Since I started writing my Ruth’s Truths column for Culver City Crossroads back in 2013, travel and tourism has been the topic of most of my essays. After all, my journey as a writer-cum-columnist started with a Facebook post during my travels in South America, and to this day, most of what churns through my mind, into my fingertips and onto the virtual “paper” of the Pages app on my iPad is about travel and tourism. My life has been saturated with wanderlust as far back as I can remember.
My first real “career” was in the travel industry, from 1984 to 2004. Even the ten years prior were a preamble: from 1974 to 1984, I was constantly back and forth to Japan and/or Europe, with December of 1984 marking my fist trip to Israel. Once I’d fully transitioned to the world of public education in 2004, generous school vacation periods were filled with annual trips to Japan, and then stepped up with my so-called “bucket list” trips from 2008. Since getting out of the travel business, international trips alone have included (besides Japan): Australia, Turkey, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Germany, England, Spain, and three more trips to Israel.
Over the miles, I learned not be a slave to my luggage. I realized that I had to be self-sufficient, only carrying what I could handle by myself. Increasingly stringent and constantly changing regulations on the size and weight of one’s luggage, not to mention what can and cannot be brought onboard a flight, made the science of packing more of an art. Even car trips don’t allow for unlimited space, and if you park more than a few steps from your accommodations, you don’t want to be schlepping luggage.
First rule of thumb, which I learned from my Uncle Harry: color coordinate. This may seem like a no brainer, but I find myself saying the mantra every time I pack. What he meant was that you can’t be packing a bunch of black leggings and then try to take your brown UGGs. In fact, the only way to take even one pair of UGGs is to wear them on your travel days, AND make sure you have enough clothes that go with them. UGGS being THE most voluminous (albeit light) shoes, they are THE go-to shoe for inclement weather and comfort. I’ve often stated that my tall, black UGGs are the first shoe I’d grab if there were a fire, or if “they” ever come to get me. My favorite travel wear is black versions of all outerwear, and accessorize with one bright color (in my case, turquoise, red, green or purple) or multicolored items.
As I pack, I hear voices of my packing past, such as: “bring extra underwear, just in case.” Without perseverating too much on what “just in case” means, suffice it to say that I multiply the number of days of a trip times 1.5 when it comes to panties. “Always bring a bathing suit,” is another – I leave one lodged into a side pocket of my suitcase at all times. Another common adage is “remember to layer.” True, without taking along a bulky sweater, you can be warm enough in most climes with an undershirt, a t-shirt, an over-shirt, and one squishy sleeveless vest (the Japanese retailer UniQlo specializes in these, and Costco has them in season, too). Other “one-of’s” in the packing world include ONE all-purpose jacket that can be packed or worn over clothes onto an airplane when your luggage has been expanded by souvenirs.
With all of this attention on how to pack my luggage, imagine my shock and dismay when my beloved two-wheeled Kirkland carry-on that has traveled with me at an average of one domestic and/or international trip a month for the past twenty years fell apart on my last trip in December. It was already missing a zipper pull, and a sharp protrusion had eaten two pairs of leggings. Now, the wheel coverings both fell off, but the bag still ain’t dead; it clattered its way through the lobby of my Berkeley hotel last month, and it’s made a final voyage to Desert Hot Springs. I’ll never throw it away altogether – it will join its ancestors in my attic full of “spare” luggage; they are good for storage, and you never know when someone might need an extra check-in bag.
The tale of my quest to replace is how to “make a career” – as my mom used to say – out of what should have been a simple, unemotional, purchase. Ironically, I did less research and comparison shopping for my car. But this suitcase had been with me since my eldest son was born, and he’s 22. When the kids were teens, I bought them a Kirkland special of their own, to find that subsequent versions never seemed as sturdy or well-equipped. Still, I checked Costco first for a replacement, but nothing was like it. Over the course of a month, I bought, pondered, read up on and ultimately took back five different, colorful, models from Ross, Target, Nordstrom Rack and Costco. I found that the prevalent four-wheelers are easily rollable, but that inside volume is sacrificed, and the little wheels look like easy snap-off targets (warranties are great, except when you have to bother to send off stuff to be repaired).
I found my new best travel companion, another black two-wheeler, at the Tumi (I knew ’em from my high flying ’80’s corporate days) outlet in Cabazon. In a market of products that, despite new features, are just not made the way they used to be, this looks and feels the most similar to my good old Kirkland, but is of a quality that is likely to outlive me. Ready for my next trip: New York City, down the I-95 to Florida, and Cuba.