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Travel Tip #4. Take Only What You Can Carry

June 9, 2015

Travel Tip #4. Assume that no one will help you with your luggage. Carry no more than you can handle and lift by yourself.

I learned my lesson when Lev and I took the fast train to Avignon from Paris. We had ridden trains in Europe before, but always between major cities. We were accustomed to porters to help us board at leisure at the station. In Paris, where we embarked, that held true. We were unprepared for Avignon, simply a stop beside the platform for a few short minutes before the doors closed automatically. We had stored our bags in the luggage rack near the doors of the double-decker car. We noticed everyone standing before the train stopped, so we stood, too. Lev, who used a cane, carried one large suitcase outside while I carried the small bags. When he went back to get the second bag, the doors started to close. He thrust out his cane to keep them open. It worked. Otherwise, he would have ended up in Marseille. I adopted the rule never to travel with more than each of us could carry in our two hands.

A year or so later we saw our first 4-wheel suitcase at Heathrow. It was visibly easier to maneuver than the 2-wheel variety. We bought a roll-on for Lev, to replace the heavy duffle he always threw over his shoulder; but our old, bulky Hartmann tweed luggage refused to wear out, so we soldiered on.

travel tip thumbnailI finally abandoned the Hartmann when I went to India in 2013—where weight limits mattered and I had to pack more toiletries and first-aid items than usual. I went to Bag ’n’ Baggage in Dallas and asked the salesman to show me the most lightweight 4-wheel luggage in the store. He patiently pulled out about four brands, opened them up and explained the pro’s and con’s of each. I decided on Rimowa Salsa Deluxe, with its hard sides and long warranty. I have four pieces in all: 28-, 26- and 20-inch pullmans plus a “business trolley.” I can manage two pullmans, the trolley and a purse or other small carryon without assistance. People stop and stare in Baggage Claim when this gray-haired old lady deftly stacks the trolley on one pullman, her purse on the other and glides out with the palms of her hands lightly moving the luggage. My Rimowa has been to India, around the world with a long visit to Southeast Asia, to New Zealand and Australia, on a half-dozen trips to Europe and back and forth to Dallas and other U.S. destinations countless times. I find it difficult to cram more than 40 pounds into the 28-inch bag, which is about all I can lift and, therefore, all I pack.

And I have had to lift. Flight attendants violate company rules if they assist passengers with their overhead luggage, and I can’t count on a chivalrous man in the plane or Baggage Claim. The business trolley is indispensable to me, for it will fit under the seat of all but the smallest commuter aircraft. On driving trips, I have to lift my bags in and out of the car trunk. Occasionally, I encounter stairs from the gate to the tarmac, a bus to the plane and stairs up to the plane—especially outside the U.S. Everyone else is lugging his own carry-ons—no free hands to carry mine. In Avignon, our quaint hotel was in a pedestrian area, and we had to carry our hand luggage across cobblestones for several blocks. Meanwhile, I almost always travel with a cross-body purse, to free my hands for handling luggage.

Tradeoffs:

  • Four exterior wheels are much more maneuverable and far easier on the shoulders than 2-wheel bags, BUT they are quicker to get damaged and they add to the length of the bag—important for roll-on’s. Cheap 4-wheel bags won’t hold up. I have lost one wheel, which Bag ’n’ Baggage replaced for free while I waited.
  • Hard sides offer more protection but less flexibility, BUT they also require work to keep clean. I’ve grown rather proud of the scars; they look like they’ve been around the world.
  • I love packing in the “clam shell.” All my folded clothes go on one side; shoes, toiletries, underwear, knit shirts and sweaters on the other. When each side is full, I stop. I don’t pack with a lot of tissue and such, but I have lived out of a suitcase for more than three weeks without ironing. BUT the open suitcase doesn’t fit on the standard hotel luggage rack, and the Velcro tabs can snag clothes.
  • I appreciate built-in TSA combination locks—no parts to lose, BUT TSA has broken the locks twice. Both times, Bag ’n’ Baggage replaced them.

Perhaps the best thing: Rimowa comes in lots of colors—easy to spot on the baggage carousel, hard to confuse. It is expensive; but if you are in the Dallas area and participate in Partners’ Card each fall, Bag ’n’ Baggage is one of the 100s of merchants that give 20 percent off.

Disclaimer: I am not writing a blog to make money. I take no advertising and have no “sponsors” or “partners.” If I recommend a product, service or business, it’s strictly because I like it.

Feedback:
How do you handle your luggage when you travel alone?
What are your packing tips?