Got Baggage? My Favorite Flyers

I recently flew a U.S. based carrier (hint: headquartered in Chicago) non-stop to Salt Lake City from Atlanta.  When I retrieved my checked bag, I was distressed to see that the top handle was ripped right out of the bag, hanging pitifully on one screw.  

The bag, by the way, was the same brand the flight crews carry and only a year old.  

When I asked the airline to repair it, I was told they “don’t cover straps or handles.” The representative pointed to a sign which indicated the airline was not responsible for “normal wear and tear.”  

What, I wondered, would this airline repair in the way of baggage?   

“Well, when we run over a bag, we replace it.”  A call to the manufacturer to explore whether they might repair the bag at no charge yielded the same finger-pointing:  “We only cover defects, not normal wear and tear.”  

Well then.  

Since very few manufacturers or airlines now offer travelers recourse for damaged bags, I decided to do a little research of my own. I travel for a living, so I am a tough judge of luggage. 

For more than a month, UPS and FedEx personnel hefted oversized boxes to my third-floor walkup, grimacing with exertion. 

When I explained my task—to find some of the best luggage on the market—they were intrigued. Seems all of us have at one time or another, suffered from luggage remorse. 

I felt like Goldilocks, during the course of my research:  some bags were too big, some were too small…and a few were just right.   

A Few of My Favorite Bags. Having the right luggage makes a world of difference. 

Having the right luggage makes a world of difference. 

My primary consideration is toughness:  I want my luggage to withstand the rigors of conveyors and sorting machines, not to mention being stacked, dropped and thrown through the air. I’ve sat at the window seat as they loaded the bags, so I know how they are manhandled. I’d never consider anything but wheeled luggage—and I’m not alone:  a recent national travel magazine polled its readers and found that 72% said wheeled luggage was the single thing that has changed travel for the better. 

I also paid special attention to handles (a retractable, locking handle is essential) and straps (look for multiple rickets for strength), wheels (recessed, in-line skate wheels provide great balance) and zippers (synthetic zippers made of coils can self-repair).  Following are the standouts I recommend.

Best All-Around Collection:  Modus by Jansport.   The folks at Jansport have nailed it with this well-thought out series. Extremely lightweight, the Codura nylon is resistant to tears and abrasions.  The 22 inch carry on is extremely easy to maneuver thanks to multipurpose footholds that double as handles on the bottom that give good loading grip and fit easily into overhead compartments.  Clever features include a dual access tuck away footwear pocket which is accessible from the exterior, an interior mesh pocket for accessories and a compression panel with a place for a dryer sheet to keep your clothes smelling clean. There’s also an “escape pod,” a small matching bag that detaches for carrying a few essentials. The external pockets are perfect for an umbrella and a water bottle.  Best of all is the ergonomic “hammerhead handles” and smooth, quiet, fast wheels, both which eliminate the annoying heel-to-bag contact and tipping, and deliver 360 degree movement.  I felt about 87% less wrist strain and 49% less tired than with conventional handles.  The 24 inch is perfect for longer trips and the 27 inch would work well for a family.  The Modus comes in a unisex, easy-to-spot on the carousel copper and a Barbie-like pink, along with more conservative colors.  Like all Jansport products, they carry a lifetime warranty and are very fairly priced.  I love my Moduses (Modusi?).  Visit for retailers. 

Sexiest Update On An Old School Hard Side Suitcase.   This is not your father’s hard side case.  When I pulled it out of the box, I moaned out loud.  The Zero Halliburton Zeroller is seriously sexy:  sleek in a kind of retro, James Bond way, its gorgeous polished aluminum catching the light. Inside, there’s a zip-out suiter and the heavy-duty chrome drawbolt latches (how’s this for smart:  there is a third lock on top, in addition to the two on the sides) keep everything tightly inside.  While traveling, it elicited a lot of envious stares, like a shiny new car, from both sexes;  I must admit I felt like a big shot rolling it. That’s the good news.  The bad news is it’s pricey, not expandable and after a trip to Sweden, it was scratched and dented, no longer bright and shiny. My heart sunk like the first time a new car gets a ding.  It would fare better when traveling by car or bus. Or, if you are a captain of industry, just ship it to your destination to ensure it stays in top condition.  See

Best for the Adventure Traveler.  Eagle Creek’s Switchback Max ES 25 cleverly combines a rolling upright with a full-size zip-off backpack (complete with the company’s signature organization compartments which keep everything in its place and easily accessible) scoring it kudos from Outdoor Magazine.  The deep packing space allows you to stuff in scuba gear (like I did) along with clothing, and the tough wheels grip any surface—from gravel to asphalt, dirt to carpet.  The bag works in perfect harmony with Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Cubes, drawer-like lifesavers I can’t live without—especially when I’m on the go and don’t want to completely unpack. The soft, see-through mesh cubes come in small, medium, large and jumbo sizes to organize rolled socks, underwear, t-shirts, pants and sweaters.  They are perfect for couples or families sharing a suitcase.  Visit for retailers. 

Best Texas Option.  Woman-owned Pacific Design is headquartered in Austin and offers value-priced luggage along with backpacks, messenger bags and iPod covers.  I fell hard for the Pink Nucleus (it comes in a lot of great colors). The world’s first true “case within a case,” the sporty Nucleus is more than just a computer sleeve. Made of a unique light molded foam, this case is perfect for carrying your notebook computer (fits up to 15 inch laptops), business cards and a few files around town or across the world. Just slip the Nucleus into any Pacific Design Evolution line case and go. Unbelievably, it’s priced under $25. Log onto for more information.

Chicest Brand Extension.  My Swiss Army knife is one of my most valued possessions.  The manufacturer, Victorinox, has a line called Lingo that boasts a sexy 24 inch upright in azalea, a beautiful lilac (other vibrant and basic colors available).  The large gusseted pockets on the exterior include a zippered ticket pocket and two large internal compartments mean you can choose to include a third pair of shoes and second pair of black pants.  The in-line wheels are smooth and the integrated feet on the bottom double as handles for easy lifting from the carousel. Coolest of all?  The one-touch, telescoping mono-pole features a gearshift-like ball that floats in your hand and rotates 360 degrees, banishing twisting discomfort.  A terrific value. 

Sidebar:  Yes, You Can Lock Again.  More than 1.4 million bags are checked in aiprots in the U.S. daily.  Following 9-11, TSA-certified locks have emerged, so you can again safeguard your belongings.  Specially coded and secured, these combination locks can be accessed (and then relocked) by airport authorities without the need to cut locks or force open bags.  At less than $10 each they offer peace of mind from pilfering.  Visit for details on where to buy them. 

Rules of the Road

The more you travel, the more you realize that the world over, people are people…

  • Trust
  • Always carry something to eat
  • A smile is a universal icebreaker
  • Leave a book, take a book
  • Occasionally, leave your camera behind
  • Surrender
  • Carry a pen and a journal
  • Practice kindness
  • Learn to love rain as much as the sun
  • Never pass up a bathroom
  • If you don’t speak the language, try charades
  • Try the road less traveled
  • Pack light
  • Consider alternatives
  • It’s on your plate, eat it
  • Say “thank you”
  • Always carry earplugs
  • Interact with kids
  • Unplug
  • Allow yourself to be surprised

Movies That Create a Sense of Place

  • And Now Ladies & Gentlemen
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • Children of Heaven
  • Chocolat
  • Dangerous Beauty
  • Daughter of Danang: American Experience
  • The Darjeeling Limited
  • Daughters of the Dust
  • Down in the Delta
  • Emmanuel’s Gift
  • Fire
  • I Like Killing Flies
  • In the Mood for Love
  • Into the Wild
  • The English Patient   
  • The Journey 
  • Kandahar
  • LA Confidential
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • Lost in Translation
  • The Matador
  • Mongol
  • The Painted Veil
  • Paradise Now
  • Once
  • Raise the Red Lantern
  • The Sheltering Sky
  • Sketches of Frank Gehry
  • Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring   
  • Story of the Weeping Camel
  • Thelma & Louise
  • Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion
  • Touching the Void
  • Travelers & Musicians
  • Under the Tuscan Sun

Some of My Favorite Places

The number one question I’m asked is “Where is my favorite place in the world?” 

It’s an impossible question to answer. I suppose the places I love best are places I could see myself living, or places I have returned to. These are among my favorite destinations:

  • Fairhope, Alabama: Founded as a Utopian community, this small town is perched on a bluff overlooking Mobile Bay, boasts a welcoming, walkable downtown chockful of local (no chains!) shops and a languid pace that has long attracted the creative set, including celebrated Forest Gump author Winstom Groom 
  • Fez, Morocco: I love getting lost in the thrum of the old labyrinth-like medina, minarets sounding the five-times daily call to prayer, the smell of jacaranda in bloom 
  • Istanbul, Turkey: My birthplace (historically known as Constantinople) is the only city that straddles two continents, Asia and Europe, Christian churches and Islamic mosques, making for fascinating contrasts 
  • Kiawah Island, South Carolina: Never have I seen so many horseshoe crabs along the Atlantic strand
  • Monument Valley, Arizona and Mexican Hat, Utah: An otherworldly, peaceful red desert punctuated by some of the bluest skies in the West and recognizable rock forms (think John Wayne movies)
  • Lafayette, Louisiana: This is the biggish-city—and underrated—heart of Acadia, home of friendly Cajuns, joyful music and memorable food, a college town where alligators ply the bayou on the campus 
  • Myanmar (AKA Burma): A cruise along the Irrawaddy River in the Mandalay region is unabashedly romantic, rolling back time to appreciate the lush green hillsides of Bagan, studded with more than 2,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries 
  • Nepal: Gentle-spirited and playful people, magnificent mountain panoramas, Buddhist stupas and an unexpectedly killer collection of used English-language volumes left in cafes and bookstores by backpackers from across the globe 
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: Old Europe in the South, with arguably the best food in the country—Creole—and joyful brass-based bands  
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Splendid natural—and human—scenery
  • Oaxaca, Mexico: Preserved colonial architecture and home to excellent cuisine—it’s the origination of the many varieties of moles—and and fried grasshoppers (taste like potato chips!)
  • Pensacola, Florida: My hometown has the whitest and least crowded (for now) beaches along the Emerald Coast and only-here seafood including amberjack, mullet, Royal Reds (shrimp) and triggerfish     
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico: An artsy Southwest town with buildings that date to the 1600s it looks like no other city in the U.S.., and it’s a great jumping-off point for further state exploration
  • San Sebastian, Spain: The Basque region on the French border has a splendid cobblestoned bayfront promenade where older gentlemen stroll in elegant bowlers and suits, and pinxto bars dish up regional tapas and pour local wines  
  • San Francisco, California:  Let’s be honest: We all leave our heart in the City by the Bay
  • Tibet: I spent 2 blissful weeks trekking on the “roof of the world,” my fortunate arrival coinciding with the annual post-harvest pilgrimage, attracting farmers throughout the country to pray in the streets of the capitol, Lhasa, the scent of burning juniper perfuming the air—a heady experience in every way   
  • Tucson, Arizona: My home base in Southern—AKA Baja—Arizona is just an hour from the Mexican border, is ringed by rugged mountains ranges, splendid hiking and surprising elevation changes: from 2,000-foot Sonoran Desert floor to the 9,000-foot alpine forests crowning Mount Lemmon  
  • Venice, Italy: The romance of wandering—and getting happily lost—in the small streets off the squares and over the canals and the perfect Bellini at Harry’s Bar 
  • Vietnam: Top to bottom, this country offers the most nuanced regional cooking, a combination of Asian ingredients and French cooking techniques (from the time of colonialism)  

Books That Transport You

  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton  
  • Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff by
    Rosemary Mahoney
  • Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey
  • East to West by Arnold Toynbee
  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World by Pico Iyer
  • Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman
  • Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald  
  • In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
  • The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • Out of Africa by Isak Dinesan
  • The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • The Second World by Parag Khanna
  • The United States of Europe:  The New Superpower and the End of  American Supremacy by T.R. Reid
  • A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle