There’s a point in the Confessions of a Shopaholic series when Rebecca Bloomwood finds herself in the luggage section of a department store.
“Luggage!” she exclaims. “Why have I never thought about luggage?”
Don’t ask me why I’ve read those books. (Sigh. If you must know, I was marooned in Bangkok on a 3-month work contract with no cable TV, so went through the whole library in my serviced apartment.)
For a hyper traveler like me, I’ve been in love with luggage ever since I got my first passport. As a travel nerd, I get more excited about luggage shows than I do fashion shows.
So when I found myself walking back to my Asakusa hotel recently, I had to do a double take when I saw a sign for The World Bags and Luggage Museum. How had I never heard of this?
The receptionist greeted me and showed me to the seventh floor of a nondescript office building. It turns out, I was looking at the private collection of Ryusaku Shinkawa, the founder of ACE, a Japanese luggage manufacturer (and the world’s first producer of nylons bags).
Here was my Mecca. My university. My leather-bound candy store filled with more than 600 bags on display.
I learned that steamer trunks offered the most usable amount of space (with the added benefit of becoming a floatation device in case of emergency). Subsequent companies made steamer trunks with rounded tops. Why?
To keep the rain off when traveling by horse and coach and also so that these trunks would have to be stacked on top of other trunks, thereby reducing wear and tear.
The museum traced luggage through the ages, including vintage Louis Vuitton from the 60s, a Pan Am bag from the 70s and the many components that go into a modern piece of luggage.
My favorites, though, were the countless designer pieces made of every conceivable type of material. Some were just right…
And some were plain wrong…
For an around the world trip a few years back, I bought a Samsonite hard-sided case after watching Youtube videos on just how easy it was to open up a locked zippered suitcase with nothing more than a pen, utilizing the zipper’s self-repair function so that you’d never even know someone had gotten into your bag. My Samsonite accompanied me on impossibly crowded trams in Istanbul, unforgiving train station stairwells in Rome and uneven pavement in the Caribbean. I even bought vintage stickers everywhere I went to purty it up.
Unfortunately, when I went to use it again about a month later, I noticed a big crack in the bottom of the case, by the wheel. It was too late to seek compensation from the last airline I flew and not in the scope of the manufacturer’s warranty. It’s now a very expensive sweater and jacket storage device.
In researching a travel column I write, I recently spoke to Tom Nelson, of TUMI (Asia Pacific), a manufacturer of luxury luggage (and also my favorite brand of all time) about trends, especially for Asian consumers, and it seems I’m not the only one disenchanted by hard-sided luggage.
“It’s interesting to note that hard-sided travel cases were traditionally very popular in this region [of Asia]. However, we are now seeing a bit of a shift where Asian consumers are increasingly opting to purchase soft-sided travel cases. Business and day bags are very popular in Asia. Male consumers in Asia particularly like the messenger and cross carry style totes. Comparatively, men in the US, from what we have seen, prefer to carry backpacks.”
In addition to abrasion-resistant ballistic nylon, wheels are another area which have seen lots of improvements in the past few years, including bigger, more stable ones to what Tom describes as wheels “recessed into the body of the case to give it a lower center of gravity for stable multidirectional navigation and a more spacious interior compared to mounted wheels.”
As a luggage nerd, I’m looking forward to some killer innovations like the 3-in-1 scooter / stroller / seat suitcase or the carry-on that turns into a skateboard to zip you through the terminal. What? Your bag only stores stuff? So 20th century.
As soon as I could afford it, I’ve been a fan of TUMI. Understated, functional, classy, just like me (!)
Here are just a few of the TUMI products I have, including a couple of wheeled backpacks which come with me on any trip less than a week. (A backpack means airline agents are less likely to check how much they weigh, and wheels to save your back as you’re walking to the gate.)
At the end of last year, I noticed TUMI starting a Global Citizens campaign. Instead of A-list celebrities, every few weeks I’d get an email with a new quasi-celebrity looking sufficiently broody and sexy, posing with a piece of luggage.
Amongst these “less famous faces”, there was a Grammy-winning composer, a granddaughter of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the North American chairman and chief executive of Pirelli Tires. Hyper travelers, all of them. And I hated them for it. Glamorous. Good-looking. Well-traveled.
But then I got an email in early February asking if I wanted to be a Tumi Global Citizen for the Asia-Pacific region. It was my turn to be the broody, sexy one. Or at least try.
But over the last month, my TUMI bag has been traveling with me everywhere. We’ve done planes, trains, vintage cars and even vintage train carriages turned cafes.
I may have even been keeping my own little Bridget Jones-esque travel journal. Except less “I like you very much. Just as you are.” and more “This is what I ate for my second breakfast today…”
Yes, my name is James and I’m a travel nerd.
What about you? What’s your favorite thing to take with you when you travel?
To read my travel column in the April edition of Oi Vietnam magazine, please click on the image below.