Traveling made easy with the right luggage
The friendly skies, railways and cruise lines are not as friendly as they once were. Traveling used to be a glamorous adventure of the elite or the business traveler. That all changed with airline deregulation in the 1970s. Free enterprise created discount airlines, price wars and frequent flyer programs.
People soon traveled in droves, and one casualty was their luggage, which often took a beating. The invention of suitcases on wheels made travelers believe they were free to pack more.
There are new rules of the road for 21st century America. After Sept. 11, new criteria for acceptable luggage and its contents require greater accessibility for inspection and searches. International travel prohibits locking suitcases.
Passengers bear the weight of their bags when schlepping them between security counters and scanners. Many airlines have begun charging $25 for extra weight beyond a set maximum.
The Solutions Luggage Collection from Ricardo Beverly Hills has introduced a new line of high-strength nylon luggage with a built-in digital scale. Available in 25 and 28 inches, in black, teal and berry, the line earned the Travel Goods Association Product Innovation Award. The association's president, Marini Pettinger, calls it a "stunningly simple solution to a very real problem." Both Macy's and eBags.com have begun selling the pieces for $200.
Quality luggage at a reasonable price can, however, combine fashion and endurance. Fodor's, the traveling guide gurus, recommends the following tips:
• Solid luggage construction should be both strong and lightweight, using fiberglass, aluminum wood or molded plastic compounds materials. Choose cases with zippers that have taped seams because strips of cloth reinforce the zipper and bag connection. Leather, nylon piping and welts should cover outer joints. Lock-stitched seams reinforce each stitch to lock into place, preventing an unraveling if one stitch breaks.
• Good fabric ensures endurance. Avoid leather; it looks great but is too heavy, whether top-grain, full-grain or a less expensive layer of the hide. Choose ballistic or Cordura nylons to withstand contact with sharp objects. Nylons have outer waterproofing, unlike most bags with interior moisture-resisting sealants.
Tweed and brocade bags may appear sturdier, but are heavier and more susceptible to tearing. Popular environmentally friendly materials are Fortrel EcoSpun, made from recycled plastic bottles, and fabric woven from hemp.
• Security and safety for your belongings from negligent inspectors means looking for the simplest, but strongest closings and locks. Large zipper pulls are preferable. Combination locks will offer security without those tiny keys. More rivets and screws means more security.
• Handle quality affects comfort and stability. Screws attached on suitcase handles can be replaced, but not a riveted handle. Underside padding adds comfort. For handles that pull out, test the bag for sturdiness before hanging. The handle should stay rigid when turning the bag.
• Padded straps made of wide webbing should be on duffel and garment bags. Carry-on bags should have both handles and straps. Before buying, try adjusting the straps for height differences.
• Four wheels are ideal, but two good wheels will do. They should be recessed into the body of the suitcase to avoid cracking or breaking off. The best wheels are large in-line-skate wheels that are bolted into place.
• Inside, look for hardware that holds hangers. Two interior crisscross straps, plus a center strap over clothing prevent clothes from sliding and wrinkling.
Dony Simon, owner of Dony Simon Plus luggage store in Ventnor, says that luggage should last up to four years, and replacing the bag may be more cost effective than replacing broken handles or wheels.
He also says that his store offers something for travelers of the 21st century. "To keep within the 32-inch maximum suitcase limits, many often overpack their bags," says Simon. "We sell luggage wrap belts that hold the piece together, should it split open."
Have fun and happy trails.