Baggage Often Holds Key to a Trip's Success

John Morell is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

You're waiting with everyone else from Flight 101 around the baggage carousel when a realization hits you--you can't look like a sophisticated traveler with green Naugahyde luggage.

If you travel every week or just once a year, luggage enters the picture. What's available to replace those green Naugahyde memories?

"Black luggage, both fabric and leather, became hot a few years ago, and it's still popular," says Debbie Reza, manager of El Portal in Costa Mesa. "As are the tapestry patterns, especially among women."

The tapestry patterns made by French Co. are known for their craftsmanship and cachet.

"When you see a movie and it shows rich people in a nice hotel or getting on a private jet, they're often carrying French luggage," says Marilyn Shaw, manager of Rooten's Luggage in the City Center.

French's line of hard-sided tapestry luggage carries with it a price tag to go along with its reputation. Expect to pay around $250 for a fashionable carry-on.

If you're creating a travel fashion statement on a budget, consider some of the soft-sided pieces by Tumi. Travel luggage from Tumi range from $100 for a carry-on tote to $600 for the largest piece, an eight-suit wardrobe case.

"You can squeeze a little more into soft-sided luggage than you can into hard-sided," says Bob Roberts, manager of Benchley Luggage Ltd. in Fashion Island. "And the materials used in the better soft-sided luggage are excellent and wear very well."

Roberts believes that the issue of soft-side versus hard-side is up to the consumer.

"A hard suitcase is more secure, and it will hold up better; however, it's so rigid it won't give. You can probably fit more in a soft piece. But it's really a matter of choice."

Convenience and organization have taken on a new importance in recent years, as consumers have become concerned about how airlines (mis)treat their luggage.

"People want to carry on as much luggage as possible," Reza says. "The manufacturers are trying to accommodate this demand by making bags as organized as possible."

Select luggage based on its practicality, not its appearance, Reza advises.

"One of the biggest mistakes people make is going for looks rather than function," Reza says. "This could ruin your trip."

"People might buy a new suitcase, find it's ruined on the way to their destination and then have to buy another one when they arrive," Shaw says. "It's important to buy something that will last."

Shaw recommends staying away from most designer label luggage. "You'll often find these big designer names on sale as sets at the department stores. They're often not well-made--you're paying for the name."

"A lot of people see great-looking nylon luggage. But the density of the nylon is too weak; it can be ripped like paper," Shaw says. "You've got to look at details like that carefully."

If you're getting rid of all your old bags and want to start fresh, you'll need the basics. "Most business people will do anything to avoid checking in baggage," Roberts says. "You should probably start with a 21-inch carry-on and a garment bag. Women may want a 24- to 26-inch pullman and a cosmetic case."

"A good start would be a 26-inch suitcase, garment bag and carry-on," Reza says. "From there, you can expand to get a cosmetic case or matching shoulder tote."

A suitcase that's returned to vogue is the wardrobe--essentially a folding garment bag that can be hung in a closet or checked in as baggage. "They keep your clothes a little neater," Reza says. "Travelers who use them like their versatility, they can get quite a bit in there."

"When you buy a set, you may be buying two or three bags you don't need," says Jim DeGrado, manager of Luggage Outlet in Irvine. "It's best to evaluate your needs and get just what you need."

DeGrado suggests that you think about the kind of traveling you'll be doing. "If someone's going to a colder climate, they'll need something big enough to carry jackets and sweaters comfortably. But if they're headed for Hawaii, obviously they'll need a smaller bag."

DeGrado personally prefers a garment bag because of its convenience and "packability."

"For a weeklong trip, you can carry four to five suits in a good garment bag, as well as enough accessories to get by," DeGrado says.

But the best part of a garment bag is you can carry it on and off the plane, avoiding the pains of baggage claim.

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