I realize what's gone is gone. But I still wish that modern journeys could be at least a little less stressful. Therefore, it's easy to understand why I felt truly euphoric while visiting the Travel Goods Show this month in Las Vegas, where distributors and manufacturers tried to persuade buyers from big stores to stock their products. My eyes feasted on precisely the sorts of things that can ease the strain of travelers. Suitcases seemingly as light as a few feathers. High-tech gadgets to keep those bags secure. Even a bin liner to keep you from catching other people's cooties at checkpoints. And many of these stress-relieving goodies are surprisingly affordable.
I loathe checking baggage, especially since airlines began charging for it. Because I routinely wheel my bag through the airport, I was particularly impressed by a new line of suitcases: the Sub Zero G Collection from Landor & Hawa.
"It's the lightest luggage out there by far," says Ken White, who heads the company's U.S. operations. "No one else comes close."
White amazed potential buyers in Las Vegas by easily lifting one of the bags using only his little finger. The 19-inch carry-on weighs less than 4 1/2 pounds. A 30-inch case weighs in at less than 6 pounds.
The bags are built using ultra-light fiberglass frames. The smaller bag retails for $79.95, and its big brother sells for $119.95; (800) 551-7090, www.discountluggage.com.
"A good product can be affordable. That's what we're trying to do here," White says.
I wasn't the only one who was impressed. A panel of judges from the travel goods industry awarded the luggage collection first prize as the most innovative item at the show.
"This is one sturdy bag. That's the product innovation our judges looked at," says Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Assn. "It's not just a light bag, it's a light bag that is going to last.
"What happens when your bag is 20 pounds before you ever put anything into it? We can't have that. The idea here is, if the bag starts out light, the consumer can pack more of their belongings in it."
Another line of bags -- the second-place finisher -- features a gadget that belongs in a James Bond movie.
Heys USA's BioCase uses biometric technology -- specifically, the owner's fingerprint -- to operate the locking mechanism. These hard-sided bags, which go on sale in April, can memorize up to eight fingerprints and will be available as a 19-inch business case ($700) and a 20-inch carry-on ($775); (866) 439-7872, heysusa.com.
For those who already own a bag but want a Transportation Security Administration-recognized lock for it, there's Wordlock. It uses four letters, such as T-R-I-P, instead of numbers to make the combination easier to remember. It sells for less than $10 and is available at Amazon.com, Target, Walgreens and major retailers.
Baby boomers may find the third-place product reassuring. Traveler-ER is a USB flash drive that stores information that might be needed in an emergency, such as medical history, a list of prescriptions and health insurance details. It sells for $29.95; (866) 662-2483, travelerssupply.com.
"I'm just not in a position to remember every medication I'm on and every surgery I've had," Pittenger says. "All of your health information is stored on one USB drive [available] for pretty much anyone with a computer."
Big-store buyers, who are paid to know what consumers want, chose an item called the GoToob for the show's "buzz" award.
The tubes are designed to hold a traveler's toiletries, and they're small enough to meet the TSA's rules for carry-on liquids. The silicone containers are squishy, which makes it easy to squeeze out every drop of an expensive lotion.
Priced from $6.45, the GoToob comes in two sizes and in fashion colors including lime green and hot pink; www.humangear.com.
"I think the buyers thought that this was a product they could really move," the association president says. "They're fun, funky and very functional."
The Kangopack, a product probably best suited to those who clean their supermarket carts with antibacterial wipes, also generated a lot of interest.
Described by the seller as an "antimicrobial fabric barrier," it's designed to fit inside those checkpoint bins in which you place your shoes and other items for screening.
The literature says it protects "all of your belongings from cross-contamination of the millions of germs and bacteria proven to be found in airport bins." It sells for $34.95.
At first, it seemed like a good idea. But then I got to thinking: Won't I be exposed to all those lurking bugs when, after use, I have to remove the liner from the bin, fold it and return it to its zippered pouch?
That's why the liner is treated with a disinfectant. But, as an added precaution, the Kangopack comes with a vial of Kangomist, which according to the spiel, "kills 99.9% of all germs and bacteria on hands with one quick spray"; (303) 322-6059, www.kangopack.com.
"There's an awful lot out there that's been designed to take some of the travelers' stress away," Pittenger observes. "And anything that takes stress away -- let's face it -- it's a good thing.
"We can't stop your flight from being late. We can't help with the delays on the tarmac. But what we can help with is . . . making their travel easier, more convenient [and] safer."