So, your trusty travel bag has finally gone beyond looking just disreputable enough that no one will want to steal it and has descended into downright sleazy. You need new, and as inexpensively as possible, please.
Luggage guru and inveterate traveller Doug Dyment, a Canadian living in San Francisco and author of the website OneBag.com, says a useful bag should be good, durable and cheap. But, he observes, "You can only get two functions – not all three – in any one piece of luggage."
"Fortunately, a good bag – unlike a computer – doesn't become obsolete in five years, so you will get the best value by choosing functionality and durability over price," he adds.
While your first instincts might be to dash online or into the nearest luggage shop and see what's on sale, keep in mind that a little time spent evaluating what kind of luggage you really need may indeed be money well-saved. Think in terms of cost per kilometre travelled, too, Mr. Dyment says.
Check it or carry-on?
For the business traveller, carry-on luggage is the overwhelming favourite for efficiency, security and cost-savings, especially now that more airlines are starting to charge fees for checked bags. But beyond that point, what you should be carrying on, and how, becomes a matter of personal preference and needs.
Hard shell or unstructured?
The jury is still out on whether newer hard-shell polymer composite bags offer any real advantages. For carry-on, they lack the ineffable "squish factor" that allows bags to fit into odd spaces.
But do hard-shell bags protect your belongings better? So-called expandable hard-shell designs are prone to breaking objects packed inside as the entire shell will compress if the expanded bag is squeezed or loaded beneath other bags.
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If you opt for fabric-covered flexible construction, abrasion resistance is crucial. Look for products made with ballistic nylon or Cordura. Cordura is more abrasion resistant, while ballistic offers higher tear strength. Be aware, though, that some bags use a low-priced ballistic cloth that is of mediocre quality. It appears to be made of a heavy single yarn rather than two-ply, one consequence of which is that it wears badly, and looks ratty after even limited use.
Zippers are one of the most failure-prone components of bags. Check that zippers are the type with large meshed teeth, not simply coiled plastic strips that can give way or be broken easily.
Roll it, or lift it?
Here's where you'll find the widest gulf in opinion: built-in wheels or good shoulder straps? Those who favour wheeled bags cite one of the Unwritten Laws of the Universe: Your gate will always be the farthest one from the exit.
On the downside, Mr. Dyment points out that some bags with built-in wheels can lose as much as 29 per cent of their internal storage capacity and weigh as much as two kilograms more than a less structured shoulder bag with the same external dimensions.
Carrying a shoulder bag easily, though, requires a well-designed, slip-resistant strap to avoid the aching neck and shoulders that can accompany the constant shifting of the bag's weight. Mr. Dyment recommends replacing your bag's strap with the Absolute shoulder strap by Tom Binh, available at www.tombihn.com. He also likes the wedge-shaped pad used by postal carriers made by Domke, available at www.tiffen.com. And slinging the strap across your body messenger-style rather than over one shoulder "may look dorky, but it's far more comfortable," he says.
Long-time Globe and Mail travel writer Wallace Immen adopts the best of both worlds, carrying a collapsible rolling cart by Remin Cart-a-Bag, available at www.kart-a-bag.com, to stash both carry-ons and checked bags. Mr. Immen cautions against succumbing to the cheaper rolling carts frequently sold at airports, though. "My decades-old Remin Concorde II has probably rolled its way twice around the world by now – it's totally reliable and one item I never travel without," he says.
Check the warranty
Most bags come with a warranty of some sort, but read it carefully. Does it cover damage from all causes – even common carrier airline damage – or only manufacturer's defects? Some lines made by brands such as Victorinox, Briggs & Riley, Eagle Creek and Titan cover all damage. Yes, such bags are more expensive at the outset, but you won't have to replace them unnecessarily.
Timing is everything
Once you've decided what type of bag you need, pick your timing. Don't rush into a shop or online and ask what's on sale today. There will always be lots of options available, and luggage sales seem perpetual these days. As Mr. Dyment points out, "you'll be lured into buying whatever the merchant has on hand." Look around. Ask when your particular favourite will be going on sale.
But if you have your heart set on a particular model number, then do your price comparison and purchase in short order. Manufacturers frequently change features on bags without changing the model number, Mr. Dyment notes, sometimes cheapening the components in order to reduce the price.
Perfection doesn't exist
The one question travellers ask Mr. Dyment most often is: What's the perfect bag? His answer? "There is no such thing. It's the one that's perfect for you that counts."