travel with kids: packing made light for a week in san francisco

{um yeah, that was our view! wonder why we ever left…}

Tom Bihn, the Seattle-based travel bag manufacturer, has generously supplied us with a selection of travel bags and packing cubes to test on our seven week, five country vacation. This is the first in a series of posts outlining our packing strategy for the summer (unrelated to Tom Bihn). While Tom Bihn supplied some of the luggage featured in this post, all of the opinions expressed are my own. I chose to review the Tom Bihn products featured in this post because I have long admired their quality travel bags made right here in the US.

 1. daily clothes for T. / 2. rain jacket / 3. baby swimsuit and wipes / 4. scarves for me / 5. travel yoga mat for yoga at Grace Cathedral / 6. tote for me / 7. KidCo sleep tent for C. / 8. toiletries / 9. hair straightener for me  / 10. daily clothes for me / 11. diaper pouch / 12. one “dress-up” outfit / 13. journal / 14. wallet, iPad, books, sunglasses / 15. daily clothes for baby / 16. diapers / 17. a few toys

If you’re looking at the title of this post and scratching your head while taking in the above photo (packing made light, you say??), let me assure you that packing for three people for one week really does look like this even when you’re trying to keep it simple. (At least in our family it does). Our main requirements were that:

  • we pack the basics for a baby –> diapers, baby bed (!!), bibs, toys –> things add up quickly!
  • T. have both professional and casual outfits
  • I have a computer to write (iPad) and a yoga mat so that I could do this in SF
Since we were going to San Francisco, we had the additional challenge of not knowing how cool it might get, so despite it being a summer trip, we needed to have some warmer out layers and some rain-ready stuff.

Enter: The Tom Bihn Aeronaut bags.

We wanted to avoid checking bags if we could since we didn’t want to pay the extra bag fees on each flight and we wanted to be able to carry everything comfortably as we were going to rely on public transport to get around.

Believe it or not, we were able to fit all of those things listed above (and a few more items) into two Tom Bihn Aeronaut carry-on bags, one tote (my “personal belonging” on the flight), and the Tom Bihn Checkpoint flyer (T’s “personal belonging”). We also brought a collapsable stroller that we gate checked. In short, we took all of that stuff and condensed it down to this:

The main way we were able to do this is by using packing cubes, which kept things compressed, compact, and easy to access without having the whole bag explode open.

A few notes on the bags and travel cubes:


The Aeronaut:

The beauty of the aeronaut is that it is the absolute largest it can be while still qualifying as a carry-on bag. This meant that every aircraft, from the huge international carriers to the tiny domestic ones, allowed us to bring the bags on board and we were able to fit them into the carry-on compartment above our seats. This was especially important to us when flying overseas after our San Francisco trip, as we had our baby’s bed in the Aeronaut, to which we wanted access as soon as we arrived in Romania.

Had we lost the baby bed on the way to SF, we could have obtained a crib at our hotel, but we didn’t have a baby bed to use at my grandparents’ house in Romania, so it was important to us our essential baby things make it with us via carry-on bag. It was a huge relief to be able to pack so much into a carry-on duffel and to know that we would not have to worry about any of our most needed things not making it to our destination. (I should note that every single time I’ve flown to Romania, at least one of my bags doesn’t make it and ends up being delivered at a later date by the airline “lost and found” service).

Although we could have opted for a hotel-provided baby crib at many of our destinations, we liked having our own baby bed that allowed C. to have a constant and familiar bed at each new location. It also saved us quite a bit of money! Our hotel in Georgia charged $15 a night to rent a baby crib, which would have added up to $75 for our 5-night stay. It cost us less to buy a travel bed that we got to use for the rest of our trip than it would have cost to rent a crib for the first portion of our travels.

And we were thrilled to discover that our KidCo travel bed fit into the Aeronaut carry-on quite nicely.

The Checkpoint Flyer:

T. was especially excited to test out this bag, which is unique for allowing you to go through airport security with the laptop still in the bag! When traveling with a baby, a stroller, sippy cups and diaper needs, I cannot even express how wonderful it was to have one less thing to unpack, unload, and put on the conveyer belt. (We also loved all the airlines and airports that offered Priority Boarding and separate security lines for families with children!)

It’s the little things that matter. Also, the bag was quite spacious that we were able to fit a lot of extra things in there in addition to a laptop. Definitely a favorite for future work and non-work related trips as it allows for more efficient airport security passing.

The packing cubes:

These we key in allowing us to get the most out of our bags. Not only did it make organizing our clothes, toiletries, and baby items easier, it also made it possible to keep things tightly packed and nicely compressed for maximum use of the space with had. Using packing cubes also meant that we could pull out one cube containing our daughter’s stuff without undoing the packing job alltogether.

We also used the little clear organizer ones to get our liquids through security. Rather than using disposable plastic baggies, I used the pouches that I would use throughout our trip for keeping our things organized and we were allowed to pass through security with them this way. Score.

I also love using the Tom Bihn “snake charmer” pouch as a diaper bag, something I had been doing even before our trip this summer. I got this packing cube long before having a baby and just decided to try it out as a diaper pouch on a whim. As I noted in this post, it’s been the perfect solution for my everyday carrying needs. I also loved it for flying because I could easily fit the pouch into the pocket on the seat in front of me and have quick access to C’s diapers, change of clothes, and bib without needing to take up all of my leg room with a large diaper bag.


The nice thing about keeping all of our travel belongings restricted to what we could physically carry was that we were able to land, grab our stuff (without waiting at baggage claim), and hop on the BART without much struggle. It gave us a good practice run before heading to Europe, where we would be visiting four countries using predominantly public transport: buses, trains, walking, and only on rare occassions, cars. We would be traveling by train between most of the countries we were visiting and we needed to know that we could carry on us all the things we were planning to take – and a baby!

In the end, our San Francisco trip showed us that we could do with far less clothes than what we had packed for the one week in the Bay Area (we ended up taking about the same amount for three weeks in Europe). It allowed us to hone in on the essentials and to refine our packing system. And it made us appreciate a good travel set-up: bags, totes, packing cubes, a collapsable baby bed that took up little room — anything that functioned to be highly efficient and durable made our trip less about the things we were taking and more about the experiences we were having. The beauty of quality travel accoutrements is that they fade into the background and don’t figure much into the memory of the trip. They serve their purpose quietly;  allowing the places, people, foods, sounds, and sights to take the spotlight of the travel narrative.



More travel with baby posts here.
More photos from our trip here.

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{Bikes, a new baby, and the story of us.}
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6 Responses to travel with kids: packing made light for a week in san francisco

  1. Pingback: travel with kids: packing made light for a week in san francisco

  2. Pingback: travel with kids: packing made light for a week in san francisco — TOM BIHN Blog: We make travel bags in Seattle, Washington

  3. Pingback: Simply Bike » travel with kids: kidco sleep tent review

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  5. Glenn says:

    Based on how long you’ll be gone, and whether you are traveling by plane or car, it is going to vary. Here’s what you have to know about packing baby clothes for traveling with your baby, before you hit the road. Traveling by airplane is among the most common methods to travel with a baby only because of time factor.

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