Our travel bags and backpacks on a serious budget

Last Updated on June 3, 2023 by Ellen

No kickbacks here – no sponsor plugs and no affiliate links. Just an honest overview and assessment of the bags and backpacks we have as of this writing for our continuous slow travel outside the U.S.

Also, this post is not about what’s inside the bags. We’re still figuring out how to pare down what we do have as we galavant ’round the world, with a goal of two bags each. (I’m close – but not quite there.)


First – my “always with me bag.” It’s a regular, run-of-the-mill backpack that you can find anywhere. Nothing fancy. It has a laptop pouch in the main compartment. It’s the gray and orange pack in this picture of us on the train from San Diego to Tijuana:The brand is High Sierra, and obviously, this meets carry-on limits on every mode of transportation imaginable. I’ve had it for several years.

If you look closely at the picture, you can see the straps are wrapped up to keep them in place. I consider that a design flaw. Again, this pack is nothing fancy. It’s also not a bag designed for women, so it hits my ass when it is on my back.


The other main bag I use also meets most carry-on limits. The green backpack on wheels pictured below doesn’t have a name or tag anywhere on it that I can see, so I don’t even know the brand. Talk about nothing fancy! My husband bought this new on eBay for me several years before we were married, when we used to take vacations outside the U.S. each year. Neither of us can remember when he bought it – maybe a decade ago. I used it many times over many years traveling on vacation. He doesn’t remember how much he paid for it, but knowing his frugality, it was likely a super great low price.I’ve only ever had it on my back once, years ago somewhere in Mexico because the ground was muddy or the path was rocky or something like that. People swear by the Osprey line, especially women who say those bags designed to be carried on their smaller torsos. But the idea of putting a large pack on my back isn’t appealing to me, and neither is spending that much money on a bag.

My green bag used to have a removable day pack attached by zipper on the front. I lost that a long time ago – I don’t remember where. So, I ordered a new day pack from Amazon before we left the States earlier this month – New Highlander 33L packable day pack.

Of course, that size hits my butt. I like it anyway – it’s light, packable, and it was only $17.

My husband plans to carry a Kelty on his back. It’s huge – 50L. Tedly took off the metal rods that served as an external frame. Without the rods, his plan is to scrunch it down and cinch it in to fit carry-on size as needed.

He bought it used on Craigslist in San Diego – this was one of our last purchases before we left the States. (Ironically, the seller was from Cleveland!)


Tedly also uses a backpack on wheels. He’s had this model a long time. It’s some random brand, the tag says ‘GS’ on the front flap.  This is his second one. The wheels on the first one came off some years ago on a vacation somewhere. Now he picks this one up over rough surfaces, road gaps and up over curbs to spare stress on the cheap wheels. This bag also is an eBay steal. Sure, you get what you pay for, and more expensive bags are likely to last longer. But if one of our bags is lost or stolen, we haven’t lost big money. And, sometimes our rides are somewhat primitive and the bags get, well, dirty. (You can see faint remnants of  grease marks in the first picture of Tedly’s yellow and blue backpack on wheels.)

Tedly’s third bag is a regular backpack – an OGIO Ionik. It’s got virtually no padding on the body, so it’s super light. He loves this thing.


He’s had it for more than a decade, and it’s falling apart, but it is still functional. The goal is for him to pack this away as his day pack, like my blue one that is a bit more packable.

And finally, we are still carrying around a reusable shopping sack (yes, a shopping sack) with a few convenient money-saving items in it, including a coffee maker.


We save money with a small $8 coffee maker we bought at a Walmart before we left the states. We each need a minimum of two cups in the morning, and it can get expensive to buy 28 cups of coffee each week.

A comparable machine in a Mexican Walmart is more than double the price. So for now, we’re still carrying it. (Yes, I’ve done instant, camping cups, immersion coils, French press… doesn’t compare to fabulous drip coffee where no extra prep – like boiling water – is needed!)

I digress. What’s inside the bags is another blog post.

The bigger the bag, the more I pack. The smaller the bag, the more I try to jam in there. Tedly is the same way. We’ll get the hang of light packing, eventually.

tedly loaded down with bags on a stairway

The goal is for each of us to have two bags as pictured below – a wearable backpack and a backpack on wheels. That’s it.Not sure we’ll get there, but it doesn’t really matter. Our currently inability to pack lighter makes us laugh! It’s all just ‘stuff’ anyway.

Tedly, loaded down with bags, at the train station on the way to Tijuana, Mexico.


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