Choosing the Right Luggage

Buying and Keeping
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Where will you find the luggage you want? If you prefer a standard suitcase, visit department stores and luggage shops. If you're considering a duffel or backpack, start by reviewing catalogues, including L.L.Bean, Camp-Mor, Magellan's, Patagonia, REI, and MountainSmith. Scan outdoor and travel-oriented magazines. Educate yourself about what is available on the market and the price ranges. Don't forget discount stores such as Service Merchandise or Wal-Mart (it's amazing how quickly features of the best luggage are copied).

When you have a feeling for features and prices, stop by a local outdoor gear store or travel superstore to find packs with the features you want. By visiting a local store, you can see and touch the product, discuss fit, quality, and characteristics with a knowledgeable person, compare competing products, and get later help fixing any glitches.

Try on different packs with the assistance of a salesperson who knows how they should fit. Learn how to adjust the suspension harness properly for your body. When you've found a pack that feels right, examine its construction and features closely.

Resist the temptation to buy a pack that has too much volume for you. Given the compulsion to fill empty space, think about the maximum weight you want to carry and keep airline size limits in mind. One traveler I admire hasn't checked a piece of luggage for years. She travels only with a bag that she can take on board and fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment. Besides eliminating the risk of losing her bag in transit, the smaller bag disciplines her to travel light.

Ask for recommendations from the sales person, especially if he or she is an experienced traveler. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the various types of luggage? Which ones have other customers liked the most? When you've made your choice, load it up and walk around the neighborhood so you know what to expect.

Shop for the best price for the luggage you want, but be cautious about buying something cheap. Quality matters. It's no bargain if you wind up with luggage that starts to disintegrate in the boonies. Good luggage will last a long time, so it's definitely a good value.

Locks
Luggage must be lockable. If there is only one zipper tab for an opening, there should be a ring to which it can be locked. If there are two zipper tabs, they should be designed so that one can be locked to the other. The zipper tab, which should be metal, typically has a large hole at the top and a small hole at the bottom. Buy a lock with a shackle small enough to fit through the small hole of the tab. If you lock the zippers using the large holes, the compartment can easily be opened enough to allow a hand to reach inside. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

Few little zipper locks are very strong, but avoid the cheapest ones. They're too easy to force or to pick. Small combination locks are better since thieves are less familiar with them.

Some travelers use an electrical cable tie in place of a lock. When looped through the eyes of a zipper, a thief must cut it to gain entry—and you'll know he was there. Of course, you have to cut it yourself to get in. I prefer locks. At Radio Shack, a pack of 30 ties costs about $2.

A lightweight plastic-coated bicycle-locking cable makes it easy to secure your luggage to something immovable. Eagle Creek combines an ingenious 42-inch retractable cable with a combination lock (3 ounces, about $14). Any store that sells sailboats can cut a length of rigging wire and weld a loop into each end to receive a lock.

Even the best lock doesn't prevent someone from slashing your luggage, nor from stealing it, but it foils the opportunist, the sneak thief who has only a few seconds to get inside and doesn't want you to know he's been there. Locks signal an observer that you're aware of his presence. Like any wolf, he'll prey on the weakest in the flock—and that won't be you.

Luggage Tags
Buy sturdy luggage tags, perhaps ones that have a leather flap to hide the name and address from prying eyes. Otherwise, put a piece of paper (not a business card) bearing only your name in the window of the tag. Your address goes on the back to prevent passersby from knowing where your empty home is. Some travelers use an office address or a friend's name and address. Don't forget to include your country with the rest of the address.

Since baggage handling can detach any luggage tag, tape your name, address, and a friend's telephone number, to the inside of your luggage. I strongly recommend also tagging, or otherwise marking, your camera, daypack, and anything else from which you may become separated.

When a lost bag is located, it is sent to the address on the tag. If that's your home, that might not be your first choice when you're in the middle of a trip. A recent innovation is a tag that asks the airline agent who locates your lost bag to read the enclosed itinerary and forward your bag to the appropriate destination. It's worth considering (Magellan's, $4.85 for two).

Unless your luggage is very distinctive in appearance, you might mark it with a strip of bright adhesive tape or a colorful ribbon. Besides being a signal to you, it keeps an inattentive fellow-passenger from taking your luggage from the baggage carousel. It happens.

Most people get a kick out of airline check-in luggage tags from exotic places but it's better to pull them off as you go if you don't want your luggage to accidentally visit one of those places without you.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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