The Best Budget Friendly Travel Packs & Luggage

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The Best Budget Friendly Travel Packs & Luggage

Why Put So Much Thought Into Your Travel Luggage?

Traveling as a family can be complicated. The toys, supplies, clothing changes, and toilettries can take up so much space! So how can you travel well; efficiently and easily with all the stuff you need? Read below for our favorite travel packs and suitcases. When we use packs, why we use packs rather than rolling cases, and when we actually don’t.

Why is Traveling with the Right Luggage So Important?

Whether you are traveling long term, or going for a quick trip with the family, its important to consider what type of luggage is best for your adventure! But why is this so important?

  • Convenience: Traveling doesn’t have to be inconvenient. With the right luggage, travel pack, or carry on you will find that everything you need can be at your fingertips! Ask yourself a few questions; do you prefer to have your items available to you at all times on a flight (go backpack), or do you prefer to stow it away and enjoy some leg room (rolling carry on). Do you want to travel light (carry on only), or check a bag (large travel pack or suitcase)? Keep reading for some help on these questions!
  • Protection: Oftentimes when traveling, especially abroad, you’ll want to make sure your items are protected in transit. We always cover our travel packs with a waterproof shell, and wrap our suitcases in plastic when appropriate for the destination. When we use suitcases, we opt for hard shell cases to keep spilled liquids out and protect the interior from damage as well.
  • Security: Keep in mind that you may need to choose locks that are TSA approved, but it is important to lock up your cases and travel packs. It can even be as simple as using zipper locks like these.
  • Compliance: The right luggage will help you comply with airline regulations, both domestically and abroad. We choose to use backpacks only for carryons, that way we know it will comply with even the most budget. airline abroad. In terms of checked luggage, stay under 50 pounds or less, and you should be just fine! However, we always recommend checking the requirements on all the airlines you are flying with.

The Best Budget Friendly Travel Packs & Luggage

I love a good deal. I also love high quality items that don’t force me to compromise on features, comfort or longevity. With over a decade of world travel with kids, we have purchased, returned, loved and hated many, many types of luggage and travel packs. Here I tell you my very best budget friendly travel packs and day packs.

Now it’s time to let you in on our secret to budget friendly travel packs. Number one, you DON’T need standard rolling luggage. Number two, taking a high quality, budget friendly, travel pack + a daypack is the ideal combination.  But how do you know which travel packs to choose? Both for the kids and the adults in your family? How can you ensure that your travel dollars are well spent, without cleaning out your travel account when purchasing gear?

Below I will show you all the items we have loved for world travel.  Each of these budget friendly travel items has a more expensive counterpart, which I will also link to.  However, the budget travel packs we use will ALWAYS be high quality. They will last for years, even with tough use, and they will include all the features you need to be comfortable and travel with ease. I recommend always purchasing on a large platform like Amazon, simply because if you do have any defects or issues, it is easy and quick to exchange or return your items.

Have you ever rolled a large suitcase through London Heathrow Airport?

I did. I was 19, traveling to Europe with some girlfriends, and could not fathom packing light.  I didn’t know about budget friendly travel backpacks yet. So many night clubs, so many outfits!  Well, as you can guess, my huge and heavy as hell suitcase got stuck between the little yellow poles at the bottom of the escalator. You know the ones I am talking about. The poles that prevent people with stupidly big suitcases from using the escalators.

I had about 10 seconds to find a way to lift my huge and heavy bag over the poles before the people behind me crashed into me.  I hoisted that suitcase over my teenage head, got unstuck, then got yelled at by an airport security person. Good times!

About a decade later, I started traveling with infants.  We carried all the things!! Car seats, strollers, stroller bags, portable potties, diapers, bottles, formula…the list goes on.  

It took me many decades to come to terms with traveling light, but more importantly, how to pack light.

What Do Most Travelers Choose for a Budget Friendly Travel Backpack?

A question that many novice travelers ask me when they begin to plan their world travel adventures is whether to use rolling luggage, rolling carry on bags, or travel backpacks (similar to a hiking pack). Many novice travelers are worried that their children won’t be able to carry the travel packs (I have a solution for you below!) or that budget friendly travel packs won’t hold the essentials they need. If you pack smart, such as using dry toiletries, and avoid these novice mistakes, your packing will be a breeze.

Choosing between standard rolling luggage and a budget friendly travel pack is truly a personal preference.  It will also depend on whether you are going to cities or countries with small, stone streets or more modern, large cities.  I always try to pack for the most difficult leg of the trip. That way, the whole trip unfolds with ease.  

If you decide to do any hiking, camping or actual backpacking during your trip, or frequent ancient and historic cities, I recommend opting for a travel pack + day pack combo. Bumpy stone streets are nobody’s friend. More on my favorite budget friendly travel backpacks and day packs below.

Should You Check Your Bags?

I hate to check my bags. However, unless you are an extreme packing aficionado, it can be hard to find a travel backpack small enough to pass as carry-on luggage on discount or smaller international airlines.  The rule of thumb is that your carry-on only bag should weigh under 40 Lb, and be small enough to fit under your seat. I always prefer to carry on my luggage. 

The reality, though, is that we are a family of 3 females (plus Dad). We try our best not to overpack, but we have stuff. Sometimes too much stuff for just a carry on. Inevitably we end up traveling with 55-70L adult budget friendly travel packs and checking those (with AirTags!).

Tip: we always purchase a waterproof travel pack cover. This will help you avoid damage to your pack, keep your items dry, and ensure that all your extra hooks and straps don’t get caught in transit.  You can use the more expensive options, like the Osprey Airporter Backpack Travel Cover (up to 50L packs), or the Deuter Transport Cover. For less expensive options, opt for a rain cover, such as the Joy Walker Waterproof Backpack Rain Cover or the WSZCML Backpack Rain Cover.  Both of these budget friendly travel pack cover options will keep your straps tucked in tight!

I also recommend using Apple Air-Tags to track your luggage in case it gets lost. While these can be expensive, it is much less expensive to purchase 1 Air Tag per checked bag than it is to replace your entire travel pack and gear if your luggage is lost.

If you choose to carry on your luggage, I recommend sticking with a 40L travel pack, plus a small purse or day pack. It will ensure you are able to board all types of flights without issue.

If you are ok with checking your bag, you can use a larger budget friendly travel pack (55-75L). I go into more details below about picking a travel pack size for each family member.

What Do I Pack in a Budget Friendly Travel “Day Backpack” When Traveling?

When flying between countries or cities, and checking our main bags under the airplane, I always make sure to pack a change of clothing or two, and extra essentials.  This will ensure that each member of our family is comfortable should our luggage go lost or missing for a few days. (Thankfully we can track lost luggage with our Air Tags!). Be sure to read these tips on packing medication in carry on bags.

The basics of what I pack in my Day Backpack while traveling are:

  • 2 days of extra clothing (especially socks and underwear)
  • Basic dry toiletries (toothbrush, soap, face cloth, deodorant, medicines)
  • Feminine products if needed
  • Laptop, Iphone, Kindles and all chargers (see the Budget Friendly Tech Travel Gear that we always travel with)
  • Important documents (passport, visas, copy of the next location’s rental info etc)
  • Weather dependent gear as needed for your destination (jacket, bathing suit, etc)
  • Change of shoes if needed (flip flops, if headed to the beach)

For a more detailed look into my Day Pack, check out this post here.

What Budget Friendly Travel Packs Do We Actually Use?

image of luggage tag

I have used all types of luggage over the years, both solo and with children, and I will tell you exactly what I recommend to make your life easier.  Keep in mind, we are not mountain climbers here. We like to think we are, but in truth, I can get pretty crabby when I am hot, tired, and carrying heavy things (like kids).

I do like to pack like a hard core adventurer, though.  It makes life simpler and prevents me from running out and buying the biggest suitcase I can get my hands on! The struggle is real, ya’ll.  After you’ve decided to do a travel pack + day pack combo, the question is: which packs will withstand tough use, are budget friendly, and include all the features you really need?

Budget Friendly Travel Packing for Adults: Travel Backpacks

Adults & teens (13+) can usually carry full size travel packs with a daypack. Full size is anywhere from 50-75L. Anything over 75L can become too tedious to carry for most people.

I prefer a 50L-60L pack for women and teens, and my husband prefers a 65L or 70L pack. This gives us extra room in his pack for the luxuries, like extra toiletries, shoes, a dirty laundry stash or electronics. Keep in mind that if you prefer to never check your bags, you will need a 40L travel pack at maximum.  We usually use 18-32L packs for carry on daypacks.

I don’t like to carry heavy things for long periods of time, so I try to stick with a 50L or 55L pack. When searching for the perfect travel pack for the adults in our family, I found that every brand was truly around the same price point. For somewhere between $175-225 you can get a full size travel pack for adults and teens. Because most brands, both high end and basic, run around $200 for a large travel pack, I tend to go for the Osprey or REI brand (details below).

When comparing features, you’ll want to decide if you prefer a hiking pack, which opens only at the top and is usually drawstring style, or a travel pack, which zips open like a suitcase.  I always prefer travel packs that zip open like suitcases. I like to see where everything is and be able to access items quickly. I also look for packs that have smaller compartments. In the top compartment, I place things like sunglasses, toiletry bags, and medicines.  In the compartments under the pack, you can separate dirty laundry and put a bulky pair of hiking boots.

Features I Prefer to Have in a Travel Pack for Adults

Here are the features I prefer to have in a pack:

  • Front open, rather than open at the top. This way you feel like you’re packing in a suitcase.
  • Waterproof/travel cover for those times you have to check your bags under the plane (see above for my recommendations)
  • Adjustable torso harness & hip belt, chest clip, and ventilated back area to keep me cool
  • A lower compartment (for sleeping bag, extra shoes or dirty laundry)
  • A removable day pack or a spot where your daypack and other extras can clip on

Our Favorite Adult Travel Packs

My favorite brand in general for travel packs is Osprey, and I highly recommend their PackFinder tool. Luckily, Osprey has a number of options around the $200 price point. Osprey is the gold standard of travel packs. We have tried a variety of other travel pack brands in the high end category. Ultimately, though, Osprey was always the most comfortably fitting brand.  These are the Osprey travel backpacks we use as our “large” luggage when world traveling:

More recently, though, we have tried the REI travel packs. Their in-house brand is excellent, durable and rivals the Osprey options we have used in the past.  These packs have the same features as Osprey, and don’t compromise on comfort, fit, and space. However, they do not have an option large than 60L and the pack is without an extra bottom compartment. So, I usually carry this one, and my husband opts for the larger Osprey option above.

All The Things in my Travel Backpack for Long Term Travel

This is a biggie.  Traveling full time requires true packing skills.  You must be willing to leave behind, sell, or throw away old items that you will not need for the foreseeable future.  For example, you can’t schlep around a pack full of winter gear if you will be traveling in summer weather for 6 months. 

And weather dependent clothing and gear can be expensive!! To ensure budget friendly travel, and ease of packing, I like to visit second hand stores when we first arrive in a new weather zone. Sticking to a travel budget can be tricky, and second hand consignment stores are the perfect spot to find cheap basics, like coats, winter boots, gloves, and hats.

In this post, I outline my packing must haves, what NOT to pack, and more!

backpacks in the airport

Budget Friendly Travel Day Packs We Use for Adults

Choosing a day pack (really just a regular backpack) can be difficult. You want it to be big enough to hold a change of clothing, basic toiletries, your tech gear, important documents, and weather specific clothing (bathing suit, jacket).  You also want it to be small and comfortable enough to carry around on your daily adventures.  

When looking for a day pack, consider the following features:

  • Anti-Theft material (important for the person who is holding documents and money)
  • A mesh water bottle outer pocket
  • Hidden inner pockets for wallets, keys, etc
  • A laptop sleeve or pouch for extra cushion
  • Chest clip and hip belt for weight distribution

So what daypacks did we choose? Here are both your high end and budget friendly options.  Both of which we have used, love and feel are equally excellent.

  • Higher End Options:

Moutaintop 40L Hiking Backpack

The Kailas Ultra Lightweight Backpack 20/26L

The Osprey Tempest 20 Women’s Day Pack

  • High-quality Budget Friendly Travel Options:

SAMIT 40L Hiking Backpack: We love this day pack! It has the chest clip and hip belts we need for support, the breathable fabric on the backside, and attachments at the bottom for extra gear.  Its large enough to use for travel days, and lightweight enough for daily adventures. Highly recommend this one!

G4Free 35L Water Resistant Light Weight Backpack for Men/Women is another excellent budget friendly day pack option!

Budget Friendly Travel Packing for the Kids

For Elementary Ages & Tweens (7-12) I like to go as light and simple as possible.  I don’t enjoy listening to my kids complain, and I don’t see a reason to bog them down with heavy bags.  More importantly, I don’t want to end up carrying their luggage for them!  The problem is, do you choose a well-known adventure brand, like Osprey, with its durable fabrics, useful features and easy to use sizing? Or can you find a budget friendly travel pack that works just as well?

I promise, you can find a high quality budget friendly travel pack. Below I will outline for you both the more expensive options and the budget friendly options.  Ultimately, you can decide what is best for your family. We have used a variety of packs, at all price ranges, and have found these budget friendly packs below to do the job, and do it well!

Kids Budget Friendly Travel Day Pack Options:

  • The More Expensive Option: The Osprey Tempest Junior Hiking Backpack (and this one for boys: Osprey Talon Boys Hiking Pack) is my go-to day pack for the more adventurous traveler who isn’t worried about their budget.  The features that I love on this day pack are the side water bottle holders, the chest clip and hip straps to alleviate the weight burden, the ventilated backside to keep your child cool, and the extra clips around the front and outside (we use these to clip travel pillows, shoe bags, small toiletry bags, etc). Tip: Don’t use the hydration pack, remove it and slide your child’s ipad, tablet or other tech in that pocket.
  • High-Quality Budget Friendly Option: The Locallion 20/30L Hiking Pack is an incredible day pack at 1/3 of the cost of the Osprey and Gregory brands. It is also waterproof, has every feature that the more expensive brands have, and comes in a plethora of fun colors. There are a number of outside and inside pockets and spots to tether your extra items to. Once again, be sure to remove the hydration pouch and use that area for your child’s tablet or ipad.

Kids Budget Friendly Travel Pack Options:

Travel packs can be tricky. Oftentimes novice travelers make the mistake of thinking their children can carry heavy travel packs.  Sometimes they can, but not always.  I’ve also written a post on the most common Mistakes that Novice World Travelers Make.

I hate carrying my kid’s things when they get tired. There is just nothing worse than hot, cranky, tired kids and parents who are bogged down with multiple packs and suitcases. So what is the best solution? Well, it took many years for us to find our perfect solution, but here it is: A Travel Pack with Wheels! Now, we only get wheeled packs for our kids who are under 13.  For older teens and adults, we use regular travel packs (more on that above!).

The features we look for in a kids budget friendly travel pack are: backpack straps, chest clip and hip belt just like a regular travel pack, plus some lightweight wheels for those moments that your kids need to roll their pack.

There are very few brands who make travel packs with wheels. We aren’t talking duffle bags, or regular wheeled luggage here. These have the specific travel pack features we look for, plus a small set of wheels built in.

Unfortunately, this is not a budget option. However, we choose to save our travel dollars on the adult travel packs and daypacks, and splurge on these. It makes our life infinitely easier. And sometimes, convenience is priceless.

The Osprey Sojourn Wheeled Travel Pack 45L is the gold standard in this category. It works like a backpack, and a wheeled suitcase, and it just the right size for tweens.  It is a little too big for 7-10 year olds to carry, though. So, while not a perfect option, it is a good wheeled option.

For the 7-10 year old crowd, I suggest either a good old wheeled backpack (get the padded straps and chest clips at the very least) or a small travel pack without wheels, around 32L or 38L. I suggest going to a local outdoors store and trying a few on for size and comfort. Its a tricky age, and the key is not overpacking and weighing them down.

In my guide to Planning a Family Gap Year (or Full Time Travel), I provide a detailed packing list of all the things you NEED to pack, and talk about the things you really don’t need. This guide will help you plan every aspect of long term travel, but also help you decide how to pack and carry your gear.

If You Must Roll a Suitcase…

If you still insist on a rolling suitcase, it can be easy to fall Into the trap of finding something cute with lots of outer pockets.  However, I strongly recommend a hard shell case with rotating wheels, an inner laptop sleeve, and smaller inner pockets or liners that can separate your valuables from your main clothing.  I never take a full size rolling suitcase, and always pack in a standard carry-on size plus a large daypack or backpack.

Keep in mind, though, don’t pack any kids items you will need on a flight into this rolling carry on. You will spend the entire flight standing up, taking it down from the overhead bin, balancing it precariously on your seat, unzipping it, finding your items, zipping it and repeating the process. Seriously annoying!

image of rolling suitcase

How To Pack Toiletries for Carry On in your Budget Friendly Travel Backpack

Believe it or not, I am a woman. I like to feel pretty, clean, and put together. I also have two daughters. It can be hard to have all that while traveling full time.  I have learned to reduce the number of items I need overall, and to carefully choose the items I do travel with.  Some of my favorite tips for packing toiletries are:

  • Use a shampoo/conditioner bar instead of liquid
  • Use a body wash bar instead of liquid
  • Pack minimal and multifunctional makeup and stock up as needed on the road
  • Use a feminine cup, rather than tampons or pads
  • All in one blow-dry brushes are a life savers for us frizzy haired girls!
  • Battery powered tooth brushes, rather that rechargeable options (less wires and outlets needed!)

I posted all my toiletry tips & tricks here for you!

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