A cabin bag review, and what I’d do differently if I were traveling now

Susan B. at airport, packed and ready for long flight.

After I posted my “departure” pic on Instagram, so many people asked about my cabin (carry-on) bag, I thought I’d share the details here. It’s the Mother Lode Jr. backpack from ebags.

Above, dressed for long-haul comfort:
cardigan (similar) | tee | jeans | handbag (similar) | sneakers (similar) | cabin bag | suitcase (similar)

First, I knew I was going to want a larger, hard-sided checked bag, in case we pick up some wines, vinegar, etc. along the way. And I brought just a little more clothing, as we’ll be changing destination every 2-3 days and probably won’t have time for laundry. The larger spinner bag is an older Briggs & Riley Sympatico medium size (current version HERE). Mine is not expandable, and I used about half the available space.

Click here to see what I packed for this trip

(Last minute wardrobe changes: after checking the forecast one last time before we left, I decided to take a lighter down jacket rather than the down coat, and a pair of walking loafers rather than the rain boots. I also ditched one pair of jeans, one of the sweaters, and added a short-sleeve tee.)

My new cabin bag, the Mother Lode, Jr.

I’ve been wanting to try a backpack as cabin bag, and this one was well-reviewed. I’d originally ordered one for le Monsieur to replace an older and very heavy hand-held cabin bag. I liked his so much I ordered one for myself as well.

ebags Mother Lode Jr. backpack top

After two flights, and lots of shlepping in airports, I’m quite pleased with this bag!

First, it’s very well designed for organization.

  • The main compartment is quite large, with two compression straps.
  • There are three outside pockets, and a padded laptop compartment.
  • The largest outside pocket has additional zippered compartments inside.
  • The main compartment opens like a regular suitcase, so it’s easy to pack and find things inside.
ebags Mother Lode Jr. backpack open

The Mother Lode Jr. backpack holds quite a bit! I didn’t even pack mine anywhere near capacity*, as I wanted to keep the weight down. It goes easily into overhead bins, and le Monsieur was able to fit his under the seat in front for one of our flights. There are the shoulder straps, of course, and two padded handles to carry vertically or horizontally.

What I did pack in the carry-on:

  • a change of clothes
  • toiletries kit
  • travel documents
  • laptop
  • charging cords
  • TSA liquids bag
  • my en cas snacks (a couple of protein bars)
  • extra masks

The size in the top photo is deceiving; the bag was closer to the camera and so looks larger than it actually is. 😉 📸

Susan B. with ebags Mother Lode Jr. backpack

Here’s a better photo to show the actual size. For reference, I’m 5’1″. It was comfortable to wear as a backpack, and easy to get in and out of.

There’s also a larger size HERE, and a wheeled version HERE.

Today’s travel challenges, and how I’d pack differently

When I first published this article in the fall of 2021, we were traveling to Italy with many Covid restrictions still in place. We were required to have negative tests at various travel points, and masking was required both in transit and in many indoor spaces.

Now, with most travel restrictions lifted, more people are traveling again and encountering a new set of challenges. When we were in France and the UK in April, it was not yet peak travel season but we could already see some strains on the system.

Some lines at the airport to check in and/or check bags were quite long. I was glad that we’d allowed several hours for a connecting flight at Heathrow, as we had to claim and re-check our bags. We were in line for almost 90 minutes to check in for our connecting flight (which we hadn’t been able to do online).

For the last several weeks, news outlets have been full of stories of delayed or cancelled flights, lost luggage, and other travel SNAFU’s. Many of the problems seem to be due to staffing challenges with airline and support personnel. Travel can be a hassle in the best of times, but even more so now.

So if I were traveling at this point, I’d go back to carry-on only packing. And though I’d be sure to pack toiletries, medications, a change of clothing in my “Personal Item” (under the seat) bag in case I was forced to gate check my main bag. (If not packed to bursting, Mother Lode Jr. backpack does fit under the seat.)

Style and travel updates

It’s been my experience that some of you love both style and travel posts, while others are primarily here for the style. I’m trying a new process for my subscribers to filter which email updates you receive, based on your preferences.

If you’d like to opt in or out of travel updates, you can click on the “update subscription preferences” link at the bottom of my emails. Click to be sent a form to select your preferences, then select either Yes or No for travel content. (If no selection is made, you’ll receive all updates.)

This is a new setup, so I appreciate your patience while we refine the process!

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  1. Great post. I’m traveling to England next year for a twice delayed girls trip and your cabin bag recommendation is spot on. I need to look into a new carry on. Safe travels

  2. I enjoy your posts – you have it all figured out and I enjoy everything you post. You are sensible and brief – just keep doing what you are doing and please don’t take me off either of your travel or fashion post. Trust your travels are without drama and you have lots of fun things to tell us about along with pics!

  3. First comment in a long time — although I’ve been reading your posts. BTW, you look GREAT!

    I’m very interested in posts about your trip and any travel. I’ve been traveling only within the U.S. since December 2019, but have booked six international trips in 2022. Wish us luck!

  4. Your travel advice has helped me so much in my travel planning, thank you, I have been looking at cabin bags and this one appears to be perfect. I am traveling in the Spring., destination as yet to be determined, since I can’t make up my mind–which doesn’t” happen very often. But London and a week in The Cotswolds is very appealing. Have a fabulous and safe trip.

  5. Does the backpack come with a zipper or pocket to conceal the backpack straps? We have been places where backpacks have to be checked, but large bags don’t. And sometimes the straps can get in the way.

  6. Yes, yes, yes to travel! AND fashion too, of course. I hope you have a wonderful and safe trip. Really enjoyed seeing your photos so far!

  7. Travel and style! For a great little wine bar in Rome try MAGAZZINOSCIPIONI Great food and wines to match. Nice place to sit have a little food and a wonderful wine! We love it there. Nice way to end an evening. For just wine, RIMESSA ROSCIOLI. My husband belongs to several wine clubs and orders wine from them for tastings so it’s very good and has everything you’d like. Also, MARIGOLD for a quick brunch, lunch or dinner and some amazing pastry.
    GUNTHER GELATO for ice cream. He uses 70% fruit in his gelato. Can also find His gelato In Punto Gelato and Taste and also Taste near the Piazza di Spagna. Check Honest Cooking.com for a review. Not written by my daughter but still, great review.
    Last one. Because you’re in Rome and you need to eat some pizza, a restaurant called SEU! These are all non touristy places my girls and my family frequent.
    Have a wonderful time! Such an inspiration to see your wonderful outfits and travel tips! I cannot wait to get back to Rome.

    1. thanks for the suggestions, but we actually won’t be in Rome this trip. We’ll be in the north of Italy, in various regions.

  8. The eBags Mother Lode Jr. is a great backpack. You will love it. It was big enough to be my only bag for a 2 week trip to France a few years ago. When I say “only” I mean that literally — it held all my worldly possessions for the trip, including a raincoat and my purse. (16 pounds, fully loaded) I was in a different place almost every day and needed something nimble for train travel.

    I had the opposite “checked bag” problem that Kristen had. When I had the bag in its suitcase configuration with the straps tucked into the zippered pocket, a bus driver insisted that it had to go in the under-bus storage with the other luggage.. I pulled the straps out and, wearing it as a backpack, I boarded the bus with no objections.

    1. Hooray! Lyn, you are my kind of packer. I’ve been on international trips for 3-11 weeks with a small wheeled backpack — also 16 pounds loaded — and have never had even a puddle-jumper refuse to let me carry it on. Life is so much easier with “less.” Thanks for sharing.

  9. Very helpful post and am glad it’s all going well. Can you show your vaccination shots on your phone or did you bring a paper copy as well to enter places? Yes to travel posts, please!

    1. We just returned in September from a month in Europe and I took multiple paper copies of my vax card and I had it on my phone as a photo and I used both. Put your card in a plastic cover and pop it in your wallet.

      Great time to travel!

      1. Hi Jan,

        Did any country or venue require a digital copy with a QR code via an App, instead of paper copies or just a photo of the vaccine card on your phone?

  10. I’m loving all your posts, so oeep ‘em coming. Because I’m only 4’11”, you are one of the few bloggers wh’s , ahem, mature, and petite. ( Although we are differnt shapes, I’m very straight- and low waisted, short legged. No Eileen Fisher for me!) But your choices give me more Ideas, even if I can’t duplicate your look ( I’m more winter / summer coloring).

  11. Love the bag! I would love it if you shared your wisdom on packing toiletries as well as what and how much. I have tried numerous bags, etc. but still find that toiletries can take up a lot of room.
    I agree with you on the deplaning methods. As a teacher it always made sense to me to have a system frontto back of deplaning!
    Looking forward to more travel posts! Bonne vacance!

  12. We have a European trip planned for Spring of 2022, so I am relishing your travel posts and suggestions! Your style is always on pointe! I look forward to both! Savor the moments on your trip and be safe.

  13. Thanks, so much, for these travel updates. The world has changed, but maybe safer and efficient travel practices will be the result. As a subscriber, I enjoy all the subjects you present.
    Was just sent these lovely informative readings, from an art teacher, about a few spots in Italy where I think you are passing through. Scroll down the first few opening paragraphs to the links for Florence, Tuscany and this article about Lombardy. Includes great info & restaurant, wineries, etc, from women who live in these areas.
    Have a wonderful time in Italy!

  14. Thank you for this posting, the information on the items that you packed and travel/airport experience was very informative! I’ll be checking out the backpack, the tennis shoes and the jeans – they all looked like winners to me. I wanted to let you know that I did try to update my preferences for your new travel offerings, and I kept on getting an error message that “something went wrong, please click on the button below for a new link.” I know that the last thing you want to think about is tech issues while you are traveling 🙂 but I just wanted to let you know for when you return!

  15. I love my Ebag! Both my husband and I have them and have packed for up to 8 weeks using just them and packing cubes. All those bridges in Venice were much easier than schlepping a regular suitcase, wheels or not. Enjoy your trip, looking forward to the pics.

  16. I’m traveling through you so yes to both. I like the outfit you chose to travel in. Put together but comfortable.

  17. Your travel posts helped me when I was traveling, and I hope to resume traveling in 2022. What I really like is your post-travel review of what worked and what didn’t and what was the MVP of your travel wardrobe. Please keep up the wonderful posts about style and travel!

  18. You look great! I know you have having a ball right now. We haven’t traveled anywhere since our Christmas trip to Amsterdam in Dec. of 2018 & it is about to kill me! I love to travel & not being able to has made me nervous. We’re taking a short trip to Dallas next weekend to see my stepson then I will start planning a trip overseas next year; I can’t wait to find out where we’re going to go & me researching it! Glad to hear about the airports & the airline deplaning by rows (that is the smart way to do it). Thanks for ALL of your posts, I learn something new every time I read your blog. Godspeed on your trip!!

  19. My husband and I have the same ebags which we use as our only bags for trips to Europe. They are easy to move around with and hold all we need for spring or fall travel for 3 or 4 weeks.

  20. I love your travel and fashion posts! So interesting! I admire your ability to pack efficiently, something I strive to do while traveling. I am getting better over time with practice. I noticed during my last trip to Palm Desert, some specific holes in my wardrobe that would really help pack fewer things! I love to get ideas from your posts. I am thinking the Mother Lode backpack JR would make a good Christmas present for hubby.

    Briggs and Riley tend to be heavy, how are you finding the med bag traveling thru Europe.

    Also, You look fab on your trip! 🙂

  21. I live for your postings! They’ve always been so helpful for me. I like the backpack a lot and think I might get one. I’m doing a road trip right now and I’m so out of practice!! We had to pack our ‘go bag’ because of the red flag warnings. Two destinations and very cold and windy. I can see the holes in my wardrobe!!

  22. I came for the Fashion and was delighted to discover the travel. Without your suggestions and experience to guide me, I never would have enjoyed visiting Chenonceau!

  23. We have the health pass in France, too. I usually take out my phone, but I keep a paper copy of my vaccination record in my bag. At the airport on a recent trip to the U.S., it was easier to scan the paper versions than to go in and out of different apps–one for the ticket, one for the vaccine…
    We are required to wear masks in any indoor public setting (all stores, for example) and also outdoors in more-crowded areas, like town centers and markets.
    Our flight to the U.S., in mid-August, was completely full. The flight back to France, at the end of August, was nearly empty. Connecting flights within the U.S. and France were also full. Airports have automated a lot, which means fewer lines–and fewer collections of strangers together.
    I had a soft suitcase/backpack back in the ’80s for an around-the-world trip. Backpackers, especially young ones, were not welcome in some hotels. I could tuck the backpack straps into their pocket and attach the shoulder strap to look more presentable. It was a great bag. Now, however, I like wheels on everything; it is just too much to carry stuff.
    For packing wine or olive oil, I highly recommend using wine boxes, which you can get at grocery stores for free. Cut them down and wrap around the bottle, then tape well. I’ve never had any break, and TSA doesn’t seem to mind (I suppose they send them through x-rays). They’ve never unwrapped my bottles. I put a tutorial on my blog a few years ago: https://francetaste.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/wine-to-go/

  24. We take Wine Skins (purchased on Amazon) when we travel. We are very much into wine tourism having been to several wine valleys in Chile, as well as in Mendoza, Argentina, and of course Bordeaux, and Épernay. WineSkins have never failed us.

  25. I ordered the Mother Load, Jr. i accidentally ordered two, and when I explained to hubby how early this would be versus trying to balance and overnight bag on a roll on suitcase, running thru airports, he decided to keep one for himself. They are very well made, and the convenience factor of carrying them backpack style really appeals to me. We never check luggage, so this is just the perfect solution! Thanks for always keeping us informed and on top of the travel and fashion world!

    1. You should bring the actual card, through we’ve also been able to use a photo of it when it wasn’t handy.

  26. Curious to know how early or near to leaving on your trip you procured the Covid test? And do you have to take another one before returning? Have a good time, and I hope your trip is as stress-free as possible. 🙂

    1. We had to have a negative Covid test within 48 hours of our arrival in Italy, so we tested near the airport the morning of our departure. We’ll have to have a negative test again within 48 hours of our return to the US, and one 3 days after our arrival in the UK (hoping we can combine the last two requirements in a single test if the timeframe works…) And thanks!

      1. Thank you! You are a travel goddess, and I throw in my vote for travel (and fashion), since that was what brought me to your blog in the first place.

  27. I purchased this bag based on your post and absolutely love it. I packed four days worth of outfits, a cover up, three swimsuits, all my toiletries, a book, my I-Pad, and a pair of flats in the junior size bag. Needed something this size desperately. Thanks so much for sharing this bag with us!!!

  28. I see you used the backpack handles to slide over your carryon. How did that work for you? Did the backpack slide around? I’m looking to purchase the Mother Lode jr but hesitated when I saw it didn’t have a build in handle to slide over luggage

    1. Hi jj, it actually worked well. If I had to tilt the spinner, I just grabbed that handle on the upper side of the backpack along with the spinner handle to keep in place. I find that even bags with the built in sleeve will sometimes slide around.

  29. Great bag! My husband and I, who are in out 70s, have used only this bad and a small daypack for 3-4 months of travel for the past 15 years! It carries everything that we need and is comfortable to use. Love it!