Mysteries of Medellin

You’ve heard of this city. Netflix has made sure of it. The most commercially successful criminal of the modern age hails from this place. El patron. Pablo Escobar. His is a legacy that is inseparable from Medellin. This city exploded into fame in the 1980s as the cocaine capital of the world. Most estimates say 80% of the white powder party fuel that ended up in the USA came from the Medellin cartel. The first of the Colombian “super cartels”.

Pablo was eventually brought down in a storm of violence that ripped through Colombia. Rival cartels, paramilitary organizations, the Colombian government, as well as the the American CIA all orchestrated his downfall. That was December 1993.

25 years later, Medellin is a rapidly changing city. Is cocaine widely available and offered? Sure. It’s the same in dozens of cities across the globe.

So now what? turns out I’ve been fascinated about Colombia for quite some time. Raw beauty, enchanting people and a beat all it’s own. This week, it was time for me to leave the sunny embrace of Cartagena, for the cool mountain intrigues of Medellin. this city, although only an hour flight from Cartagena could not be more drastically different. Cartagena is distinctly Caribbean. It’s akin to an odd mashup of places like the old town in Hanoi, with a Havana twist. Busy, rhythmic and enchanting, Cartagena is easy to wrap your mind around and manage. Medellin on the other hand is a different animal all together. This city is big. The climate is much cooler, and the vibe is one of a major city on the move. Having just spent a few days here so far, I’ve been traversing this valley as much as possible. This is a place with layers. With depth and grit. The art, the people, the food, all reflect this. to start, one has to venture to the plaza Botero. Famed Medellin artist Fernando Botero is now on his 80s. His pieces are all over the world. Including this one in Cartagena. his style is modern and one of largess. The sculpture park here in Medellin is a kick ass afternoon wander. Although numerous people informed me that the park can be quite dangerous at night.

the pieces collected here represent a cross section of his work Be sure to take an afternoon and discover this plaza in the middle of the city. Enjoy a lemonade de coco, and taste this neighborhood. Bring an umbrella as it may rain for a bit. Watch the clouds roll in and take it easy for the down pour. The art scene here is indicative that this city is so much more than the single story of drugs, cartels and violence. The layers here prove amazing, as does the scenery with the mountains always in the background.

Medellin is a place I’ve barely begun to unwrap and I’m already hungry for more.

More coming soon!

From Cartagena with love.

So, now 5 days into this charmed city on the Caribbean and what have we learned? We arrived famished and eager, taking it all in and pushing forward despite all odds. What an absolute blast. This is a kick ass city. Effortlessly grand, historic, bustling and hot. Stupendously hot. This city practically pulses with a beat, salsa in nature, well into the early hours. The ceviche is fresh, bursting, addicting.

I switched it up for this run, slowed it down and dug deeper into the places I’m in. 3 weeks in Colombia should give an ample snapshot of this incredible place. A few of the benefits of this approach will be discussed here. First and foremost, I’ve been treated to an absolute dream in wandering the walled city after an epic storm.

I slept late to the rain and thunder, then ventured out to explore the famed “walled city”. This is the first Spanish settlement on the South American continent. Built to protect against Sir Francis Drake and other British pirates as the quest for new world riches began in earnest. this place bleeds history, and walking these streets is an experience in itself. No all inclusive triple sec high fructose soaked pool bar here, surrounded by people who look, talk, and act like you…leave that shit for the cruise ships. Get lost. Find something amazing.

one amazing thing I encountered is when traveling alone…do me a favor, and throw your phone in airplane mode. At this point all the wireless carriers offer day passes or data allotments…but try this for a day. Only check your phone a few times a day when WiFi is avail. Be ACTUALLY present in the moment. By face fucking your phone, and taking more pictures of your beer than drinking it, you are missing out on everything around you. Strike up conversation, engage someone, ask for directions and struggle with the language, that is the very essence of traveling. You will be pleasantly surprised by this miniature “digital detox”. Through the process above I’ve met some amazing people. Even in the few days here. By staying a bit longer, it’s allowed me to dig in deeper to the culture with the help of some local awesomeness. Case in point, a few nights ago, my buddy Alejandro and I, who I met randomly asking for directions came across an amazing couple in a local market. They decided since it was my first time in Cartagena, that I must have their favorite arepas. A matter of pride and graciousness. I didn’t need to consult trip advisor, or Facebook, or read a damn review. We walked and chatted with them for a few hours and indulged local history, cultural insight and amazing street food. when we arrived at this stand, I was the only non local there. This is exactly what it’s all about. Meet some locals, fall in love with a location. Struggle a bit, find your groove, put your phone away and enjoy.

Cartagena, it’s people, it’s architecture, history and flavor all prove intoxicating. Warm and easy, this place has it all. I leave tonight for the mountains, as they are always calling. Medellin coming up next!

No surrender, no retreat.

Welcome to Colombia!

Say what?!

Yes dear readers, we braved Iceland to tell you all about WOW air and glaciers in the previous piece, and now we have arrived in warmer climates.

Welcome to Cartagena, Colombia!

The Kelty bag and I are once again on the road. This time for the first flight on Jet Blue. The process was solid, staff friendly, and the cabins kept extra chilly…which I love! Over all thumbs up to the team at Jet Blue oh this initial run.

Colombia has long been on my list, and I’m super stoked to be here. I want to present this country over the next few weeks outside of the single story we in the USA have heard over and over again. The single story of cocaine and violence. This place is so much more than that, and I want to share all of it with you. Now, I’ve been in country a whole twelve hours, and already I need to tell you a few things. First and foremost, this, (and you) are absolute bullshit if you travel to a place and don’t make any attempt at the language. You can try to at least master “Thank you”. If I can stutter through a few failed sentences, so can you. Assuming everyone speaks English, everywhere and at all times belongs in the depths of wankerdom. The practice immediately builds walls between you and what could be a kick ass local/authentic experience.

The second is another gleaned from my personal arsenal. Airline food sucks. Duh. No point complaining about it, as it’s not getting better. What I want you to do on your next flight is decline that shit. Have some snacks so you’re not all wienery and hangry to those around you. Then when you arrive, arrive famished. Arrive famished, interested and ready. Drop your bag at your accommodation of choice, embrace that hunger, and set out on foot.

What you find, might just change your fucking life. (And no, kick literal rocks Mr. Hard Rock Cafe) get out there and take a chance. There is no better way to begin to understand a place and a culture than its food. Today, after two bags of pretzels and a sneaky Kind bar, I found this.

Absolute Caribbean glory. I chatted in broken Spanish about the menu, and the area. The owner happened to be there. There are a few options I’m stoked to try in the coming days. Carpe that fucking diem. I’m happy to report that after an early morning Detroit departure and being heinously crop dusted in Fort Lauderdale by an evil old woman, I have arrived. Logged a few miles on the shoe lace express, chatted with some locals, and now completely ceviche drunk and content I will wander this city by the moon. Painting a picture of this “gem of the Caribbean”, I hope you’re ready for more.

As featured on NPR…

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Super stoked to announce that I was able to sit down for a chat with NPR local station affiliate WMUK 102.1!  I made the short trek over to Kalamazoo, to sit with Zinta Aistars, for the Between the Lines program. This program focuses on writing and the creative. The hour I was in the studio seem to blast by.    The link is live and up now.

Gypsy professor on between the lines

 

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This was so much fun! Zinta’s interview style is easy and engaging. She picked a great picture for the cover of the piece. Me, eyeballs deep in the mighty chicken fish, the local legend of the hawker stalls of Kuala Lumpur.

We chatted motivation, culture, history, writing, the blog, and a few things in between. I’ve been waiting to announce this, and find this timing perfect, as I leave for Iceland on a twisted weekend adventure this week! If you dont remember that story is here: A Note on Spontaneity

Listen to the interview if you need a smile on your way to wherever, and leave me some Monday motivation! Hopefully not the last time I find myself on the airwaves. I would love feedback.

 

 

Cheers!

 

A Note on Spontaneity

Just fucking go.

 

Seriously.

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There will always be a thousand excuses not to. Some more pliable than others.  Is it the perfect time? Probably not. Do you have wads of disposable income with no other designated purpose than making you smile? Probably not. On the flip side, however, do you need to eat out 3~ days a week? Probably not.  Lease and drive a new wanker mobile? Most likely not.  Do you really need that 5$ a day latte habit? Certainly not. Do any of these things actually make your life better?

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Find a way, buy the ticket, take the ride.  adventure is the one purchase that will always make you richer. Set the goal, embrace the unknown, and love taking the plunge. Love yourself enough to say “Lets do this”!  Even if this means finding yourself post leap, hurdling toward certain disaster, then at the last minute  building your wings on the way down, and coasting into bliss. I’ve never encountered anyone, late in life that said “I wish I didn’t adventure as much” or “I wish I would have spent more time at the office”…because that shit simply does not exist.  This is your life, and its ending one minute at a time. Why are you wasting these precious minutes on shit relationships, craptastic jobs, or toxic friendships?  There is a freaking world out there to discover. Literally billions of people, crazy flavors, insanely great cultures, traditions, and collective experiences.

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I want to help you. In fact, I am dedicated to helping you. In this vein, I want you to maximize those travel dollars and inspire you to get up, get moving, and get into having your mind blown.  I have posted about some crazy airfare deals in the past, its one of the main pillars for cheap travel. In recent years there’s been a monsoon of activity for the LCC (Low Cost Carrier) segment.  What is this all about?

 

Funny you should ask.

 

I will take the plunge for you. I’ve just booked 200$ (USD) roundtrip flights to Iceland…for a weekend…Two weeks from now. This is exam season, and I don’t have a ton of time. Who goes to Iceland for a weekend?! Who books transatlantic travel less than two weeks out!?

The GypsyProfessor, that’s who. I’m going to detail the experience, and let you know how twisted it gets, and how bare bones it can be. Savage plastic lawn chairs aboard an airbus for 6 hours. Will it prove worth it?

This way when the next dirt cheap fare pops, you will have all the info you need to pull the trigger. Just a mini weekend run before we prep for a run through the jungle after the semester finishes!

Reykjavik! Prepare for my triumphant return!

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Wish me luck, and leave some love!

Road trip…euro style.

Well damn.

Sometimes a few amazing things come together. I’ve been slacking the last few days, and desperately needed to post an update.

There are times when things come together to truly make an impression on you.

If you recall, I was all set to hit Europe with a recently retired family friend. Here

We landed in Amsterdam for his very first trip to Europe.

It was coooold in the Dutch capital, but the three of us had an absolutley amazing time. Exploring tiny Dutch pubs and wandering through the red light district. Watching two people take it all in for the first time is fucking magic. I realized that this is my 13th time through Amsterdam (if I remember correctly) so viewing this magnificent city through fresh lenses made me continually smile.

From The Netherlands we planned to head to coastal France, so the next morning we grabbed our car to begin an epic 8 day road trip. Of course, my reservation was “not avail” so an optional upgrade was engaged.

Time to shred across Europe in this big diesel beast. Yes, Sixt gave me a brand new Jaguar with 1200 miles on it. 😈 I’ve never spent much seat time in a Jaguar, and now after logging 2,000 kilometers I can say…it’s rather fun!

To Normandy we headed where we spent the rest of the weekend. Coastal France is fucking gorgeous. Within moments one can slip into fantasy, imagining walking along small cobblestone streets clutching a baguette and enjoying a peaceful life.

For me it was my inevitable return after a decade long absence. Rediscovering this rolling countryside and shredding long car tours through the stunning land scapes has granted me a kind of serenity. There simply aren’t many places quite like this.

I’ve fallen into this routine of driving, talking, engaging these lifelong friends and showing them the amazing features of life here…touring all day, and then stupendous food in the evening, a few bottles of local product and chats long into the night.

Babies don’t sleep this good.

I’ve been completely immersed in the moment, on a different wave length altogether. I haven’t updated like I usually do, but you will have to forgive me.

Coming up next is the galvanizing trek out to the American cemetery in Normandy and Omaha beach. Then down south for a peek into a medieval abbey.

Ready for this??

Leave some love!

7 more days…Travel to soothe the soul

2018 so far, has packed in some monumental change. The conclusions and insight apparent within the first few months have been astounding. The upheaval, transitions, and even betrayal have left me wounded and a feeling like an old tire. Where to go from here? Clarity is needed, and when dealing with uncertainty, clarity becomes rare.

This post is going to be a personal one, but with a twist. I believe travel can be a kind of therapy. The same vein I wrote about previously, upon discovering the glory of solo travel,  Baltic Success on the Solo Road  Showed me how cathartic and solidifying travel can be. I was scattered and disheveled.  That trip taught me a new dimension to self reliance, and embracing the unknown, and its time for me to re imagine those lessons.

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Timing is an odd beast. Tricky, yet at times serendipitous. As i’m dealing with personal drastic and radical change, today’s date reminds me that now we are 7 days away from heading back over the pond.  Timing indeed.

This story goes back years. Ill keep it to the condensed version. I have a near and dear family friend, who retired from teaching a few years back. Shortly before retirement, over our customary Friday beverages, I implored him to join me on an excursion. Having taught history for decades, I knew he would marvel at so many destinations. The food, the wine, architecture and history.  I also had an additional angle. I could not travel with my own father, as since his remarriage he apologetically informed me that he simply would never be allowed to go with me. His new wife forbade it. If he was going to travel, it would have to be with her. (and of course, they promptly never went anywhere)  That was a bitter pill to swallow. That dynamic frayed my parental relationship permanently. The politics and savagery of divorce, and the inherent power struggles native to integrating new relationships left me in an odd position. I have always appreciated the “old guy hindsight” the anecdotes, and the comparisons of days gone past. I’ve got years of formal education, a handful of degrees, and a bit of travel experience, but the older I get, I realize how little I know. I’ve come to embrace the fact that I need to talk less, and listen more.

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So, after imploring my family friend for a few years, he finally went and renewed his passport. Now we were getting somewhere! (his last passport expired in 1977). Late last year, a cheap ticket popped up for Amsterdam. This was it. Time to book, to take the plunge and not look back.  His daughter, whom I grew up with decided there was no way she was sitting this one out and joined in on the adventure. We were now a trifecta heading to The Dutch capital.

Our plan?

This year happens to be the 100 year anniversary of the end of WWI. We have decided to rent a car (diesel, and equipped with a 6sp) to rip across the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Hitting The major battle fields en route to Normandy. The Somme in particular. What is it about the road, saltwater and good friends that proves so lethal to the doldrums?  A stop in Champagne, Bayeux, Lille, and possibly Bruge, should thoroughly enthrall the senses. I am hoping that in the end, the time on the road, the chats, the wine, and the journey will grant me the clarity I need in choosing my path forward.  I hope you are looking forward to dispatches from the road! A new episode of the Gypsy Professor is fast approaching.

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Monday Musings…a day late.

Today has been a Tom Petty kind of day. I miss that guy.

Fat Tuesday is here, its cold outside, and there are Paczki near at hand. Tuesdays may be the most difficult day of the week this semester. The previous evenings night class ends at 9:30. post the long slog of Monday, I am left to stumble home, a bit numb and wind down before bed. The true endurance is needed for the early morning rise on Tuesday.

How do you stay motivated? Do you look at flights? Pictures from previous trips?

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After much thought I’ve come to realize that the tricky Motivation beast is not a bottomless well, but a battery that has to be kept fully charged, and maintained. While the idea of travel is almost always inspiring, sometimes life gets in the way and then suddenly, your focus has shifted, you’re distracted, your limited supply of fucks have been redirected elsewhere. those are precious fucks, and you have a finite supply from day to day, so keep those eyes on the prize.

I feel as if I’ve had my ass kicked this semester. A month through South East Asia,Holy shit. Angkor Wat. then An incredible and yet taxing time in Haiti, The End of the World…Caribbean style. only to land  back to a full time grind a day later. The day job, running a small business, office hours, grading, the side hustle, writing, reading… who in the hell has time to run down their dreams?!? You know the whole damn point to all of it? I can get easily distracted, and these last few days have been a low point of frustration and exhaustion.

Motivation is important, and I want to discuss it shortly.

When it comes to traveling;

 

3 Quick bits

Research Destinations — Google them, read blogs about them. Here, and all over the web.  These are the initial steps, build the foundation, and eventually you’ll get there. It may sound wankerish, but by always keeping travel on my mind, I have a mental place to focus on, don’t just zone out, keep those eyes on the prize. Be mindful about what it is you want. Don’t worry, there will plenty of people to shit on your grand ideas. Friends and family who have never left the country rarely shy from giving you their input about not going there…because, in fact they have never gone anywhere. This is a GREAT sign. People bag on things they don’t understand. Just worry about getting there. You know when you encounter someone who is actively keeping their dreams alive. They are typically supportive of your endevours, positive and cool to interact with. Those that let their dreams die a twisted death are past even cynical, and their jaded nature finds a way to alter almost every aspect of conversation with them. People will either inspire you, or drain you. Chose them wisely.  I’m constantly researching destinations online, reading news from overseas, and generally getting to know the world better. Refining my “short list”.  The more I learn and absorb about various places, through history, culture, food, etc…Im left energized with a feeling of “So many places, so few years”.

Devote time – Stuff always seems to come up, doesn’t it? Life happens. Life happens fast. Blink and you will be in a long term relationship, picking out matching leisure wear, yelling at kids to stay off your grass. Guess who didn’t climb that goddamn mountain?  Look, nothing awesome comes easy. I spend roughly an hour per day looking at airfare and options for adventure. My dad, on the other hand reads the local obits every morning. (see the difference here)? Instead of wasting time on toxic people, or drowning in the mental masturbation of social media take that time back. Devote that shit to planning your trip. Make it a consistent part of your schedule and develop a habit so that it doesn’t feel like a task you “have” to do; it becomes just something you do automatically. Book a flight. Just do it. Go. You might be shocked whats waiting for you.

Read, Read…Read! — Reading about other travelers’ adventures can show you that it is easier to travel than you thought, provide advice and tips on the art of travel, and teach you about places you’ve never heard of. Start with the history of a particular region, then move onto some of the literature. Your experience will pay off in dividends.  And of course you can read about some of it here. Shameless plug.  Scared of Albania? Read about peoples experience there. I’m sure there are dozens of blogs dedicated to everything from the art/music scene, hidden beaches, solo female travel, vegan food options, etc. You go with a glimpse of history, end up with a talented musician on a secluded beach…how much better than some bullshit Caribbean cruise would that be? Perhaps One day you’ll get sick of living vicariously through others, and you will be all set to go make your own blooper/highlight reel.

This, as well as hanging out on travel forums will also help you tune out the ass hats that tell you “you can do that”. Life is too damn short for that shit. Like i said before, you chose your company. chose wisely.

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Leave some love

One week in; Sober February

There is something about a bright Saturday morning.

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A bright beautiful morning, waking up organically without an alarm, pondering the possibilities of the day…and not dying from a fucking hangover. Lets be honest, hitting it hard on Friday night…post the age of 25 hurts the next day. Periodically I switch it up, and take a month off from alcohol. Every February, and sometimes a bit in the fall. Turns out, makes a world of difference on weekend mornings, and saves cash for other pursuits… such as travelling the world. Below are some of the benefits included from taking a brief break from booze.

From Amy Guttman

NPR Link

As New Year’s resolutions go, cutting back on food and drink are right at the top of the list. And while those vowing to change their eating habits may cut the carbohydrates or say a sweet goodbye to sugar, for regular drinkers, the tradition may involve what’s known as a “dry January”: giving up booze for a month.

But could such a short-term breakup with alcohol really impart any measurable health benefits?

The staff at the magazine New Scientist decided to find out, using themselves as guinea pigs. The findings of their small but intriguing experiment suggest the answer is a resounding yes.

The magazine is based in the U.K., where the dry January concept has been gaining traction, thanks to an annual campaign by the charity Alcohol Concern. In late 2013, 14 healthy New Scientist employees filled out lifestyle questionnaires, underwent ultrasounds and gave blood samples. Then, 10 of them gave up alcohol for five weeks, while four of them continued drinking normally.

“Normal” drinking for the New Scientist group ranged from 10 units of alcohol per week — the equivalent of about eight 12-ounce bottles of regular-strength beer — to 80 units, or 64 beers, per week. Those numbers may seem high, but in Britain, where drinking is a national pastime, the group’s supervising doctor told them none were problem drinkers. (Incidentally, Britain’s National Health Service recommends no more than 14 to 21 alcohol units per week.

 The results of these changes were significant enough to make you put down your pint and take notice.

Dr. Rajiv Jalan, a liver specialist at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London, analyzed the findings. They revealed that among those in the study who gave up drinking, liver fat, a precursor to liver damage, fell by at least 15 percent. For some, it fell almost 20 percent.

Abstainers also saw their blood glucose levels — a key factor in determining diabetes risk — fall by an average of 16 percent. It was the first study to show such an immediate drop from going dry, Dr. James Ferguson, a liver specialist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham in England, told us last year.

Overall, the evidence is convincing but not all that surprising, said Ferguson, who was not involved in the experiment.

“If you take time off from alcohol, it’s going to be beneficial for your liver from the reduction of fat,” he told The Salt. “People always forget the amount of calories in alcohol, so if you take a month off, and you usually consume 20 units, you’re going to lose weight and fat. It’s a massive reduction in calories. ”

The main causes of excessive fat in the liver are obesity and excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol changes the way the liver processes fat, resulting in more fat cells that can cause inflammation, leading to liver disease.

But Ferguson warned that a dry January could trigger the same sort of negative boomerang effect as do restrictive diets: First you abstain, then you binge to make up for it. He questioned whether a dry January leads to a wetter-than-normal February.

Beyond that, there’s the question of whether and how much these improvements last in the long run. Ferguson offered a sobering view.

“I don’t think taking one month a year off alcohol makes any difference,” he says. “It’s more important to cut back generally.”

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Gear Review: The Kelty 44L Pack

Here she is. The  Kelty Redwing 44 L Backpack 2013 – Black. I’ve been traveling for a few years with this pack as my mid range option. I’ve made this beast work for numerous  month long trips to both Asia, as well as Europe. I also use this pack for my shorter 10-20 day excursions as well. From Cabo, to Bangkok the Kelty 44 Redwing gets it done. Please use the above link to purchase.

Lets take a look at the specs.

Features

Specifications

    • Dual side pockets
    • Front pocket with organization
    • Front Stash pocket with closure hook
    • Top stash pocket
    • Side compression straps
    • Water bottle pockets
    • Dual use Laptop / Hydration Sleeve
    • Hide-Away Daisy Chain and Handle
    • Ice axe/trekking pole loops
    • Key fob
    • HDPE frame sheet
    • Hex Mesh back panel, shoulder straps and waist belt
    • Padded and ventilating back panel
    • Sternum strap
    • Load lifter straps
    • Single LightBeam aluminum stay
    • Removable waist belt
    • Volume: 2700 in3 / 44 L
    • Frame Type:  Internal
    • Weight:  2 lbs 10 oz / 1.2 kg
    • Torso Fit Range:  14.5 – 18.5 in / 37 – 47 cm
    • Dimensions: 25 x 15 x 12 in / 64 x 38 x 30 cm
    Body Fabric: 
    Poly 420D Small Back StaffordReinforcement Fabric: 
    Poly 75x150D Tasser Coal

    Frame Material: 
    Aluminum + HDPE

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fresh with a crumpled Ukrainian air tag, on the floor of the Chicago L train from the airport to the loop.

IMG_6958 This bag has served as a carry on for me with numerous regional carriers, LCC’s and everything in between. I’ve never had a problem using this pack as a carry on. 2016 I logged 225k miles in the air or so, and use the Kelty as my “one bag” option.

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Here is a handy video of the features.

I have loved this pack, and its versatile features. The zipper design means I dont have to use it as a top load only, and thus smashing all of my stuff into the bottom. I have traveled with laptops, tablets, etc, and this is a superb design for the digital nomad, and mobile professional.

Kelty Redwing 44 L Backpack 2013 – Black

Please leave a comment with any questions or comments. Thank you!