August 15, 2015

How To Travel As A Student (Yes, It's Possible!)


If you’re wondering who that frazzled girl at the airport was, it was probably me. You know the one -- that girl wearing three jackets, sneakers tied to her backpack, camera(s) draped around her neck, repacking her bag in the middle of check-in. Let’s just say when I came home after eight months of interning abroad in Cape Town, I couldn’t keep myself from bringing the whole country with me.

Let me give you some background before I tell you how I found the bag that solved all my problems. (Spoiler alert: it’s from TOM BIHN!)

Let’s talk Student to Student

As a student, I can relate to the “save money at all costs” deal. Why pay for an overweight bag when you can just wear all of your clothes on the plane? (A word of caution: this plan backfires when you a) exit the plane in Dubai in 105 degree heat, or b) sprint a half marathon through the Heathrow airport to make a connecting flight.)

I have slept in airports, endured the occasional 24-hour layover, and taken every mode of public transportation from rickshaw to pickup truck to save a bit of cash. Seeing the world on a budget is possible, but it sometimes means sacrificing small comforts.

When I got to college, all I wanted was to see the world. With graduation on the horizon, I realize I have spent almost as much time abroad as I have on campus in Boston, somehow visiting 5 continents and 25 countries during my time here.

How did I manage this? First, I picked a major that encouraged global experiences (international affairs). With a few scholarships and a bit of saving, I was able to study abroad twice and do an eight-month internship at a social enterprise in South Africa. 

The big reason for crossing so many countries off my bucket list is that in 2015, I was awarded the opportunity of a lifetime to travel the world as the first “Global Officer” for the president of my university (sort of like a student ambassador). No one had ever done this job before, and I was told to let my imagination run wild. My mission was to build global opportunities for students and document stories of people around the world on my blog – pretty sweet deal.

This January, I packed my bags and set off for the one place I have always dreamed of. A place that would push me to limits of my comfort zone I didn’t even know existed: India.

Packing for the Un-packable

I had no clue how to pack for this six-month journey. What do you pack for four seasons and occasions that require everything from beachwear to evening attire? After great deliberation, I did it: one suitcase, a small duffel bag, and a carry-on backpack, all at the maximum weight limit. 

After three months traveling all over Asia, I hopped over to Boston for a few days. At this point, I had lugged my 25 kg suitcase through 12 airports and many, many flights of stairs. I had endured enough silent judgment from backpackers at hostels with 1/8 of what I was carrying. Enough was enough. I shed ten kilos of unnecessary stuff and left for two months in South America to work on bringing my Spanish from “embarrassingly bad” to “mildly acceptable.”

Things were better, but I still wasn’t happy. All my zippers were stuck, my suitcase was ripping at every seam, and both of the wheels were jammed. I was stopping at home again before my final six weeks on the road and I was determined to leave again with just a backpack.

The Search Was Over

When I came across the Aeronaut 45 in my search for a sturdier replacement, I was intrigued, but I had my doubts. It was everything I was looking for, but I wasn’t sure it would be big enough for my last two months on the road.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. This bag is magical. It’s like Mary Poppin’s handbag: there is always more space. Every pocket allows for quick access to your essentials at the airport and the TB packing cubes fit snugly into each compartment like puzzle pieces. I fit 1 packing cube backpack, 1 large packing cube, and a small organizer cube, all packed to the brim in the main compartment with extra room to spare. Amazing!

I don’t know who thought about turning a packing cube into a backpack, but it is genius. Saving space, staying organized, AND traveling in style.

One of my favorite accessories is the 3D clear organizer cube. Going through airport security was a breeze and the bag even has a little hook to hang up my toiletries in the bathroom. I’ve left enough toothbrushes in hotel rooms, so I absolutely love this idea.

Travel Tips I Live By

It took some thought, but I managed to fit everything I needed into my TB bag, including two cameras, clothes for every occasion, and yes, six pairs of shoes. Here are my three golden rules for packing:

1) One of everything. Not two. One. Especially if you are traveling solo, no one will realize you’ve worn the same shirt every day for 10 days. [Laundry is encouraged]
2) De-clutter. That means taking those extra credit cards out of your wallet, cleaning out your make-up case and getting rid of all those little trinkets that suck up space. The little things make a huge difference.
3) Need or want? Can you survive without it temporarily? If it isn’t a necessity like clothes, shoes, or a toothbrush, leave it home.

You would be right to think that my experience is nothing like how normal students travel on a budget, but before this, I was in those shoes. Between this trip and many others, I’ve learned a few tricks and tips that help me save money, pack like a pro, and travel like a sane human being.

Packing aside, I will leave you with one last bit of advice that I think every wishful explorer should be mindful of. Expect to make a few mistakes while traveling and realize that no problem is ever too big. I’ve hit one or two, or ten bumps in the road, but I’ve never considered the prospect of losing a few dollars or missing a flight as a reason to stay home. While I wish you all the best on your travels, I also believe that every mishap is an opportunity to learn and reflect on who we are and what we’re made of at our core.

Cherish every experience, stay positive, and keep exploring.

Caitlin Morelli is a senior at Northeastern University who recently returned from a six-month trip around the world as Northeastern’s first Global Officer. To learn more about this unique position, visit her website or follow her on Instagram. Caitlin is passionate about social entrepreneurship and sustainability and loves discovering, cooking, and eating new foods.

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We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.