Is it me, or has the advertising culture become fixated on luggage? The imagery of travel is showing up everywhere, with some designers showing their wares as part of a travel “story,” such as Louis Vuitton’s Bono ads or last year’s “Life as a Tale” campaign by Hermés. This had me wondering about the trend of glamorization of travel, so I picked up a Prada luggage catalogue at de Gaulle airport. And though it seems strange to say this about a catalogue, it was gorgeous.
As a frequent business traveler, I have the requisite over-developed opinions on the finer points of luggage. This is because, as someone who knows all too well how to live out of a carry-on for three weeks of international travel, the functional requirements are extremely familiar. And as a person who is at once overly judgmental and overly imaginative at the same time, I make up all manner of wild stories (some even unfounded) based on what I see people carrying in airports and hotels–even how they carry it.
I have been a bit startled to observe that an increasing number of travelers yearning to differentiate themselves from the other fliers actually have begun to eschew that greatest single modern invention since liquid soap–the wheelie bag–and are opting instead for bags that must be carried. Call me that “J” word, but isn’t this a large step back down the scale of Darwinian evolution? When I see these poor wheelless people in a concourse, part of me (i.e., the part that forgets what numb deadweight feels like toted across acres of airport) admires their luggage, and thinks instead how rakish I would be if I didn’t have something like 150,000 annual air miles engraved in the soles of my feet.
But play along with my imaginative side, the side which slots these stylish luggage mules into two major categories: (1) Passenger “Extreme” and (2) Passenger “Couture.”
The extreme traveler is the one who cultivates a lifestyle punctuated by episodes of snowboarding, cultural tourism, and day hikes that end up conspicuously documented on Facebook. The extreme traveler is attracted to luggage from brands like The North Face–which I have examined because I have a close friend who works for them. This is ultra-high-quality stuff, well-designed with top-tech materials. If I were tossing it off a Pacific Salmon fishing boat deck onto a dock in Alaska, and from there into the back of a 1983 Toyota Land Cruiser with a rebuilt drivetrain, I’d be hefting one of these fine pieces as well. Personally, I think it’s a bit impractical when you have to lug it around O’Hare for a gate change when you’re going to visit your sister at college. But part of selling this stuff is creating an exciting image–and I certainly wish I could say that scratch on my luggage came from a burro knocking it off a cliff on a trip to Machu Picchu.
By contrast, the couture breed stereotypically checks an awful lot of luggage. If and when they carry something onboard, it might be something like the popular weekender from Louis Vuitton. Much like the technical outdoor stuff, this has a place–and it’s place I wish I found myself more often. The idea of tossing a few days’ worth of clothing, sunglasses, a good book, and a camera (or a book and a good camera) into a bag and heading out for a few days in Milan or Palm Springs is directly connected to what I like to think of as the purer, better impulses of travel and good living. I just wouldn’t want to lug that thing through two connections; and then there is my heavy laptop inside pressing my dress shirts into oblivion. I found myself eyeing a great bag a week ago at the Jack Spade shop in Georgetown and thinking about how much I wish I had the free time to escape for a long weekend and put something like that to good use.
While I was at the CitizenM in Amsterdam (which I’ve mentioned before as one of my favorite new pocket hotels), I came across a display for a brand called Travelteq that seemed more in line with my budget. These people have a great website, and their line fuses quality craftsmanship usually found in the couture world with rugged, roadworthy appointments like ultra-tough synthetics and durable zips and closures. Hey, they also have a really great blog.
What got me thinking about the whole luggage enchilada was an experience I had during a connection in Dusseldorf. There I found an excellent little shop for luggage and briefcases. I thought it was funny the way I and two German businessmen were examining some items from Tumi, Porsche Design, and the classic German Rimowa brand. I noted with fascination that we were all doing the same thing–eyeing these items with intense scrutiny to judge if they were suitable for our demanding routine. To say we were fussy about dimensions, ergonomics, and the size and location of pockets would be putting it mildly. Once upon a time, I thought briefcases and luggage were inanimate objects that managed to be both boring and unusually expensive. Then my eyes were opened to the complex balance of form and function they really are. I began to appreciate luggage.
Indeed, luggage may well be the apex of civilization’s travel technology, and one of its oldest art forms as well. Which is by way of introducing my everyday “road rig” to the rest of the road warrior community–leather briefcase by Bosco, 360 carry-on by Samsonite.
Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid • www.amadeus.com • Twitter: @tentofortysix
[Image: Flickr user geishaboy500]