Evolution of Luggage

Most women are obsessed with buying shoes or clothes or purses. Not me. Those things just aren’t important to me. My obsession seems to be buying luggage. About 11 years ago when I started preparing for my study abroad trip to Salamanca, Spain, I  ended up getting a huge suitcase so I would be able to fit everything I needed for the 6 week trip.

giant suitcase
giant suitcase

Now looking back, I can’t imagine what I had in that gigantic thing. We lived with a family for 4 weeks, and our señora did laundry, so I couldn’t possibly have brought weeks worth of clothes. But somehow I lugged this thing around with me all over Spain and thought it was crazy that my roommate Amanda was living out of a carry-on. We barely had room to walk around the 2 beds in our room, so I have no idea how I opened this thing to get stuff in and out of it.

I must have used this suitcase once more the next year because the checked luggage sticker is still looped onto the side handle, but after that it has been retired. Now it is the home to those clothes us females keep for years after we grow out of them, convinced we will once again fit into them and magically still want to wear something from the late 90s.

After several years of only traveling within the US, I took a trip to Greece, my first solo trip. I decided I wanted to take this trip with carry-on luggage only. I think I was paranoid about the airline losing my suitcase, and I thought it would be less of a hassle if I was on my own and didn’t have a lot to carry.

I found a suitcase in a department store that was small enough, and it has a backpack that zipped onto the front. The suitcase itself has hidden backpack straps so the whole thing can be worn as a backpack. I thought this was genius. Of course, I have never actually worn the whole thing on my back. But I could if I wanted to, and I guess that was enough of a selling point.

suitcase with zip-off backpack

I also used the suitcase along with one of those JanSport bookbags for my trip to Antarctica. The zip-off backpack was too small, but I still insisted on carry-on only, especially considering the number of flights I took on that trip. I actually had my rubber boots tied together and clipped onto the outside of the suitcase, and they were stuffed with socks, gloves, and whatever else would fit. It was the most ridiculous packing I’ve ever done, but it worked.

The Antarctica trip did make me realize that the bookbag was too awkward because it stuck out so far when it was full. So I took a trip to REI to find something better. I ended up with a 50 liter Kelty backpack to replace the suitcase/backpack combo. I LOVED this bag.

50L Kelty backpack

While technically too big to be a carry-on bag, I just walked up to the gates with confidence and boarded the plane. I never had anyone in the US give me trouble for the slightly-too-big bag, and I used it in Europe a few times with no issues. However, I got stopped twice in Ayers Rock and Cairns, Australia by gate agents who made me weigh the bag to be sure it was within limits. Both were close calls but I was able to redistribute things out of the backpack and into my purse in order to avoid the dreaded luggage check.

Please note the Delta carry-on tag, foolishly given to me in Sydney by the ticket agent before he got a good enough look at the bag. When I sensed him hesitating, I said “thank you” and walked away from the ticket desk before he could change his mind.

30L REI brand backpack

I knew my luck with taking the 50 liter bag would run out sooner than later, so I began looking for something else. My latest purchase was a 30 liter REI brand backpack. I was about to go to Ecuador for a week long Spanish class, and I knew I would be taking a bus to Otavalo. I didn’t like the idea of putting my bag under the bus where it might get stolen, so I wanted something small enough to keep with me. It worked pretty well for a week in Ecuador, but it would be a bit of a struggle for a week in full winter weather since I’d have to pack heavier clothes.

I have also realized I don’t like top-loading backpacks. Inevitably the thing I need is all the way at the bottom and I have to pull everything out to get to it. It’s ok for short trips but I think that would annoy me after awhile.

Now after experiencing a wide variety of luggage types and weighing the pros and cons, I think a 40 liter panel-loading backpack would be ideal. It might still be pushing the limits of carry-on acceptability, but if I could make the 50 liter work, I’m confident I can get the 40 liter on board with me. Panel-loading is just easier to deal with than top-loading because it means not having to unpack everything each time I get to my destination. I guess this means I should try selling some of the other luggage…anyone interested?

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