Saturday, January 13, 2007

Not My Bag

I hate wheelie suitcases. My backpack (rucksack for those of you reading from the rest of the world) and a strong back have served me just fine in my travels on trains and buses. It's even been just fine for moves of 3-6 months to places like Australia, Barcelona, Uganda, and Kuwait.

My backpack weighs almost nothing empty, neatly squashes into the bottom of a drawer when not in use, and when I'm fit, makes climbing stairs (like the five flights of my past-and-future Barcelona flat) with 40 pounds of luggage almost easy. I have several small packing cubes which nestle in the backpack, keeping things organized and unwrinkled.

So why then, did I go down to Orchard Street and buy a $119 Travelpro Walkabout Lite wheelie suitcase, with matching squishy bag yesterday?

Peer pressure, I reckon.

Everyone tells me I will be very happy to own the wheelie. Everyone tells me it's so much easier to tug a handle than to lurch around town sweating and unstable.

And that it looks stupid for a 40-year-old woman in a borderline management position for a growing company to show up with a dirty backpack. (This worried me until I went shopping for "office" clothes yesterday and was so revolted I was shocked back into reality, and remembered that I yam what I yam and if someone wrinkles their nose at my clothing or luggage, it's really not my problem.)

I'm trying to keep an open mind. Amanda reminded me that a wheelie suitcase is a purpose-built tool, and doesn't dictate that I will use it on every trip for the rest of my life.

"It's good for international moves," she said.

I'm sure she's right. But I think with horror of myself dragging it up the tiny several-hundred-year-old stairs in my Barcelona flat next week. Or of the dread that I will experience after merrily rolling along through the Broadway Junction subway station en route to JFK and then arriving at... all... those... stairs.

Then, there's hiking in and old of the Old City in Barcelona at 5 a.m. to catch airplanes, and there's no way out but on foot, and I would arrive puffing and red at the airport bus stop, while the other tourists stared at me with concern from their perches atop their wheelie suitcases.

We'll see how it goes. I'll give the wheelie this chance to convince me of its usefulness, by taking me first to Barcelona and then to Cairo. If it doesn't work out, I can use it for winter clothes storage in my garage. If it does work out, I'll just have to schedule more international moves.


Benjamin Russell said...

I still feel it was enormously expensive, but I've been very satisfied with my purchase of an Eagle Creek wheeled backpack, which converts with only a minor hassle from wheely suitcase to slightly small capacity framepack.

I know I go nuts when I see middle school students wheeling their backpacks around corridors instead of humping them (it's only 200 feet between classes!), but I've found the terrain v. airport functionality of these parallel items to be enormously convenient. Plus: a thickly-padded carry handle that doesn't cause your fingers to fall off.

Not that any of this helps you now...

Marc Siry said...

See those little plastic skids on the underside of the wheelie? Those are for, uh, skidding up the next stair when you are pulling it up a staircase.

So, the improper method for going up stairs is to physically lift the bag from one stair to the next, and resting it momentarily on the step as you then step up.

Instead, you should just walk straight ahead up the stairs pulling the wheelie behind you, effectively dragging it up the stairs. When the skids hit the front of the next step, it will slide up the face of the step and then the wheels will 'catch' on the edge and roll across the top of the step.

It will make a racket but it's a lot easier that actually carrying it up the steps, as the weight of the bag is partially supported by the steps most of the time.

That was a complicated way to say 'don't carry, drag the bag up the stairs.'

Marie Javins said...

Broadway Junction will be good for dragging, but I think the tiny, rickety, uneven stairs of the Barcelona flat will break if I do that. I wish I had the jpeg of them, but it's on my Firewire hard drive... in my garage.

melanie ajumma said...

Wheelie, schmeelie. Tell me more about the packing cubes!

Marie Javins said...

I got no enthusiasm for the wheelie, but I LOVE the packing cubes! Brand not important but functionality is relevant.

It's like having a sock drawer, a shirt drawer, and a pants drawer in your bag. And also one for miscellaneous. And when I unzip my pack, several tidy bundles spill out, because not only do I have packing cubes, I have assorted other packing gadgets. The key, of course, is that anything to enhance your packing experience should weigh practically nothing, or it's more trouble than it's worth.

Here's my pants drawer. Here's my shirts drawer, and here's where the socks and undies go. (Generic or REI or any brand of these is acceptable.)

Then at the bottom of the bag, under the large packing cube, is a tiny microfleece towel, for those time when you need a towel for whatever reason, and a mini travel umbrella (best for hot and rainy climates where the plastic coat is aggravating. And a compression bag with one pair of jeans and one lightweight fleece, with the air squished out of them. (the cold gear, assuming one will not be in chilly weather much.)

The Montrail hybrid shoes or the Tevas or the tiny black leather dressup sandals squash along the sides.

Above the clothes come the sacs, which include stray things like the coffee mug with the plunger that plunges right into it, the lexan utensils on a key ring, the USB phone charger, etc. Gadgets. Scissors that fold into themselves. Travel duct tape. The toiletry kit and odds and end nestle neatly into a cave-like area under the top zipper.

THAT'S a bit more than you asked to know.

Marie Javins said...

Oh and you didn't ask about this, but of course having a professional size your pack means the pack puts the weight on your hips, not your back.

John Bligh said...

Roller/Backpacks. The best o' both worlds...

Marie Javins said...

All right, all right. You've all worn me down. Out with it.

I did, of course, consider all types of luggage being someone who uses my luggage rather more than most folks. Yeah, okay, a LOT more.

And perhaps I am a wee bit more compulsive than some about getting all the facts and figures before dropping money on anything.

And the wheelie backpack is not a new invention.

And yes, I compared it back when I bought a backpack without wheels.

Two cons to the wheelie backpack:

1) They are heavy. A 5-pound difference may not sound like much to you when all you do is drag your bag to the airport on the subway and throw it on a conveyer belt, but when you carry a bag for a year, you think "Gosh, that five pounds could be a camera and a pair of shoes," it becomes significant. Here is today's equivalent of my pack, clocking in at 6 lbs., 4 ozs. The wheeled version is 11 lbs., 8 oz.

2) Suspension. At least the Eagle Creek models have hip suspension. Other models just have two straps which hang from your shoulders. Try lifting that bag. Now imagine all that weight on your BACK. A good pack is supported by your hips, and centers its gravity where your gravity is centered. This way it doesn't hurt you or make you fall over so you are then sprawled on your back wiggling your arms and legs like and upside-down turtle.

I can see the appeal of an Eagle Creek wheelie (or REI or simiar model) for the sort of trip that involves airports, cities, and maybe throwing it on an overland truck that carries the bag for you, but I think the wheeled backpack is not as useful as it would seem to be. It's a clever idea but if I want a backpack, I'd be worried about the 5 pounds. And if I want a wheelie, well, then it would be useful for stairs, but it's probably not much harder to use the Marc drag method than to stop, convert, lift, go, stop, convert.

Such a contrary tourist, me. Least I'm not stuck on being called traveler.