Airport security and I have a chequered past. From the fact that they ALWAYS seem to target me for a full-body pat-down, to the time when I was a waif-like twenty-something flying to South Africa after letting a hairdresser friend experiment on my long locks with pink hair dye a few days earlier… long story short, I was pulled over to the female side of the queue to be frisked by a security guard who, after looking up at my face and hearing my voice, giggled embarrassingly at her mistake and just waved me through untouched. Laugh all you like, I could have had anything hidden in my skinny jeans (smugglers, take note: androgyny + social embarrassment = winning). Anyhoo, suffice it to say that when an ad for a backpack that lets you sail through airport pre-checks with ease popped up on my news feed, I jumped at the opportunity to check out the Onli Travel Venture Rolling Pack.
Having an ongoing feud with airport security is hardly conducive to a happy travelling life, especially for a travel writer and ‘digital nomad’, so anything that can reduce this regular hassle is manna from heaven. Speaking of ongoing feuds, my partner and I have a perennial debate over whose luggage weighs more – one she usually wins by explaining that she has to pack my hairdryer (old habits) in order for my checked luggage to be under the maximum weight limit – so the extra packing space offered by the Onli is an added boon.
The Onli was designed by a father and son team in order to solve the Catch-22 faced by many frequent travellers: You want more on-board luggage space than a regular backpack offers but you don’t want to run the risk of cabin crew forcing you to stow your carry-on wheelie case in the luggage department for the baggage handlers to use as a football before volleying it into the cargo hold. It’s heartening to know that I’m not the only traveller who feels this way.
And so the Onli was born. It’s a modular case that has three basic compartments that can create a multitude of different iterations. The three major parts are the wheelie case, the ‘front’ backpack (day bag) and the ‘back’ backpack (rucksack). These zip together to make one large carry-on case that’s 52cm x 34.3cm x 15.25cm measurements are specifically designed to fit within most airline’s maximum carry-on limits (more on this later).
The thinking behind the design is that cabin crew usually ask passengers with wheelie cases to check their carry-on while letting those with backpacks take them onto the plane. No one likes checking their case if they don’t have to, so the Onli allows you to wheel your way through the airport and then strap the case on to your back so that you can have your hairdryer (or whatever) to hand during your flight.
If you’re travelling with a particularly officious airline, I would suggest downsizing to just the rucksack and the wheelie case, as with the day bag on the front it could be considered too bulky for any airlines with stricter and smaller maximum measurements; also, those two should still give you plenty of storage for a short trip. And if you do get picked on when aboard the plane, you can simply unzip the modules and spread them around the storage compartments or under your seat.
The backpack boasts a TSA-friendly checkpoint design, which is perfect for those who regularly travel around the US; its padded laptop compartment means that you just have to unfold the back of the backpack to put it through the scanner without actually having to remove the computer itself. It also has a particularly cool ‘shelf-holder’ feature that means you can hook the ‘day bag’ onto the seat in front of you and rest your tablet on the unzipped shelf in order to watch movies or type emails throughout the flight.
What I love about the Onli is its attention to detail. Nothing about it feels cheap or rushed and every inch has been thought out. There are compression straps that can contract your luggage and an expansion element that can, um, expand it, adding an extra 26 litres to the already generous 43 litres of packing space available in the complete pack. The retractable handle that pops out of the top of the case can be zipped away for use and there are even removable hip belts for those who plan on doing a lot of hiking or really testing the limits of the carry-on weight allowance. And the design team’s dedication to quality means that you won’t feel as if you’ll need to replace the bag after a few years of heavy travelling.
One piece of advice is to fully orientate yourself with the mechanics of the bag before you take it on a plane. In order to create all of its various iterations, the bag has several zips; some of these overlap and take a little bit of work to get the hang of. A born fool that rushes in, I didn’t heed the instructions to READ THIS FIRST! before heading out on a month-long trip to Norway. Cue a hilarious-as-long-as-you’re-not-me scene at Oslo bus station in which I thought I’d left my iPad on the plane and spent literally five minutes in a flustered panic trying to locate the device by trying the same three zipped compartments over and over again before discovering that I’d placed it sensibly in the padded laptop section.
The backpack is resilient enough for a decent hike and I put it through its paces walking from Frognerseteren to Sognsvann with no problems at all. The day bag has Velcro straps which are obviously less sturdy but have the added advantage of expanding to allow for much more storage. You can even zip the two bags together to create a larger backpack for longer trips or hikes, as well as apply a stowable cover that encases the exterior of the pack in a sheet of soft yet durable protective material for transit.
The wheelie case also has excellent storage (over 13 litres), definitely enough for a week’s worth of clothes, gadgets and accoutrements; it also has side pockets for easy access to a water bottle or snacks. When combined together you really do have a decent amount of space and if you can slip the whole pack past the cabin crew then you can travel with no extra luggage fees or concerns about getting your belongings pummelled by the baggage handler soccer team.
If you opt for the packing cubes (and I recommend you do, if only for the adorable labels, e.g. ‘Small Items’) then you’ll have eight soft, zip-lock bags for everything that you could possibly need, from toiletries and cords/chargers to folders for your suit, shirts, trousers and shoes.
So far the Onli is difficult to fault and it’s made travelling throughout Norway a breeze. The Onli has allowed me to take more stuff than I would, yet I feel as if I’m taking less as all my items are spread out between the Onli and my larger suitcase. Our next trip involves taking a campervan around the Hebrides in September and the Onli seems ideal for this. I only hope that there’s a spare socket on there for my hairdryer.
Prices start from $99 for the full set of packing cubes, with the Onli Venture Backpack costing $199.00, the Onli Travel Venture Rolling Pack $299.00 and the Complete Onli Travel All-In-One Bundle coming in at $379.00. For more information please visit: www.onlitravel.com
David Harfield is the director of PepperStorm Media and writes about his three passions: food, booze and travel.
Photographs courtesy of Onli Travel