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SHOP TALK : Taking the Lug Out of Luggage and the Pain Out of the Price : Suitcases that suit are made with soft sides and wide, comfortable handles. You can roll some models right aboard the plane.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Our dog hides her head under the bed whenever she sees our luggage come out of storage. She’s a sorry sight. She knows suitcases on the bed mean someone is leaving. We feel like giving her Prozac for her depression.

It’s the same luggage we’ve used for years now and, lately, when we pull it out, we feel like taking Prozac, too.

The kids were the last to use our nifty duffel bags. But they took them to three different camps last summer, so we can kiss those babies goodby. Sure they could be cleaned. And fumigated. But the Pearl Jam stickers are never coming off. We prefer to look on this occasion as a unique opportunity to upgrade our traveling kit.

First stop is Jay’s Luggage in The Oaks mall. Jay’s is an upscale luggage and gift shop that has been in business since 1940. They carry most of the top brands and they also have their own less pricey brand of luggage, called Dilana.

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Jay’s is a great place to start when shopping for luggage. The sales staff is knowledgeable and the selection is vast. The latest trend in luggage, according to saleswoman Lyn Hanks, is the “roll-aboard” or “wheel-aboard” carry-on. We had visions of walking smartly down long airport terminals with the ease of an airline attendant. These cases have retractable handles and built-in wheels. They can easily glide down the aisle of an airplane or through a hotel lobby. Remember to smile politely when you pass the porter.

These roll-aboard carry-ons can be found in every price range. Jay’s has one by Delsey for $139.99. Their Tumi carry-on is $375. The difference in price reflects the difference in material, construction and thus longevity.

If you don’t plan on checking your luggage, the cheaper brands most likely will service the infrequent traveler. If you plan on embarking on a real journey, the better brands will be worth the extra money.

Before you buy, take a good look at all the different styles of luggage. Give some thought to how you usually travel.

If you don’t foresee a cruise in your future, you probably shouldn’t take that steamer trunk. If you’re a frequent flier, then you know that grease marks are a common sight on well-used bags. Black, and other dark colors, do the best job of hiding these marks.

People who travel a lot know that two small bags are a lot easier to handle than one large one. Also, check the weight of the bag you like. It should be light. It’s empty, after all.

Handles are important. Make sure they’re soft and wide enough so they won’t dig into your hand when the bag is filled with gear. Shoulder straps are great for keeping your hands free for more luggage (or holding the hands of small children).

Luggage by Travel Pro looked like a good value. It was designed by a retired airline pilot and is currently sold at Jay’s. Prices range from $59.99 for an expanding duffel to $219.99 for the garment bag. All these pieces have retractable handles and wheels for easy traveling.

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A personal favorite is Tumi luggage. These soft-sided bags come in leather or “ballistic” nylon, the material originally designed for bulletproof vests. The nylon is incredibly strong.

Tumi has that discreet and tasteful look of the ‘90s. The color range is limited--black and a couple of shades of green. Their Dakota line gets crazy with a tan trim on green. It’s more of an “I’m going on safari” look. While Tumi is rarely found on sale, gift certificates are offered as incentives. When you purchase $350 or more of the luggage, you receive $100 off your next purchase.

While Jay’s offers less expensive (and more expensive) luggage, we did check a few other sources for comparison. The Price Club had a Samsonite “Large Wheeled Piggyback” (a 25-inch hard-sided Pullman) for $149.98. They also had an American Tourister garment bag for $89.99.

Price Club had a four-piece Tapestry set by Hampshire for $144.99, if you are into the Mary Poppins look. This is a great gift for a person who travels by automobile. It’s probably not rugged enough for a frequent flier.

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This is a good time of year to visit the department stores for luggage sales. The Broadway had some great markdowns on discontinued styles by Samsonite and Delsey. They also had some newer styles by Delsey and Helium for 50% off.

Marshall’s had a complete set of nice-looking luggage by a company eerily named Amelia Earhart. Prices ranged from $99 to $160. They also had a variety of pieces by Adolfo, Diane Von Furstenberg and Geoffrey Beene.

A quick look in the Yellow Pages and we found discount luggage shops in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Prices were roughly 20% to 35% less if you want to travel for your luggage. If not, Ventura County has enough to keep our poor dog hiding under the bed for quite some time.


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