Traveling light takes skill. Paring down your clothes for a weekend away to a single, small carry-on is difficult enough when you're trying to avoid a checked baggage fee. But if that one bag also has to fit your laptop, a tablet and all your technology essentials, you can't just use any ordinary luggage.
When you need to fly small, there's a whole world of bags that'll hold everything you need. Here are some favorites I've been testing, many of which qualify as a "personal item." That means they'll fit under an airplane seat -- perfect for those luggage-restricting basic economy fares -- though you should check their dimensions against your airline's requirements. You may just need to gently kick them a couple of times to get them to fit.
Disclaimer: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of some of the products in this guide.
Timbuk2 might be best known for its legendary messenger bags, but it has a pretty diverse selection of bags for all uses including a whole line of travel bags.
Designed to keep you from having to check your bag whether you're coming or going, the $199 Expandable Backpack has a wrap-around zipper that increases your storage space. The price roughly converts to £150 and AU$275.
The bright blue interior not only looks good, but makes it easy to find what you're looking for fast. A side-loading padded compartment at the back holds up to a 15-inch laptop. Another slip pocket holds up to a 9.7-inch iPad.
While storage is big, it's missing a couple features others in the category have like a luggage handle pass-through, internal compression straps and a way to tuck the shoulder straps out of the way. Plus, if you stuff the main compartment full, it can be difficult to get into the organizational compartment on front.
As a bag to take you from a daily commute to a weekend trip though, this hits the spot.
One part briefcase, one part carry-on luggage, Mobile Edge's $170 rolling laptop case has a back section that opens wide with room for a change of clothes and toiletries. That price roughly converts to £130 and AU$235.
This $200 (roughly £155, AU$275) stylish expandable weekender has room for your clothes and a padded pocket for a 15-inch laptop. However, if you overpack this bag, it can be difficult to get a larger laptop in and out since it's just one big compartment. Something to keep in mind if this is for frequent air travel.
Moshi even includes a reusable wet and dry bag perfect for a soggy swimsuit or gym clothes. There's a large pocket on one side with snap closures that's crush-resistant and has a pocket to keep your phone or sunglasses safe. On the opposite side, there's a set of three drop pockets that are big enough to hold a small water bottle, umbrella or anything else you want to keep handy.
Earlier this year, I tested out North St.'s $130 Meeting Bag (roughly £100, AU$180), a simple briefcase that converts into a backpack. Inside, along with a padded sleeve for a laptop as big as a 15-inch MacBook Pro are Velcro rails, letting you customize the internal storage with its removable organizer pockets.
That little bag attaches to the front of the company's full-size backpack, making this a perfect one-two punch for a quick business trip. (But even if you opt for just the backpack, there's a suspended laptop sleeve built in.)
Constructed from tear- and abrasion-resistant Cordura with weatherproof zippers, the bag is durable and lightweight and features the same configurable organizational system as the Meeting Bag. North St. also makes packing cubes that are made to fit its bags.
There are compression straps on the outside, too, so you can let them out for more room or tighten them down when you're traveling light. The bag's shoulder straps are well padded and comfortable, but can also be tucked away to keep from getting tangled up.
It's a high-quality bag that's custom fit for your needs, however, that customization isn't cheap. Each bag is made to order in Portland, Oregon, and the bag alone is $290 (roughly £225, AU$400) without any of the organizational pockets or travel cubes. It's a tough bag, though, and can handle going from an everyday commute bag to one for weekend travel.
It butterflies open for easy packing, while external compression straps cinch it down tight. A separate 15-inch laptop compartment for your other work essentials makes getting through security a snap. I just wish Incase would use something other than black inside the bag to help with visibility.
Also, it lacks a pass-through for sliding over a luggage handle and, while it has a cushy side grab handle to carry it like a suitcase, there's no way to stow the shoulder straps. But, if this is meant to be your only bag to get through a one- or two-day trip, this'll keep both your clothes and tech organized.
There is nothing small about the $585 Radian Travel Pack (roughly £450, AU$810). Made by hand in the US, it's a 42-liter suitcase in backpack form. There are dedicated laptop and tablet compartments, and you can buy additional pockets as well as cases that attach to rails on the outside for more storage.
Though you can load it through its rolltop opening, you can also lay it down, unzip the entire front panel and open it like a sardine can. It's constructed of lightweight fabric that's weather-, abrasion- and tear-resistant. And, despite the size, it'll fit the carry-on dimensions for most airlines and commuter plane overhead bins.
Aluminum back supports and an optional waist belt help you bear the heaviest of loads. It was surprisingly comfortable fully loaded as I walked around New York with it for a day. And you can conceal its well-padded shoulder straps under a fabric panel to make it easier to put in an overhead bin or check.
This Weekender made by eBags is deceivingly large when it comes to storage. The top front compartment has a bunch of organizational pockets while the bottom front compartment is designed for your liquids and eBags, including a 3-1-1 pouch to use for them.
The bag splits down the middle. The front section is made to hold your clothes, while the back section is made for your laptop. Packed correctly, you don't need to take your laptop out when you open this up and put it through a security scanner.
Hidden in the lower back, underneath the lumbar padding, is a crush-proof garage for your AC adapter. The shoulder straps can be stashed in a pocket under the back panel padding. Not really a surprise, but eBags seems to have thought of everything when it comes to this travel bag and it's less than $160 to boot (roughly £125, AU$220).
The $130 (roughly £100, AU$180) TLS Mother Lode packs like a suitcase, but looks like an average backpack. The large front center and top compartments give you quick access to your essentials, while a front slash pocket is good for smaller items like a set of earbuds or a boarding pass.
It butterflies open to give you full access to your clothes. What you can see in this shot, is that the right section has a divider in it basically creating two packing sections to keep everything from sliding to the bottom of the bag when it's on your back. Its interior compression straps help, too.
A separate top-loading laptop compartment with a sling inside supports the weight so it's centered and not in the bottom.