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Baggage Basics
How to Pick the Perfect Luggage

by Denise McCluggage

Mobility, flexibility, expandability, compatibility, packability.

That’s how I started Luggage Part 1. Here is Luggage, Part 2. More to consider as you shop for stuff to carry your stuff.

In searching for the Hot Set-up to suit your travel needs, learn what is available. Mull over a large selection of bags in a specialty or department store, “traveling” with them in your mind. Packing them, hauling them, hefting them into the overhead.

Push me, pull me: Ideally you should be able to both pull your wheeled bag after you or push it ahead of you. (It is often easier to push a heavy load of bags than pull it and usually in crowded places it is safer to have your baggage in front of you than behind. You’ll trip fewer people, too.)

For pushing, the bag’s handle has to lock into position. One bag I had - a Samsonite model I’ve not seen since - had wheels on each corner of the vertical bag. That made the push/pull choice easy. It also had wheels designed in such a way that the bag could rest in a not-quite-upright position. That meant that it didn’t tip over or have to be leaned against something when parasite bags were attached. (Flopping flat to the ground is a nuisance trick of most roller bags when so loaded.)

One-hand operation: I have a bag now that makes me mutter every time I pull the handle out or push it in because I have to use another hand to push a release button (which is on the bag, not the handle) and that other hand is often otherwise occupied. Annoying. Check for one-handed operation.

Inside or outside handle storage: On some bags the handles when they are stowed are on the outside of the bag. On others the handle housing is inside the bag. When the airline counter people ask you to sign a waiver for possible damage to a bag with the hardware on the outside then you can assume that damage to that design is not uncommon.

However, when you have a bag with the mechanism on the inside you lose some packing space. (You can even buy special packing accessories that help you use that space to the fullest.)

But really, inside or outside is a preference call.

Expandability: On one of my bags, legal roll-aboard size, a zipper girding its midsection can be unzipped and the bag suddenly gains some three inches in depth. This means I can choose to fill it to the brim (and thus have to check it) or I can roll it with me on the trip out and, after adding purchases (or more likely bulky automotive press kits) can check it on the way home. The risk of delayed baggage is less upsetting on the homeward leg. I highly recommend this expandability feature even though it invariably adds some “empty” weight.

Color: The joke is hand your baggage check to someone and say: “It’s the black one.” I swore all bags were black until I bought a taupe one then that seemed an instantly popular color. The secret: From Magellan’s catalog I bought several neon-bright Velcro-fastened sleeves (chartreuse, lime-green, orange) that fasten around the handle of a bag. This highly visible little tag (look for Travel Wrap at seems to shout “Here I am!” from the handle of my bag as it appears on the luggage carousel.

Another identity trick, one that adds a safety factor, is a bright suspender-width band that belts the bag and locks. (The one I use sometimes, with Mickey Mouse faces, merely fastens.)

You can get these belt in vibrant colors or have your name embroidered on it. (Or something like: “Hands off!” or “This is Mine!”)

OK now let me describe my current Hot Set-up for bags:

1. A 22” roller bag with the expandability zipper.

2. A backpack. (Backpacks unbalance the body less than the same weight carried over the shoulder.) My current bag holds a smaller padded case with my laptop and DVD player in it along with the attendant wires and plugs.

Also in the main compartment of the backpack: business files, magazines to read and toss, maybe a paperback book, on long trips my “on board” kit with inflatable neck rest etc. (More about that at a later time.) In one of the zipper compartments “handbag” stuff (a folding brush/comb, pens, keys, lipstick etc)

In another zippered compartment may be a small folding umbrella and/or poncho, a travel case with tickets and passport.

Attached to the backpack strap is a cell phone holder.

3. If I don’t “wear” my purse (a so-called photographer’s vest with a zillion pockets) then all that stuff goes into the backpack “purse” compartment. (In the checked suitcase I carry flat-to-pack purses - one for day use and one for evening.)

4. For longer trips - say two or three weeks - I can add a duffle or small case that piggybacks to the rolling bag.

To realize how flexible this set-up is you need to know that the backpack also has wheels and a handle that telescopes out of a zippered pocket. Thus for the trip I wear my vest (with stuff filed in the pockets), put on the backpack (which I call my Quasimodo suit) and tow my large roller bag with, on long trips, the auxiliary bag attached via strap.

Some airlines allow only one carry on but most accept two. Everything valuable or necessary during the flight is in my backpack. I check the largest bag (whether at full expanded capacity or not.) And if I have to, the second bag is checked as well. I pull the handle out of the backpack and tow it (with auxiliary attached if not checked) and head for the gate - relatively unburdened and hands generally free.

Once on board one bag can go overhead, one underfoot and I’m ready to watch my own movie, read or nap. How cool is that! 

[Read the first part of Denise's luggage column]

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