The Minaal Carry-on. You could also call it a Unicorn. The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, this guy actually lives up to the hype. The Minaal is designed for travel and it travels exceptionally well. (For all of the technical specs you can go here) If you have traveled for any length of time you will appreciate a well designed travel backpack. And even if you have traveled extensively you might not be able to pinpoint what it is exactly that makes for a perfect carry-on piece of luggage.
Sleek - This is not just about looking good, though we can all appreciate a stylish bag. By sleek, I mean it is not overly encumbered by dangling straps and pouches everywhere. Those features work in the backcountry but don't play well on planes and trains.
Tough - To be fair, there was one casualty of this bag: a zipper pull. A broken zipper pull aside, this thing took a beating and kept on looking like its space age self. We jammed things in and yanked them out continually without any signs of wear or tear. It just works.
Versatile - The Minaal team likes to tout its clean design as a selling point for business people and world travelers alike. The side handle allows for briefcase carry and the clean facade exudes corporate style. Either way, it never feels out of place regardless of the setting.
Storage - The interior organization of this bag is nearly perfect. The lay flat design allows for quick packing and easy access, but perhaps its best feature is that small items can be accessed quickly by partially opening the zippers and reaching into its gloriously compartmentalized guts.
What's in the Backpack?
Eagle Creek Specter Packing Cubes: No matter the brand or style, packing cubes are like your own personal portable dresser. Think of each "cube" as a drawer. It just simplifies your travel life.
REI Stuff Travel Daypack: As long as you are careful with what you put in the top pouch, this is a great option for paring down your gear on short jaunts. There is plenty of room to take what you need for a hike or trip into a city without taking up space in your primary pack when it's not in use. This was usually packed with essentials and then packed on top in the Minaal during travel which worked out well organizationally and made it easy to access when needed.
Teva Capri Sandals: No exaggeration, these are the best sandals I have ever owned. They were instantly comfortable, versatile, and stylish - dress them up or down. I wore them all day on trail hikes in Cinque Terre and treks through the cobblestone streets of Florence without complaint.
Havaianas Slim Flip Flops: Heavier than I would have liked, but I already owned them and they did the job. Came in handy for wearing around our Airbnb's, at the pool, and down at the beach.
REI Travel Towel: Slim, soft, lightweight, dries quickly. Enough said.
Vapur 1 Liter Collapsible Water Bottle: Between this and the Platypus version that we used, the Vapur gets the slight edge for its easy to fill and clean large opening. This little feature along with the built in carabiner (it's plastic so don't rely on it) make this a stellar pickup for travel. We take these whenever we travel. They are virtually weightless and take up minimal space so even if you choose not to use it you won't pay the penalty of carrying something extra.
Sea to Summit Silk Liner: Get a silk liner. Do it. So comfortable. Breathable. Lightweight. Easy to clean . . . I could go on for days. They are the best. If you ever sleep in a sleeping bag or find your rented bed to be suspect, bust out the silk liner. They protect you and whatever you are sleeping in. Plus, if it is cold, there is an added warmth bonus of about 5 degrees. Oh, it's blazing hot out? It's the best sheet you could ask for.
Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow (Large): We both loved this guy. It was a competent lap table for reading as well as a customizable neck pillow for all manner of configurations while trying to catch some z's on awkward train seats. We even used it as a normal pillow when we couch surfed.
What's in the Big White Pouch?
Toad&Co Mallorca Dress: Best dress ever. Seriously. Super lightweight, comfortable, stretches, dries quickly, keeps you cool, and is the perfect length in my opinion. Plus, there's a hidden pocket!
Gap Chambray Shirt: A versatile layering piece that worked well in the variety of climates we encountered. Casual enough for daytime excursions but nice enough for a "fancier" dinner out.
Marmot Rain Jacket: Have had this for years. It came in good use on a rainy day in The Alps and on our departing jaunt to the train station in Lake Como when we got hit with a surprise thunderstorm.
Also: Two tank tops. Three short sleeve shirts. One short sleeve t-shirt dress. One long sleeve shirtdress. *In hindsight I could have left one short sleeve top and one dress behind.
What's in the Big Red Pouch?
The North Face Shorts: Quick drying, breathable, and practically weightless. I've owned these shorts for a long time and they have held up extremely well regardless of the situation.
Levi's Skinny Jeans: Great for the cooler weather of Switzerland but didn't get much use for the main portion of our travels through Italy. I love these jeans but could have done without them for this trip.
J.Crew Skinny Stretch Cargo: These cropped pants kept me cool and comfortable on long travel days. They are soft, have the right amount of stretch, and look good with any type of shoe.
Also: One swimsuit. One pair leggings. One beanie. Four pairs of socks. Four undies (not shown).
What's in the Travel Backpack?
Bucky 40 Blinks Mask: These allow you to "go dark" in any environment. They are lightweight and easily adjustable with a simple velcro strap. The 40 Blinks set themselves apart by raising the eye mask pads off of the eyes for a more comfortable sleeping experience.
REI Travel Stuff Daypack: See above.
REI RFID Travel Wallet: Peace of mind and protection against ID theft. Holds your passport, ID, credit cards, etc. Attach it to your belt or tuck it away in your day pack, which is what I did.
Waterfi Waterproofed Kindle Paperwhite: You might not need a waterproofed Kindle, but it sure is nice for any unforeseen situations while traveling. Plus, reading in a pool overlooking Tuscany or on the shore of the Mediterranean makes for even more stress-free leisure.
MPod Mini Stand: For non-selfie stick folks like ourselves, this tiny gorillapod was the best way to take self portraits. It easily gripped our phones and held steady for even far away timed shots.
Other Essentials: Reading glasses. Sunglasses. Moleskin journal. Pens. Ear plugs. Cowl. Headphones. Charging cables. Lens cleaner. Chapstick.
What's in the Green Pouch?
I admit I could have pared down my toiletries, but I think it was a decent effort overall.
Loofah: Yes, I brought a loofah. Luke made fun of me. But it's small, lightweight, and saves a lot of soap by sudsing things up. Was well worth it.
Roll on perfume: Travels well and makes freshening up quick and easy.
Makeup: I didn't actually bring the above makeup containers but instead put a small amount of powder foundation and blush in ziplock bags. Saved on space and hassle. Even though I only wore makeup occasionally, it was nice to have when I wanted it. The tinted SPF moisturizer became an everyday favorite for me and I appreciated the extra coverage without the fuss.
Travel sized everything else. We only took enough to get us started on our trip and when we ran out of body wash along the way it was easy to just pick some up at a local market.
What's on My Back?
Patagonia Better Sweater: This sweater really is better. Perfect for our time in Switzerland and kept me cozy on our long International flights. Can double as a pillow if you need extra cushion.
Patagonia Barely Sports Bra: I think I brought a regular bra as well but can't even remember compared to how much I wore this one. It's super comfortable, dries quickly, has good support (for a sports bra) and is cut lower in the front which is nice for a variety of tops. Definitely recommend.
New Balance 410: These puppies have trekked many different cities and were no less comfortable for this trip. Lightweight, stylish, and even squish up small enough to save on packing space.
Also: One pair running pants. One short sleeve top.
*Not pictured, but put to good use: One floppy sun hat. One twist scarf.