Lifestyle & Culture

Digital nomad Beth Hoke: IKEA’s UPPTÄCKA backpack changed my travel life (updated)

(Editor’s note: IKEA has discontinued the UPPTÄCKA backpack and replaced it with the FÖRENKLA backpack, which is similar but not as functional.)

US Weekly publishes a series called “What’s in My Bag?” in which celebrities reveal what they carry around with them in their purses and totes. They typically include things like designer sunglasses, expensive cosmetics, protein bars and other “necessities.”


As a digital nomad, I literally carry everything I own with me. So I thought it might be fun to show you what’s in my bag.

But first, let me tell you about the bag itself. 

When I travel, it can sometimes be a bit of a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” experience, so the lighter the load, the better. Until this past weekend, I traveled with a wheeled carry-on from American Tourister (at right in photo) that I loved.

Unfortunately, the budget airlines didn’t always love it as much as I did.

Despite the fact the body of the bag fits the dimensions listed as the maximum size for carry-ons, the wheels put it slightly over the height requirements. And honestly, it’s a little on the heavy side.

Usually this is not a problem, but several times, sticklers for the rules have balked at letting me take it on board. When that happens, the flight is no longer a bargain as luggage fees for budget airlines are often more expensive than the plane ticket itself. That’s how they get you, folks.

Because my daughter’s dog is destined to travel the world with me until she finishes her degree (my daughter, not the dog), I also have a wheeled carrier for her (the dog, not my daughter).

The problem with having two semi-heavy rolling pieces of luggage is that Europe’s train stations are full of stairs, and elevators aren’t always an option. So carrying two wheeled bags up and down multiple flights of stairs in one trip has made me wonder if I have a death wish.

Clearly, something had to change.


Recently, my daughters and I visited an IKEA in Germany and came across a transcendental backpack for only €59!

I can’t say enough good things about this piece of luggage. Ask my youngest daughter — she’s had to listen to me rave about it for days now. This thing has the potential to significantly change my traveling experience. 

This transformational piece of luggage is the UPPTÄCKA backpack with wheels. It weighs only slightly less than my American Tourister Spinner and the differences in the overall dimensions are only a few centimeters in height, width, and depth.

But the features are what makes this the perfect choice for me. 

To begin with, you have the option of using this as a backpack (or two backpacks, but I’ll get to that later) or a wheeled carry-on.

The wheels are inline skate-style, so they don’t extend enough beyond the body to cause the height to fall outside the acceptable limits for a carry-on.

The trade off is that they aren’t multidirectional wheels like the ones on my spinner, but you can’t have it all. There’s also an extendable wired stand with hard plastic tips on the bottom of the bag so it will stand upright when you need it to. 

While I’m on the topic of the bottom of the bag, I should mention that there is a protected strip of Velcro to which you can attach the back flap when you’re using it as a backpack instead of a rolling carry-on to protect your clothing from dirt and grime. 

So, back to this dual backpack concept.

The UPPTÄCKA unzips into two backpacks and this makes all the difference in the world.

Think about it. Now your one piece of luggage can become a carry-on AND a “personal item” when you need to get past the gatekeepers at the airport check-in desk. You can redistribute the dimensions and the weight to meet even the strictest of budget airline requirements! 

Speaking of zippers, you will find them all over the UPPTÄCKA. There are zippers to attach the smaller backpack to the larger one, zippers that open the larger of the two all the way for easy access to everything you’ve packed, zippers for all the smaller inside pockets, and a zipper that covers the telescoping handle that transforms it from backpack to a rolling piece of luggage. 

The main backpack has a large zippered mesh pocket inside the front flap and another that covers a bottom space where you can put your shoes or anything else that you might want to keep separate from your clothes. You’ll find the base of the telescoping handle in this area as well, but pulling the handle in and out doesn’t affect what’s in the storage space. 

Inside the main compartment, there are also several smaller mesh pockets (including one with a zipper) and a clear plastic slot where you can stash your credit cards, ID cards, or a luggage tag with your address should your luggage get lost or stolen. 

The main zippers that allow access to the backpacks all have holes that you can thread a small lock or zip tie through to secure the contents.

On the outside of the larger of the two backpacks is a water bottle holder spacious enough to hold my Camelbak Eddy. 

Adjustable buckles on both sides allow you to cinch the backpack tighter or make space to hold a pillow or jacket so you can breeze through airport security hands-free.

Dual handles make it easy to carry the bag horizontally or vertically and both the larger and smaller backpack have generous padded straps that are comfortable and don’t chafe.

The straps have loops sewn into them through which you can lace a bandanna or other small accessory, and there are two plastic pieces on the larger backpack perfect for attaching carabiners to add functionality. 

The smaller backpack is clearly meant to be home to all of your electronics and is the perfect size for carrying your “office” with you to a co-working space or a client’s location.

Lined with the UPPTÄCKA’s signature orange accent, the main compartment has room for a 15” laptop and all your files. A Velcro strap keeps your laptop secure while you travel, eliminating the chance that it will accidentally slide out when you unzip your backpack. 

The smaller, but still quite roomy, front compartment is also lined in orange and contains a zippered mesh pocket large enough to hold all of your cables and numerous nylon pockets (some with Velcro closures and some without) for your other accessories, including your cell phone, pens and pencils, external hard drive, power bank, etc. A small silver carabiner gives you somewhere to put your keys when you’re not using them.

And since you can’t leave your backpack with all your electronics out in the open when you take a bathroom break, it was nice to see that the smaller section has a loop of webbing attached to the top so you can hang it on a hook in the bathroom stall if necessary.

If I have any complaints about this backpack, they would be that the outer mesh pocket is on the side of the larger piece than the smaller, as I also want to carry my Camelbak with me to a workspace or on a day trip and the wheels aren’t multi-directional wheels like my American Tourister Spinner. But the pros far outweigh these two small cons. 

So that’s my (probably overly detailed and effusive) description of my UPPTÄCKA.

Now for a description of what’s in my bag…

Bare Necessities

As a digital nomad, I can’t live without my laptop, and a wired internet connection is a must to teach English with EF, so I consider my 13” MacBook Pro and an ethernet cable the most essential items I own.

Power to the People

A power bank just makes good sense. My iPhone 6S is getting older and the battery doesn’t last as long as it used to. I have a power bank that I got for free from a promotional company and it can fully charge my iPhone up to four times!


I bought a set of packing cubes at a thrift shop on a whim. Before I tried them, I smirked at people who used them.

Surely, packing cubes are for people who don’t know how to pack, right? Now, I totally get it.

It’s not that packing cubes make more space in your luggage. It’s that they help you be more organized and give you the ability to actually find those elusive hair ties without having to unpack and repack everything.

Clean Living

Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer works for when you’re grossed out by the thought of how many other people have held onto the same pole you have on the train. Also works great as emergency deodorant. 


I’m an American. I like my Coke with ice cubes, ok? Most Airbnbs in Europe don’t come with ice cube trays in the freezer, so Toppits Ice Cube Bags are one of my few luxuries that I carry with me. 

The ARC in My Story

I use the calendar app on my iPhone, but I’m a visual person and for planning, sometimes it’s nice to see your appointments and events for a week or month at a time. The ARC from Staples is a re-organizable travel-sized notebook with accessories galore.

Send us your tips at: [email protected]


About the author: Beth Hoke is rejoining the expat life after spending her childhood in Europe and the United States, then settling in Chicagoland to raise two daughters.

Now an empty nester, she is roaming Europe, armed with a TEFL certificate and an online position teaching English for EF.

Beth has been traveling around Europe for nine months. She’s filed posts from six countries including Italy, Germany, Croatia and Madeira, Portugal.

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