The Best Luggage for Long-Term Travel: My Perfect Bag

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My 32
My primary bag is an Eagle Creek Gear Warrior.

In the past, I shared about my long journey to find the best travel and camera bags. When you travel as much as I do, your luggage represents vital pieces of equipment that impact your ability to nimbly navigate a range of travel situations. 

I’ve now had this combination of long-term travel luggage—a large rolling duffel and a sturdy camera bag—for over six years and counting and my main luggage represents the best option out there for long-term travelers, or those in need of gear that will last through many trips.

Best Luggage for Long-Term Travel

Even six years in to my travels, I still hadn’t found a bag that worked well for the nature of my long-term, nomadic travels. I tried backpacks, duffle bags, rolling duffles, suitcases, large camera bags, small camera bags, and every combination thereof. I wasn’t happy.

Some of the travel luggage was too heavy (why would you make heavy gear!). Some bags were painful to carry. Some of the gear fell apart because of poor design, so the luggage wasn’t up to the needs of a long-term traveler.

By the time I decided to solve this problem once and for all, I’d owned enough failed travel luggage and camera bags to know what I didn’t want. I needed bags that avoided all the bad things, and maybe even offered some extras I didn’t know I needed. 

I narrowed down my initial search to travel luggage from three companies offering and three nice bags that ticked all the boxes :

I eventually settled on the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior. And, for the record, there were no freebies involved. I paid full price for this travel bag and i represents the most money I have ever spent on luggage.

But after six years of traveling around Europe, the Middle East, Central American, and the Caribbean—not to mention Antarctica, Africa, and Central Asia—I can report that this is, in fact, the best travel bag I’ve ever owned. 

Review: Eagle Creek Gear Warrior, the Perfect Travel Bag

  • Quality construction. When you’re a long-term traveler, you want a bag that can take a lot of abuse on trains, planes, and buses. The cloth on my Eagle Creek duffel has been scuffed, which is to be expected for any bag which is thrown about by airport baggage handlers. However, there hasn’t been so much as a single loose thread on the bag. I have dragged the wheels several kilometers across cobblestone, and the rugged tread is still in great shape six years later. The zippers are heavy and have never caught on anything, gotten stuck, or broken. My one minor complaint was a handle that loosened, but I managed to tighten the screw on my own. If I couldn’t though, Eagle Creek offers a “No Matter What” Warranty that would have allowed me to easily fixed it as well.
  • Soft-sided with support. My luggage before this one was also a duffel bag with wheels, but it would flop and collapse if the bag wasn’t totally full. When I pulled the partially-full bag, the bottom would slump to the ground and drag. My Gear Warrior  bag has support on the bottom and sides to prevent it from flopping about, and I’ve never once encountered this issue with it.
  • No unnecessary pouches or straps. One problem I always have with bags is that they have extra side pockets and straps that only serve to get in the way. The Gear Warrior has two compression straps on the outside, and that’s it. An elastic cord lets you attach items to the exterior of the bag, as well, but that easily tucks away, meaning if you don’t use it you never have to see it. Without all those extra toggles and straps, I lessen the odds of catching my bag on a conveyor belt or a car door.
  • Unique design. Design is a tiny thing, in the long run, but it’s a thing nonetheless. When my luggage comes off a conveyor belt at an airport, I want to spot it right away. I also don’t want anyone else thinking it’s their bag. I purchased a yellow version of the rolling duffel (there are blue and red versions too), and the color—coupled with the unique design—means there is almost certainly never another bag like mine on that flight.

When picking out a new piece of luggage, it’s hard to purchase one online without seeing it first. I took a gamble when I bought this, but it paid off. 

Given how much I travel, when I bought the bag I assumed that I would need to replace it within a year. That was a gross underestimation of this great bag. After six years of travel, it’s still in great shape and I have no plans to replace it any time soon.

All in all, the price paid was not a bad deal for the thing that held all my stuff in the world for many years.


Review: Timbuk2 Espionage, the Best Camera Bag

The Timbuk2 Espionage which I am currently using
I currently use the Timbuk2 Espionage camera bag on my long-term travels.

In addition to my primary luggage detailed above, I travel with a computer/camera bag. I check my primary bag  at the airport and carry my camera bag on the plane with me. My camera bag also acts as my primary day pack when I’m out exploring a place, so I need it to contain many of the same elements found in my beloved Eagle Creek duffel. Why?

Well, my camera bag takes more abuse than my main bag does because I use it every day. Like my main bag, I’ve been through multiple camera bags over the years. I’ve had full blown professional camera bags, shoulder bags, and messenger bags.

I’ve used a Lowepro camera bag—usually rated number one for camera bags. It was actually a fine bag, but like other camera bags I’ve had, it had way too much padding. The Lowepro camera bag would only fit in the overhead bin on a plane if I smashed the padding together and squeezed it into place. It was big and bulky. If I was traveling to photo shoots in a car, it would probably be the bag I would use all the time. But as a long-term traveler, that’s just not the reality of life on the road.

Having gotten sick of carrying a bulky bag around the world, I tried Timbuk2 Sleuth bag (no longer available). I wasn’t quite happy with the Sleuth—it was just a bit too small and it didn’t hold up to a trip to Italy. 

As luck would have it, when I returned to the states I was gifted a different Timbuk2 camera bag!! A friend had recently purchased the Timbuk2 Espionage based on a recommendation from Techcrunch, but it was too big for his needs.

Turns out, it’s the best camera bag I’ve used so far—even six years later, I’m still using and loving this Timbuk2 Espionage (no longer available but replaced with the Timbuk2 Enthusiast).

Why I Love This Camera Bag 

  • Not so bulky. The compartment for the camera has padding, but that’s it. It protects my camera gear just as well as the larger Lowepro bag, but it’s easier to carry long-term. This camera bag easily fits in the overhead bins of even small regional planes. I never encountered issues while using it on board the propeller planes used during my Caribbean island-hopping trip.
  • No zipper for the main enclosure. At first, I thought the lack of a zipper might be a problem—almost every backpack is enclosed by a zipper. Instead, a flap closes the top of this camera bag, which I can vary the amount of room in the main compartment. I can shorten or expand the flap depending on how much camera gear I need to carry on specific trips—I don’t bat an eye adding a my drone to my kit, for example. Also, I don’t have to worry about the zipper breaking like it did on my previous bag. 
  • Perfectly sized. I carry one camera body and three lenses with me on long-term trips. I don’t need a camera bag with slots for 10 lenses and two bodies. My camera gear fits in the camera area, and my other electronics fit in the rest of the bag. This Timbuk2 bag turned out as the Goldilocks of camera bags—it’s just the right size for long-term travelers.

For the first time, I’m satisfied with my packing situation.

Both travel bags I’m currently using get the job done and don’t have any major flaws. While I’m always willing to upgrade to something better, in the six years I’ve been using the system of luggage on my long-term travels, I’ve never yet needed a change. 

Read Next: 5 Ways to Backup Photos While Traveling

27 thoughts on “The Best Luggage for Long-Term Travel: My Perfect Bag”

  1. I had a really big bag but it was soooo heavy that I hardly lifted it empty. I changed it with one form North face. It was a great decision. This one from North face is big enough and I can gather a lot of clothes in it. Thank you for sharing this article! Best regards!

  2. Great review then I got to the comments and they made me smile, the reason being is it felt like I found my tribe! For years I have been obsessed with finding the perfect luggage system to the point that my friends often tease me about it and I can feel my blog followers roll their eyes when I buy yet another bag. I do believe I have found my perfect carry-on ( http://travellingcrone.com/2014/11/27/introducing-my-perfect-carry-on/ ). Now I am working on my checked-bag so thank you for this review!

  3. I still have yet to find my PERFECT traveling bag. It really is a difficult quest. Looks like I need to take a look North Face and Osprey as I’m in need of a bag now.

  4. Thanks for this, you’re a life saver! Even after working as an international flight attendant I still struggle with finding the best bag, it just seems like such a huge job! Hopefully now I have some more insights for when I next get on the road :)

  5. I spend a lot of time analyzing, trying to understand which is the right bag… I’m more of a wheeled bag fan, because I’m a sophisticated packer and I don’t carry my house on my back like a snail :)

  6. Thanks Gary. I have been looking for a perfect bag after my one year trip in Southeast Asia in this year. 32? Gear Warrior is a good choice and I will use this one for my trip in Europe in next year.

  7. I honestly think one of the hardest aspects of traveling is choosing a backpack. I have tried so many packs and am still waiting to find the right one. The North Face bags have the most comfortable harnesses on them for me but they seem to make the bags smaller than they are marked, i.e the 45L I have only holds around 35L. Glad you found something that has worked for you!

  8. I’m a total fan of Samssonite products. They also have a softbag, that fulfils the same criteria as the one chosen by you. And I just bought a small backpack for daily use from them to replace my old one, also of them. That thing lasted for 10 years. :-)

  9. I used the LOWEPRO sling bag, which was quite convenient, fitting my gear, not so heavy on my shoulders and fitting into every trolley. However missed a slot for my ultrabook, this just sold it to a friend who was in heaven 7 for it :) and me missing it :(

  10. We used the Osprey and osprey backpacks on our RTW trip. Everything we really needed. Often left the rolling duffles in the larger cities while we small planed or trained around with the packs and came back for them. They were great. It was the compression bags and eagle creek packing cubes that kept them organized though. Still use them for everything since we have been home.

  11. I had a really good bag for ages until it wore out and have trouble finding one as good as that one. The second one looks interesting

  12. Good to know that you have finally found the bag you need. As for me, I still have to keep looking. Thanks for this review. I will keep this in mind.

  13. Thanks for the post! I find that finding the right fit is a process. I personally love Osprey because of the variety but somehow, my current pack isn’t stopping me from shopping around =)

  14. Hey Gary,

    Thank you so much for awesome post. We are from NY. We were searching for upcoming tour to Asia. Thank you for sharing.

  15. I’ve been having trouble finding the perfect backpack, and just gave up trying to find something flawless and managed to find something on sale that was still excellent. My long-term plan is simply to complain in public setting until some manufacturer caves in to my demands. It’ll happen any day now, I’m sure.

  16. Thanks Gary, We spent hours looking for the perfect bag, we are from Costa Rica and in the rainy season omg you need to have 100% waterproof gear. Thanks for the info.

  17. My primary criterion is weight. 3.8 kilos seems like a lot (although I’ve had heavier.) In the process of ditching my LowePro camera bag–same as the one you had, I think. It’s a beast.

  18. We’ll have to agree to disagree then Gary! I’ve been on the road for 10 years now and havent changed much of the stuff in my backpack (I started off with a suitcase in fact and changed over to a backpack in 2009). I just washed my backpack this week – it needed it! Safe travels, Jonny

  19. I won an Eagle Creek backpack via a donation to Passports With Purpose. I agree with your assessment of Eagle Creek. My Digi Hauler backpack from Eagle Creek is well designed, has convenient pockets, is lightweight, and is comfortable. Although not cheap by any means (retail $120), I would say this is a great long term purchase, we’ll worth the money for the occasional to serious traveler.

  20. I just go for the cheapest bag that doesnt look stupid. Bags are one of the least important things to consider when we travel and I always wonder why people spend so long picking one – go get one and get out and see the world. No time for fusspots and picking and choosing! Safe travels. Jonny

    • When you’ve been doing it for half a decade and everything you own is inside it, it does start to mater :)

  21. I was just looking for a new backpack after 10 years with my current one. Good to know you like the Timbuk2 bags, since I was really interested in them.

  22. I agree with you that finding the perfect bag is difficult. I have always been a fan of Eagle Creek products and have been considering the 22′ version of that bag.

  23. Thank you Gary for posting this. I’m about to hit the road again and was searching for a bag that I could check. I now use new MindShift rotation180° as my day-pack/carry-on/camera bag. It’s awesome but I was searching for a solution for my checked bag on my upcoming extended trip to Southeast Asia. This seems to be the ticket. Thanks for the review.

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