Ask Belle: Luggage

Apr 21, 2011

I noticed that several of you asked for shopping tips for stylish luggage in yesterday’s comments.  But here’s the thing…I don’t really travel.  I go home to see my folks.  I travel to the District for my Boss.  I occasionally head to a friend’s wedding, but other than that, I don’t travel.  So I don’t know what makes a great suitcase for cross-ocean travel or lengthy trips or road warriors.  

That being said, I still have a few tips.

Ditch the Freaking Vera, Already.  Every time I step into an airport, I become like a hunted CIA agent on the lookout for trouble.  I know that the Vera is there and that any minute it’s going to jump out and assault my corneas, but she’s stealthy.

So please put the Vera Bradley and the faux-Vera Bradley (oh yes, faux) away.  Frankly, burn it.  It makes every outfit and person look positively frump-tastic.  Buy a Longchamp if you need an all purpose tote and put your flamingo-holding-umbrella-on-a-beach-next-to-a-palm-tree printed bag where it belongs…in your BBQ grill.

Black Is The New “Someone Stole My Bag.”  Why are people still buying black rollerboard bags?  Everyone else has a black, wheeled bag so the odds that someone grabs your bag from the carousel by mistake are higher with black.  And let’s face it, black luggage is boring.

Now, I’m not saying you should rush out in search of a hot lime train case, but red, royal blue, eggplant purple, steel grey and green are all acceptable alternatives.  No more squinting to find your bag.  No more affixing brightly-colored ribbons to the handle.  No fighting with the 77-year-old, Polish woman who thinks that your bag is her bag (Dulles, Christmas, 2009).  Just identify, grab and go.

Carry On, Carry All.  What do I carry on with me?  If I’m not taking my laptop, and I’m always taking my laptop, I carry only my Rebecca Minkoff MAB Mini.  It holds everything I need, nothing more, nothing less.

When I have my laptop, I have a laptop sleeve from Built.  I carry it on under my arm, with a magazine on top and no one notices.  

The Suitcase.  As for suitcases, my Father is like a super consumer.  He is the Better Business Bureau, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, and Consumer Reports in a living human being.  So, Super Consumer buys my luggage.  And he chose…

Victorinox Werks Traveler ($300)

Yes, the bag is $300.  But Macy’s is always having a “one-day sale,” so pick it up then and save some coin.  This bag swivels, has comfort handle, my laptop fits in the front pocket, and it holds all the clothes that I need for a week on the road at just 22″ long.

If you’re in the market for stylish luggage, try Bric’s (high-end) or DvF (affordable). Frankly, I don’t care if my luggage is stylish as long as it’s not ugly.  Maybe one day I will, but for now, it just needs to haul the clothes that I do care about to and fro.

I know there are some super travelers out there (Cori Sue? Becca?) what do you ladies recommend?  Do you have a bag you like?  A brand?  Tips to share?  Do so in the comments.

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  1. sb says:

    Amen on the Vera sister!

  2. Megan says:

    I'm going to try to explain why I like Vera Bradley, and I'm totally aware that I'm going to sound insane.

    I have a…problem with dirt and bacteria. Their presence makes me uncomfortable. I'm not Emma Pillsbury, but I do feel calmer and happier if things that I have to, say, carry on the Metro daily can in some way be washed and sanitized at least every few weeks. Should I get this checked out with a professional? Probably. Do I have the time, money or patience for some doctor to tell me that I'm a little nuts? No. The beauty of Vera to me is that it is the LEAST frumpy bag I've seen that I can launder. (I only buy faux leather purses for this purpose, but they still shouldn't be washed too often.) If someone can recommend a nice-looking bag that I can throw in the washing machine when I get too squicked out by the amount of Metro-borne bacteria I'm carrying around, fire away.

    Yeah. Nuts. I know.

  3. A says:

    Marshalls/TJ Maxx usually have some really cute suitcases that are unique and won't break the bank. I got one similar to this: but in orange for about 50 bucks.

  4. love it says:

    In my last job I traveled for business at least once a month, and I wholeheartedly agree with bringing everything in a single carry-on and a purse. And I agree about the color – mine is a classic red. A note about the wheels: Make sure the wheels are durable and on the larger side, so they don't break or stick or skip as you briskly walk (or run) through the terminals, and so they can handle whatever puddles in the parking lot you face. Durability is key.

  5. Holls says:

    I have the Delsey “Karat” luggage. It's black, but the design is different from the common suitcase. I have the matching carry on as well, I need a place for my shoes!

  6. Nina says:

    Megan- Etsy. Etsy. Etsy. There are lots of artists making great tote bags than can be thrown in the wash.

  7. jules says:

    Please, oh please, do not buy a red bag. I have one, and it seems that so does everyone else. I can only now identify it because it doesn't leave my side when I travel for work. If I check it, I twitch constantly at the baggage carousel because I think every bag I see is mine. I'm thisclose to trading it in for something with a loud pattern just so I can find it faster.

    If you travel frequently and want a carry on, get something that is smaller than FAA carry-on guidelines. FAA guidelines are for the overhead bins in big jets, and you will often end up with something that is smaller, meaning that you'll have to put your suitcase in sideways, thus forcing someone else to check their bag, or you will have to check it planeside (note: on small commuter flights, almost nothing will fit in the overhead bin, so give up hope on that one).

    Finally, to the germ question: my carry on is a longchamp because I carry a lot of stuff for work (laptop, files, book for the plane), and it fits all of it while not adding to what I have to carry in terms of weight. I also like it because I can give it a wipe down with clorox wipes at the end of the trip and feel that it's de-germified. My real suitcase goes on the floor when it comes home, is unpacked, and then gets put in a garbage bag in the closet. I know it's dirty (at least the outside) but I live with it.

    If you're really worried about washing, maybe try a canvas bag from lands end — not the totes, but I know they have washable dark canvas duffels that are casual-preppy.

  8. Ashley says:

    I have luggage from TJ Maxx (giraffe print! Childish? A little. Easy to find? Always) But I will say that you get what you pay for. I travel fairly often, & a wheel on the larger bag has broken almost off & the carry-on size bag has squeaky wheels that nothing will fix! So embarrassing. As soon as I have the cash for new luggage I am most definitely going to invest in some quality pieces. I like bags with a print though, even if it's subtle – I always know which one is mine!

  9. Claire says:

    Gucci Sukey Large Tote = greatest carryon of all time. I travel often for work including lots of overseas and this bag is a lifesaver. Large enough to fit must-haves for a 12+ hr flight AND a small purse for use after arrival.

  10. Sara says:

    It you want durability, I recommend Eagle Creek Luggage. There stuff is not unattractive and it is incredibly durable. I got a bag from them that I carried on a trip around the world. It made through 3 months in India,a boat down the Me Kong and up the Inca Trail and it still looks brand new.

  11. Rory says:

    The DvF luggage isn't made very well. I had the cutest carry on from her that ripped an 8″ gash the moment I snagged it on something in the Metro.

    I just bought new luggage last weekend. I bought the Forrester series from American Tourister in sage green. My parents have the same set and it survived a three month trip through Alaska in great shape.

  12. VA says:

    I have a set of Timberland luggage (rolling carryon-size suitcase and big rolling duffel, originally from Macy's) that has been all over the world with me and is still in great condition even after nearly 10 years. It's black so I do have a piece of pretty fabric tied on the handle, but that doesn't bother me.

    My boyfriend found a Victorinox suitcase very similar to your Dad's choice at Marshall's – amazing deal.

  13. Half-Pint says:

    My fiance bought me the carry on bag from Helen Rae and it is utterly amazing AND cute! It rolls in front of me if i want, I always notice other women checking it out, and it has a great compartment for your liquids. She is a business woman who created this bag because she couldn't find what she wanted!

  14. ~M says:

    I really like American Tourister. For my 18th birthday my parents gave me a set. These 2 suitcases have moved to Poland (and moved on trains, trams and metros 6x), Ukraine, the Caribbean, throughout Europe, as well as many domestic moves and trips. I had to get the zippers replaced once, but they're still going strong after 10 years.

  15. k says:

    I ADORE my Andiamo. My parents bought it for me when i was 9 before I went abroad the first time, and I still use it all the time, fifteen years later. It came with a lifetime warranty (but nothing has broken, ever) and is green/navy plaid (what can I say, I was 9)! It's incredible. I have that and an Eagle Creek backpack for camping, and that's all I'll ever need.

    I also got a Bric's piece that is great, but not for me, and I'll selling it…

  16. HB says:

    I always go TJ Maxx. While you may “get what you pay for” there you can also afford to replace it if this happens. I have Kathy luggage, and I do admit that it is black, but it also has a big silver crowned heart on the front along with other detailing that makes it stand out without being loud. I am a fairly frequent traveler and it has made it through studying abroad in Europe and around the US for over three years. Plus it's hot pink on the inside, which, while not being vastly important, I love.

  17. RachelRemarks says:

    I get your point about Vera, I really do. I myself have a strong aversion to paisley, which many of her products feature. However, I will say one thing for it – the cotton fabric is extremely lightweight. I have a cross body bag that is on the larger size and great for a day trip – you can fit everything you need and its not heavy at all. So then it just comes down to choosing a tasteful pattern. Mine is in the Hope Garden pattern, which is a fun, bright floral. Perfect for spring/summer shopping/day long excursions!

  18. Jessica says:

    If you're looking for just a carry-on with wheels and need to carry a suit too, Skyroll ( makes a great suitcase that has a garment bag that attached to the outside of the suitcase. I recently went to Houston for 4 days and it was the perfect size, even with me being a terrible overpacker! I managed to put 5 pairs of shoes and two extra days worth of clothes in the suitcase.

  19. Sarah says:

    Second the Eagle Creek. I've had a mid-sized (too big for carry-on, but expandable + big enough for longish trips) bag from them for going on 3 years, and it looks new. I chose it b/c Consumer Reports (or similar) had done a test with rolling bags, dragging them around NYC streets filled with heavy books. Since I got it when I started grad school, I realized that was pretty much exactly what I'd be doing with it. It's amazing – does not tip over, wheels hold steady, has kept things dry through serious rain/slush/snow on the ground, unique look so I can tell it apart (even though it's black), etc. Also has a great warranty.

  20. Cori Sue says:

    I’ve always picked up my luggage at Marshalls and TJMaxx—they have great, durable brands at affordable prices. As far as the brand goes, I don’t have one in particular, I just try to make sure I pick one that looks like it's made well, and give it a test-drive (i.e. wheel it around) the aisles.

    I see no point in spending a lot on a suitcase that you will check, because the airline folks toss them around and they inevitably get dirty and trashed. Better to get a deal on a non-offensive one at Marshalls or TJMaxx and then replace it every few years.

    Black suitcases do get lost, so my Dad bought these awful, hideous rainbow luggage belts (with locks). They’re ridiculous, but they keep someone from accidentally taking your black suitcase, if that’s what you already own.

    Back in college, when I was taking a lot of weekend road trips, I invested in a cute, matching weekend bag with a matching toiletry case and makeup bag. I use it on weekend roadtrips, when I take the train to New York, and, now that almost every airline charges a baggage check fee, I use it when I fly domestically. With the weekend bag always in my control, I have no problem spending money on it, because I know no one will wreck it!

    With regard to Vera Bradley—oh no, hunnie, no. I also use a Longchamp tote (I have one in navy and one in black) for work, school, and as my “personal item” when traveling. You can wipe them down with a wet wash cloth and some dish soap easily to sanitize them (I, too, am a germaphobe). I actually throw mine in the washing machine every few months (even though they tell you not to) and they still look great—the leather handle has even held up. Hever Chapelier have great travel bags, they come in a variety of colors, and they’re all nylon, removing the leather handle-washing issue all together.

  21. KRF says:

    I do a fair amount of traveling and as a gift I received a luggage strap with my last name printed. It goes all the way around the suitcase (and is adjustable). For those of you with black suitcases, you can purchase the strap in a bright color to find your bag. Here is an example: This has been a great accessory. Safe travels everyone!

  22. VA Gal says:

    I travel a lot and I tend to be really hard on suitcases, and I completely second your father on the Victorinox. They don't have the most standout colors, which is why I mark my checked bag with bright ribbons or colored tape, but those bags last forever. Also, the wheels don't snap off – not even if you haul them over 3 miles of cobblestones(don't ask).

  23. S says:

    I have a Samsonite Silhouette carry-on sized roller bag with four wheels on the bottom – love the four wheels. It has been tons of places with me and on the rare occasion when I check it, it has come out unscathed. I also wheel it along Capitol Hill's uneven and brick sidewalks. I can get two weeks' worth of business and leisure clothes in there and a second pair of shoes, toiletries, etc. A feature I can't praise enough is the thing but large back pocket – I can dump my laptop there when I'm leaving the security zone for easy traveling, store an extra magazine there, paperwork from the office, or anything else that needs a flat space. I love the expandable option, just in case. My step-mother swears by buying luggage at Macy's because she has had a couple of good experiences getting them to honor warranties on damaged bags (her kids travel hard). And, as Belle said, they are always having a 50% off luggage sale. My carry on is a Timbuktu messenger bag – it's totally waterproof and holds a lot, including my regular purse.

  24. Ms. C says:

    In my previous job I traveled 8-15 days per month. It was a lot of movement and, accordingly, I went through a lot of luggage. There were a few pieces of luggage I settled on and some good overall tips I could share:

    Tip 1: Invest in one good carry on piece rather than a whole set of questionable quality.
    Travelers almost exclusively use the carry-on (22″) piece. You will use it so much that the carry-on will break and wear much sooner and faster than the other pieces. Then you are stuck with a set of luggage that you never use and a piece of carry-on luggage that does not match. So, do yourself a favor and invest in a good carry on (my choice

    Tips 2: Your smaller item/purse should not be a black hole of magazines/wallets/beauty items/etc. I prefer puses that are large, no doubt, but are taller and slimmer than the large, shapeless totes that people generally carry. In a pinch I will carry a longchamp with a clutch inside (to add some internal organization) but I generally go for the Foley + Corinna Mid City Tote (( or something similar. Believe me, things are easier to find in such a bag and it prevents you from loading it up with so much crap that you hurt your shoulder or appear sloppy.

    Tip 3: If you're not going on a plane, you don't need a roller (and double negatives are OK).
    I did environmental work that often required travel to remote places…no planes just cars…for 2-6 hours. Learning how to pack and travel for these kinds of trips took some getting used to. However, I came to realize that roller bags often didn't suit the kind of rugged travel (or limited cargo space) that these trips required. Instead, a large “weekender” bag — which is more stylish in my opinion anyway — can provide just as much space as my carry on without all the extra room needed for wheels. Here's what I use: (note: I got this bag at a Marshall's for 1/3 of this price). It is a fabulous day when you feel like a chic traveler AND the supervising male partner notices that you take up 1/2 of the trunk space as your male counterparts.

    Tip 4: No matter what bag you are using or where you are going, use travel cubes/envelopes.
    Whether I'm traveling for work or pleasure, I always, always, always use my eagle creek packing cubes/folders (see, e.g., I use two folders, two cubes, and two bags (one of them being a shoe bag). I've had them for three years and they have joined me on every trip I have taken in that time, from Thailand to Rapid City. They keep me organized, allow me to pack more in my carry-on, ensure that my clothes remain wrinkle free, and allow me to separate clean from dirty with ease.

    Hope this helps someone!

  25. Diane says:

    I am a bit pessamistic about the airlines and generally assume they are going to lose or damage any item I entrust in their position. So, rather than go the durable route, I went with the impossibly cheap route, with the idea that at $25.00 a pop, I could replace my suitcase at the first hint of a wobbly wheel or a stubborn zipper or an unsightly stain. I made this purchase two and a half years ago, and I'm still hauling my grape-purple barely-carry-on-sized Liesure Lakeview: It is easy to spot in the overhead bins, easy to spot on the luggage carousel, light and easy to haul around, problem-and-defect-free (so far) and I have yet to run into anyone with a suitcase matching it. I could also buy 11 more replacements before hitting the $300 mark, which if they all last as long as my current one, won't be until around 2038…

  26. Ashley says:

    I just bought awesome luggage from Joy Mangano on HSN's website…the carry-on bag is roomy and holds a good amount of clothing; there is a mini closet so you can leave clothes on the hangers and transfer them to the closet in the hotel room; and the should strap bag in big enough for a laptop, textbooks, and other essentials. I bought purple luggage.

    HSN: Joy Mangano Clothes It All® Travel Your Way 10-piece Collection Item: 101-814

  27. dctraveler says:

    I have a full set of Ricardo luggage from Kohls in Purple that I've had for 5-6 years. It has a nice purple paisley print liner inside. The larger pieces have gotten very little use but I use the 21 inch carry on most often because i travel a lot on business. It's the perfect size to pack a week's worth of clothing and a laptop in. It also has expandable pockets if you are taking a longer trip (or need to fit a winter coat) and a bunch of organization pockets that are great for separating toiletries. It's also very durable (I dropped it down several escalators!) The purple color also makes it a little more feminine and also easy to see in the overhead bins. Since I bought it so long ago they probably have different styles now, but the brand i would defiitely trust. Kohls also always has those sales where for every $50 you spend you get a $10 coupon, so I bought one piece at a time and used the coupon i got to buy the next piece. I think they came with a 3 year warranty.

    Also, American Touristor doesn't have the most stylish brands but they last forever and usually have a warranty.

  28. whattokeep says:

    My parents bought me a set (large suitcase and smaller suitcase) of luggage when I went to college. It's a dark green by Atlantic Luggage. Not only can I always spot it, it has lasted 10 years of frequent travel. I love it! I don't actually know anything about the brand, other than from my experience, because I did not do the research or buy the set myself–but, hey, it works!

  29. gingerr says:

    I'd always used my road-warrior husband's cast off luggage, ignoring that it had a duct-tape repair or a broken pocket there. It was fine for my 4-5 times a year travel schedule.

    My son snitched my cast-off suitcase and I finally bought myself a new one. I bought something at Marshall's. No need to spend more than $100 on something you aren't going to use heavily. I got a carry-on and a check-through and so far they're fine.

    My husband, Mr. Road-Warrior, got sick of having luggage break on him while he was on the road and he went to LL Bean and bought a rolling bag. He's had that several years and it hasn't had any issues and looks good.

  30. love it says:

    Ms. C – Great advice! Especially about the times when a roller isn't the best option. Thanks!

  31. Chris says:

    I'm a road warrior, and I always end up going back to Samsonite. I love their mid-size, four-wheel bags, which zip down to be carry-on size or zip out to hold more clothes for longer trips. I have tried to switch to colored bags. But they immediately got black stains all over them from the luggage belts and general handling. I went back to black, and bought a large, very distinctive luggage tag so I could spot it quickly and easily.

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