When we take another checked bag, we use a 26″ red spinner Pullman that we got from Ross years ago for about $50.  Very handy at the airport, though because of its one big interior space, it’s easy to overpack, weight limit-wise. Avoiding overweight baggage fees is mandatory, so I never travel without my luggage scale.  It’s the last thing I throw into the suitcase. Carry-ons: I need my hands to be free for traveling with little ones, so I prefer a crossbody style or a backpack.  On the Ecuador trip, I used my daughter’s old Land’s End backpack that she used for school for 1 year before deciding that she needed a new one, even though the one she wound up getting was a drawstring bag of all things….but I digress.  It was available, not too “little girly,” free to me 🙂 and fit my carry-on requirements:

  • needs at least 2 separate big compartments.  I use one compartment for electronics stuff (charging cables, headphones) the trip-planning binder, puzzle book, etc.  The second compartment is for small personal items like flip-flops, pashmina, makeup, and the 3-1-1 TSA-approved toiletry bag.
  • at least 2 smaller compartments on the outside, 1 with a secure zipper.  Need an easy-to-reach place for my snacks once on the plane, and my travel wallet, cell phone, highlighter/pen combo and iPod go in the zippered compartment.
  • needs 2 side pockets.  I always, always carry an empty plastic water bottle through security and then fill it up at a water fountain, and add a flavor packet.  The bottle uses 1 side pocket, and then I can stick any old thing in the other side pocket: my sunglasses, phone charger, one of the kids’ water bottles, a hair clip, etc.
  • at least one smaller compartment inside, preferable with a zipper closure.  A good place for a small pouch containing a cash stash, the meds I am traveling with, jewelry, and a spare pen (you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to lend my spare pen to my husband, or substitute it for a dropped crayon when I can’t see where the crayon has fallen).

This is the exact bag! No shame in using something labeled for kids. I’m short, so it’s a proportional fit anyway.

 Land’s End has a very good warranty policy, too.  For a while, you could return stuff ordered online to any physical Sears location.  I think they discontinued that, though. Day/touring bag: last year I decided I needed a new travel day bag, because the aforementioned eBags Piazza bag was simply too small to carry a day’s worth of sightseeing stuff.  The water bottle pocket was too small for my preferred bottle (this Rubbermaid, which has a large opening for easy filling, a screw-on top, no straws/nooks/crannies in the lid that are impossible to clean, and can hold at least 20oz of water at a time), and the strap becomes uncomfortable when the bag is heavy.  Perfect for weekend errands, not good for all-day activities, like theme park touring. The last 2 times we went to Disney World, I used a smaller-than-standard backpack that I got on clearance at Old-Navy for $3.97.  Seriously.  That thing was a workhorse, and I used it at Disney after using it at college in my senior year.  I loved the compartments on that thing, especially a small sleeve attached to the shoulder strap that held my student ID and bus pass for easy access.  Eventually, things started to break in it, and it got some stuff spilled on it.  After our last Disney trip, I realized the bag was too big for the streamlined approach I take to what to carry in the parks (a post on that within the next few months), plus it had the very common problem of having a black interior lining.  It becomes a black hole for stuff, especially when searching for something in a low-light environment.  So with several trips on the horizon, I set about searching for the perfect day/touring bag.  Requirements:

  • crossbody style.  This is non-negotiable.  In addition to being crossbody, it needed to NOT have carry handles.  I hate the way they flop about and get in the way of the outside zippers.
  • water bottle pocket big enough for the Rubbermaid.
  • outside zip pocket on the back side, which rests against the body.  For peace of mind and easy access to confirmation printouts, tickets, etc.
  • soft fabric material that “molds” against the body.  You can’t call me animal-friendly by any stretch of the imagination (mmmm, bacon), but I do object to leather bags.  The molding is important, because who wants to wear a rigid rectangle against their hips?
  • comfy adjustable strap…remember this thing will be loaded up with 10-12 hours worth of stuff.  No stiff webbing rubbing against my neck, please!
  • light-colored interior lining.  Coordinating lighter color is even better.
  • several small pockets inside and outside, some with zippers and some without.  Dedicated place for my sunglasses, phone, padded pocket for the iPod, small section for lip gloss/compact, purse hanger, etc.
  • main compartment big enough for travel wallet, camera, small book.  Able to hold 8×11 papers folded in half without crumpling them.
  • ideally, the bag should be able to sort of stand up on its own when not full.  This is tricky, too stiff and it won’t mold.  Too soft and it’ll flop over at the slightest breeze and get dirty in the process.
  • available in some shade of blue.

With those specs in mind, I started to search on ebags.com, Amazon, and Zappos.com.  I bought 6 different bags, from brands like PacSafe, Baggallini, Lug, and Kipling.  I found plusses and minuses with all of them, but in the end I chose to keep the Lug Shimmy in this gorgeous Ocean color.  It fit all of my requirements, plus it has a sturdy clear plastic strip on the bottom, which helps the base of the bag not get wet or dirty, and help it stand up just enough.  If I recall correctly, it was about $68.  They’ve since discontinued this bag!  I’ve used it daily for 2 long trips already and it still looks brand new, so I’m sure it’ll last until I’m tired of it and am forced (LOL!) to shop for a new day bag.  We’ll see how she does on her inaugural trip to a Disney park!

Once again, blue.

Once again, blue.

This post has made me nostalgic for another piece from the DVF Color On the Go set.   I loved it at the time, but felt I was already spending too much money on this luggage, so I didn’t get it.  I should have though, because I’ve regretted not buying it ever since.  Maybe I’ll find it one day!

DVF Color On the Go Beauty Case, I've never forgotten you!

DVF Color On the Go Beauty Case, I’ve never forgotten you!

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…and we’re back, baby!

So, we had a great time in South America, and visited 11 out of 24 provinces in Ecuador.  Not too bad.

On the way there, we had a tight connection in Panama City, and were delayed on the tarmac, meaning we had to run through the terminal to get onto our last flight.  We were the second-to-last group to board….the last group being my parents, who had also been delayed on their flight from NJ.  At least we made the flight….our suitcases didn’t.  But we were able to pick them up the next day, though one of my mom’s bags didn’t make it until 2 days after that.

We had a fantastic time seeing family and friends, and OMG eating the food.  I lost count of how many ceviches I ate.  SO fresh and yummy, and CHEAP.  And I didn’t have to make it myself- that was the best part.

Lessons learned on this trip:

  • Follow my own advice!  I always tell people to keep a spare shirt and undergarment for each traveler in their carry-on just in case the luggage doesn’t arrive.  I packed stuff for my kids but nothing for me or DH!  Had to borrow pajamas to sleep in and clothes to go back for my suitcases at the airport.  DH stayed home in his borrowed pajamas until I got back with the suitcases.
  • Prepare in advance for altitude sickness:  I know all about acclimating, but that wasn’t possible.  However, I could have asked for meds in preparation for our bus ride from Guayaquil to Cuenca.  Going from sea level to over 10,000 feet in less than one day had me throwing up and feeling very poorly all night.  A quick call to my cousin’s doctor and a 10-minute visit to the pharmacy meant I felt much better after a few hours.  But I would rather have avoided it altogether.  Luckily, the kids did fine.  And I learned the lesson quickly.  For the next road trip up to Ibarra, I was prepared and felt fine the whole time.  DS did get carsick, but I blame it on the curvy mountain roads, since once we got to a flat and straight area, he was fine.
  • More like a lesson confirmed: family time is great, and part of the reason we travel to Ecuador is to become enveloped into the family fold, with all the craziness, crowds, people talking over each other, 24 people trying to make decisions and suggestions and plans at the same time.  We’re used to a quieter home, so the hustle and bustle is fun.  But…we’re used to a quieter home, so sometimes the 4 of us need a break, and “4 of us” time.  I had scheduled an outing the Puerto El Morro, to do a boat ride through the mangroves and see river dolphins.  Not that I didn’t want everybody to come along, but I planned it so that it was just our group of 4, plus my cousin’s wife (who was driving), and my niece (who is the same age as DD).  It was a relaxing hour-plus ride there, a great time seeing many, many dolphins and pelicans, and a nice almuerzo (bigger lunch meal) afterwards.  A perfect break from the 4 dozen other relatives, and we were refreshed and ready to get back to the noise and fun.  I’ll continue to choose some activities on vacation that are reserved for our smaller group, should we decide to travel en masse again in the future.
  • Expect the unexpected: Remembering my last Christmas-season trip, I was prepared for an invasion of grillos, (gross flying cricket-type bugs). They come out during the summer, and especially after the torrential rains that happen in the summer.  I think I saw a sum total of 10 grillos over 3 weeks, and it only rained (lightly) 2-3 times while we were there.  Also, I expected to be able to use my credit cards at more locations…but wound up having to conserve the cash I had brought to make it last until the end of the trip, since most places either did not accept cards, or would be obligated to add the IVA tax on top of the purchase price to use the card (approx. 12.5%).  DH had brought more than I said he needed, which was good advance thinking on his part 🙂 So we were OK while there, and I even came home with a bit of leftover cash.

Overall, I think we all had a really excellent time.  I felt completely at home, and got the sense that all the traveling we did to get there and back, plus the road-tripping within the country, continued to add to the kids’ life experience and general awareness of how people live in other parts of the world.

My DD mentioned more than once that she’d love to travel back and live with family members for a time- while that’s not likely, since I’d miss her too much, I’m more willing to entertain the notion of her doing air travel on her own within the next few years because of the maturity and responsibility she showed while traveling.

DS formed a nice bond with my grandfather (his great-grandfather).  I got some great pictures of them yanking on each other’s ears!  Long story on the ear thing.  He also loved watching all the año viejo/año nuevo burning and fireworks…from the relative safety and silence of the car, lol.

DH enjoyed seeing other parts of Ecuador.  We had mostly stayed in Guayaquil, with just a short jaunt to the beach at Salinas on our last trip in 2009, since we only had 10 days.  On this trip, being able to see the Sierra (mountainous area) and visit the Mitad del Mundo monument was great for him.  Plus he got to go on a short train ride (Baños del Inca route on Tren Ecuador).

On our next trip to Ecuador, I’ll be planning to visit the Galápagos Islands.  DS will be old enough and mature enough for all the walking and touring.  DD will be in college by then (!!!).  I already can’t wait.

I’ll share some trip pictures in another post 🙂

I always say that in order to get past the “vacation is over blues” you have to plan another trip.  Now that we’re back, and I have some additional information about our physical whereabouts for the next few years, I can confidently say that we are going to Disney World this October!  Already set our trip dates, and will be rescheduling our hotel reservations tomorrow (moving them from July to October).  Also researching flights, and trying to decide which day to attend Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, and what family costume to wear!  Got many other things to plan and decide, including what restaurants to eat at, and how to organize our FastPass+ choices.  Busy, busy, busy.

love to plan

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