Top Travel Bags: Our Favorite Backpacks & Suitcases

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Our top travel bags have been with us for a long, long time. A few of them feel like family. I’ve lived abroad since 1997, and our family has been slow traveling since 2013. That includes Japan, the United States, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand and now Spain. In that time, we’ve used quite a few kids bags, carry-on bags, rolling suitcase sets, and other travel luggage.

Top Travel Bags: Our Favorite Backpacks & Suitcases

OUR TOP TRAVEL BAGS

If you want to see the top three travel luggage brands of family travelers on Epic Education Radio, read here. If you want to see our family’s personal top travel bags, read on below.

In this post, I describe our top travel bags. Some are backpacks. Some are carry-on bags. Nearly all of them were being used for years before we actually started traveling full-time. I’ve called them family travel gear in the title, but any of these top travel bags would work for solo travelers or anyone else not traveling with kids.

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Kelty Coyote Backpacks

Family travel gear: Our top travel bags Kelty coyote 740

We’ve carried two of these workhorses for at least a decade now. Probably much longer. I can’t remember exactly why we chose these particular models, but they serve us extremely well. Kelty Coyote Backpacks is certainly one of our top travel bags.

The side pockets have zippers down the center so they can hold water bottles or be stuffed almost beyond capacity. The top pouch turns into a fanny pack or day pouch, and the center of the pack zips open so you can reach items at the very bottom without unloading the entire thing. Top travel bags need to be versatile.

Top Travel Bags: Our History with Kelty

Keiko and I have owned Kelty products for around twenty years. I left for Taiwan in 1997 with a Kelty tent, and we gave away two Kelty sleeping bags when we left Japan sixteen years later. Those sleeping bags were still in good shape too, and we used them five or six times a year for at least ten years.

We haven’t done a lot of extreme outdoors stuff. When I say “top travel bags,” I don’t need something to carry up Mount Everest. Instead, Keiko and I have spent nearly two decades car camping, motorcycle camping and going to music festivals — almost all of it using this Kelty equipment. Those backpacks hauled our stuff back and forth between Asia and the United States more times than I can count.

We see Kelty gear in airports and guesthouses everywhere, and in use by people like Epic Education Radio guest, Sharon Gourlay, who has a Kelty Redwing 40-liter backpack.

Check the price of Kelty Coyote Backpacks on Amazon

Thinktank Airport Security

Our Top Travel BagsThis is certainly one of the top travel bags I’ve ever owned. The Thinktank Airport Security rolling suitcase is really designed for professional photographers. That said, it is ideal for me and possibly other traveling parents. It holds several SLR bodies, several zoom lenses, and camera accessories such as flashes and a tripod.

Best of all, it’s still the size of carry-on luggage, so it’s great as a dedicated electronics bag.

Specialized pockets keep stuff like filters and SD cards organized, and a specialized sleeve on the outside of the suitcase is customized to hold a laptop bag. There are plenty of other pockets for documents, passports, and other important items.

It’s built to keep cameras safe, so it’s ideal for anyone with other electronics or breakable/valuable items to carry: from glass bottles to portable speakers to small antiques.

It also has advanced security features similar to Pacsafe equipment. For example, it has extra-sturdy locks and a built-in chain to secure it to an anchored structure. This bag was built specifically for those who travel with cameras for a living. 

Not just for photographers

Considering that I sold all my D-SLR gear in 2015 and have never sold a photograph, I hardly qualify as a pro photographer. I did work with Nikon, however, for almost 15 years. Nikon was a client of the ad agency I worked for in Japan. In the early 2000s, I started working on photo shoots for camera brochures and other Nikon projects in a variety of locations. For some projects, I had to carry prototypes — early models of cameras that wouldn’t be released for months.

Sturdy, secure and reliable

I needed something that could carry all this, including my own camera and laptop, and still be small enough to fit in the overhead compartment of airplanes. I wouldn’t — I couldn’t! — check this bag in. It had to stay with me.

I don’t use this rolling suitcase for as much camera equipment nowadays, but it remains our main electronics bag. Once Any space not occupied by electronics is stuffed with (clean) socks, underwear, and other travel essentials. The bag holds a lot, and it rolls smooth as silk even though I’ve been using it constantly since 2008.

Check the price of Thinktank Airport Security

Lowepro Mini Trekker

Our Travel BackpackMy parents gave me this Lowepro Mini Trekker for Christmas in 1997. That’s right: 1997. I had just left the US six months earlier and have lived abroad ever since. Considering this, I can safely say that I’ve used this bag much more than the usual weekend shooter.

I’ve carried cameras and swimsuits in this thing for nearly two decades, sometimes every day for months. I’ve strapped it to houseboats in Hue, Vietnam and lugged it through the jungle in Veracruz, Mexico.

My longest travel companion

It was on my back at the ruins of Angkor Wat and strapped to the gas tank of my motorcycle during countless camping trips during my three years living in Taiwan. It’s filthy now and really shows its age, but everything still works the same as the day I unwrapped it. Well, in truth, one pocket has a hole in it, one of the clips is chipped, and I lost the chest strap years ago. Aside from that, everything else — the zippers, the clips, the straps — are all in good shape.

All I need

I am constantly amazed at this backpack’s resilience. Between its padded separators, it can hold two DSLR cameras, an extra lens, a MacBook Air and all the chargers. The room left over holds two or three day’s worth of clothes and supplies (warm climates only, of course). Outer straps can hold the monopod, a pair of flip-flops, a bag of dirty clothes and more if when really want it to.

When we lived in Penang, we took a number of 2-3 week trips to places like Vietnam, Sumatra, and across the Thai border into Krabi. We also took a number of road trips in Peninsular Malaysia. All I needed was this Lowepro Mini Trekker and a small shoulder bag. If this pack is ever rendered unusable — and I hope that never happens — I will feel its loss like one does a neighbor or family dog. I’ll seek out a similar model, but it just won’t be the same. For sentimental reasons, this will always be my favorite among many top travel bags. 

Epic Education Radio guest Alyson Long also carries a Lowe Backpack. I have seen Lowe equipment on dozens of passionate travelers in my personal life and on inspired photographers in my professional one.

Check the price of Lowepro Mini Trekker

Brenthaven Laptop Backpack

Family travel gear: Our top travel bags Brenthaven Laptop Backpack

An early model of the Brenthaven Metrolite served as my work bag in Tokyo for over ten years. It can hold a MacBook Pro, a MacBook Air, two iPads, several external hard drives and every plug and wire you need for it all. Pack all that in and I still have room for a few books, a folder of travel docs, toiletries, and even some clothes. Additional pockets can hold more.

My favorite laptop carrier

I didn’t take it with me when we left Japan in 2013, but I couldn’t bear to throw it out, either. Therefore, it remained in a box of stuff we left at my in-law’s house in Osaka. When we were back in Japan for a visit in 2015, I pulled it out of storage and used it to carry my computers around Japan for a few weeks. That was it: I wanted it back. I took it with us when we left for Spain in August of that year.

The padded straps are super comfortable. Inside it has customized pockets for external hard drives, a mouse, and other small accessories, and outside the external pockets make it easy to access a passport, a charger, pens or keys, and a book or magazine without having to unzip the backpack’s main compartments.

The padded internal laptop sleeve comes out, too, when you would rather carry something other than computers. If I could improve it, I would make the two side pockets slightly larger so they could fit a water bottle more easily, but that’s it.

Check the price of Brenthaven Laptop Backpack

OTHER LUGGAGE

For carry-on luggage, our son has an Eastpak bookbag, and our daughter has a small Coleman backpack — neither are specialized for travel, but have been great and dependable. We could have bought the kids pricier, more speMy travel luggage Coleman girls backpackcialized top travel bags, but we took the same approach as we do with shoes: they’re going to grow out of them soon enough, so why bother?

We’ve used a number of other suitcases and luggage sets over the years, including travel backpacks for kids and rolling suitcases. None of them are top travel bags, and several of them have been bought on the road. Each kid has one rolling suitcase that they check in. Between that and everything listed above, we have more than enough space.

Check the price of Coleman backpack
Check the price of Eastpak bookbag

WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TRAVEL BAGS?

I’m sure you have something to say about your bag. What are your top travel bags? What is your favorite carry-on bag? How about check-in luggage? Do you travel with suitcases or backpacks? What do you look for when purchasing a new pack or a new suitcase? Size? Comfort? Sturdiness? Accessibility? Tell us your thoughts in the comment below.

Top Travel Bags: Our Favorite Backpacks & Suitcases PIN

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you,  we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase or book using those links. My opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help your travel.

Comments

  1. Andrew E. Dasilva says

    Hey, i prefer backpack for travel. But in official tour i take luggage instead of backpack. It suits me. Thanks. I just gave my review.

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