Quest for the Perfect Carry-On Bag

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4 min read

This story appears in the May 2012 issue of . Subscribe »

Keep Calm and Choose a Carry on

The e-mail came in, like so many do, promising to change my life. Revolutionary new modular technology ... the only piece of luggage you'll ever need ... virtually indestructible. Who could say no to that?

As it is for many business travelers, packing for a trip is the bane of my existence. I'm from the "big tent" school, which means that if there's any possibility I might need something, I bring it. Sport coat? Definitely. Cowboy boots? Sure. Heavy jacket for that trip to Orlando? Hey, you never know.

I'll happily check a bag on any trip longer than two nights. Airlines rarely lose luggage anymore, at least on domestic flights. (Yeah, we've all had it happen. But the percentage is way down.) You still have the wait at baggage claim, but I use that time to answer e-mails or read the local paper.

However, it's those two-day trips that have me flummoxed. I need nice clothes, but also workout stuff and at least one polo shirt. I have to bring my laptop and its bulky cord. I'll probably want a sweatshirt for a morning walk and a sweater for evening. And then there are my notebooks, research materials and magazines. Before long, I'm ready to rent a U-Haul.

The idea of a new kind of suitcase that would magically hold all my things yet fit into an airplane bin is wildly enticing. Tell me it will change the way I travel, and I can't type in my credit card number fast enough. Problem is, every new bag I've tried since the late-1980s invention of the rolling suitcase--an advancement on the order of the personal computer or ATM--has been a variation on the theme.

The latest e-mail enticement was for a two-piece set from Club Glove, a company that specializes in golf equipment. The luggage did all it purported to: One piece latched on to another, and they rolled along together and seemed pretty much indestructible. Without my laptop, it held just enough for my two-night trip to San Francisco.

But I did need my laptop. And a sport coat, which I hesitated to fold into a triangle (as the packing websites recommend), for fear it would come out looking like origami. So I put the coat into a single-suit bag left over from some long-ago Nordstrom purchase and draped it over the two attached bags, then tucked the computer under my arm as I boarded. I hoped the gate agent wouldn't call me on it, and she didn't. But getting all my stuff into the storage areas on the plane was a project on the scale of decorating my college dorm room.

The Club Glove bag has earned a spot in my rotation, but only for one-night trips. It now joins the other luggage crowding up my laundry room. Still, the next time I get an e-mail announcing the creation of a breakthrough suitcase I absolutely have to have, I'm sure I'll try it. Even the ATM wasn't built in a day. --Bruce Schoenfeld

The latest in luggage

Roller Samsonite Black Label Cosmolite 32-inch SpinnerRoller Samsonite Black Label Cosmolite 32-inch Spinner ($600)
At about 8 pounds, this handsome hard-case upright roller weighs less than many carry-ons, but the proprietary Curv material is durable enough to withstand the most brutal baggage handlers. A TSA-friendly combination lock keeps gear safe without upsetting airport security. Photo courtesy of Samsonite


Garment bag SkyRollGarment bag SkyRoll ($150)
SkyRoll limits travel-induced wrinkles just like a traditional garment bag but rolls around a hollow cylinder to become an easy-to-maneuver carry-on. The hollow space inside stores shoes or toiletries. Photo courtesy of SkyRoll


Computer bag booq Taipan lift LComputer bag booq Taipan lift L ($100)
This compact briefcase has a padded laptop pocket. Unsnap two buttons, and it opens 180 degrees, so there's no need to remove the computer at security. A large pocket on the back can be unzipped to slip over the handles of a roller.Photo courtesy of Taipan

--Katherine Duncan


Road Rules

When in Cambodia …
Never use your left hand to eat, touch someone or even pass documents across the table.

Traditionally, all public business is done with the right hand.

Don't touch anyone--even a child--on the head. Never point the soles of your feet toward anyone.

Avoid all conversations about war, especially during meals. (To be safe, that should include discussion of films like Apocalypse Now, the band behind "Spill the Wine" and the card game.)

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