The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget, Longterm Travel

(UPDATE: This post is about a slightly older version of this bag. Osprey came out with an updated version that fixed my number one complaint – the location of the laptop sleeve. Wooo!!! FYI, I’ve updated the links in this post to direct you to the latest design, since I can no longer find the old one on Amazon. Unfortunately, the price has also gone up… but $120 is still totally worth it for this bag!)

 

We’ve officially been backpacking for 8+ months. And I mean the “backpacking” part very literally. We each have a 30L Osprey Porter, which is only slightly bigger than your typical Jansport.

Before we left, everyone thought we were crazy for taking such a small bag. But I had researched backpacks obsessively, so I stuck to my guns. It was 30L or bust.

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
All of my worldly possessions for the better part of a year.

As it turns out, that was the best decision that we could have possibly made. I love my bag, probably to a somewhat unhealthy degree, and I never want to travel internationally for an extended period of time with anything else. It’s my new travel BFF, and I refuse to leave home without it.

I know you probably don’t believe that this is the best bag ever, so I’ll try to convince you.

But I won’t try that hard. Because I secretly love watching travelers with 60L backpacks or, God forbid, rolling luggage, strugglebussing their way through train stations, along cobbled city sidewalks, and up several flights of stairs. (#Sorrynotsorry for laughing at your misfortune. You did this to yourself.)

Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly Longterm Travel
Case in point: These are the streets in Dubrovnik. Have fun.

Okay, I should probably write a quick disclaimer.

This might NOT be the bag for you if you are: high maintenance, insanely wealthy, or have severe back problems. It also might not be the #1 bag for people who are planning to do a lot of hiking or camping as they travel. (Though, for the record, I would love to be proven wrong on all of these counts!)

This IS a fantastic bag if you are: traveling for an extended period of time, backpacking on a budget, using various forms of transportation (airplanes, buses, trains, boats), are okay with going minimalist, and you want to travel cheaper, lighter, and smarter.

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
You will learn to love this lil guy, especially on travel days.

So let’s break this down. What makes the 30L Osprey Porter so great? Does it float behind you as you walk, Harry Potter style? Does it inexplicably refill with peanut butter M&M’s every time you zip it up? Does it double as a parachute if you need to make an emergency exit from a low flying aircraft?

No. But it’s still amazing. I promise.

 

CARRY ON SIZE

To me, 30L is the best possible size. It fits everything I need, with a little bit of extra room. You do have to be somewhat careful with what you pack, but if you’re doing long-term, minimalist travel, you should be paying attention to that anyway. (For example: merino wool clothing instead of cotton, multi-use items, fold-up/compressible gear, and only taking must-have’s rather than your would-be-nice items.)

Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly Longterm Travel
The Osprey Porter fits all of this and more! Get excited.

This backpack also meets the smaller carry on requirements for budget airlines like Ryanair, Vueling, and Easyjet, so you don’t have to pay extra fees to check your bag. That means your €20 budget flight from Pisa to Brussels is actually €20!

Standard “carry on size” American suitcases are too big to fit these strict guidelines. And many budget airlines also charge per kilo when checking bags, so the heavier your bag is, the more you’ll pay. (Don’t get tricked by this!)

You’ll always pay less to travel when you have this bag. And the beauty of the Osprey Porter is that it easily fits in any airplane’s overhead compartment, but can also go under the seat in a pinch.

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
If it fits, it’s free! Heyyyyy.

This means that it also easily fits on the overhead luggage racks on buses and trains, and again, you won’t have to pay any extra fees on top of your ticket. Also, if you take a ferry or boat, you can put your bag on your lap, instead of leaving it in some shady “luggage zone” and hoping someone doesn’t jack it. (Nobody guards those. You are just relying on everyone else to be as honest as you are.)

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
The Osprey Porter fits up there. Suitcases don’t.

Overall, a smaller size means taking less stuff (a good thing, I promise!), a lighter load when you’re carrying it around for several weeks or months, and cheaper travel days. Plus, it will always be within sight, which means no worrying about a lost, delayed, or stolen bag.

 

OPENS LIKE A SUITCASE

Even if you don’t get this specific bag (but let’s be real, you should), please get one that opens like a suitcase. You want a backpack that you can lay flat, unzip, and pack/unpack without a hassle.

The Osprey Porter is beautiful because it has the horseshoe shaped zipper for the main compartment. So you don’t have to take out a million different items just to reach that one thing that fell to the bottom.

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
Not emptying my entire bag just to grab my toothbrush = awesome.

Again, just to be clear. Do not get a top loading backpack (unless you hate yourself and want to be miserable).

 

OPENS LIKE A SUITCASE, BUT IS NOT A SUITCASE

So you might be like… um why would I get a backpack at all? Suitcases open like suitcases. I’ll just buy one of those.

Personally, I think this is also a mistake. Suitcases typically have a rigid frame, which makes them harder to stuff into small spaces. They are also usually heavier (due to that same rigid frame, as well as the added wheels).

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
Just say no to suitcases! (Unless they are cute bar décor. In which case, it’s a resounding YES.)

And on that note, let me tell you something. Wheels are not that great. They add unnecessary bulk and weight to your pack, aren’t actually that convenient, and when one of them inevitably breaks, you will be very sad.

If you’re traveling long-term outside of the United States, you will likely be covering a lot of different types of terrain. Most of the rest of the world does not have perfectly paved sidewalks. There are uneven cobblestones, gravel roads, tiny alleyways, and numerous flights of claustrophobic stairs. Backpacks offer much better mobility.

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
You will totally think the sidewalks are quaint and adorable… until you try to roll a suitcase along them for any amount of time.

Backpacks also allow you be hands free when you’re on the go. Which makes it easy to check a map, carry a coffee, and give the flight attendant your boarding pass, instead of trying to juggle a million things while also keeping one hand on your suitcase.

 

ALL THE STRAPS

Straps on your backpack are a good thing. You want them. This is basic ergonomics.

Hip belt: This beautiful piece of fabric puts the majority of your backpack’s weight on your hips, rather than your back and shoulders. It redistributes the weight and allows your strong leg muscles do all the heavy lifting. This makes a huge difference, even for a relatively small 30L bag.

Chest strap: This strap takes even more of the weight off your shoulders, allowing you to distribute the weight of your backpack across more parts of your body. It also prevents your arm straps from shifting or slipping off your shoulders as you move around.

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
Plus, you can take jumping pictures while wearing your backpack. Which is very important.

Padded arm straps: Comfy cozy. No straps digging into your flesh. Always a plus.

Compression straps: These are the straps on the outside of your bag that cinch everything nice and tight when you’re finished packing. They get rid of the unused space and make your whole backpack much more compact, even when you think you’ve stuffed it full. It’s also a great place to store a coat that might be too bulky for the main compartment. Just strap it in!

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
My trench coat is black, so it’s hard to see, but it’s cinched in between the bag and the compression straps.

The Osprey Porter has all of these things. Plus, if you’re worried about any of the straps getting tangled or damaged, they are all hideaway. Which means they fold up completely into side compartments to transform this bag from a backpack into a regular duffel bag.

 

OSPREY IS LEGIT

I’m not a name brand snob. In fact, I can’t think of many things that are stupider than caring about the labels on your travel gear. But, that said… Osprey is legit.

This company has been around for 40+ years, and they make high quality gear that is made to last. They will handle repair requests, send you spare parts if something breaks, and have a guarantee that any manufacturing defects will be repaired or replaced for free.

A backpack with a solid reputation makes me feel better about the fact that every single thing I currently own is inside of it.

 

PRICE

And as if this weren’t already an awesome backpack, it’s reasonably priced too!

Michael and I both have one, but bought them from Amazon at different times. We spent $82.46 on one and $91.03 on the other. (For reference, good travel backpacks are typically somewhere in the $100-300 range.)

Keep an eye on Amazon, and you can get a great deal.

(Again, note the update at the top of this page. I still think $120 is totally worth it.)

DOWNSIDES/CONS

I don’t trust it to be completely waterproof. This is solved by buying a cheap rain cover.

The laptop sleeve is toward the outside of the bag. This is a slight bummer because laptops are heavy, and you typically want to pack them close to your body, so the center of gravity of your bag is as far forward as possible. This is solved by putting your laptop in the main compartment, rather than the laptop sleeve.

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
Not as convenient, but not a deal breaker either.

Some people might say that since this bag is only 30L, that’s a downside too. But for me, that’s one of the best things about the Osprey Porter. I know that if I got a bigger bag, I would fill it with unnecessary things. It would be bulkier, heavier, and more expensive to travel.

It also doesn’t magically float behind you, or refill with M&M’s, or double as a parachute. (These problems have not yet been solved.)

 

NEW TRAVEL BFF

Living out of this bag for the better part of a year has taught me that I really don’t need as much as I thought I did. It’s been a beautiful lesson in simplicity, minimalism, and discovering what’s really important in life. #CheesyButTrue

The Best Carry On Backpack for Budget-Friendly, Longterm Travel to Anywhere
BFFAEAE <3

I know I’ve already told you guys how much I love this bag. And maybe I’ve even convinced some of you that it’s pretty awesome. It totally is. I’m obsessed.

But hopefully I haven’t completely convinced all travelers. Did you hear that? Go ahead and hang on to your big rolling luggage! (After all, I still need my entertainment on travel days.)

 

 

PSST! Still trying to figure out if this is the bag for you?

Check out these other posts to see *exactly* what fits in the Osprey Porter:

What Fits in a 30L Carry On Backpack?

What’s in Bri’s Bag?

What’s in Michael’s Bag?

 

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Comments

  1. Reply

    Guess I’m buying this bag. Thanks for the review

    1. Reply

      Nice!! Hope you like it as much as I have!

  2. Reply

    I have this same bag for my 2.5 week solo trip to Iceland! (I leave tomorrow). Reading this put me at ease as I’ve been worried all day about it not fitting in overheads etc. thank you for the wonderful read! I’m so excited this is the bag I got! I did pack mine quite full so thinking maybe I need to take a few things out…

    1. Reply

      AHHHHH – I hope you have such an awesome time!!!! I’m so excited for you! Iceland is at the top of my to-visit list 🙂 🙂 🙂
      And yes, the bag is great! I think it’ll work well for you. I never had a problem fitting it in any overheads, and when it was too full, I just added more layers to my outfit, haha.

  3. Reply

    Thank you for doing an entire post on this bag. I bought a bunch of bags to test and because of this blog post the Porter 30 made the list of bags to try and surprise I like it the best. My packing cubes fit in the Porter 30 better than another brands 45l bag! Plus this was the cheapest bag that I tested. I almost never pick the cheapest option.

    1. Reply

      No problem! This bag has been everything I wanted in a carry on backpack and more. I’m happy to share the love!! Awesome that your packing cubes fit so well, and YES – the price is definitely on point. Woooo backpack BFF fist bump.

  4. Reply

    Hi Bri,
    I’m trying to decide between the 2016 model, which is fluctuating between $78 – 100 on some websites, and the 2017 version, which is still a solid $120 everywhere. Do you know of any differences in the two versions that would make it worth the extra $$?

    It looks like the laptop pocket moves from the front of the bag to the back, they added top pockets for small items, and the buckle designs changed.

    Thanks for your great post!

    1. Reply

      Hi James! Yep, I think you nailed it. Those seem to be the main differences. Visually, it looks a bit sleeker, and yeah, there are a few extra pockets… but to me, the laptop sleeve is the biggest change. If digging out your laptop/tablet at the airport would bother you $20-40 worth, then maybe get the upgraded version. Everybody has their pet peeves. But if it were me, I’d probably stick to the 2016 model and keep an eye out for sales!

  5. Reply

    I own this bag in green and love it . I like to put my 15 inch laptop in the back, where the straps go if you turn it into a duffel bag. That way is close to my back and easy to take it out at customs

    1. Reply

      Yes! Fellow 30L lovers unite! I usually put my laptop on top of everything before customs, then move it closer to my back afterward. It’s definitely not a deal-breaker for me.

  6. Reply

    Hi Bri! Thank you for sharing your review/experience with this backpack! I’m a frequent travel looking to replace my current carry on backpack. I’m going to chose between the porter 30L and the osprey farpoint 40L.
    I think the 30l will be fine for me but I didn’t make my mind because I always take my DLSR camera. Do you think I have enough room?
    Thanks and Happy travels

    1. Reply

      Hi Jo! How many camera accessories do you usually take with you? Do you also pack several lenses? If there is a lot of extra stuff going with your DSLR, I might consider the 40L. (You could always choose to *not* fill it to capacity… though I know that’s always easier said than done 😉 ) Another option might be to order both backpacks off Amazon, and use the free shipping to return the one that doesn’t work!

      1. Reply

        Hi Bri , in the end I bought the farpoint 40l. The osprey porter wasn’t available in the UK and I might need the extra space. I carry only the DLSR and two lenses .
        Thanks for your help, I’m going this month to a road trip in Italy and I will test the backpack

        1. Reply

          I think you’ll be happy with it! The little bit of extra space will be nice, and it will still fit on most budget flights as long as it isn’t completely full. Also, enjoy your trip to Italy!!! That sounds amazing! And if Tuscany is on your agenda, Lucca is a really cute stop 🙂

  7. Reply

    In the past, I just used a medium sized top loading jansport for one-backpack-traveling but finally decided to treat myself to a real travel backpack 🙂 I tried the REI trail 40 and Osprey Nebula but wasn’t completely happy with either after a couple 4-14 day trips. I was checking out the porter 30 for a while and your post helped me choose it for good. I’m definitely in love! Just took a 10 day trip through Pakistan with just this bag and it was a dream. Easy to pack and unpack, and so easy to find stuff. Just enough pockets to stay organized! Seriously, we may adore this bag the same amount don’t you just love traveling light?! Thanks for your post!!

    1. Reply

      Heyyyy! I also once had the top-loading Jansport… it is a solid backpack, but having a legit travel bag is super nice. Glad you love the Osprey Porter as much as I do!! And yes, traveling light is SO freeing. I love it! Enjoy your travels 🙂

  8. Reply

    I almost never comment on blog posts, but I wanted you to know that every detail here was so helpful for me. Thank you so much for taking the time to write all this out! I especially loved how you ended on a note of learning to enjoy simplicity. I think sometimes these days travel has become about seeking validation from others (ie: Instagram). I try to remind myself as often as I can that that’s not why I fell in love with it in the first place. I travel to learn about myself and the world. I don’t need a big suitcase and wardrobe to do that. Thanks again!

    1. Reply

      Thank you, Genevieve!!! I love your perspective… “I travel to learn about myself and the world.” It’s definitely easy to get caught up in social media, but I completely agree — that’s not what it’s about. Keep learning and exploring 🙂

  9. Reply

    Hi! Have you tried bringing this bag as a personal item on Spirit, Allegiant or Wow airlines?
    Thanks for the awesome review!

    1. Reply

      I’ve taken it on plenty of budget airlines in Europe and Central/South America, but haven’t tried it on any smaller airlines in the US. Sorry I don’t have personal experience to share… If and when I do, I’ll be sure to update here!

  10. Reply

    Hi Bri. Just bought the same pack. Any guess how many Eagle Creek packing cubes [like the one you suggest] would fit?

    Thanks, great site/blog

    1. Reply

      Hi Scott!! YES. In fact, I have a semi-precise answer to this question! Check out this post for what fits (with measurements) in your shiny new Osprey Porter: https://thetravelmedley.com/2018/05/15/how-much-fits-30l-backpack/

  11. Reply

    I had this bag for about a year. It was great but as you mentioned it got drenched a few times. Had to strap it to me first before putting a raincoat/poncho on which looked ugly. Unfortunately the need of having multiple pairs of shoes while I travel for work became important and couldn’t fit everything so had to upgrade to the Tortuga Outbreaker. Good review though!

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