Buy a backpack, save the sea: New travel gear blends practical with tech


As suitcases and travel accessories continually evolve, be prepared to toss your bags after just a few years as new products emerge, particularly “got to have it” electronics.

That’s one of the big takeaways from the 2019 Travel Goods Show held last week in Las Vegas. Among the other discoveries:

  • Loads of new bags can help you avoid the airlines’ ever-increasing fees.
  • Power banks charged by the sun eliminate the need to scrounge for an outlet at the airport.
  • The latest in luggage locks open with your fingerprint.

“This industry is driven by consumers,” said Michele Marini Pittenger, president and CEO of the Travel Goods Assn.. “ ‘I want something lighter. I want something that can hold all my various electronics. I need. I want.’ And at the end of the day, it has to make their travel easier.”

Easier, and sometimes cheaper too, as evidenced by the explosion of so-called “under-seaters” that airlines accept as a passenger’s free “personal item.”

“A lot of people travel light. They want to avoid fees. They want to be organized and have everything in their personal item fitting under the seat,” said Patty Stemp, vice president of product development for LCI Brands.

Stemp and her colleagues were in Las Vegas to show off their latest products, including the Lewis N. Clark ONboard line of under-seaters, including a roomy duffle bag.

Stemp said it can hold enough for a long weekend away.

“I carry three days’ worth of changes of clothes plus a laptop,” she said. “It also has accessory pockets … so you can pack electricals and toiletries in it.”


The duffle retails for $76.99 but is available online for as much as $32 less. The line also includes a sling bag ($76.99) and a backpack ($98), but they both hold less.

Meanwhile, bag designer Adrian Solgaard of Solgaard Design generated a lot of buzz in Vegas with his latest creation: an eco-friendly backpack ($95) made entirely from plastic waste retrieved from the sea.

“[With every bag sold] you are pulling five pounds of plastic from the ocean,” Solgaard told The Times.

In the coming months, the fabric will be used to make Solgaard’s entire line of products.

“We’re revolutionizing our supply chain,” he said.

Solgaard began his business with $1.2 million raised in 2016 through crowdfunding. Soon after, he launched both a backpack ($165) and a briefcase ($145) that come with solar-charging power banks.


“When you’re in the airport, look at all the people huddled around where there’s one outlet. You don’t need to worry about that,” he said. “Four hours of sun will give you a full charge for your phone.”

There is, however, a caveat: indoor, artificial light will not charge the power banks.

At the show’s Launch Pad, a space reserved for start-up companies, Danielle Travis modeled her fashion-forward face masks: trendy alternatives to the disposal surgical masks some people wear when traveling.

“I wanted something more comfortable and stylish so I don’t get those nasty looks,” the self-professed germophobe said.

Travis’ “winged mask,” a combination scarf and mask, is available in several colorful designs. The polyester fabric is treated with a solution made with crab shells from Alaska to inhibit the growth of odor-causing bacteria. The washable, reusable product sells for $70 on her website.

At another start-up stall, Maxime Beaudoin was wrapped in My Daddy’s Arms, a roughly 4-foot-long neck pillow. With “hands” on each end, it both supports the neck and provides the user with a comforting embrace.

The new product, invented by sports therapist Sylvain Bérubé of Montreal, should be available for shipment by May. It can be ordered online for $82.


For folks who still like to secure their luggage, a small padlock that opens with the touch of a finger avoids the problems of losing the key or forgetting the combination. The TSA-friendly BenjiLock, from the mind of L.A. inventor Robbie Cabral, recognizes up to four fingerprints.

If the concept sounds familiar, that may be because Cabral pitched it, and earned an investment from Kevin O’Leary, on ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank.” The rechargeable lock retails on the manufacturer’s website for $49.99.

The reality is that the latest gadgets and gear may make what you already own obsolete. Matador’s Freerain24 2.0 — a waterproof, collapsible backpack ($64.99) weighing a mere 5.5 ounces – is a prime example.

“It used to be a 10-pound carry-on was lightweight,” Pittenger, the Travel Goods Assn.’s leader, said. “Now, a 4-pound carry-on has all the features and bells and whistles that you might want.”