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On Chosing The Right Luggage

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Luggage has many schools of thought. Here are but some of them:

' Minimalist. Cutting down to the bare essentials so that you need only one cabin bag which you can carry on the aircraft. My daughter has this down to a fine art and recently toured India for two weeks with one small, leather Gladstone bag that I bought in China many years ago.

' The hard case. This refers not to the character of the traveler but to the suitcase used. Almost all flight crews use hard cases. Watch an airline crew collect their baggage from the carousel after an international journey and you will see that it is all medium to large-sized, hard-sided suitcases (nearly always gray) with built-in wheels and extendible handles. Sophisticated travelers sneer at this. But who, I ask, would know better'

' The suit bag. Many experienced travelers are of the opinion that a well-made suit bag will last for many years and carry everything you could possibly need. A suit bag used as cabin baggage on overseas flights will almost certainly carry everything you need.

' The enlightened traditionalist. This is a traveler who realizes that the suitcase acquired for the first Big Trip at the age of 21 will not cover all needs, all future travel. So keeps upgrading as time passes.

' Horses for courses. Differing bags for different occasions. As a matter of sober truth, I have 32 of the damn things. But I was ever the profligate.

There are, indeed, two main types of baggage. The type that will stand up to the rigors of overseas travel, but is so heavy it eats up much of your weight allowance. And that which is light and easy to handle and falls apart at inconvenient moments.

There is no such thing as ideal baggage. Only that which can be considered not bad.

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If you are going on an overseas trip with more than four stopovers, your present baggage probably will not stand up to the strain. Get a new case before you go or you, too, will scatter your dirty laundry across the departure area of Dom Muang airport to the amusement of hordes of Thai travelers.

' Do not buy expensive name-brand luggage. They are called 'steal-me' cases on the reasoning that if you can afford a genuine Louis Vuitton suitcase you can afford to pack valuables inside. Look instead for something that is anonymous, easily cleaned and light. Don't worry too much about the quality. After a trip with four stopovers it will not have a long life expectancy.

' Do not buy any luggage which has built-in or hang-on gimmicks. They invariably fail. As do combination locks and foldaway handles. Zips are also perhaps best avoided. I have had several sad experiences with zippers which have left me physically and mentally scarred. You may well be luckier.

' Have wheels, will travel. In my experience, there is no rarer animal than the airport porter ' an endangered species ' and airport trolleys are not allowed past customs. Some are charged out at outrageous rents and you never have the right coin.

Therefore, a suitcase with wheels is not a bad idea. Some are easy to maneuver, some aren't. Test before you buy.

Better yet is a folding trolley which most aircrew members use. Get one with the biggest wheels you can. Oil the wheels before you leave, otherwise you will squeak, squeak, squeak your way around the world.

' Clearly identify your luggage with labels and tags, preferably plastic. Do not make it so that your name and address can be read by a casual, and possibly evil-minded, observer.

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' Paste your name and address and telephone number into the inside lid. If the airline loses your luggage ' and this happens less and less ' this is one of the stock questions. Good to be able to give a firm affirmative.

' Buy a strap-around webbing belt in a bright color with a difficult buckle. Go further and use instant glue and pop-rivets to rivet and glue three straps to it. When these are tightened the bag is unopenable at speed. Thieves want the easy mark so they pass it by.

My current main suitcase has its straps fastened by rivets and glue and is, I think, probably thief-proof although that is tempting fate.

' Make your luggage look different. Even if you only bind the handle with bright tape, make sure your baggage is easy to recognize. This will not help in the recovery of your lost case ' airlines only telex the style of suitcase to the last destination, not descriptions. But it will help you to spot your case as it comes off the carousel.

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