The BT Review: Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack
Over the course of the past year or so, we’ve aired our frustrations with skyrocketing checked-baggage fees and ever-shrinking cabin space, and it turns out we’re not the only ones feeling aggrieved. In August, bag brand Timbuk2 launched its new Never Check Collection with the aim of getting travelers through security and onto the plane without letting go of their luggage, and as avowed baggage-claim avoiders, we were eager to test it out. I loaded up the line’s expandable backpack for a recent four-night trip to Mexico City and gave it a whirl. Here’s what I learned.
With a 24-liter capacity and a wraparound zipper that offers for more volume, the Never Check Expandable Backpack ($199) is a great way to go hands-free without sacrificing space. There’s a zippered slip pocket on the front that’s perfect for a passport and a boarding pass, and behind that, another section that unzips halfway, with a wide mesh zippered insert and two smaller pockets, plus two small pockets on the back of the flap. The main compartment has slip pockets on the front and back panels, and an additional mesh insert at the front. The back itself is well-padded, as are the shoulder straps, and there’s a thin, removable chest strap as well. There’s a zippered panel between the back and the main compartment, accessible from the outside, that holds a 15” laptop. The heavy-duty cordura exterior is water-resistant, with a blue lining that gives a bright pop of color. There’s a side pocket that unzips to hold a water bottle or an umbrella when needed, and sturdy top and side handles that make carrying a breeze.
Before Timbuk2 sent over the Never Check sample, I’d been using the brand’s Blink pack—mostly very happily, thanks to its deceptively roomy main compartment and clamshell-style opening, among other details. My main complaint was with its lack of organizational features, and the Never Check addresses that issue, with more pockets I know how to fill. Its straps are also thicker, the back padding cushier, and the laptop sleeve much more conveniently located. Style-wise, I love the design: The stiff, matte-black cordura has a high-quality look and feel, and the contrasting deep-blue lining is a nice aesthetic touch. It’s definitely an upgrade—which it should be, given the higher price point. (The Never Check retails for $80 more than the Blink.) Which brings us to...
I’m a big fan of backpacks with clamshell openings, and this one has panels of fabric at the base of the main compartment that keep it from unzipping all the way. The result is an awkward packing experience: You can’t really lay the bag flat and get into it as you would a suitcase, so you’re left trying to stuff everything in from the top down. Also frustrating is that front compartment. Because it only partially unzips, it's tough to access the entire thing, which is a bit of a bummer—it feels like a missed opportunity to provide more usable space. The hooks that latch around the main compartment look nice and provide a layer of extra security, but they can be tricky to maneuver, so it would be great if they were removable. And the side pocket only holds a small water bottle; my big 25-ouncer wouldn’t fit.
The Never Check is pretty much tailor-made for a short trip. For my weekend in Mexico, I used it in place of a carry-on suitcase, and even on the return leg, when I was cramming it full of souvenirs—breakable ones to boot—I managed to make everything fit without having to exercise the expandable option. On the plane, it fit below my feet (though it didn't leave me with much leg room), and its narrow profile allowed it to slide into a crowded overhead bin with no problem. If you can overlook the irritants mentioned above, it's well worth the expenditure.
Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack, $199; timbuk2.com/nevercheck.
When you’re on the go, the smallest details can make or break your day. Who would rather spend time adjusting their shoulder straps or rearranging their bags to make room for souvenirs when they could be taking in new sights and sounds undistracted? We found a batch of hands-free accessories that will allow minimalists and pack rats alike to sally forth without such nuisances—and each one rings in at less than $150. (Yes, a backpack might be the ultimate example of the genre, but for these particular purposes, we’re sticking with bags of the frontal persuasion.) Read on to find the one that's right for you. Lighten Your Load (Courtesy Parker Clay) If you prefer to travel light, this is your pick. Made with sustainably sourced, premium Ethiopian leather by Parker Clay, a company that supports vulnerable communities in Addis Ababa, where its production facility is located, the Everly crossbody is perfect for the minimalist day-tripper. At just eight inches long, five inches high, and one inch wide, it has room for a small wallet or card holder, a set of earbuds, and maybe a lipstick or two, and that’s about it. Stash your phone in the slim external back pocket, and proceed to explore with your hands swinging. Everly crossbody in blush, $88; parkerclay.com. Mind Your Waistline (Courtesy Hustle & Hide Co) This sleek hip bag might look like a spin on an ‘80s classic, but it’s not your mother’s fanny pack. With two straps and four ways to wear it, Hustle & Hide Co’s understated, handcrafted convertible pouch is made for the modern traveler. Budget Travel senior editor Liza Weisstuch carried it on a recent trip to Alaska and came back singing its praises. “Wearing it feels like having an extra pocket,” she says. “It's the perfect size for travel, just big enough to keep the royal trifecta—phone, wallet, and passport—within easy reach. That's a huge game-changer for someone who's constantly rummaging for one or the other. Like me.” Liza prefers to use the waist strap (it’s easier for the on/off when you sit down, she says), but you can also clip it directly to your belt loops, use the standard strap and throw it over your arm, or go for the longer strap and wear it crossbody style. “What’s more,” she adds, “its soft, bourbon-brown leather and brass clasps make it a stylish accessory, regardless of whether you're wearing it around your waist or on your shoulder.” Classic button stud hip bag in brown, $100; hustleandhideco.com. Carry It Crossbody (Courtesy Peg and Awl) For years, I’ve been searching for a day bag to fit a book, a water bottle, over-ear headphones, and sunglasses, plus the wallet, organizational pouch, and lip balm that I always carry. It needs to be something big enough to hold it all without having to Tetris it in, but not so big that it weighs me down, and this no-frills satchel from Peg and Awl ticks all the boxes. Designed to carry the essentials and inspired by purpose-driven vintage bags like colonial-era satchels and the military map cases of World War II, the Hunter is made from sturdy, waterproof waxed canvas, with a brass rivets and studs for a modest flash of bling and a wide leather shoulder strap that stays put and doesn’t dig in. The interior pocket is just the right size for a wallet, keys, and a battery pack, and the main compartment is roomy enough for everything else. It's a utilitarian number with a few subtly clever details, from the smart placement that keeps the strap from twisting to a flap you can close with one hand (and a bit of dexterity). Hunter satchel in slate, $144; pegandawl.com. Feed a Crowd (Courtesy FEED) If you require more space, the Go-To bag from FEED provides extra wiggle room and more organizational options with the same crossbody convenience. With a zippered pocket inside that’s ideal for anything that needs to be safely stowed, like a wallet or passport, and an outer pocket that offers easy access to a phone or charger, this cotton-canvas carry-all not only holds everything you need for a day on the town or in the country, its purchase also provides 40 school meals to those in need. Go-To canvas bag in burnished olive, $68; feedprojects.com. Tote It All (Courtesy Everlane) Not a fan of the crossbody thing? Consider an upgrade on the standard tote instead. With leather straps that can handle whatever fits inside and a zip top to keep it all from falling out—and grabby hands from getting in—Everlane’s twill version is a stylish, nearly indestructible upgrade on the original. I put it to the test in New York, stuffing it with gym gear, a laptop, and a bottle or two of wine, and it didn’t give even the slightest bit. If your travel style includes lots of shopping, this bag's generous size and comfortable handles make it a great option, perfect for that farmers' market haul or bookstore score. Twill zip tote in golden brown, $48; everlane.com.
What’s an afternoon at the beach without the right supplies? We found the gear to make the most of the summer's sun, sand, and waves, including the must-pack essentials and fun add-ons that’ll make your day more dynamic—all for $80 or less. The Bag (Courtesy L.L. Bean) First things first: You need a proper beach bag, and L.L. Bean’s classic Boat and Tote is a sturdy option that won’t go out of style. It’s practically indestructible, and that’s no exaggeration—my family has one that’s almost 30 years old, and it’s still going strong. The large version is roomy enough to hold a blanket and a day’s worth of towels, toys, and provisions without being too unwieldy, with long handles that make it easy to throw on your shoulder and go. It’s a bit cavernous, so for more organization, take a tip from my super-smart mom and hit the hardware store for a small canvas waist apron to tie to the handles. For just a few bucks, it’ll provide a couple of internal pockets for those things (sunscreen, lip balm, tissues, phone) you want to keep within reach at all times. Large open-top Boat and Tote with long handles in dark green, $35; llbean.com. The Towel (Courtesy Dock & Bay/Emma Sailah) Banish thoughts of thick, fluffy terry cloth. This microfiber number from Dock & Bay may not have the same cushy feel as a regular cotton towel, but its powers of absorption are remarkable—it’ll get you dry in no time and won’t stay damp for long. And even though it’s plenty big, clocking in at 63 by 31 inches, it folds away to practically nothing. Stash it in the 10-by-6-inch pouch that comes with it, or toss it in your bag on its own; either way, you’ll hardly know it’s there. Plus, the company donates 10 percent of all Rainbow towel sales to Twenty10 (twenty10.org.au), an Australian organization that supports the LGBTIQA+ community, so you can show some pride all summer long. Rainbow Skies microfiber towel, $25; dockandbay.com. The Blanket (Courtesy Slowtide/Willie Kessel) Sure, this one is a little on the pricey side, but between the Instagram-bait pattern, the extremely plush cotton-velour fabric, and the fun fringed edging, it’s worth the splurge. At five feet in diameter, it works well as a personal beach blanket, though it'll accommodate two people too, especially if they’re exceptionally friendly and/or pint-sized. It not only looks good and feels good, it’s also pampering in the best way: Its materials have been independently tested to meet the guidelines set by the Oeko-Tex Standard 100, so you're free to lounge around and towel off without apprehensions about harmful ingredients. Radiant Round towel, $80; slowtide.co. The Cooler (Courtesy AO Coolers) As far as soft coolers go, Yeti’s Hopper line is hyped as the gold standard, but with a starting price of $200 for the smallest model, it comes with some serious sticker shock. For those who don’t want to spend that much to transport snacks and frosty beverages, this one from AO Coolers is an excellent option. Thanks to a thick layer of foam insulation and a water-resistant exterior, it’ll keep a case of beer and 14 pounds of ice cold, without leaking, for 24 hours. If you really load it up, though, it gets pretty heavy, and its short, non-padded strap doesn't lend itself to comfortable carrying, so you’ll want to make sure someone with strong shoulders is hauling it, especially if you have a long way to go. (And if you happen to have a nicely cushioned backpack strap lying around, swapping it in here would be a smart move.) AO Coolers 24 Pack Canvas Cooler in navy, $70; amazon.com. The Music (Courtesy Polaroid) When you're hanging out on a crowded beach, your fellow sunbathers might not appreciate your loud tunes, so this inexpensive little speaker is ideal: Its sound is great if you’re nearby, but it doesn’t really travel far, so you can put on your Mexican death metal or favorite ‘90s boy band without worrying about who’s going to hear it. Bonus: Its design is super-cute, too. Polaroid PBT530 Wireless Bluetooth Portable Retro Speaker in blue, $20; amazon.com. The Entertainment (Courtesy Into the Wind) Forget building sandcastles—the best seaside activities take to the skies. Thanks to the constant winds coming off the water, the beach is an ideal environment for kite-flying: You’ll barely have to work to get airborne, and the steady breezes give you more room to play, particularly on an empty, open stretch of sand. Traditional Delta or glider-style kites are as low-maintenance as they come (once they catch the right draft, you can even tie them to your chair and let ‘em coast on their own), but stunt kites are much more fun. This colorful little ripstop-nylon number from Into the Wind is easy to maneuver and awesome for beginners, with a light frame and Kevlar enforcing at the nose and tail in case of crashes. Strap on the wrist bands, and you’ll be doing combination turns and backflips in no time. Prism Jazz Stunt Kite in Rainbow, $55; intothewind.com. The Insurance Policy (Courtesy PunkCase) When you drop your phone as often as I do, certain situations are fraught with danger. Giant ocean with currents and waves and splashing children in the shallows? Check, check, and check. A waterproof case can prevent calamity. This one from PunkCase has a slim profile and a built-in screen protector, and it’s not only waterproof, it’s also made to withstand drops of nearly seven feet. Before you go and toss it in the deep end, though, be sure to test it out with a paper towel or a bit of cloth before trusting it with your phone—if there’s any moisture inside when you open it back up, you’ll know there’s a problem. It’s worth taking the time for that extra step, because once you’ve gotten the all-clear, you can go forth and shoot without a care in the world. PunkCase waterproof Crystal case in teal, from $35; amazon.com.
Though we often talk about the importance of staying fit, eating well, and monitoring our sleep when we travel, we don't always give as much attention to our largest organ: our skin. "Skin is the house that you live in. You need to protect it and keep it healthy because healthy skin is gonna be beautiful skin," says Allison Tray, founder of Tres Belle Spa in Brooklyn. We checked in with a few experts to learn the do's and don'ts of skincare when you're on the go. YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. AND DRINK. With fresh air often pumped in to maintain oxygen levels, not to mention recycled air and high altitudes, cabin air can be a recipe for dehydration. When moisture is depleted, your skin's barrier function is impaired, making it feel dry, look sallow, and become red and irritated. The simplest solution isn’t to slather on moisturizer, but to feed your skin from the inside—all the fancy beauty products in the world can’t come close to the importance of water. (Pro tip: Bringing an empty water bottle through security and filling it before you board your flight makes it easier to stay hydrated than looking for a flight attendant for each four-ounce pour. In a perfect world, you’d drink a liter of water for every four hours in the air.) There are a few basic things you can do—or not do—to prevent your skin from losing too much moister at 35,000 feet. First: don’t drink alcohol on the plane. Do pack fruits or vegetables, Allison suggests, because they naturally contain water. Also, take a break from makeup. It'll help your skin breathe. And when you're on the ground, don't forget to keep sipping. “Be sure to drink lots of water throughout your trip, whether embarking on day-long tourist adventures, hiking through woods or relaxing poolside,” says Donna Regii, a beauty expert who’s worked with brands like Stila and Bliss Spa. “It’s the best way to help your skin behave, and look its radiant, glowing best.” MOISTURIZING: IT GOES DEEPER THAN YOU THINK But the skin cannot hydrate by water alone. Just remember these three words: moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Even when it doesn't seem necessary. “A lot times when skin feels oily, it’s that it’s dehydrated underneath,” Allison explains. “Glands that produce oils work overtime to protect and hydrate. A lot of times your skin feels oily, and you break out because there’s not enough hydration to balance everything out.” Donna recommends looking for a face moisturizer with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate, which help bind moisture to your skin. Water-based moisturizers feel lighter and more refreshing on the skin during the summer and in warm or humid climates. Ingredients like shea butter are ideal for dry skin types and during cooler weather, she says. Whatever you do, though, don't use the moisturizer in your hotel room on your face. It's typically body lotion. Before any moisturizer can work its magic, though, it has to have a clean canvas. The day before you fly, exfoliate with a gentle facial scrub, then apply a hydrating mask. The exfoliation gets rid of the dead cells, which allows the moisturizing ingredients from the mask to penetrate deeper in the skin. BEAUTY SLEEP Just like our bodies, our skin needs sleep to rejuvenate. “During the night, your skin undergoes repair, renewal, and detoxification, but if you don’t get proper sleep, these processes aren’t rescheduled. That’s why you get dark circles and sallow, dehydrated skin when you’re sleep deprived," says Donna. From crossing time zones to sleeping in unfamiliar surrounds to perhaps a little more eating and drinking than we’re used to, travel can mess with sleep in big ways, wreaking havoc on our skin performance. Donna turns to aromatherapy to help her sleep. A lavender-infused pillow spray is a natural fix for falling asleep faster. Brands like This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray come in 2.5 fluid ounce bottles so you can take it in your carry-on. Just a spritz can help ease you into slumber. PACK IT IN As any seasoned traveler knows, less is more when it comes to packing—how else to ensure you have room for everything you buy? Your own moisturizer should be as necessary as your passport and phone charger. “It’s best not to change up your usual regimen too much when you're on the road, because your skin may get stressed out from travel and not respond well to unfamiliar products,” Donna says. But there’s one major exception: Add sun protection if it’s not already part of your daily routine. When Allison travels, she packs products that do double-duty to minimize her load. Many brands make moisturizers with sunscreen, and if you opt for a tinted product, it multitasks three-fold as a light foundation. She recommends sunscreen by SkinCeuticals, which has a universal tint. An exfoliating cleanser is also on her list of necessities. A hydrating skin serum with hyaluronic acid helps hold onto water, and you can also dab it under your eyes and onto your lips as a light moisturizer.
That's How She Rolls: Rashida Jones Designs a Cute Luggage Collection You'll Love
Rashida Jones knows a thing or two about globe-trotting. In addition to fulfilling the press-junket duties required of an in-demand actor, writer, and Emmy-nominated producer, the Angie Tribeca star serves as a voice for the International Rescue Committee, visiting refugees in camps in Lebanon and Thailand and in cities such as San Diego and New York as they put down roots. Her time on the road inspired a desire to design luggage that would help relieve the pressures of traveling—and add a measure of whimsy to the process. “Anybody that’s been to a major international airport in the last five years can attest to the fact that it can be really grueling to travel,” she says. “I loved the idea of being able to bring some magic into something banal.” Enter: her new collaboration with Away, the minimalist brand beloved by models, actors, and social-media darlings alike for its lightweight, tough-shelled, stylish suitcases. (Perhaps the ubiquitous millennial-pink edition popped up in your Instagram feed?) Cleared to fit the overhead bins of all major airlines’ planes, each Away carry-on comes equipped with USB ports powered by a rechargeable, removable, FAA-, TSA-, and DOT-approved battery; the suitcase’s polycarbonate exterior, here available in a trio of muted pastels, also comes standard. As batteries aren’t allowed in checked baggage, the bigger versions have other perks—namely, an interior compression system, a built-in lock, and, Jones’s favorite, a removable laundry bag. Rounding out the line are flexible packing cubes in coordinating colors (Marie Kondo disciples, rejoice!) and, perhaps the star of the show, a vegan tote that can slip over the handle of a carry-on when you’re not wearing it crossbody. Jones personally designed the bag for easy access to the necessities, from water bottle to plane ticket. “I wanted to create the perfect tote that was just big enough to fit the smallest computer, but not so big that it was going to break your back when you picked it up, or fall off your luggage when placed on top,” she says. “It was about completing the experience of having an efficient travel day.” At $225 for the basic carry-on, this luggage doesn’t come cheap, but Away delivers value by eliminating retailers’ markup and selling directly to consumers, backing its “unbreakable” promise with a lifetime guarantee (batteries not included—those are subject to a two-year warranty). For Jones, whose bucket list currently includes South America and Australia, the collab provides a comprehensive travel experience. “I love that you can use everything in the collection in several different ways,” she says. “For me, it’s just about having enough components that you can put together so that you feel like you’re being taken care of during your trip.” Sounds like a bargain.