These two travel bags made an international trip almost bearable

Slogging my way through airports on the way to Europe recently, I kept telling myself that the airlines can’t possibly keep up this vice grip.

In recent years, bags have gotten smaller and smaller, and the rules and fees have gotten bigger and bigger. Case in point was a recent flight on United where my carry-on bag had to be a sliver of its former self. Fortunately, I had the Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler XT 21.50inch Wheeled Duffel which fit so perfectly in the overhead bin that I gasped a little.

Here’s the full story of my excursion.

Before I ever left, I checked the sizes allowed by United. They have small, summer, and smallest. I was pretty shocked at how the bag requirements have changed since I went to Europe just two years ago. You have to pack like an elf. I looked around and checked my email archive until I finally found the Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler, which comes in at 21.5-inches x 13.75-inches x 7.75-inches in size.

Eyeballing this bad boy and you will realize it is not nearly as deep as the size the carry-on curmudgeons at the airlines have forced us to use in the past. It’s sad, because the airline fees and tickets have not adjusted much for the fact that we can’t bring more than two pairs of pants, a few shirts, and a limited selection of socks.

On my trip, both going to Europe and coming back, I had to go through the awkward song-and-dance show where you insert the bag into a slot and see if you pass the litmus test. The bag slid perfectly into the slot with a slick ZZZZwip. I think the attendant was so in awe at this marvel of luggage engineering that she just nodded and waved the next glutton for punishment to come forward without even acknowledging my success.

The Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler has several nice perks, but my favorite is that there is a zippered pouch right at the top where you can stash your passport, keys, and any other quick-access items. The telescoping grip was rigid enough for good support while dragging my condensed clothing assortment with me in the airport, but not heavy enough to make the whole affair like towing a rock. I also really liked the material — thick enough to avoid any future tearing and my favorite color — blue.

This is only half the battle, though.

You also need a personal item that fits under the seat, so the curiously thorough flight attendants will raise an eyebrow at you for that as well. The size you need is 17-inch x 10-inch x 9-inch and the Mystery Ranch District 24 does the trick. 

Once again, this laptop bag has great protection, a place to stash keys and other personal items, and yet is not so gargantuan that the officials at the gate will officially ask you to prove it fits. In my travels, as long as personal items don’t look like a suitcase and could roughly fit under the seat, you probably won’t have to prove anything.

Overall, both bags worked wonders and got me to my destination without too much consternation. They were light enough with my gear to carry all over the EU; zippers stayed zippered, and I had no issues storing them on the flight. They made for a dynamic dup.

We’ll see what happens when airlines down-size us again, hopefully not by the time I travel to Europe again.