Martha and I make two trips to Europe each year, usually during what is known as the off and shoulder seasons. We like to pack light, but we have an awful lot of technology that goes back and forth with us every year. This technology includes portable drives, a DSLR camera and a pocket camera, iPads, a laptop and all the assorted cables and battery chargers that one needs to carry these days.
The type of luggage anyone carries is subject to personal preference. I prefer backpacks to wheels. They're lighter, they leave my hands free, and I can move better over cobbles and up and down stairs. Other folks have trouble carrying weight on their backs, so they choose a wheeled bag.
I get luggage to review, so I'm familiar with lots of bags on the market. The bags I carry are what I call the best, because they're the best in my eyes. Your mileage, as always, may very. So here's a short rundown on the bags I carry, and what's in those bags.
Does anyone carry a suit in a "suitcase" any more? I don't. But our main bag, the one we check in on transatlantic flights and use as a carry-on on shorter flights, is the Tom Bihn Aeronaut. It's reasonably weatherproof (special attention has been paid to the zippers), they have just the right number of compartments, the handles are well though-out so that you can pull it out of bins it's squished into from either side, and its rugged enough for rough handling. The bag will easily handle a week's clothing for one person, or 3-4 days worth for a couple.
What's not in the bag: This bag is predominantly for articles of clothing. We don't carry such things as umbrellas, for example. Europe has a unique way of distributing umbrellas. As soon as the sky gets cloudy, recent immigrants will appear out of nowhere grasping bundles of cheap umbrellas they sell to tourists who are caught without one. Now, they're not the best umbrellas in the world, but it's not like you're buying something you're going to pass on to the kids. So, if we need one, we just buy it.
Related: How I Pack to Thwart Wrinkles | Packing: Consider Your Underwear (The article is a bit tongue in cheek, but to save space in order to carry more things home, I often bring a ratty pair of jeans to wear for hiking and leave them in Europe.)
The Technology Bag
We like to keep all the technology with us on the plane and in its own space. Again, we've opted for a Tom Bihn bag, this time the Tri-star, with the same great features as the Aeronaut, but with more small compartments where we can keep all that little stuff in order. A couple of Packing Cubes keep cables, plug adapters and chargers together in the front, divided compartment. In the center we keep the laptop and one or two iPads, and in the back compartment, nearest the body when you carry it with the shoulder strap, we carry papers and a change of clothing in case they loose our checked bag. We can carry a Kindle, reading glasses, and a small USB hard drive in the three zippered compartments at the front of the bag. That's also where I keep my wallet, keys and change when going through airport security.
Other Travel Essentials in our Bags
We carry No-Jet-Lag, pills that seem to work to make the transition to our new time zone tolerable. They don't work for everyone, but we tend to stay up later and sleep better on our first night in Europe after using them.
Our pocket camera, the Canon PowerShot S100 made it to the top of our Pocket travel camera list this year and our copy is a gem. It works extremely well at 800 asa for those "inside the dimly lit restaurant" pictures I used to have to lug a big DSLR for. The 24mm equivalent lens makes it easy to use in crowded conditions or when that medieval tower is just too darned tall to get it all in the picture with a normal lens. There is a lot of information in the negatives that can be coaxed out of the RAW file, especially with the new Adobe Lightroom version 4 (check prices) imaging software (Adobe has halved the price on this version, so it's a bit of a bargain).
Of course, we have multiple large capacity storage cards for our cameras--and an extra battery. For folks who take a lot of pictures, having two batteries can save money. You see, a battery has a limited number of charges it can take before it dies. If you need to charge it every day, you use up many of those charges, even though you're not charging a dead battery. If you use a battery fully before charging it, as you can if you rely on a spare, each battery should, theoretically, last much longer.
And finally, you might not think of it, but we carry around a night light so that we don't have to switch on the bathroom light at night.