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Thread: Help a traveling mom, please!

  1. #1
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    Help a traveling mom, please!

    Hi there-
    I am in the process of making some decisions about the perfect carry-on for an upcoming trip to Australia/NZ with my family. I hope you can help me...I am am mom traveling across the world with 3 kids, so needless to say we'll have a lot of "stuff" that needs to be carried on the plane - plus I need my hands free. Can you help me figure out if the Tri-Star is the right bag and what I would need to complete the purchase.

    The requirements:
    tote style bag that can be carried as a backpack
    able to access it from the space in front of my seat without difficulty - but also easy to pack
    able to hold a laptop and/or tablet with keyboard & mouse & a kindle, plus all the power cords for those and iphones with adapters
    child's headphones
    passports & other travel documents
    books, toys, stickers, crayons, pad, - other activities for a 4yr old
    snacks, snacks & more snacks
    2 canteens/water bottle style
    small blanket, small pillow
    change of clothes
    some toiletries - contact stuff, toothbrushes, paste, brushes, deodorant, pills
    snacks, snacks & more snacks
    I am a little overwhelmed with figuring our all of the packing cubes/pouches/stuff sacks/ that might work best for what I plan to pack or how to best use the space. Can you offer some advice or guidance?

    Thanks!

  2. #2
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    I think a Tri-Star would be seriously overkill for what you're describing. (I'm hesitant to dissuade anyone from buying a TS, as I love mine, but it's often my only bag (or main bag) for a week of travel. Most of the things you're describing aren't terribly bulky; even a Western Flyer seems a bit large.

  3. #3
    smj
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    What are the kids ages (I see the reference to a 4YO, but please tell me you're not doing this with 4YO triplets )? Will they be carrying anything themselves?
    Black/Wasabi SCB + Navy/Solar Aeronaut + Black/Black/Steel Zephyr + Black/Wasabi Co-Pilot + Black/Wasabi Pilot + several accessories...

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    Jwalker, welcome. I agree with the others that while the Tri-Star is an amazingly great bag (I use if for week long business trips with 2 suits) it's overkill for your purpose. I think a backpack like the Synapse 25 will hold everything you need and works perfectly for the "hands free" requirement of yours. It will also make a great day bag when you are at your destination. A messenger bag like the Ego will also work if backpacks are not to your liking. An assortment of pouches / cubes will make organizing your items a snap... consider color coding the pouch & key strap to make life on the road easier (e.g., 1 color for snacks, one for toys, one for electronics, etc. or 1 color for each child's items) For snacks I actually recommend ziplock bags... inexpensive and keep food fresher. Good luck with your search for the perfect bag!

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    Welcome Jwalker! As the mother of 8 kids, I totally, 100% get the importance of having certain things immediately accessible

    Are you planning to have the main carry-on or are your kids going to be carrying on their own?

    If each kid will have their own carry-on, I would recommend the Synapse 19 for each. This would accomodate individual snacks, games/books, and a change of clothing for each. They could use these as daybags once you reach your destination.

    If you're looking for one main carry-on that you will be in charge of, I personally would recommend either the Western Flyer with backpack straps or the Smart Alec backpack. Both of these would fit under the seat in front of you and both of these would fit the items you listed. How you like to pack- by kid or by "activity", whether you like things a little more externally organized (the WF) or whether you prefer a large space you can organize (the SA), etc. will dictate which of these is a better fit for you.

    If it were me- and obviously everyone is not me - I would pick the WF with backpack straps. The large horizontal zippered openings are very convenient for quickly reaching items and it can be used as a backpack or not. Plus, you can use a WF packing cube backpack and a packing cube shoulder bag to pack some of your items. Once you reach your destination- ta daa- you don't have to cart around the WF on daytrips if you don't want to!

    Anyway, just my 2 cents...good luck!

  6. #6
    Volunteer Moderator tpnl's Avatar
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    Hello Jwalker

    I am sure the Tri-Star will meet your needs very well but there may be other "under the seat" accessible bag options that might better meet your need. The Tri-Star, while excellent, is not always the best to get items in an out of while still leaving it under the seat. There is a picture of the Tri-Star under the seat for your reference in the link below:

    Tom Bihn Tri-Star Review | Loaded PocketzLoaded Pocketz

    Note: I do not have kids but I do observe my friends with kids and what works for them and what does not. My thoughts are based on that and what I know of the functionality you are asking from the bags you purchase. If nothing else, I hope the links are useful )

    It looks like you need a bag that is easily accessible under the airplane seat that will carry everything you would need on the flight to take care of your 3 kids and yourself. Also, it looks like it would not be your main clothing bag and would be more like a personal carry-on. If that is the case, what about an Ego / Super Ego with the Q-Am shoulder strap that makes the bag carry like a backpack if needed or a regular shoulder strap? Below is a video where someone used an Ego as a "Diaper Bag":

    Tom Bihn Ego Messenger Bag Review - YouTube

    I am sure one of the Egos could easily hold the items you have listed and have them very organized (there are many zippered slash pockets and elastic mesh pockets to pack things you really need). Clothes / laptop stuff / flatter stuff could go in the main zip compartment with a few packing cubes and the front are could hold all the toys - this area is a very large and can hold more than you would expect. I carried my lunch, breakfast in 1.5" - 2" thick containers, camera, phones, adapters, etc all in that area. What I like most is the Slash pockets and elastic mesh pockets in front that I can acesss things without opening the flap. Both bags are at the upper limit of the personal Carry-on so if you pack so the bag is thicker and not as tall (at least for when they put your bag in the sizer), you should be fine. Below is a link to what TB bags fit what carry-on types:

    United Airlines

    Now, no matter what your choice, I think some good things to get would be those items that do double duty:
    1) Packing Cube Shoulder Bag (PCSB) or Side effect (SE). Make sure you get some Double Carabiner clips from the Parts section. The PCSB can double as a small / medium packing cube. With the SE, you may even get away with it being a third carry-on if you put it on your waist and hide it under a jacket (the PCSB with a waist strap attachment will do the same thing). There is also a neat way you can hook the SE (and I think the PCSB) onto the backside of the airplane seat to keep all your really quick access items. See the link below:

    Side Effect + S-Biners as seat pocket bag

    BTW - thank to Ms. Ferret for posting such a great picture. I think that she has a Western Flyer under the seat in front of her - similar to the configuration you were envisioning.

    2) If getting a Tri-Star, get a Packing Cube Backpack (PCBP) for the Tri-Star / Western Flyer. Use it as a packing cube for travel and a quick backpack for touring
    3) Get some Yarn Stuff Sacks (see the Knit section) - to easily identify what is in them, you can either color code with different Dyneema colors or maybe get the clear bottomed versions. I suggest the Yarn Stuff sacks because they have a O-ring clip as well which TB products use to help with organization. If you do not need this, go for the regular Travel Stuff Sacks. You could also color code them for each of your children so they have their own unique Stuff Sack.
    4) The Travel Tray is good to put things in or keep toys a bay
    5) Get some small / medium packing cubes if you need more compartmentalized clothes but for what I see on your list, the Stuff Sacks may be more versatile for odd shaped objects

    I am sure others will add many more good suggestions because there are many ways to use TB products!

    Finally - one last question - any reason you have not looked at a full backpack like the Smart Alec or Synapse 25? The Smart Alec with it's 'tin can" type opening would make it very easy to access things. The Synapse 25 has many accessible pockets to hold things separately for your kids as well. You could get a PCSB or a Swift to fit inside when travelling and to somewhat meet your requirement to tote stuff when not using the backpack.

    Hope this helps

    Cheers!
    Last edited by tpnl; 04-23-2014 at 10:23 PM.
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  7. #7
    Nli
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    Just returned from a trip where I was with several colleagues in business class for 7 hours, surrounded by a family with 6 kids aged 3, 4, 4, 6, 8, 8 (two sets of twins). We all think: "oh man! gonna be the worst trip ever!" Every child had their own (big!) backpack, apparently stocked with their own choices of foods, toys, books, etc. Excepting the youngest child the rest were completely self-sufficient, carried everything they needed themselves, clearly experienced travelers, all remarkably well behaved, well mannered, read a lot and slept. There was never any digital device in sight (oldest ones did watch a couple of in-plane movies). Mom and dad sat together with the youngest and almost completely ignored the other kids. Our final impression: why didn't these people raise our kids???

  8. #8
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    @Jwalker The Tri-Star is a great general-purpose piece of luggage, but not a bag that I use for easy under-the-seat access. Here's a post picturing how the bag can look fit under the seat in front, in the case where there is no A/V box:

    A forum member posted this picture as part of a reply to someone asking whether a Tri-Star could fit under the seats of Southwest. I can fit a Tri-Star under the seat in front of me in the window seats of interisland carriers like Hawaii Airlines, where the available space is only 60% as wide, but in practice I would place this overhead.
    ETA: This picture differs from the picture in the Loaded Pocketz review of the Tri-Star that @tpnl linked in that the Tri-Star is upright under the seat, rather than flat on its side.


    There are two issues you want to deal with: (1) packing for your trip with a bag that is easy to carry and that leaves your hands free for the children and (2) getting easy access to items that will amuse your kids, hold large quantities of snacks, and that you can place in the seating area. (@jmoz the Tri-Star might be serious overkill for the clothing etc. items, but trust me, she needs storage space for the onboard items for the kids).

    How about a Synapse 25 Backpack (or Western Flyer) in combination with another bag for holding the snacks and toys? A general purpose tote like the Swift would hold everything for inflight entertainment, but might be difficult to carry while managing the children and walking (would have to be on your shoulder while you carried the Backpack). An additional small cross-body carry bag like the Co-Pilot or Pilot could work well here for snacks and toys. Another option would be to carry a Shop Bag (that is foldable) and open it up and use it to place under the seat area for easy access to items. (Shop bags have padded handles that make them easy to carry in your hand or on your shoulder, even when they are weighted down). The folded bag could go into a front side pocket of the Synapse, and be opened, and items transferred to it (from your Synapse, etc.) for easier in-flight seat access.

    Also, for easy seat access to small items, consider getting a Side Effect and a couple of double carabiner clips to hang it from the seat in front of you as shown in Ms. Ferret's suggestion (already posted by @tpnl while I was composing my reply). The only change I would make is substituting Tom Bihn's Double Carabiner clips for the S-biners that she uses -- the top and bottom sections of the Double Carabiner Clips swivel separately to better attach to the top and bottom at the optimal angle, and they are also more reliable in terms of the clip not coming undone.

    Lots of good ideas in the suggested posts. I hadn't thought of the Ego, but I think a backpack style like the Synapse is probably easier to carry than a messenger style bag with the Quick-Adjust Messenger Strap. (I like this carry option, which I use with the Imago as a cross-body bag. This would be another good combination for an easy to access bag in combination with a Synapse, because it is easy to reach under the flap. Unfortunately, this bag has been discontinued. There are rumors that another cross-body bag that knitters can use will debut soon, but probably not before you have to travel.

    HTH. moriond
    Last edited by moriond; 04-23-2014 at 11:55 AM.
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  9. #9
    Registered User scribe's Avatar
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    Another vote that the TriStar is way too big for what you want - I'm returning mine because I don't think I could carry it if I filled it! The Western Flyer is a better size, but it's designed to be suitcase-like (i.e. opening on three sides), so it's not really well suited as a bag that you're going to be constantly dipping into.

    If you don't want a backpack such as the Synapse 25, how about one of the large messenger bags recommended above, with a quick-adjust strap that allows you to wear it almost like a backpack?

    Q-AM Shoulder Strap - Quick Adjust Messenger Bag Shoulder Strap - TOM BIHN
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    I have been giving some thought to your question and your initial impulse regarding the Tristar. I don't think you're off base at all. It is a big bag, not something you'd want to use as an EDC once you arrive. But it is a very, very long trip for young childre. I initially missed your need to carry tech gear and was thinking you could devote one compartment to each kid so you weren't digging through so many stuff sacks when there is an urgent need (and what kid doesn't think his/her needs aren't urgent), but the techno gear does pre-empt using the bag that way. So, one compartment for technogear, one for clothing and travel aids, and one for toys and snacks. I would color code some Eagle Creek spectre cubes for clothing and toys: they come in orange green and white. Don't forget the jammies and lots of wipes and plastic bags. I am assuming you're on your own on this trip, so I think I understand how keeping track of 3 kids and one main carryon is plenty. If you added packs for each, you could go mad unless they're older and pretty responsible about belongings. I found that buying and wrapping little surprises was helpful on very long trips, once the bored, restless factor kicks in. Good luck and hope your trip goes well.
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  11. #11
    smj
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    jwalker, I think the TriStar could be a good fit. Here's why:
    It can be a backpack - I think this is essential for being as hands free as possible with kiddos.
    It will fit in the seat in front of you with ease. I think the aeronaut would be perfect if it was a better fit underseat (yes, it might fit, but I don't know you can count on it, and you definitely want it underseat). Alas the mini-aeronaut's release date is unclear so unless your trip is quite far out I don't think you should wait.
    It's not too big - having traveled with 2 kiddos, I think you want plenty of space for "books, toys, stickers, crayons, pad, - other activities for a 4yr old" and "snacks, snacks & more snacks", especially if one is 4YO.
    But it should be big enough for all that.
    It's not an actual backpack which means you can "over the shoulder it.

    The only hiccup is that carrying more than 1 water bottle might be a bit tricky in 1 bag, regardless of layout. If you've got 3 kids you've got 4 seats for stuff to fit under, so I might be inclined to carry the Tri-Star and have one other bag as the designated food/water bag similar to what moriond suggests. You might think about the ego with its 2 outer water bottle holders and make one of the kids carry it .
    Black/Wasabi SCB + Navy/Solar Aeronaut + Black/Black/Steel Zephyr + Black/Wasabi Co-Pilot + Black/Wasabi Pilot + several accessories...

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    Quote Originally Posted by smj View Post
    jwalker, I think the TriStar could be a good fit. Here's why:
    It can be a backpack - I think this is essential for being as hands free as possible with kiddos.
    It will fit in the seat in front of you with ease. I think the aeronaut would be perfect if it was a better fit underseat (yes, it might fit, but I don't know you can count on it, and you definitely want it underseat). Alas the mini-aeronaut's release date is unclear so unless your trip is quite far out I don't think you should wait.
    It's not too big - having traveled with 2 kiddos, I think you want plenty of space for "books, toys, stickers, crayons, pad, - other activities for a 4yr old" and "snacks, snacks & more snacks", especially if one is 4YO.
    But it should be big enough for all that.
    It's not an actual backpack which means you can "over the shoulder it.

    The only hiccup is that carrying more than 1 water bottle might be a bit tricky in 1 bag, regardless of layout. If you've got 3 kids you've got 4 seats for stuff to fit under, so I might be inclined to carry the Tri-Star and have one other bag as the designated food/water bag similar to what moriond suggests. You might think about the ego with its 2 outer water bottle holders and make one of the kids carry it .
    @jwalker More good ideas here. Do you need to access your laptop and other (larger) electronic gear during the flight? The main concern I have is in using the Tri-Star placed under the seat in front of you for continuous access during the trip, and not for its capacity or ease of carrying, especially in backpack mode, while you are walking though the airport, etc. with children. I agree with @smj that you will need to carry snacks, books, toys, etc.

    The reason for posting a picture from an earlier forum post of the Tri-Star under a seat is to give you an idea of what it looks like. In answer to @smj's question, the Aeronaut is 3 inches longer than the Tri-Star, so unless you under-pack the end pockets, so you can scrunch the Aeronaut far enough under the seat to leave the aisle clear when the Flight Attendant comes around (and you should not be sitting in an exit row), you'll have difficulty stowing this bag under the seat ahead of you. Many people do underpack the end compartments of their Aeronauts, then scrunch the bag in length when putting it under a seat. In overhead storage there are generally no storage issues even when the Aeronaut is fully packed, at least with most European airline carriers.

    But the end pockets of the Aeronaut are the sections that are easiest to access when you want to pull items out for use during the flight, so you don't want to be forced to underpack these compartments in order to get the bag to fit under the seat in front of you. (There are also some convenient tricks like being able to slip an iPad or other light tablet into the zippered back pocket where the backpack straps are stowed for either the Aeronaut or Tri-Star, but you probably won't want to do this for larger laptops above the size of an 11" MacBook Air).

    With the Tri-Star, you'll need to pull the bag out far enough from underseat to access the zipped compartments at least once. Putting items into a few packing cubes that you can quickly pull out of the main bag and then transferring them to an open Shop Bag tote (that you unfold and) that you keep at your feet can make it much easier to get to these items during the flight. You could probably even pack some of the items inside a Shop Bag inside the Tri-Star and pull it out by the handles.

    If you want more frequent in-flight access to the contents of your bag, then it's easier to access the compartments of a Synapse Backpack placed under the seat during the flight. You can unzip the top of the bag and pull out a laptop without really having to pull the bag far out from under the seat (the way you'd have to do to get to the center compartment of the Tri-Star). You could also pull out a packing cube stored inside the Synapse. It's also easy to access separate items in the side pockets and water bottle pocket, and use these to organize/store charging cables, etc., and thee bag slides easily under seat even in cases where there are A/V boxes. While it doesn't have the same capacity as the 33-liter Tri-Star, you could carry a 25-liter Synapse 25 in backpack mode and either a 10-liter Co-Pilot or 13-liter Pilot slung cross-body using an Absolute strap at your side. Each bag has a separate dedicated water bottle pocket. The picture I attached showed a Tri-Star and a Co-Pilot under a single seat. How old are the other children, and could one of them carry a small Co-Pilot? Again, the main comments are about accessing the bag contents during the flight. I'd still find it convenient to put a Shop Bag in the side pocket of a Synapse or inside the Tri-Star and keep it handy at your feet during the flight. Just some initial thoughts.

    HTH. moriond

  13. #13
    Registered User bchaplin's Avatar
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    First of all, good luck! I have cousins who did this trip with their kids (U.S. to Australia), so it is survivable.
    I would recommend a large backpack rather than the Tri-Star. It will be easier to access under your feet. As others have mentioned, subdividing the items into smaller bags that are color-coded will make it easier to find stuff. If your kids are old enough, I would suggest giving them their own small bags or packs, even if you get cheap ones from Target or someplace. (After all, they will outgrow them quickly.) Then each kid can have their most important items and they will have bags to keep their toys and clothes organized. I think that with kids, the 'spread' becomes a problem and items can get lost during the flight. And it makes your pack manageable in terms of fitting everything in.
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    No Smart Alec love?

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  15. #15
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    So much great advice! I also don't think a Tristar is overkill for what you need. I basically did the same thing, only with an aeronaut: 14 days, 3 children, 1 adult, 1 Aeronaut and a LCB

    I ended up ordering a Co pilot and using that instead of the LCB. I love it! You might also want to consider ordering a Side effect for yourself, to hook to the seat pocket. It was so handy to have hand wipes, my phone, IDs, and a couple snacks for me right there.

    Packing cubes worked for me to keep diapers/wipes/clothing organized and at the ready. My oldest son carried a backpack and his own snacks/entertainment.

    Good luck! It was a long flight with very little rest for me, and I sure don't want to do it again anytime soon, but it was worth it. And being prepared and well organized made it far more bearable.
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