Travel

Budapest Baller B-Day

My birthday is at the end of November. It’s kind of a melancholy time, surrounded by the stress of Thanksgiving and the start of the Christmas season. A few years ago I started to go on birthday trips. Game-changer. Going out of town gets me out of my head and while of course I can’t avoid taking stock of my life, usually the trip reinforces my choices, helping me feel ready to deal with my family’s criticisms come Christmas.

Last year I went to Mexico City. In years past, Vancouver, New Orleans. Sometimes I have a particular place in mind, sometimes not. This year Budapest came up as an option on Google Flight’s Explore feature. With a flight price of about 600 from SF, and AirBNB prices of 30/night, it was a no-brainer. After a little googling, I also decided to tack on a trip to Vienna, since it was only a few hours away by train.

Only downside? A long flight, but of course that can’t be avoided. I packed 5 beauty masks from my Allure Beauty Box. I used the first one on the flight from San Francisco to Zurich. This one is to depuff your eyes!

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Life

Fall is here. I know because Trader Joe’s won’t let me forget. They’ve really bet the house on pumpkin spice. But also it’s that magical first week in October, which means it’s Fleet Week AND there’s the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. So tons of sailors are roving in packs all over town, and bluegrass fans will soon be swarming Golden Gate Park. There’s a buzzy energy in the air right now. Biking around in this weather feels great.

I don’t think I’ll be able to go to the festival or even a friend’s birthday party because I’m dogsitting, and Hopper is pretty needy and whiney. Can’t even write this blog post! He wants attention. This is a two week gig, which I feel like I regretted immediately after accepting. I always book these sittings in the hopes of treating it like a writer’s retreat. Go hole up in a big apartment in a sleepy part of the city, be focused, and knock through my to-do list as best I can. It never works out that way. Since I got home from work today I’ve watched a Lady Gaga documentary and made a chocolate cake mug(or is it ‘mug chocolate cake’. Wait it’s ‘chocolate mug mix’, what?). Now it’s almost bedtime. Where did the time go?

Having long stretches of time where I can do anything often leads to me doing nothing. The same thing happened when I went to North Carolina with Ryan for a week. I had high hopes of working on some personal projects, but it just didn’t happen. I returned home refreshed and newly interested in paddleboarding, but also feeling guilty for squandering the time.

That was nearly two months ago!! and I still haven’t made progress on my side projects. I’m feeling worse and worse about it, which is no good. It’s completely artificial pressure. I need to figure out a more realistic way to move forward and be productive, at least a little bit every day.

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In general since about April I’ve been in a weird place emotionally, mostly due to work. April started a period of being bounced around from project to project, having to ramp myself up on a new codebase and fit in to a new team (or company!) each time. I was on Project #1 from April to June. Then for a week or two I worked at another agency, pitching in at the last minute on a high stress launch. I came back to the first project after that. Then from the end of June to August, I did staff augmentation at an entirely different company. Then at the end of August I finally came back to Grio for Project #4, but we moved offices, so that was also different.

Changing projects in April was incredibly disorienting, which I suppose was to be expected because I was on my previous project for nearly a year. Then heading in to be a contractor at other offices, it felt like I didn’t even work at my company anymore. I saw my coworkers like once or twice a week when I came back to the office for free lunch.

It takes me a few weeks to feel like I’m up to speed on a project and starting to really contribute, and when I’m changing projects every 6-8 weeks, I don’t get very much time to feel good about the work I do. Mostly I’m just stressed out trying to prove myself, I have a few weeks of rocking it, then it starts all over again. Currently I actually feel pretty optimistic about my new project. There is the usual deadline stress, but I’m working with people I like and learning React Native, so at least I’m growing.

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What else..? I was incredibly saddened when Anthony Bourdain died. My food and travel hero, RIP. I was up extra early, picking up my bicycle at the shop when it came over the radio. It just felt so surreal. I stayed away from all the news, and even now I can’t bear to watch any Parts Unknown episodes on Netflix, even though I know they’re going to take them down soon.

I still think about it from time to time, and it worries me that you can fight your whole life against depression, live what appears from the outside to be a meaningful and fun life, and still not make it. I don’t get as depressed as often as I used to thanks to bupropion, but I’m terrified of going back. What if it stops working? My depression was never that bad, but I don’t want to go through feeling down like that ever again, especially since now I know that I don’t have to.

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Travel to see friends and family has been happening steadily. Spending time with my people has added some reassurance to a generally unstable time work-wise. In July we went to the Yuba River with friends. We stayed in a really nutty Victorian house that had some terrifying bedrooms. Ryan almost drowned. Nobody got sunburned. We broke an oven door and were losing puzzle pieces down the sink.

August was North Carolina with Ryan’s family. My racism antenna was on as soon as I saw my first confederate flag on the highway. Ryan thought that these people were neo-nazis because of their license plate (looks like NO 88), but no, they just went to Duke. Phew.

There was lots of food, and lots of time in the water. Ryan and I bought a puzzle one of our first days there, and we were able to complete it by our last night.

Before we left we went to a BBQ place that according to one Google review had a picture of a grand wizard on the wall. Walked all over the restaurant very casually eyeballing every frame and couldn’t find it. The BBQ was great, so I really hope that review was bogus.

Went to Los Angeles in early September. It was fairly uneventful, I didn’t even take pictures! I guess it’s nice that seeing my family doesn’t have to be a big eventful thing. I’ll be headed back there in November and December as well.

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Puzzles. Ever since the encounter with puzzles in Oak Harbor, puzzles have been a mainstay, both on the road and at home. We’ve been ordering our puzzles off of Amazon, and have leveled up to using this puzzle wrapper thingie that lets you roll away your puzzle when you’re not working on it. You can see it below in the New Yorker puzzle. It’s pretty low tech (a big piece of felt, a cylindrical balloon and some elastic bands to hold it together), but it works! I was thinking of starting a puzzle club to share my puzzles with friends, since how often do you do a puzzle the second time?

Ryan did this insane 2000 piece Times Square puzzle all by himself.


I worked happily on most of this New Yorker puzzle. Back in 2009 the magazine was 4.99 an issue. Now it’s  8.99!

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Well ok now I reaaaaallly need to go to bed. Til next time!

Travel

A couple of weeks ago I headed up to the Seattle area with my friend Alyssa to visit Jill and see what her new PNW life is all about. She asked me to bring a little taste of the SF coffee scene as her present for her boyfriend Brett’s birthday. Four pounds of coffee ended up getting me stopped and screened at SFO security. The TSA agent was SO confused. Oh it’s coffee? And another one… and more coffee…. and.. more? 😀

Got in Friday evening and had to drive back the hour and half to the island where they live. Stopped off at a distillery for a yummy dinner. As a tourist, I felt like I HAD to get the local liqueur flight.

The Bonfire Toffee Liqueur was THE BEST. Sweet and ridiculous. Great poured over vanilla ice cream. Probably also good in your coffee.

On Saturday we went whale watching. Basically it all looked like this for three hours. Iphones galore.

The whales were out and about, thanks to Jill’s A+ work summoning the whales with her super powerful whale tank top. 

We saw some good breaches and some whale tail action, but the real star of the day was this massive Stellar sea lion reigning over his harem. He was taking a nap at first, but as we rode by, he staggered up, looked around, and started showing off for us. Good job Mr. Sea Lion! Rock that girth!

Pooped out after all that hard work whale watching  🙂

Later we got to visit the naval base where Brett works. I learned about the controversial “Sky Penis“, which has its own patch and Christmas ornament, apparently. I really wanted a photo with the patch.

We went out for mussels at this local dive that had some amazing taxidermy.

Then a romantic walk on the beach for sunset (it was like 9pm). Well, not so romantic… we were kicked out by a grumpy park ranger. 

I slept on the couch in the living room and woke up to this serene scene every morning.

On Sunday we went to a local park for a cookout celebrating Brett’s birthday. The morning started misty, but things cleared up by the afternoon. We explored the park a bit before and after.

Before

After

Deception pass bridge

The same bridge from a distance

Top of our little trek. Awesome view, right?

Ran into a log that looked like a bear head.

We headed back home on Monday, and got to take the ferry back as part of the shuttle ride. The ride was only 15, 20 minutes max, but they had so many puzzles out on the tables for riders to work on. Alyssa went nuts working on a puzzle at Jill & Brett’s house, so of course she was pretty psyched to find them out in the wild.

On the shuttle ride back to the airport we saw a guy drinking matcha from a rubber cup.  He carried around a thermos of hot water and kept topping up. It seemed like a precarious situation, but kudos to him for doing what he wanted?

I had  a few hours to burn at the airport, but luckily I get Priority Pass membership with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which gives me access to a bunch of airport lounges. Spent the time drinking free manhattans and eating a fantastic tuna melt. Great end to a great trip.

Travel

Travel was one of my goals for 2017, and near the middle of the year I was disappointed with myself for not making more happen. I’d spent two weekends away – a conference in New York, and a wedding in New Jersey. Since I went full-time at my job in April, by the middle of the year I still had barely any vacation time saved up. I decided to make the most of my company’s liberal work from home policy, and stretch some long holiday weekends. Where that wouldn’t work, I bit the bullet and took unpaid days off.

I ended up packing in the trips in the latter half of the year: Morocco in September, New Orleans for a conference in November, Mexico City for Thanksgiving, and Palm Springs for Christmas. I never posted about these trips because I’ve been so busy, and then it felt like the time has passed. But I’ve been daydreaming about 2018 travel, and I thought it would be fun to reminisce, and to think about where else to go based on how I felt about these trips.

Google Slides apparently lets you import your Google photo albums, so I thought I would try that this time instead of individually uploading photos (part of the reason I put off blogging about these trips at all). Seems a shame there isn’t an easy way to make an embeddable slideshow with comments via Google Photos, but I had fun putting random text boxes as commentary all over my photos. There’s a ton of photos, but the sets get smaller as you scroll down.

September: Catching up with an old friend in Morocco

My friend Jill was spending part of her summer in Morocco in order to ride horses on the beach, and this seemed like a perfect chance to visit, especially since I’d missed visiting during the three years that she lived in the country. The trip itself was cathartic, something long overdue. But to start with, things felt difficult. I was anxious about offending people, wearing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing. And you know how in Thailand/Southeast Asia there is that saying: Same same, but different? Yeah, Morocco was just different.

Marrakech was hot as hell and stressful, but I didn’t find the stress invigorating, like in Bangkok or Phnom Penh. After checking out some of the sights of Marrakech, Ryan and I quickly moved on to Essaouria, a beach town where Jill had rented an apartment for a month. Once we got there, things became much easier. No heat, a nice breeze, plentiful seafood, oh and Jill handled everrrrrything – thanks Jill! Basically we ate a lot of tajine, drank a lot of NesCafe, checked out the sights, went to a winery, and just chilled out. It was nice.

Highlights:

  • Hearing the call to prayer several times throughout the day, including the wee hours. It was very moving.
  • We took a ‘grand taxi’ to the winery. It’s basically a large car going in a certain direction, and you can buy a seat. When all the seats are full, the car takes off. It was a new mode of transportation to me, and I definitely would not have coordinated it myself if Jill weren’t there to make it happen. On the way back, we caught the same taxi. The driver recognized us, I guess we stuck out as three foreigners walking down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
  • Meeting all the wonderful cats of Morocco. They were everywhere. The kitties by the sea were much more well-fed compared to the scrappy city cats.
  • Watching Girls Trip on a laptop, just like in college
  • Came in way way under budget, less than half of what I’d budgeted for.
  • Riding camels on the beach. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really fell in love with camels. Rudyard Kipling got it wrong, they’re sweet and hardworking animals.

Lowlights:

  • Being taken to a carpet shop on our city ‘tour’ and getting the super hard sell. We didn’t want to buy a carpet! Really, how often does that work?
  • Being hungover
  • The actual travel. Getting there takes forever!

November: RubyConf in New Orleans

I enjoyed going to the annual Ruby Conference in Cincinnati in 2016, so when I learned that the next event was in New Orleans, how could I say no? And I don’t even code in Ruby anymore, that’s how good it is. My mom had just finished up a job, so the timing worked out and she joined me for my trip. My conference was three long days, but we managed to fit a lot in during off hours.

Highlights:

  • Catching a couple of jazz shows casually
  • Visiting the oldest pharmacy in the US, now sponsored as a museum by Walgreens
  • Taking a plantation tour and being incredibly satisfied that our tour guide was a black man dressed in killer period appropriate costume.
  • Introducing my mom to grilled oysters
  • Going back several nights later to eat more grilled oysters 🙂
  • On the final day we lucked out with a private cemetery tour. I saw Nicolas Cage’s future tomb, y’all. There are lipstick kisses all over it, and I think they’re probably Nicolas Cage kisses.
  • Accidentally sitting at the VIP lunch table and meeting some famous Ruby folks. All incredibly friendly, of course.
  • Drinking hurricanes with my mom at Pat O’Briens

Lowlights:

  • Literally walking face first into a metal pole and bruising my face.
  • Being hungover from hurricanes

Thanksgiving: Birthday with Bae in Mexico City

When I think about it now, celebrating my birthday in Mexico City was a series of unfortunate events. I broke a tooth. Ryan got food poisoning and was in bed for a day and a half. The internet at our AirBNB died. We waited 45 minutes in line to pick up our lucha libre tickets only to learn that we were in the wrong line and needed to wait another 45 minutes in another line. Our airline pilots went on strike the day of our flight home. And yet… I was so determined to have a great birthday that I think I willed myself into letting it all slide. We made it through each shitty roadblock and I’m just left with really happy memories of Mexico City. It’s a great place. Putting it up there with Barcelona on my list of personal happy places.

Highlights:

  • Coming back to the apartment everyday and being greeted by the kitty of the house. She would follow us upstairs, run ahead and rush into our apartment, and then immediately start meowing for food. On the final day she lucked out and got some tostadas from the super fancy ContraMar. On that day we also learned that that our cat friend had a sister!
  • My first Lucha Libre match included a Trump worshipping badguy. I learned that Mexican grandmothers can be rather salty when it comes to their wrestling.
  • The Museum of Torture. Cruel, but fascinating.
  • Eating tacos on the street.
  • Going to the CDMX equivalent of a Denny’s
  • Climbing pyramids 🙂
  • Cramming into the local bus back home from the pyramids, and getting to stand at the very front of the bus, right behind the window. It felt like we were flying down the freeway, especially since our young and attractive bus driver was blasting EDM. He had good taste, BTW.
  • Visiting the most amazing public library I’ve ever seen. People actually come here and study, folks!
  • Rushing to the famous 24 hr churro place at 6am before heading to the airport, only to find the one employee hiding in the back of the kitchen, sleeping.

Lowlights:

  • Uh, basically the stuff that I mentioned above. Ryan was really sick, and I found myself Google translating ‘stomach flu’ before I nervously headed out in search of Pepto. Also, our apartment was in a great location, but right next to a crosswalk, so we slowly went insane from the crosswalk sounds.

Palm Springs: A Different Christmas

I didn’t want to stay in town for Christmas. Palm Springs is a chill place close enough to make going out of town not a huge deal, and with Ryan’s points, we got our hotel for free. PS is about an hour away from Los Angeles, so I invited my mom to come for the holiday. She didn’t know much about the town, but I think we showed her a good time 🙂

Highlights:

  • Last time we came to Palm Spring the aerial tramway was closed. Glad we tried again. It’s an amazing view and really a technically impressive feat!
  • We visited Elvis’s house you guys
  • Saw an amazing show at The Purple Room
  • My mom played her very first game of checkers
  • Visited some great tiki bars
  • Went to see The Darkest Hour, but stumbled upon a poppin’ Auntie Mame dress up boozy movie night

Lowlights:

  • I got food poisoning. It’s not a trip unless someone gets food poisoning. This time Ryan bought the Pepto.

Some Places I’d like to go in 2018:

I’d like to do more long weekend trips, but most of the places I had in mind are pretty far, and it would probably be hard to work from home, since the time difference is drastic… Hawaii, Cuba, South Africa, Ireland, Portugal, Hong Kong, Berlin, Senegal…

Next up: Atlanta. Right.. now. Seriously, going to the airport… 🙂  Going to spend a weekend visiting Jill’s new city.

Shopping, Travel

Super Travel Bag Review Post

I’ve read far too many superlative sponsored blogger/travel mag posts for the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L travel backpack & the CabinZero ultra light cabin bag. I thought I’d add my own ‘non-travel blogger’ commentary since I don’t quite agree with review titles such as  ‘Is the Allpa the ultimate backpack for adventuring travelers?’ and  ‘A Carry on traveller’s dream bag by CabinZero.’  Once I got started, I realized that I have bought a LOT of bags since May. Might as well review them all!

I’ll be covering the following bags, with the most time spent on Cotopaxi & CabinZero, and maybe a few paragraphs each on the others:

  • Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Backpack
  • Cotopaxi Batac 16L Packable Daypack
  • OnePlus Travel Backpack
  • LeSportsac Large Weekender Classic
  • Marc Jacobs Nomad Crossbody
  • Banana Republic Ashbury Crossbody
  • CabinZero Classic 36L Ultra Light Cabin Bag

Friends of mine know that I have a weak spot for travel. And bags. So.. travel bags… well I’m helpless. I lust after backpacks, duffels and suitcases of all types. It doesn’t matter how impractical or expensive they may be, I get a little dreamy imagining using the bag on my meager 15 days of PTO/year.

In April I bought Ryan a Tortuga Air travel backpack  for his birthday (by request). It’s a discontinued model from a few years back, but it was available on Amazon at the time.

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Backpack

Perhaps because I was googling about for more info on the Tortuga Air, I received a Facebook ad for the crowdfunding campaign for the Cotopaxi Allpa travel backpack. 

I’m wary of crowdfunding campaigns, mostly because it takes forever to get your stuff. The Allpa didn’t seem totally right for me (looked too unstructured, needed more pockets), but I went ahead and bought it anyways since I was curious. Well, I’ve taken it on two trips now (New Jersey in July, and I just got back from Morocco), so I think I’ve used it enough to give a thoughtful opinion on the pack.

Pros

There are actually a lot of pros. When I received the bag, I was impressed with how well made and sturdy the bag was. Usually my first test of a backpack is to check the zippers. The zippers were huge, which was a plus for me.

Other nice features included 4 padded handles on each side of the bag, for easy carrying. The diagonal webbing on each of the 4 corners of the front of the bag is strong enough to use to pull/carry the bag (um not that it’s supposed to be used that way… just sayin’). Most of the zippers are lockable, and they also have a theft proof webbing sewn across the openings, which is super simple in design, but will slow down any thieves on public transport.

There was a separate zippered compartment for laptops & iPads, which is kind of a must have for quick travel through airport security. There was also another zipper on the other side of the pack lengthwise, which allows you to quickly grab things from inside the main compartment without unzipping the whole clamshell.

Laptop compartment. The yellow pocket with the velcro strap is for iPads/Kindles

Other pros:

  • Ethically made
  • Not a super light bag, but a reasonable weight 3.7 lbs
  • Design looks less ‘backpacker-y’
  • Clamshell opening, like a suitcase (not necessarily a pro for me, but something a lot of people look for in a travel backpack)
  • Perfect size for airline carry on (even fits under the Vueling Airlines seats) – 20″ x 12″ x 8″, or 51 x 30 x 20 cm (well within the usual max carry on limit of 55 x 40 x 20)
  • Includes a rain cover
  • You can hide the straps and hip belt, making it easier to stuff into overhead bins or tight spaces.
  • For the quality of the bag, the price is right. Cotopaxi also recently sent me a recall notice for my bag, claiming that the TPU coating was incorrect. I’m about to send it back for a replacement, which is awesome. They seem like a really legit company.
  • Fits a ton!
Everything I packed in my Allpa for Morocco, including the green CabinZero bag, filled out about 80% of the space

On to the CONS

To be fair, most of my cons I saw coming.

Problem #1: STRUCTURE

Cotopaxi said that they created their pack to be sleek on the outside with no protruding straps or other features so that the bag wouldn’t get snagged on anything. The bag is also fairly formless so that you can stuff it to the max, and then cram the bag into all sorts of spaces. This is good for flexibility I guess, but it naturally leads to my biggest complaint: with no compression straps, this bag is super floppy. It needs more structure.

The easy access front top pocket

The interior of the bottom half of the clamshell includes straps to tie down your items, but it’s really the front of the pack that is the problem. The easily accessible pocket is on the top of the front clamshell (where you might keep your keys, wallet, passport, drink, etc), and it goes halfway down the front. It’s quite large – my brown leather bag pictured above fully packed could fit in this area. Unfortunately if you put a lot of stuff in the top pocket, you will need to pack things in the bottom of the front clamshell, otherwise, the top sags in and the weight distribution is terrible and uncomfortable. The bag really encourages you to pack it to the max, which is annoying. For most trips, I just don’t pack enough to warrant using this bag.

Another small con – the zippers are large and chunky (yay), but there is a noticeable space between them (boo). Not a huge problem if you use your raincover when it rains, but if you don’t have it on you, your bag could let water in.

From the side you can sort of see how the straps make the back panel of the bag lumpy. Also I threaded a compression strap through the back panel to tighten things up a little.

One bigger annoyance was that hiding the shoulder and hip straps was not totally smooth. It lead to a lumpy back panel.

Personal wish – I wish there were a built in water bottle holder! Cotopaxi sells an accessories kit that includes a water bottle holder that attaches to the outside of the bag, but I don’t really like the look of it. It’s been nearly 4 or 5 months since I bought the bag, I am still waiting for my accessories kit from Indiegogo, so no comment on how well the attachment actually works.

Big downside of the suitcase/clamshell design – It can be tricky to access items on the go. You really have to be strategic about where you place things, and make sure that you zip the internal zippers so that you can reach them when you have your hand stuffed in the middle of the two halves. In general this suitcase like design worked ok for me, but there were several times that I had to place my bag down on the floor and open the entire clamshell to find things/put things back. Awkward.

The biggest con of this bag for me is personal fit- this bag is not for short or skinny people. When I tried to use the hip belt, the back of the bag sagged and rode on my butt, which was incredibly uncomfortable. When I pulled the shoulder straps as tight as possible, I couldn’t use the hip belt. To keep them out of the way, I tried hiding them in the back panel, but it was lumpy and uncomfortable. The torso was just too long for me (I’m Five two with a 16″ torso).

I also had my friend Jill try the bag, and she was too skinny to use the hip belt on the very tightest setting! It seems to work okay for Ryan, which is no surprise, it was probably built for someone of a more average height/size.

Oh, another thing about the hip belt. The zipper (the blue line in the pic below) … I’m not sure what that pocket was for, since the opening was so tight. Maybe you could slip a key in there? A card? Certainly not a passport or a keychain, or even a chapstick. Seems like a waste. Making this pocket more 3 dimensional like the Tortuga Outbreaker would have been a more functional choice.

The tightest setting and no bueno
The right sized person for this bag apparently

After about two weeks of travel with this bag, I can say that if you’re smart about your packing, you can get around the problems I mentioned above. Don’t put super heavy stuff on the top front of the clamshell and don’t put lighter things on the bottom of the front clamshell. I bought a luggage strap off of Amazon and used it to compress the empty space. It’s not perfect, but it helps a bit. Know where you put your items so you don’t look like an idiot rummaging through your splayed open bag on the side of the street (ahem..).

My review sounds slightly negative, but I mean you can’t compromise on fit. I may sell this bag, we’ll see. In general this bag has way more pros than cons, and carries a ton of stuff gracefully.

Verdict: Buy if you’re not skinny or short

Cotopaxi Batac 16L

The Allpa was sold to me in a bundle with the Batac 16L, which they were marketing as their ‘stowable daypack.’ You can’t choose the color of your pack, the line is ‘del dia’, which means that the Cotopaxi sewers in the Phillipines have creative control. They use whatever fabric they like to make you a bright and crazy looking bag. I had been interested in getting an REI Flash pack, and this bag design seemed quite similar.

Quick take: I LOVE THIS PACK. It was totally unexpected. It is an obnoxiously ugly bag and doesn’t have as many pockets as I’d like, but geez I love it. It has double water bottle holders! The straps are super comfortable, despite being so thin. The ripstop fabric makes the bag light as air yet sturdy.  This bag can actually handle my beast of a work laptop, but it’s really  more suited for the beach and light hikes. It’s quite water resistant, handling a downpour in New Jersey easily. If I didn’t want to use a crossbody bag in Morocco, I would have taken this bag. The only con I can say about this bag is that the inside phone pocket is sewn in sideways, which doesn’t work for me. My damn phone just falls out.

Verdict: Buy

ONEPLUS TRAVEL BACKPACK

After our trip to NJ in July, Ryan read a review which is basically a love letter to the new OnePlus travel backpack. He ended up purchasing the bag in the grey, orange, and blue colorway. Once it arrived, he was immediately disappointed in the quality and comfort of the bag, so he decided not to use it all and gave it to me.

Let’s be clear, this bag is not the backpack from the heavens, as described by The Verge. However, it is a nice little work backpack. I’ve been using it since July, and it has so many pockets! I think they said 12 pockets. Twelve!!!

Cons: The bag material varies by color, and the grey’s fabric doesn’t feel great. The rectangular body of the bag is very stiff. There is lots of foam padding, which gives the bag a boxy shape that isn’t really compressible. The shoulder straps are not very comfortable either. Also the zippers have a hard time going around the corners, they get stuck quite often. The water bottle pockets on both sides lie flat, so when you put a bottle in, it eats into the interior space of the bag.

Basically this bag is like a more rigid version of the Timbuk2 Parkside backpack, which is one of my all time favorite work backpacks (also good for travel, as I took it to Myanmar). I’d suggest that you get that bag instead. It’s cheaper, lighter, and a more flexible bag.

Verdict: Skip it

LeSportsac Large Weekender

I was looking for a lighter replacement for my Kate Spade Saturday Weekender bag, which has gotten a bit gunky from ~5+ years of on and off use. LeSportsac duffels are pretty popular, and I used to give women carrying these side-eye because they’re pricey for what they are. But my aunts have given me LeSportsac cosmetic cases that are now going on 15+ years strong, so I took a chance and bought a used red and tan large classic weekender off of the resale site Poshmark for about 30 bucks.

This bag is so simple, but so good. It’s LIGHT, and has 4 pockets around the outside. There is no inside pocket on this version, but there is one on the more expensive ‘CR weekender’ model. The shoulder strap is actually very comfortable. Overall the bag is moderately waterproof.

Another major plus of buying one of these bags is the cute prints. LeSportsac actually has an archive of their prints, it goes pretty far back! The bag that I got is from 2005, and it includes a little key that locks the zippers shut. I don’t think that’s a feature of the modern bags. Recommended prints: Rifle Paper Company’s Rosa print & any of the Nintendo bags.

The only con that I can think of is that this bag is very expensive for what amounts to a nylon bag, but hey just buy one on eBay, and problem solved.

Verdict: The hype is real. Buy one used, they last forever.

Marc Jacobs Nomad crossbody

I considered using this bag as a travel day bag, but really I bought it for regular Fall use. This bag is from a few seasons ago, and I was lucky to score a brand new one off of the resale site Tradesy for less than half the original price. Buying purses secondhand is the best, since handbag lovers baby their bags, and are fickle, meaning they tend to sell off their bags when they are bored with them.

The bag comes in two sizes, I chose the larger. It holds more than I thought – a wallet, snacks, a can of coconut water, a book, phone, iPad, light cardigan, etc. If you have a DSLR, no it’s not going to hold that, but in general, perfect for a day of sightseeing. While this bag is a crossbody, I think it also would work pretty well in a variety of situations. It’s not too casual.

Cons: This bag is heavy. It could be too much for all day. Not sure if it’s my bag, but the hardware sometimes squeaks, which is grating. The saddle bag construction means you have to pull open the entire front flap to get at your stuff. Also, the zippered front flap itself is a pocket, but mostly useless and awkward. It’s a good hiding spot for flatter items.

Verdict: Cute, but not the best for travel

Banana Republic Ashbury convertible crossbody

When I originally bought this bag ten years ago, the salesperson mentioned that the collection’s designer came from Coach. Can you see the influence? Maybe in the hardware and thick tanned leather, but I dunno.

I ended up loving this bag to death. I then sent it off to a pleasant afterlife with Jill. While looking at travel bags, I remembered this bag, and decided that I needed it in my life again. So after a quick search of eBay, it was mine for $40. Needless to say, when Jill saw me again in Morocco with this bag in tow, she was confused, but delighted. She knew it was a great bag too.

Great for days out walking around town, also an ideal in flight bag. 2 outside pockets, 3 inside, along with a key fob. Fits ipad/notebook/wallet/phones/etc, but most importantly, sangria!

Pros:

  • Converts between shoulder bag & crossbody
  • Beautiful thick leather that is also quite tough,  preventing a slash and run theft
  • Outside pockets are big enough for the plus size iPhone, S’well water bottles & sangria!
  • Interior holds a lot, has 3 pockets and a key holder

Cons:

  • Only real con… with all the leather, this bag is heavy. With the thicker shoulder strap, it’s more manageable than the Marc Jacobs bag.

Verdict: Buy it if you can find it 😀

CabinZero Classic 36L Ultra Light Cabin Bag

Girl that bag is too big for you.
Love the color and the flag patches, wish they made it in 36L

Okay, last but not least – I stumbled across this bag when doing some online carry on backpack “research”. Basically I was shopping. Because I love bags.

It didn’t take much googling before I ran into CabinZero. CabinZero has mounted a fierce travel blogger campaign over the past few years, so there’s lots of positive reviews out there.

I really love the travel philosophy behind this brand. I mean, I don’t think I’ve checked a bag in 10 years, and backpack all the way!  Looks wise, I thought the bags were kind of cute in a basic way.

They happened to sell them in the Barcelona airport (where I had a layover), so I bought one on a whim. I folded it up, and it easily fit in one of my Allpa compartments.

CabinZero’s flagship bag is the 44L, but when I tried it on, it looked utterly  ridiculous on me. Since I already have a hard time filling my 35L Allpa I was torn between the 28L & the 36L, but they had the 36 in green, so I went with that. It looks smaller than the Allpa, but surprise surprise, it fit all my stuff! I think we can all agree however that the packing shown below is something of a hot mess.

Fully packed from the side

Pros

  • The bag will fit strict international airline carry on standards. The 36L even fits Spirit Airline’s personal item dimensions.
  • They are simple and light bags. This one was about a pound and a half? The lightness is super helpful for international flights with low carry on weight limits of 5-10kg (11-22 lb).
  • The price is quite reasonable for a travel bag.
  • Ethically made, yay no sweatshop guilt.
  • The inside is fully lined in a contrasting color, a nice touch.
  • The zippers are also super sturdy and feel smooth to zip.
  • You can use the smaller versions as daypacks at your destination. You won’t feel like you stick out so much compared to wearing the Allpa or a hiking style backpack.
  • The bag has a panel opening, meaning quick and easy access.
  • They include a special international tracking tag from a company called Okoban so that you can find your bag if it is lost. I’m including this as a Pro, but to be honest, it relies on the person who finds the bag to have internet access, be able to read English, and to WANT to return the bag to you, so uh… it’s kind of worthless, really. I don’t think you would get your bag back any easier than including your email on a luggage tag, or writing your info on the side of the bag in Sharpie.

Cons

  • I still want a water bottle holder…
  • A waist & sternum strap would be nice. These are included on the military version, which only comes in the 44L size.
  • Back padding could be more robust (it is on the military version…)
  • The bag includes 2 handles, one on the top and one on the left side. The handles have a cushioned strap which is nice, but it seems a little extra for the day to day. I think the Allpa does carry handles way better, and there’s 4!
  • The air mesh straps remind me of my Topo Rover backpack. They are not smooth against the skin, and make slightly crunchy sounds when you press down on them. These straps are comfortable during regular wear, but the annoying thing is that when I wear straps like these with a tank top, the straps are scratchy, dig into my shoulders, and my skin can bruise – I get ugly red bruises all over my chest and shoulders. That is a major con for me, but your mileage may vary. Just don’t wear tank tops.
  • Like the Allpa, this bag is meant for maximum space and flexibility, meaning that this bag is mostly a large floppy rectangle. The bag has compression straps, but if you look at photos of this bag online in use, the bag is either completely stuffed square, or it’s flop city. Why the hell do I keep buying these floppy ass bags? When will I learn? Where is my dream bag?
  • There are 3 pockets, one on the front and 2 on the back of the front panel. Meh, not enough pockets.
  • The laptop section is not padded, which keeps things light, but offers minimal protection. It’s also hell to get your laptop out at security.
  • The inside is one big cavern. You’re going to need to use packing cubes.

This bag’s shape and general features reminds me of my Kelty Captain backpack, which is super durable, has more pockets and organization, much comfier straps, has chest/waist straps, and also is ‘cabin-sized’ (but unfortunately much smaller). It’s such a great backpack. I have packed it as my ‘go bag’ in case of earthquake, but normally I use it once a week for grocery shopping.

I was not totally in love with the CabinZero when I bought it, nor when I inspected it further after getting home from the airport. I would have returned it under normal circumstances, but I couldn’t since I bought it in Barcelona, and the salesclerk ripped the tags off – rude!

I’ve gotten the chance to use this bag on a couple of dogsitting trips (2-5 days) & as a work backpack. The bag has grown on me a little. The comfort is better than I’d predicted based on the straps, and the compression straps really make it doable as a daypack. I can see this as being a good no brainer bag for people who pack too much. I will probably use this bag as a weekend trip bag, and use the Allpa for trips where I’m packing more or heavier.

Verdict: Buy it if floppy bags don’t piss you off.

Anyways, I hope this post has been helpful. I’m still on the hunt for the ‘perfect travel backpack.’ Looking at the Minaal Carry On 2.0 (sleek looking and so many pockets, but too pricy and travel specific), Osprey Fairview (fair price, they have XS packs, rave reviews from everyone, but kind of ugly, and the laptop section is the front of the bag and not flush against the back, which is stupid),  Gregory Border 35 (looks kind of like a Minaal copycat for a cheaper price- love Gregory bags but I know them mostly as a hiking pack company) and the Tortuga Outbreaker 35 (also rave reviews, but geez it’s expensive AND ugly too).