Lauren and I were traveling in the Pacific Northwest last week and decided to drop by Tom Bihn’s new factory / showroom to thank them in person for supporting the “Help In Your Own Way Giveaway”. We expected a quick visit but, instead, we received a full tour of the new place — personally led by Tom and by Darcy Gray, the Vice President of Tom Bihn.
When writing a review of anything, I will always try to be upfront with you about any biases I may have about a company or product — for or against.
So before I launch into this review of the other bag we brought on our Round-the-World trip — the Tom Bihn Aeronaut — I need to disclose the following:
I really like Tom Bihn.
I really like their products. I really like the people that I’ve talked to who work there. I like their “corporate ethos”. I like their customer service. I like the little red airplane on their logo1. And based on some interviews I’ve read which featured him, I think I’d probably like Tom-Bihn-the-guy as well. (Follow Up — I recently met Tom and my instincts were right: He’s a wonderful guy!)
Now that my “bias” has been disclosed, let’s move into the heart of the matter: The Aeronaut is my favorite bag for extended travel and this review will attempt to explain why that is!2
In Part One, Lauren and I were trying to find luggage that met both of our requirements for the round-the-world trip. Somewhere along the way, we also had developed our own concept of “one bag travel” — one that was a little different from the way we saw other people doing it.
Unlike some One Bag Only purists, we decided that everything we brought along should be able to fit into one bag — but we didn’t necessarily need to be dogmatic about it. If it made things more convenient for each of us to supplement our main suitcase with a couple of small bags as well, that was fine by us… so long as we could fit everything back into our main bags should that become necessary. We also both wanted something that we could carry onboard airplanes, fit into the overhead racks of trains and ferry boats, and also be sturdy enough to check if we wanted to.
But Lauren wanted a backpack and I wanted something a little less…. granola.
By unpacking my travel attitudes a bit before planning our trip, I had to face up to the fact that I had a kind of aesthetic allergy to backpacks. For me, I felt like I’d look more like an invading soldier than a respectful guest if I hoisted around some enormous, oversized pack that fellow pedestrians would have to dodge.
Was there a way to split the difference so that we could keep a low profile while moving around easily and quietly? Was there such a thing as a “carry on / backpack hybrid” that was also sturdy enough to survive as checked luggage, but didn’t make me look like I was about to climb K2? Perhaps a bag elegant and simple enough to not be out-of-place in either a nice hotel or in a hostel?
Would either of these bags be able to meet all of our needs? I bought one of each to find out.
Every one of us has assumptions and attitudes that shape how we travel, but I had never directly considered my own until I was preparing to pack up and walk out my front door for an indefinite period of time.
Once I committed to making this open-ended trip, I began to ask “What am I going to bring?” and “How am I going to carry it around?” The answers to these (admittedly First World) questions took time to figure out — but what I’ve learned along the way has actually been key to having an enjoyable time while traveling!