Travel + Leisure

A Pilot’s Wife Reveals Her Packing Secret for Flying With a Single Carry-on — It’s Never Failed for 30 Years

Hint: she packs light with this versatile two-in-one bag. 

By Kristy Alpert

I have many memories from childhood growing up as the daughter of an airline pilot, like sleeping in an airport to catch the first flight out and finding an appropriate “’90s non-rev regulation” outfit to wear on the plane. Many of my memories revolve around the destinations my family visited with our standby privileges, but literally all of my memories include a single piece of luggage: my mom’s rolling backpack.

For more than 30 years of travel, my mom has sworn by the same (now discontinued) rolling backpack from Skyway Luggage that she bought in the ’90s — the secret two-in-one bag that’s helped her pack light for all these years and be hands-free on the go. After four continents and decades of wear, she finally decided to upgrade. It’s hard to imagine anything could match up to that trusty bag — that is, until she found the eBags Mother Lode Rolling Backpack and felt right at home. 

eBags Mother Lode Rolling Travel Backpack 

Mother Lode Rolling Travel Backpack

Buy on$230$173

Just like her old Skyway bag, this 21.8-inch by 15-inch by 10.5-inch eBags rolling backpack transforms into a rollaboard by simply unhooking and tucking away the back straps and weighs less than 10 pounds when worn. The bag has enough exterior compartments for stashing charging cables, snacks, socks, or anything necessary for a comfy flight, and the bag is often small enough to fit under the seat (although all airlines are different, so it may not fit under all seats) thanks to four exterior compression straps that help keep things tight.

“Since they don’t make the one I bought 30 years ago, I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect bag ever since to replace it, and this is the closest I could find,” said Betty Jo Brown, frequent traveler, pilot’s wife, and my mom. “I love this one now because it holds everything I need for staying somewhere overnight and has space for things I’ll need while on the plane… I even love how this bag looks more like a backpack than my other one did.”

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Why does my frequent flier mom trust a rolling backpack? Checking a bag was a luxury our family often didn’t waste time with while we were traveling standby, since it meant a bag could end up in a destination where we weren’t if we didn’t end up getting on the flight. This meant having everything we needed for an overnight trip on us, and in my mom’s case, on her back. 

“We needed to be ready to take whatever seat was available, and have our bags fit in whatever space was available,” my mom told me. “I always loved that this rollaboard counted as a backpack, and it also fit under the airplane seat just like a regular backpack would, too. To this day, flight attendants are always saying to me how they appreciate me for traveling so lightly, and because I don’t need to take up any overhead space.” 

eBags Mother Lode Rolling Travel Backpack 

Ebags Mother Lode Rolling Travel Backpack

Buy on$230$173

The eBags backpack has plenty of other smart features she loves, too. The telescoping handle has two bars, which has become a necessity for my mom, who raves about the stability it offers, noting that it really comes in handy when running through an airport … which she still does, even as she nears her mid-60s. The side-zip pocket is large enough to stow a 32-ounce water bottle, but she uses it as an easy-to-access pouch for her in-flight essentials, like her slippers and charging cables.

“Versatility has always been key to how our family travels,” she told me. “Which is why I love this bag so much. You don’t know it’s a backpack, for one.” She explained that the backpack straps can be hidden so it looks like a small rollaboard, which is what she mainly uses it for. “But if I ever have more luggage than I can handle, I just unstrap the backpack part and put it on my back, and then I have an extra hand.”  

eBags Mother Lode Rolling Travel Backpack 

Ebags Mother Lode Rolling Travel Backpack

Buy on$230$173

As a professional travel writer now, I see the genius in my mom’s packing skills and travel style. She was able to pop in and out of airplane seats, lounges, taxis, you name it, with ease. She’s the most low-maintenance traveler I’ve ever met, and yet, with this magic rolling backpack, she’s managed to fit both typical overnight items like a change of clothes, pajamas, a curling iron, products, and medicine, but she has also somehow managed to fit in a full-sized robe and slippers to her secret backpack. 

“Only in my rolling backpack am I able to get in as much as possible for overnight and for the plane,” she told me. “I always bring my robe, which is my alternate blanket on the plane and my socks if my feet get cold. I’ve even used my robe as a pillow and my coat as a blanket.”

So, although my pilot dad is the one who taught me about “big-picture travel” — i.e., geography, safety, historic sites, etc. — it was my mom that taught me everything I know about packing. She was the one who taught me how to roll my clothes to fit more in one bag and the one who taught me the trick for packing everything in a carry-on when my dad would say, “Pack your bags for Rome and Hawaii, and we’ll see which flight we get on” — and it’s all thanks to this one sturdy rolling backpack

Take it from my frequent flier mom, who is now traveling more than she ever has: the eBags Mother Lode Rolling Travel Backpack is the smartest play for carry-on only travel. Right now, it’s even on sale for 25 percent off, so I suggest grabbing one for yourself to see what all the fuss is about — you may just have it for the next 30 years. 

More Shopper-loved Rolling Backpacks:  

Samsonite Ecodiver Carry-on Convertible Wheeled Duffel Backpack  


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Rockland Double Handle Rolling Backpack 


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Matein 17-inch Rolling Backpack 


Buy on Amazon$80$68

JanSport Driver 8 Rolling Backpack and Computer Bag 


Buy on Amazon$150$142

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