Who needs what for which trip? Some people fill suitcases, others go for a trolley case or a weekender bag, still others swear by their good old duffel bag … luggage often tells you far more about travelers than their destination – a brief typology of travel baggage
The Queen once traveled to Paris with 147 suitcases. Stefan Effenberg has his case packed by a kit manager. Marlene Dietrich had a name for her trunk – she called it “elephant.”
The first suitcase of the type we know today was invented at the French court, by a previously unknown young man named Louis Vuitton.
The suitcase is more than a mere utility object for the transportation of personal belongings; it is also a piece of home when we are away.
In Herta Müller’s novel The Hunger Angel, the 17-year-old protagonist’s suitcase is where remembrance resides for him in the Russian gulag; it keeps him alive, gives him hope that his journey into darkness will end sometime – because the essence of a suitcase is that must be constantly packed and unpacked again.
Nowadays, suitcases without wheels or a carrying strap are rare. No longer considered practical, their purpose is more decorative than useful – except for the elderly gentleman in the three-piece suit on the railway platform, who is traveling in style with hat, cane and suitcase. But maybe he is also just a time traveler.
It rumbles and clatters, rattles and torments – at least anyone indoors trying to sleep as you pass by. Few items of baggage are hated with such passion and used as much as the trolley case.
One man in Austria was so driven to distraction by the racket made by a trolley that he threatened the woman wheeling it with a pistol. The trolley bag with the telescopic handle has been around since 1987. It was invented by U.S. pilot Robert Plath.
Since then, the trolley case – the lightweight polycarbonate Rimowa models that hold 105 liters but weighs just 3.9 kilos, for example – has stood for commuter flexibility.
Monday morning at half past six, suited men and women wheel them across airports toward their office. Thursday evening, they rumble across the cobbled streets of European old towns toward relaxation. The pet hate of gentrification opponents and the darling of seasoned travelers, the trolley case is a contentious piece of baggage.
This is the ideal bag for a weekend – too small for a whole week, too big for a single night. A bag for in-between, the baggage of the spontaneous traveler, the “let’s head off some place right now” adventurer, who aims to be back in the office by half past eight on the dot on Monday morning.
In the classic 1960s movie The Swimming Pool featuring Romy Schneider and Alain Delon, a weekender bag can naturally be seen on the back seat of the sports car of the two visitors who soon become intruders.
The weekender brings it all together: the Côte d’Azur and Berlin’s Kottbusser Tor, elegance and coolness, savoir-vivre and a cool drink at the kiosk around the corner.
Why? Because it’s a resilient piece of baggage, especially the coated canvas models made by the Korean Gear3 brand, as well as being part-nostalgic, part-futuristic.
Men, in particular, favor it – as the handbag they don’t have to call one.
In 1958, an American soldier, who had already sold 50 million records when he joined the force, disembarked in Bremerhaven. He was Elvis Presley, and over his shoulder he carried an olive-green duffel bag.
Duffel bags are usually made of coarse canvas. It is the soldier’s signature baggage, holds a great deal and is soon packed. Just as the GI became a star of pop culture – chewing gum and fighting for peace and freedom – at the end of World War II, so, too, did the duffel bag become and remain cool.
The best models are still found in sailing stores. And since the 1990s have been celebrating a comeback, you can now shoulder the two Hs of Helly Hansen again, too.
The backpack is probably older than every other item in this baggage list. Way back, 3300 years ago, Ötzi was lugging a kind of frame rucksack, a contraption made of branches to which a bundle or pouch was fastened – the predecessor of the backpack.
For thousands of years now, people have been carrying their belongings through the world on their back, and crossing mountains and sand dunes to engage in trade or to satisfy their appetite for discovery and adventure.
In the 1970s, backpacking became a mode of travel in its own right. Always at the ready in one of the countless side pockets of a Deuter, Fjällräven or Tatonka – a Lonely Planet, the first edition of which, published in 1973, bore the title Across Asia on the Cheap.
And although backpacking has its roots in the hippie movement, more than anything it is a flourishing business today: backpackers bring Australia revenues of 3.5 billion Australian dollars every year.
No other item of baggage makes traveling from beach to beach with no fixed destination as effortless as the backpack. Just don’t overfill it – you could squeeze almost more into a 75-liter XXL backpack than you can fit into your flatshare room at home.
The entire world has one of these. Few items of baggage have such an international presence as the square, red-and-black checkered PVC bag.
It is so cosmopolitan that it has not one but several names: In New York, it’s known as the China bag because China is where it is produced.
In Germany, it used to be rather scornfully and disrespectfully called “Polish suitcase” or “Turk bag” because it turned up mostly in cities with a large migrant population.
In Nigeria, it’s the “Ghana-must-go bag” since a particularly large number of Ghanaians had to leave the country in the early 1990s because they lacked the necessary papers. But most China bag owners probably bought theirs because of they are cheap and sturdy.
For Berlin-based graphic designer Chris Rehberger, the bag’s defining quality is its internationality. He recently reinvented the bag in collaboration with Berlin concept store owner Andreas Murkudis and called it “Standard Bag.” It’s made of goatskin to survive a round-the-world trip.
For the self-appointed French Emperor, the basic essentials numbered 110 individual items. At the battles of Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau and Friedland, Napoleon Bonaparte was accompanied by a mahogany necessaire complete with soap boxes, licorice pastels, 12 toothbrushes, ivory tongue scrapers, razor blades, perfume bottles, china, silverware, sewing utensils and toiletries.
The necessaires of the 19th century were capacious enough to accommodate a traveler’s entire household needs. These days, people make do with a plastic bag, transparent and designed to comply with the airlines’ 100-milliliter rule for carry-on baggage.
It provides so little space for the traveler’s toiletries that the bag is no longer dignified with the prefix “toilet,” much less the Napoleonic moniker “necessaire.” Go along to the Hermès archive in Paris and you can take a look at some of the impressive necessaires that belonged to his officers.