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Meet Kit Whelan and Her Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45

Kit Whelan in a Tom Bihn Aeronaut backpack

This post is part of a series in which ladies on the road offer a review of their backpacks. Today’s review comes from Kit Whelan of Seek New Travel.

I’m Kit, a digital nomad, travel blogger and social media consultant on my fifth year of nonstop travel. I’m currently spending the summer in Berlin and will be heading to Ireland for a big trip with my extended family in a few weeks.

What’s your backpack brand and model? How much does this backpack typically cost?

My beloved backpack is the Tom Bihn Aeronaut. It costs $250.

How long have you had your backpack and where have you traveled with it?

I’ve had my Aeronaut since April 2009, when I set off on my first RTW trip, and it still looks (almost) brand new! It’s been around the world quite a few times – shoved in the bottom of Thai buses, on the luggage racks of trains across Eastern Europe, in the hull of an Egyptian felucca, in the back of rental cars on road trips across New Zealand and Australia, and in the overhead bins of a few dozen airlines. It’s a trooper!

What factors were most important to you in choosing a backpack? How did you come to choose this one?

I wanted a carry-on size backpack because I absolutely hate having to be separated from my stuff. As a digital nomad I’m quite literally homeless, so my entire life is in there – my laptop, all my clothes, and the all-important Kindle! I wanted to make sure my bag could fit in any overhead bin in the plane and, if necessary, on my lap during a bus ride.

I also wanted something that wouldn’t make me look like a backpacker. I’m a professional freelancer, and while I love getting dirty on hikes, I love a hot shower and a comfy bed even more. I’m not an 18-year-old backpacker anymore, and I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb as I walk the streets of Paris, Hong Kong or New York.

And on top of all this I wanted quality. That’s why I chose Tom Bihn. They’re renowned for their high-quality craftsmanship and the reviews from fellow travelers were extraordinary. I took a leap of faith and couldn’t be happier with my decision!

Tom Bihn Aeronaut on the train
Tom Bihn Aeronaut on the train

What do you like most about your backpack? Any down sides?

The Aeronaut is a slim, sophisticated-looking pack that doesn’t make me look like a typical backpacker. Even when I overstuff it, this bag refuses to look big. People constantly exclaim “that’s all you brought?!” without realizing how much is truly in there. It’s like Mary Poppins’ magic handbag!

I also love that I can unzip the pockets and see all my stuff. No digging through piles of clothes to find the shoes buried at the bottom of the bag! I can easily reach in and pull out any item without disturbing the organization of my stuff. This is supremely useful when I’m about to board a 12-hour flight and suddenly remember I left my iPhone charger in my pack.

BUT while it’s chic, sleek, and easy to pack, it’s not made for long treks. AT ALL. I can carry it on my back for about an hour before I start to notice the strain on my shoulders, which isn’t very long. If you’re planning on doing any multi-day treks, this is not the bag for you. Since I’m more of a day hiker, it’s not really a problem for me.

Tell us about the fit and comfort level of your backpack.

The straps and back panel are nicely padded, but there is no contoured back support, so the entire weight of the bag sits on your shoulders. That’s not a problem when I’m only going from an airport to a train, but if I’m standing in a long line at customs I’ll take it off to give myself a break. There are waist and sternum straps, but they’re not weight-bearing, so I rarely use them.

The interior of her Tom Bihn bag.
The interior of her Tom Bihn bag.

If you want to take your backpack as carry-on luggage, can you?

I specifically purchased this backpack so I would never need to check luggage again! It’s made to be the maximum carry-on size allowed on most international airlines: 55.5 x 35.5 x 23 centimeters (22 x 14 x 9 in). Of course, that’s assuming you don’t overstuff it! But even on the occasions when I shoved one too many street market purchases inside, the Aeronaut still looks small when it’s on my back. I’ve never had a flight attendant look twice at it. I’ve even managed to fit it in the tiny overhead bins on the regional jets that fly between NYC and DC!

Have you found the size to be too small, just right, or too large?

The Aeronaut is the definition of a Goldilocks bag. It’s large enough to hold all my clothes – including two jackets and three pairs of shoes! – plus a bunch of toiletries, my MacBook and other electronics while still saving a bit of space for purchases made on the road. And yet it’s small enough to fit in my lap on a city bus or in the overhead bin of any airplane.

Overall, would you recommend your backpack?

Wholeheartedly! I would recommend this bag to anyone who wants a chic carry-on backpack with lots of space that will last forever. It’s hand-down the best purchase I’ve made for my life of travel.

Follow Kit’s nomadic adventures on FacebookTwitterInstagram and of course on her blog, Seek New Travel.

>>See all women’s travel backpacks on Her Packing List.

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Michelle says

    Did this bag pass the bag restrictions for Ryan Air or those budget friendly airlines with strict carry on policies?

    • Kit Whelan says

      Hi Michelle,

      I’ve never flown Ryan Air on principle, but I have flown most of the other European budget airlines without a problem. Although I know EasyJet just added new restrictions last month and the Aeronaut will no longer fit they’re requirements (although it’s only a few centimeters over, so you could always risk it!).

      You should check individual airline requirements before you travel, but I have yet to have a problem with the Aeronaut on any airline worldwide. Here’s a nice chart so you can quickly compare baggage allowances: http://www.farecompare.com/about/worldwide-baggage-fee-chart/#International

Trackbacks

  1. […] As a frequent traveler, both domestically and internationally, I’m constantly on the lookout for the next great backpack. And while I love my Osprey Sirrus 36 for its size and comfortable hip belt, some airlines, specifically budget carriers, don’t let me carry it on because of its shape. It fits fine into most overhead bins, but won’t fit into the metal box where you’re supposed to test it out for the airline. When Timbuk2 contacted me about providing their Timbuk2 Aviator Travel Backpack for review, I was definitely interested (disclaimer: free bag). I thought it might be a great addition to my bag set, particularly as I had been looking at similar models from eBags and Tom Bihn. […]

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