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 Amazon.com to find it at a discounted price.

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