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Thread: Bag Recommendations for 3 day trip to Chicago

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    Bag Recommendations for 3 day trip to Chicago

    My sister and I are taking a 3 day trip to Chicago later this month with our daughters. We'll be traveling in by train and staying downtown. We plan to do the typical tourist stuff: Art Institute, Architectural Tour, Wrigley Field etc. I plan to take my new Tristar for it's first official trip and will be doing some walking to get to our hotel. I'm short, about 5 ft even and am thinking I'll carry the Tristar some in backpack mode. My question is this: Which second bag would you recommend as my day bag...the Synapse (indigo) or the Medium Cafe Bag (plum)? Would one or the other come off less as flagging me as the tourist-girl I am?

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    I don't personally own a Synapse or any of the Cafe Bags; but I would think the Medium Cafe Bag would be the better bet. It can pass as a large purse/bag. I feel like if you're wearing a backpack with a bunch of little kids around, it might prompt people to think you as a tourist. However--if you're going around tourist sites with two daughters with you--I don't think you can avoid the touristy feel.

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    Registered User 123veo's Avatar
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    I guess that it depends on what you think you'll be carrying around with you. Are planning on taking snacks/lunch and a sweater? If so, then the synapse. If you travel light, maybe the cafe bag is the better choice. But, if you plan on shopping... I wouldn't worry about looking like a tourist either - it's more about how you handle yourself than which lovely bag you're carrying!

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    There's quite a volume difference between the Synapse at 19 litres and the Medium Cafe Bag at 8 litres. Even the Large Cafe Bag maxes out at 11 litres, so it's still quite a lot smaller than the Synapse. A trio of questions and related suggestions for you:

    (1) What do you expect to carry around in your day bag?

    - I can't talk to the Synapse but I can share my experiences with Cafe Bags. My wife and I have a Medium Cafe Bag each, and I recently added a Large Cafe Bag. The extra 3 litres doesn't sound like much, but for a full day out I find the added capacity very useful. By the way, the Absolute Shoulder Strap makes a huge difference in comfort. In winter the MCB works very well for me - I'm not outside as long each day; I have pockets in jackets or coats to carry items that may not fit as well in trouser or short pockets during summer (eg. phone, wallet, keys, etc). In summer I find I need the LCB more - I need to add a lighweight waterproof shell or another layer, a water bottle, and all the items that would have been in a jacket in winter. For reference: I'm 5'9" and my wife is 5'1"; proportionately the Large looks better on me; the Medium looks better on her. Neither is a huge bag on either of us, though.

    (2) How secure do the contents need to be? Conversely, how easy do you want it to be for you to access the bag's contents?

    - The Synapse has many pockets, and all are zippered. But I don't think any of the zips are easy to lock. To access contents in the Synapse, you'll probably need to take it off your back.
    - In contrast, the Cafe Bags have just one zippered pocket in front; everything else is open plan and the contents can theoretically be accessed without opening the warrior buckle. You can do this on the move, by sliding the bag toward your front.
    - Both bags have o-rings, and I would recommend adding a couple of key straps to your order, and perhaps one or two mini or small organizer pouches to hold items that you'd like to be a little extra secure inside your bag of choice.

    (3) During the time you're carrying both the Tri-Star and your daybag, which will be most important to carry on your back?

    - I have both the Tri-Star and the Aeronaut. I have a variety of laptop bags - traditional briefcase style, vertical messenger style, and backpack. Two backpacks don't work well together. I'm more comfortable carrying the main bag as my backpack for distances more than a few blocks, so on that type of trip my secondary bag (aka personal item) is a shoulder bag.

    With that all said - and with your trip coming up shortly - consider what you expect to carry each day. If you realize you don't need 19 litres, but you're on the fence size-wise between 8 and 11 litres, I'd suggest ordering both the Medium and Large Cafe Bags (the latter with Absolute Strap), a couple of keystraps and pouches, and see which size fits your needs better. They fold completely flat so you could even pack one. And as long as you keep the tags on and don't put the bag into use, Tom Bihn will accept a return.

    Enjoy Chicago - it's a great city to visit. I lived there for a couple of years in the late 90s and I appreciate it more now as a visitor than I did then as a resident. Take some comfortable shoes, as you're going to be doing plenty of walking.
    Enlightened traveller since 2009

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    Wow! Thanks everyone for the great response! I've visited Chicogo several times, the most recent being 12 years ago. I am also trying to take into consideration safety/pickpocket issues. (If anyone can offer more on the pickpocket thing, I'd appreciate it. Is it something to be concerned about, especially if one is wearing a bag slung across the back)? I have the wallet and several organizer pouches (including the new July 4 pouch :-). ), and plan to put them inside a zippered compartment. I already own both bags and carry the MCB as my daily bag. I mainly use the Synapse for my laptop. They are both GREAT bags!

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    My answer would be take both. Pack some things in the Synapse and some in the Cafe Bag.

    For example: Water bottle, wind breaker, sweater/cardigan, sunscreen, shopping list, chicago brochures with savings coupons, books from the place you visited and souvenirs in the Synapse.

    In the Cafe Bag, wallet, cards, id, keys, glasses, tissues, lip balm and other girl stuff,

    The two bag thing is very common in cities big enough to have commuter trains, commuters take their work bag and their personal bags with them, nowadays many bring lunch at work which requires a bag like the Synapse.
    Some people go to work then the gym, dance lessons, art class, knitting or reading groups or to school and that also requires two bags.

    The key to blend is to look like 2 or 4 girls (if you have teenagers) just out shopping.

    Plan your visits using you home computer, including directions, which you can print out as a reference at your destination in your hotel.
    If you still have problem in the street, use your phone gps, everybody is fiddling with their phones nowadays.

    Tell tale signs of a tourist: loud talks about the city visited, especially attractions; wearing home team gears; carrying tourist brochures and guides in the open (that is what the Synapse is for) and not walking with the flow, if people around you are not reacting to something on the street, do the same.

    If you girls are teens, ask them walk in front of you, at least sometime, so that you can take turn watching each other's bags and backs.
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    This forum is amazing! Thanks everyone for your great input and ideas! I'm a small town girl who has done a fair amount of traveling but not a lot with children (almost 10 and almost 7) in a big city setting. I've been trying to coach my girls but realize I can use some fresh insight too.

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    If you are visiting museums the Medium Cafe Bag may be a better choice. Recently all the members of our group with back packs, or sling packs were required to check them at the coat check.(National Gallery of Art) People had to figure out a way to carry all their valuables (wallets, phones, ipods, cameras and such). If the Synapse is a better choice in terms of what you need to carry, you may want to think about including a smaller bag in case you need to check the backpack.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dmilem View Post
    This forum is amazing! Thanks everyone for your great input and ideas! I'm a small town girl who has done a fair amount of traveling but not a lot with children (almost 10 and almost 7) in a big city setting. I've been trying to coach my girls but realize I can use some fresh insight too.
    So it is a Moms and children trip!

    For the train ride, you could empty the content of the Medium Cafe Bag in the Synapse place it inside the Tristar, rolled empty or used as a makeshift packing cube, unless you already have real Packing Cubes and carry the Synapse by the handle to make your way to your seats or cabin.

    At the hotel, unroll the Medium Cafe Bag and replace the content that was there in the first place.

    I use the Large Cafe Bag/Brain Bag pair for trips and the Large or Small Cafe Bag/Backpack Packing Cube for Aeronaute while out and about.

    Distributing things between a shoulder bag and a backpack is the most comfortable set up, in addition to comfortable shoes when any amount of serious walking is required.

    Lessons learned the hard way by this small town girl who had to trek inside big cities.


    PS: "To Catch a UV Synapse!" I don't have one yet!
    Last edited by backpack; 07-12-2011 at 02:50 PM.
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    What a great system, backpack!

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    Thanks Backpack...Great ideas...and now...another possible player...have you seen the new Cardinal/Hemp/Steel Imago? I love it!

  12. #12
    Registered User bchaplin's Avatar
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    I say, Cafe Bag, or if you need more space, the Imago. You'll stand out as tourists anyway, so keep your stuff in view rather than wearing it in a backpack, just for that extra measure of safety.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dmilem View Post
    Thanks Backpack...Great ideas...and now...another possible player...have you seen the new Cardinal/Hemp/Steel Imago? I love it!
    What is this, a conspiracy to hem... "encourage" me to add the only Tom Bihn bag I have been able to resist until now?

    You know, I think the Imago could give you the best of both worlds, roughly the room of the Synapse and the forward carrying of the Cafe Bags.

    Brilliant!


    And... thunderstorm warning in my area so no I better stop posting.

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    Well, I did it...ordered a Cardinal/Hemp/Steel Imago. I guess it's my Chicago bag!

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    Quote Originally Posted by dmilem View Post
    Well, I did it...ordered a Cardinal/Hemp/Steel Imago. I guess it's my Chicago bag!
    Nice! Make sure you post pics when you get it!
    Synapse 25 (Steel Dyneema/UV), Organizer Pouches ( Dyneema, Cordura, Cork - various size & colors), FoJ Pouch, FoT Pouch, 2011 TB Mystery gift(Cork pouch), 2012 Mystery Gift (Forest/ Steel) Pocket Pouch, Sm Yarn Stuff Sack (UV), Small Shop Bag (Steel), Large Shop Bag (UV), Various Color Key Straps, Side Effect (Steel Dyneema/Wasabi)

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