Talking Travel Rediscovering America Suzanne Wright The Booth Museum Georgia


Got Baggage?
by Suzanne Wright

This article got its start on a trip. I flew a U.S.-based carrier (hint: headquartered in Chicago) non-stop to Salt Lake City from Atlanta. When I retrieved my checked bag, I was distressed to see that the top handle was ripped right out of the bag, hanging pitifully on one screw.

The bag, by the way, was the brand the flight crews carry and only a year old. When I asked the airline to repair it, I was told they “don’t cover straps or handles.” The representative pointed to a sign which indicated the airline was not responsible for “normal wear and tear.” What, I wondered, would this airline repair in the way of baggage? “Well, when we run over a bag, we replace it.”

A call to the manufacturer to explore whether they might repair the bag at no charge yielded the same finger-pointing: “We only cover defects, not normal wear and tear.”


Well then...

Since very few manufacturers or airlines offer travelers recourse for damaged bags, I decided to do a little research of my own. I travel for a living, so I am a tough judge of luggage. For more than a month, UPS and FedEx personnel hefted oversized boxes to my third-floor walkup, grimacing with exertion. When I explained my task — to find some of the best luggage on the market — they were intrigued. Seems all of us have at one time or another, suffered from luggage remorse. I felt like Goldilocks, during the course of my research: some bags were too big, some were too small … and a few were just right.

A Luggage Primer

Admittedly, buying luggage isn’t on par with buying a car or house. Still, putting considerable thought into the selection will result in increased satisfaction in your investment, especially these days with amped-up security and crowds. Having the right bag makes traveling so much more pleasurable, and it may mean the difference between carry-on or stowed, health or an aching back, and damaged or undamaged belongings.

But, before we discuss some of my favorite road-tested bags, let’s review how you use your baggage.

• How often do you travel? The more you travel, the more durable your luggage must be. Ballistic nylon (check out the denier; higher counts equal toughness) used on soft-sided luggage is the most durable material in use — and will best withstand the rigors of rough handling. Top-Quality bags have rugged zippers, handles and wheels built to withstand the rigors of frequent use.

• How long are your trips? Just because you take a longer trip, doesn’t necessarily mean you need bigger baggage. I spent a month in India in a “rollaboard” (although I will confess to wanting to burn the clothing upon my return). Today’s wheeled luggage allows you to use the attached strap to add up to three bags. I recommend a 22 inch bag that can be carried on board and a 24 inch bag to check.

• What type of trip will you be taking? The needs of a business traveler are different from those of a leisure traveler. Will you be traveling to one destination and staying or living out of your luggage? If you’ll be living out of your luggage you might want a lot of pockets for organizing, or several small organizers to pack in your luggage. Business travelers need to keep their clothing looking neat. If you are a cruise aficionado, consider the size of your room; ditto if you are a frequent visitor to cities like London and Western Europe, where many rooms are so small that a larger bag is impractical to store. Active vacationers will want to review wheeled duffels that can accommodate gear easily and often feature detachable daypacks.

• Carry-on or checked? If you plan to carry on your luggage, look for the lightest bag that can be easily stored — and make sure it meets the size requirements of your carriers. Log onto or for more baggage information.

• Hard side or soft side suitcases? Resistant to stains and tops at protecting fragile items, hard side luggage may have the longest life (although it may dent or crack). Improved composition materials have made shells lighter; however, even when empty they can still be heavy and/or clunky, a consideration now that weight limits are being so strictly enforced at the airport. Soft side suitcases are lightweight, zippers can be secured, almost all have wheels, and some are expandable for additional packing volume. If you are a fan of garment bags, look for folding, wheeled versions (though there are far fewer of them offered.)

• What are you willing to spend? You can buy luggage in every price range. Brand name luggage often comes with a good (and sometimes, great) warranty, but no-name or private label brands may also suit your needs. Remember, just because a suitcase is expensive, does not mean it will meet your needs or perform well.

• How important is style? Like apparel, some luggage manufacturers offer annual collections with fashion-forward designs and colors. Designer brands like Louis Vuitton are made from the highest quality leather with solid brass fittings and are distinctive and prestigious. Cachet, naturally, comes at a premium.

A Few of My Favorite Bags

Having the right luggage makes a world of difference.

My primary consideration is toughness: I want my luggage to withstand the rigors of conveyors and sorting machines, not to mention being stacked, dropped and thrown through the air. I’ve sat at the window seat as they loaded the bags, so I know how they are manhandled. I’d never consider anything but wheeled luggage — and I’m not alone: a recent national travel magazine polled its readers and found that 72 per cent said wheeled luggage was the single thing that has changed travel for the better.

I also paid special attention to the handles (a retractable, locking handle is essential) and straps (look for multiple rickets for strength), wheels (recessed, in-line skate wheels provide great balance) and zippers (synthetic zippers made of coils can self-repair). Following are the standouts I recommend.

Best All-Around Collection

Modus by Jansport:

The folks at Jansport have nailed it with this well-thought out series. Extremely lightweight, the Codura nylon is resistant to tears and abrasions. The 22 inch carry on is extremely easy to maneuver thanks to multipurpose footholds that double as handles on the bottom that give good loading grip and fit easily into overhead compartments. Clever features include a dual access tuck away footwear pocket which is accessible from the exterior, an interior mesh pocket for accessories and a compression panel with a place for a dryer sheet to keep your clothes smelling clean. There’s also an “escape pod,” a small matching bag that detaches for carrying a few essentials. The external pockets are perfect for an umbrella and a water bottle. Best of all is the ergonomic “hammerhead handles” and smooth, quiet, fast wheels, both which eliminate the annoying heel-to-bag contact and tipping, and deliver 360 degree movement. I felt about 87 per cent less wrist strain and 49 per cent less tired than with conventional handles. The 24 inch is perfect for longer trips and the 27 inch would work well for a family. The Modus comes in a unisex, easy-to-spot on the carousel copper and a Barbie-like pink, along with more conservative colors. Like all Jansport products, they carry a lifetime warranty and are very fairly priced. I love my Moduses (Modusi?). Visit for retailers.

Sexiest Update On An Old School Hard Side Suitcase:

This is not your father’s hard side case. When I pulled it out of the box, I moaned out loud. The Zero Halliburton Zeroller is seriously sexy: sleek in a kind of retro, James Bond way, its gorgeous polished aluminum catching the light. Inside, there’s a zip-out suiter and the heavy-duty chrome drawbolt latches (how’s this for smart: there is a third lock on top, in addition to the two on the sides) keep everything tightly inside. While traveling, it elicited a lot of envious stares, like a shiny new car, from both sexes; I must admit I felt like a big shot rolling it. That’s the good news. The bad news is it’s pricey, not expandable and after a trip to Sweden, it was scratched and dented, no longer bright and shiny. My heart sunk like the first time a new car gets a ding. It would fare better when traveling by car or bus. Or, if you are a captain of industry, just ship it to your destination to ensure it stays in top condition. See

Best for the Adventure Traveler:

Eagle Creek’s Switchback Max ES 25 cleverly combines a rolling upright with a full-size zip-off backpack (complete with the company’s signature organization compartments which keep everything in its place and easily accessible) scoring it kudos from Outdoor Magazine. The deep packing space allows you to stuff in scuba gear (like I did) along with clothing, and the tough wheels grip any surface — from gravel to asphalt, dirt to carpet. The bag works in perfect harmony with Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Cubes, drawer-like lifesavers I can’t live without — especially when I’m on the go and don’t want to completely unpack. The soft, see-through mesh cubes come in small, medium, large and jumbo sizes to organize rolled socks, underwear, t-shirts, pants and sweaters. They are perfect for couples or families sharing a suitcase. Visit for retailers.

Best Texas Option:

Woman-owned Pacific Design is headquartered in Austin and offers value-priced luggage along with backpacks, messenger bags and iPod covers. I fell hard for the Pink Nucleus (it comes in a lot of great colors). The world’s first true “case within a case,” the sporty Nucleus is more than just a computer sleeve. Made of a unique light molded foam, this case is perfect for carrying your notebook computer (fits up to 15 inch laptops), business cards and a few files around town or across the world. Just slip the Nucleus into any Pacific Design Evolution line case and go. Unbelievably, it’s priced under $25. Log onto for more information.

Chicest Brand Extension:

My Swiss Army knife is one of my most valued possessions. The manufacturer, Victorinox, has a line called Lingo that boasts a sexy 24 inch upright in azalea, a beautiful lilac (other vibrant and basic colors available). The large gusseted pockets on the exterior include a zippered ticket pocket and two large internal compartments mean you can choose to include a third pair of shoes and second pair of black pants. The in-line wheels are smooth and the integrated feet on the bottom double as handles for easy lifting from the carousel. Coolest of all? The one-touch, telescoping mono-pole features a gearshift-like ball that floats in your hand and rotates 360 degrees, banishing twisting discomfort. A terrific value.

Yes, You Can Lock Again

More than 1.4 million bags are checked in airports in the U.S. daily. Following 9-11, TSA-certified locks have emerged, so you can again safeguard your belongings. Specially coded and secured, these combination locks can be accessed (and then relocked) by airport authorities without the need to cut locks or force open bags. At less than $10 each they offer peace of mind from pilfering. Visit for details on where to buy them.

Pack Like a Pro

I’ve been packing seemingly all my life. I grew up as a so-called Navy brat, which meant I had to edit my possessions every two years when dad got orders to move. My second job out of college, I traveled every week — often to four cities in five days. Now, as a frequent travel writer, I travel about 50-60 per cent of the time. I’ve learned a thing or two about traveling.

Still, like all of us, I often overpack or pack the wrong things. Learning to pack well, like most acquired skills, takes time; it’s an art as well as a science. Hopefully, these tips will save you both time and space — so you have room to pack that special souveni r— and enjoy your journey.

For Starters:

A Packing List. I keep a packing list on my computer. The basic list includes basic clothing items and medicines, along with an add-on section for specific types of trips which require extra equipment, such as a hiking trip. I print out my list and check off the items as I pack to ensure I don’t forget that fleece.

What to Bring: The Basics

The best wardrobe — whether at home or on the road — is anchored by a neutral color scheme: navy, beige, brown, white, gray or black. Pick your favorite and build from there: everything will coordinate. I travel with a black skirt, black pants and black jacket from Chico’s: indestructible, good-looking and wrinkle-free. From there, I add a pair of dark wash jeans (which can be dressed up or down), one button-down shirt (white or black), two t-shirts (any color) and two fun (read: nighttime) blouses, a lightweight sweater or wrap (I have a generous wool and cashmere one that doubles as an on-board blanket).

In terms of undergarments, you need fewer than you think. I find two bras (one dark, one light), four pairs of undies (you can wash them easily in the hotel sink) and a pair of PJs will work just fine. Add opaque tights, a pair of nude or black stockings and a couple of pairs of socks and you are set. As for shoes, I always bring one pair of walking shoes (never clunky sneakers, often Clark’s or Mephisto styles), one pair of heels and maybe a pair of sandals if the climate permits. DKNY makes lightweight, stylish sneakers if you want to hit the gym for a workout.

What to Bring: Accessories

The key to looking fresh day after day is to accessorize creatively. Think like a man who wears the same suit but switches ties. You can look very chic in the same outfit, with a clever change of jewelry, scarf, shoes or belt—and they take up next to nothing in space. I only travel with costume jewelry that I am not deeply attached to in case I leave it behind (or in the unlikely event it is stolen). I use a rolled jewelry pouch to cushion items.

What to Bring: Toiletries

I find it is easiest to keep an always-packed bag of essentials: moisturizer, cleanser, toothpaste and toothbrush, makeup, razor and q-tips instead of packing and unpacking for each trip. Think small: trial or travel sizes are available in everything from makeup to hair products to mouthwash and aspirin. If you can’t find them at your local drug store, log onto for a great selection of your favorite full-size products in miniature.

Packing Prowess:

I’ve bought so much luggage over the years, I could have opened a store! I’ve learned one size does not fit all when it comes to luggage, so I recommend you invest in at least two bags. I prefer wheeled bags and have one in a 22-inch size that will easily fit in the overhead compartment of most airplanes and a 26-inch version that I check. I use the smaller bag for trips of up to one week — it has an expandable compartment for souvenirs. I use the larger bag for longer trips, especially those abroad or during winter, when clothing is bulkier. Features change from year to year and advances in technology (360 degree wheels, more durable fabrics, improved handles) mean your luggage can quickly become outdated. Check Mori Luggage and TJMaxx or Marshalls for discounted, discontinued luggage. Oh — and be sure and label your bag well: both inside and outside in case it is lost in transit. Finally, I recommend the brightest, most garish color you can find: I’ve owned violet, copper and red bags. They stand out on the conveyor belt.

In terms of actually packing, everyone has a system they swear by. Always pack shoes (or sporting equipment) on the bottom and work your way up from there. To minimize wrinkles and safeguard your clothing from a downpour on the tarmac, I put my apparel inside a garbage bag — it’s not elegant, but it’s cheap and it works! Socks, belts and scarves can fill in the gaps in your bag. For longer trips, I swear by Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Cubes, which help organize t-shirts, pants, skirts, sweaters and undergarments. You remove bulk by rolling clothing into removable “drawers,” soft, see-through mesh cubes that come in small, medium, large and jumbo sizes. They are especially helpful for couples or families sharing a suitcase. You can find them online or at REI.

A Final Bit of Advice:

When in doubt, leave it out. Packing light is easier on your back, especially if you are traveling alone (where’s the porter?) or are on a budget or are making numerous stops or using various methods of transportation. My rule of thumb: pack, then edit two days before the trip, aiming to cut back your stash by half or a third. Trust me, you will not miss an extra shirt or pair of jeans. Even though I find these days it’s easier to check a bag than try to shove it in an overhead bin on board a full flight, resist the urge to overpack. Test your bag’s maneuverability when full — be sure you can schlep your own bag. Be ruthless — remember it leaves you room to shop!

The Road Warrior’s Essentials:

When I travel, there are a few items I would never leave home without.

• Candle. Although I always request a non-smoking room, sometimes it is musty or stale. My favorite Thai lemongrass travel candle clears the room in a jiffy with a bright, uplifting smell; it seems to ease jet lag, too. Log onto to order.

• Ear plugs and a sleep mask. Cheap foam earplugs have often saved me when a hotel room is a little too close to the elevator or perched above a busy city street, not to mention a companion’s snoring. A sleep mask is the only way to cope with a too-bright room. The Body Shop makes a comfy terry cloth eyeshade.

• Book or two. I usually bring paperbacks that I can jettison along the way. Bonus: the delight on a fellow traveler’s face when I tell her she can keep it.

• Hand sanitizer. How did we ever live without this stuff? I never need to look for a washroom when I have a small squeeze bottle of this in my bag.

• Ziploc bags. I carry these in several sizes. They are perfect for wet items or potentially leaky toiletries.

• Emer-gen-C or Airborne. Staves off a cold, shortens the flu.

• Food. I always have granola bars, nuts and dried fruit, dark chocolate and a single-serving can or pouch of tuna with me. These days you never know if — or when — you will be fed. High-protein, healthy, no-mess nibbles.

• Tank bathing suit. Because you don’t want to miss a dip in a great pool.

• Electrical converter. Absolutely indispensable if you are going abroad — how else will you keep your rechargeable batteries charged for your digital camera? Stores like Brookstone have compact devices.

• Superglue. It’s a lifesaver for broken nails or repairing a loose wheel on baggage.

• Small flashlight. For scary parking garages or dark trails at dusk.

• Vaseline. For dry lips, feet and hands.

• Copy of Passport. If you lose yours, you’ll be glad you have a copy, kept separately from your original, perhaps in your baggage. It’s a good idea to scan a copy and email it to a key contact, as well, in case of emergency.

And there are a few things I don’t bother bringing anymore, because they are readily available.

• Shampoo, conditioner and lotion

• Hair dryer

• Corkscrew

• Umbrella

• Travel iron/steamer

• Calculator/currency converter

• Robe