The straight goods
Our globe-trotting expert shares her picks for the best conference gear on the go
Check it in
When it comes to check-in luggage, there are various schools of thought about hard-sided versus soft-sided bags. Having seen baggage handlers at work whamming, banging and chucking, I fall firmly into the hard-sided camp. They also double as a convenient seats while waiting at long line-ups for check-in, and are easier to clean.
For ease of lugging, the best design for hard-sided suitcases is what are known as ‘spinners,’ in which there are four wheel at the bottom of the narrow end of the case. This allows even heavy bags to be pushed along an even floor with little effort.
Luggage belts (or even a strip of duct tape) can be quite useful. They hold the bag closed, make it more visible on the luggage belt, and ‘lock’ the bag in such a way that customs can open it for a random check without having to break it.
Many airlines are trying to squeeze extra profits by cutting baggage allowances. This means the weight of a suitcase can make a big difference. Heys (www.heys.ca) makes a range of solid, very light and affordable spinners, as well as spinners made from 100-percent recycled plastic. They tend to cost around $120 for a mid-sized check-in suitcase.
If you want to spend twice, or three times that much, Samsonite (www.samsonite.com) has some excellent spinners. They weigh a bit more, but if you are willing to pay the sticker price, you probably also don’t mind paying an extra baggage fee.
If your travel is a bit more backcountry than city slicker, you might want to opt for a backpack. A good choice is Osprey (www.ospreypacks.com). These award-winning bags are strong, light, exceptionally comfortable and very cleverly designed — with easily accessible pockets and solid laptop padding.
Hardcore travellers can get them custom fit for their backs, while weekend warriors can get models with wheels, detachable daypacks and a retractable handle (you can guess which one I am). The eco-conscious can get models that are made of 70-percent recycled materials.
Carry it on
While hard-sided might make sense for check-in bags, carry-ons are often more convenient when soft-sided. That allows for easier access to documents, computers, and the rest, as well as being more squishable when trying to fit them under the seat in front of you.
The bags should, of course, roll. And the key is an upside-down U-shaped retractable handle. You don’t want a single bar handle because then you can’t balance any other bags on it. I also pack one of those cotton ‘bags for life’ in my carry-on in case I buy way too much duty free (again). Airport plastic bags seem to automatically explode as soon as you pass the boarding gate.
One of the best rolling soft-sided cases is the Delsey (www.delsey.com) Hyperlite (approximately $130).
Some airlines limit the weight of carry-ons so this light yet very tough carry-on is a good option (and, in a pinch, will easily survive being checked-in). It has all the features to look for in luggage (see sidebar).
A fun new trend in the luggage market is girly luggage, with bright colours and flowers. Often, however, the bags may look nice, but aren’t tough enough to take the punishment a real girl can dole out. Sherpani (www.sherpani.us ) is one line that can. Their bags, especially the shoulder bags and laptop bags, come in bold, fun colours and are cute, tough and cheerful. They crossover well from hiking to conferences too. And some are even made out of up to 67 percent recycled materials.
Wear it out
To avoid heartbreak, don’t bring anything you wouldn’t mind losing — and, don’t overpack. If you're on the road and suddenly get invited to the Palace or to a motocross rally (hey, it happens), you can always head to a second-hand store. What is there will suit the climate and local style, and ‘charity shops’ as they are known in London, for example, often have an amazing range of cheap, and sometimes even designer, clothes.
Unless you are a fashionista, when picking clothes for a trip, it's usually best to stick to a relatively limited colour palate so it is easier to mix and match. It’s amazing how a range of eye-catching ties and scarves can make the same suit look like a whole wardrobe.
I never have to plan what I am going to wear on long flights. I have a travel uniform: knee-high compression socks, to help prevent blood clots; a loose cotton short-sleeved shirt, so that if the temperature suddenly rises, for example if the flight is stuck at the gate with its engines off while waiting for a departure slot or for the pilot to pass a breathalyzer, I can strip down and prevent overheating; a loose fleece or shawl, for when the airplane is freezing at 10,000 metres, or when I want a make-shift pillow; and my khaki Tilley (www.tilley.com) expedition skirt.
I found the skirt at a second hand store over a decade ago and still can’t understand why someone would part with it. It is comfortable, wrinkle resistant and indestructible. The best bits though are the voluminous pockets (one even has a hidden compartment). They are big enough for tickets, boarding passes, passports, a pen, a cell phone and a novel. Saves tons of time fumbling with purses at various checkpoints. Obviously, they have pants that offer the same features. Their hats aren’t bad either.
I never really thought much about socks before, so I was pretty surprised when I tried Smartwool (www.smartwool.com) socks. They have models designed especially for women, and it was like trying on a properly fitting bra for first time. All the curves were held snugly, yet comfortably in place. It just felt right.
The wool itself is from New Zealand Merino sheep and is soft, warm and dry. What makes them particularly good for travelling is that they are odour-resistant and many models have cushioned soles. These people have thought more about your feel than you have. Sadly though, very few models are all black.
For us ladies (or those of us who like to pretend we are ladies) shoes are always a problem. When you travel, you need a pair for comfort, for work, for evenings out, for lousy weather, and for that invitation to the Palace (I live in hope).
Ahnu Footwear (www.ahnufootwear.com) has several models that can each take care of comfort, working and lousy weather. The Valencia is particularly useful as it is waterproof, good for city snow and slip-on (for easier removal at airport security tables). For that added touch of soles with soul, Ahnu also uses sustainable materials like hemp and bamboo.
Pack it up
There are a few things you can do to make packing easier. First, use a suitcase that is too big. It makes packing quicker and less stressful if you don’t have to sit on the case to close it.
Always carry an extra supply of large Ziploc bags. They are useful for separating out potentially leaky liquids and really stinky socks (or so I’ve heard). For breakables, you can also blow into the bags and fill them with air, proving extra protection.
If voluminous pockets are not your thing, round-the-neck travel pouches can be surprisingly handy. Pacsafe (www.pacsafe.com) has a well designed and ultra-secure line of travel wallets and bags. The PouchSafe 200 is particularly convenient for frequent travellers and includes nice touches like a cellphone pocket and slots for extra SIM cards for your phone. If you are travelling with just a carry-on, the limits on liquids may be an annoyance, especially if, like me, you have long hair and are still getting over your last frizzy post-hotel shampoo trauma.
Lush (www.lush.ca), of handmade soap fame, offer a neat solution. They have bars of solid shampoo, conditioner and even deodorant. The products work well, are good quality, smell delicious and can come with practical travel-ready tins. Take that TSA!
My dad has a hard time getting comfortable — he makes the princess and the pea seem like the story about someone getting a good nights sleep. But he’s found a trick for travelling (relatively) contentedly. He uses a blow-up TravelRest (www.travelrest.net) lean-on pillow.
These odd looking things attach over the back of your airplane seat and you lean up against them, as if they were an inflated over-the-shoulder car seatbelt. They give the support you usually only get leaning up against the wall in a window seat. Clever.
Now, I am not particularly a neat freak, but I have managed to become organized in my packing. The trick was packing cubes, essentially separate compartments for shirts, trousers, undies and so on. Eagle Creek (www.eaglecreek.com) was the first to popularise them, but now they are quite common. Sherpani (www.sherpani.us) does a pretty line. You can also use Ziploc bags for smaller groupings, like socks and elbow-length white gloves (still waiting for that invite to the palace….).
This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.