Having the appropriate luggage can make a world of difference. It can mean the difference between carrying on a bag or checking a bag.
(which may mean the difference between lost and not lost!), health or a hurting back, and damaged vs. undamaged belongings or another charge on your credit card.
It is really important to know how to pack correctly. If you do, packing will be come very easy every time you travel and your bag will be smaller.
Note: This article assumes that you are packing for a plane
flight; traveling by train, bus, or car may be slightly different.
Garment bags can be exceptionally nice for short business
trips. Most airplanes have little compartments with a bar that
you can hang them on. Be advised, however, that those
compartments fill up pretty quickly, and you may have to jam
it into an overhead bin, wrinkling your suits and dresses.
However, garment bags are not particularly easy to carry if
very full or for a great distance. (Note: I have never been a
broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, tall, strong man, so perhaps
there is a class of people for whom this assertion is not true.)
If you must take heavy items (like, for example, six computer
manuals and a replacement power supply), seriously consider
some sort of wheeled contraption. One can purchase carts that
can fold up and go inside the suitcase or suitcases that have
wheels and a handle built in.
Suitcases with stiff, center-mounted racks are much more
manageable than suitcases with “leashes”. The leashed
suitcases have a tendency to wobble, tip, get stuck, fall over,
etc. The leash is always too short for your height, so you end
up walking hunched over anyways. Leashed luggage is
exceptionally ill-suited for those lovely, picturesque cobbled
streets that your charming little pension with no elevator is
A good, hard-sided suitcase with a rack can be a bit pricey.
However, consider that this is much, much, MUCH cheaper
than back surgery.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you should remember
that it is not mandatory to purchase a special valise for
carry-on items. A few sturdy garbage bags can work just fme.
You can also put things in boxes. Be sure to wrap them
extremely securely with glass-reinforced tape, and recognize
that they will get very rough handling. Furthermore, the
airlines will not take responsibility for damaging anything in a
cardboard box. You take your chances.
For long-term, low-end travels (e.g. the Grand Eurail Tour of
Europe), my personal luggage of choice is an old, beat up,
blue nylon duffle bag. It is large enough to take a week’s worth
of clothes (if I am not too fussy) and small enough that I can’t
fill it fuller than I can easily carry. It fits in the overhead
compartment and it weighs practically nothing.
Furthermore, it does not scream “Wealthy Tourist!!”; I could
just be returning from figure-skating practice or something like
Backpacks and Camping Gear
You can ship camping-style backpacks as well. Some airlines
will put them in large plastic bags to help keep things from
tearing off. Otherwise, make sure that anything that you have
attached to the pack (sleeping bag, tent, roll) is securely
fastened. And, as with packing in cardboard boxes, airlines
will not take responsibility for damaging anything in a
backpack. Do not pack the good china in the backpack.
There exist hard-shell bicycle cases. Shipping your bike in one
of these is the least dangerous to your bicycle. Unfortunately,
these cases do not strap onto bike racks particularly well, so
you will have to find some place to leave the case while you
are out touring the countryside. Some airports and/or airlines
may have places to leave your luggage; it would be prudent to
make arrangements well before you leave. A good rule of
thumb is that the more domestic terrorism there is, the less
likely you will be able to find a good place to leave your
You can also ship your bicycle in a cardboard box. You can
probably count on an airline at a major airport to be able to
sell you bike boxes (US$10 at San Francisco International),
but it may take them 30 minutes to fmd them. Smaller airports
might not have them at all.
The bicycle boxes that the airlines provide are huge. This is
good and bad; your bicycle will fit with minimum disassmbly,
but all that extra room will allow your bike to slosh around.
This is the most dangerous method of shipping your bike.
The best compromise is probably to go to a bicycle shop and
get a bicycle box from them. This box will probably fit your
bike better, but will require more creative disassembly. When
you get the box, also ask them for a fork brace.