NorChill Soft-Sided Cooler for Road Trips — or Plane Travel

Ever use a soft-sided cooler bag as a carry-on? I did last month, when we were flying from Colorado to Minnesota to begin a wild mystery road trip through seven states. A cooler for storing water bottles, snacks, sandwiches and leftovers is a non-negotiable must have for our family road trips, and I knew I had to have a good one for this adventure that didn’t start from our own garage.

Norchill coolerMy brand-new soft-sided cooler, the NorChill 24-Pack (yes, it holds a case of soda or beer), did the trick — in so many more ways than one. First, I packed the heavy-duty, thickly padded bag with my DSLR camera, laptop computer and other necessities for my plane trip. It’s size — 10 by 18 by 12 inches — is ideal for carrying on a plane, as is the shoulder and hand straps. I also appreciated the extra cushion for my valuables; the external zipper pocket was ideal for storing I.D., boarding passes and paper itinerary.

Did I feel a little silly carrying a royal-blue, soft-sided cooler as my carry-on? For sure. It’s not quite as classy as my Briggs & Riley Shopping Tote or as sleek as other backpacks and rollerboards I have in my rotation, but it’s efficient to use a cooler as a suitcase, that’s for sure. Gotta love any travel item that can pull double duty.

Once we were on the road — from Minnesota to Texas over the course of a week! — we made use of the cooler daily. It fit perfectly between the kids in the backseat of our rented Ford Flex (when we needed a barrier between them to allay arguments) or at their feet when they were getting along. At hotels where we didn’t have a fridge in our room, we used bags of ice to keep our food cold overnight; we can confirm that the heavy-duty “leak-proof” liner indeed does not leak. We didn’t use it to keep hot foods hot, but the bag does have a “dual-temp insulation system” for just that use — great for transporting warm dishes to potluck parties.

I forsee using our NorChill cooler until it wears out. It does have a two-year warranty, that I need to activate online, but it’s so sturdy and solidly manufactured, I see this cooler lasting for a long time to come.

The 24-Pack Cooler retails for $49.99 on the Norchill site; also browse around to find it at a discounted price.

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Kara Williams covers gear and travel clothing for women or kids and is one of the founders of The Vacation Gals blog. See more at

1 Comment

  1. Alex on July 14, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Great tip, Kara! This would be great for carrying around our breastmilk for our baby. WE could never bear leaving her behind at home. and taing her along with us has proven to be quite a challenge. Your idea would seem to make things a lot more manageable.