How and Why I Travel the World With Only a Tumi Backpack

Aug 13, 2019

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Back in 2013, eBags was offering an incredible 35 American AAdvantage miles per dollar spent. I decided to treat myself to some very nice luggage: an $895 Tumi expandable carry-on. That netted me by far the most expensive bag I ever owned, along with 31,325 AAdvantage miles, worth nearly $450 today. Even following several devaluations over those six years, that’s still an excellent return.

While the miles were nice to have, that purchase ultimately changed the way I travel. The rolling bag didn’t last long — it got scuffed and didn’t look great after a few uses — but I brought it to a Tumi store and promptly received an $895 credit towards anything from the company’s website.

One of those items was the Alpha Backpack (which the company has since replaced with the $525 Alpha 3) — another pricey acquisition, by my standards, but an entirely worthwhile piece of gear, especially since I had the credit to use up.

Tumi may have designed it as a roll-a-board add-on for business travelers — the handle passthrough lets you slide the backpack right on top — but since it’s so durable, I often end up filling it to the gills and bringing it on trips solo, packed full of cameras, my laptop, clothes and sometimes even a second set of footwear.

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My light load even got the attention of legendary road-warrior Rick Steves, who maybe has me beat, since he travels with his own paper guidebooks as well.

So what’s in my bag? I make some tweaks depending on which equipment I need for work and which climates I’ll be exploring — this time, I had to factor in stops in London (LHR), Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and Hawaii (HNL).

Here’s what I brought along — and it all fit, with (just a bit of) room to spare:

Of course, the big question is… “why?” I often travel in premium cabins, and wouldn’t have any problem bringing along a rolling carry-on for free, let alone a few checked bags. For me, it comes down to flexibility, whether it’s not having gear get in the way as I’m snapping away, or having the ability to board a flight last and not worry about finding a spot for my luggage — making the most of some last-minute work time at the gate, instead. A couple of wrinkled shirts seems well worth the tradeoff for me.

For more tips on how to pack light, see:

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