The main thing to think about as you consider what gear to get for The Catalyst is mobility. Not only will you be flying back and forth to Europe and managing your transit through airports and on trains, but also you'll be traveling between our 4 classroom cities and on Acceleration. With that amount of hustle and flow in mind, here are our Catalyst alumni tips for the newbies...
Serena Thomson has not only been a student on our program but also has coordinated and managed The Catalyst as a team leader. She has strong opinions on what to bring:
I've tried the huge suitcase route for Catalyst, and my back about broke. Those monsters are a mess to manage anywhere, and I swore when we were leaving London for Paris that I'd never do that to myself again. When I came back as a coordinator, I traveled lean and mean and got everything into a Euro-travel backpack like the ones discussed at this link. I was way happier having fewer things and an easier time climbing on and off trains and stowing things in the hostels as we moved. For me? It's backpack all the way!
CJ McMullan is another alum who also came back to coordinate the program, plus CJ has ton a ton of travel since her Catalyst days. She and Sereena see the packing and schlepping issue differently! Here's CJ's take:
Look, I'm not a backpack person. I like to have my clothes and shoes and know I have enough with me to be comfortable. Plus I've tried backpacks and they are a pain to use. You have to unpack everything to find anything. Spoiler: doing that in a crowded train station so you can find a nail clipper buried in your back isn't fun. So yes I bring one suitcase that I can manage easily. But here's the thing: I do NOT bring anything else other than a purse. No other bags. The only way the one suitcase plan works is to BRING ONE bag. Anything more and you create chaos, as in: "where are my chargers? In my suitcase or in one of these nasty little bags I have festooned all over myself?"
The Hybrid Way: What Catalyst Faculty Do--Small Suitcase and Small Backpack
Professors hate hassle when they travel, and our faculty travel a ton. In asking them what they recommend the the consensus was immediate. Dr. Mack led with his customary gusto:
Look, we do this every summer. And I've never seen any of us bring either a big backpack or a big suitcase. Never once. Instead we all get a 22" roll behind suitcase like the ones in this link. And then we bring along a backpack that's about the same size we use to get around campus with on the daily. That's where we put the stuff we might need as we are on a train or in an airport. And everything else goes in the suitcase. The nice thing about that 22" size is you can carry it on with you for the big flight to Europe. Warning tho: you sometimes do have to check bags this size on the flights you make take in Europe. The size you need for those is 20" total, and for most of us that's just too compact.
So The Final Analysis...
The main thing for your solution is that you can manage it alone, well. Everybody has to be able to carry and handle their gear on their own, wherever we travel. It doesn't have to be pretty and it doesn't have to be elegant. Cheap suitcases can be just fine for this adventure. We will be in touch again with more details on packing and what to bring or not bring!