Suitcases: a window on the traveler's soul

A guide to packing predicaments, from sartorial crises to rides on the baggage carousel.

I did not propose to my wife, the estimable Lady Janet, simply because she is a skilled suitcase packer. However, when listing her many abilities – from deboning trout to deconstructing Princess Anne's hairdo – I place packing at the top. This is invaluable to our travels since, when I pack, the clothes emerge with more wrinkles than a flabby Shar-Pei. Now that I have retired from packing, I have noticed that the ability to pack messily is not the only suitcase blunder.

THE COCKY PACKER: Proud of his single carry-on bag for a three-week trip, this traveler vows not to sweat, spill, or stain. And he is sure that if he does smudge a garment, he will find a laundromat in Kazakhstan on Saturday night. He is mistaken.

THE NERVOUS PACKER: The reverse of the Cocky Packer is the Nervous Packer who plans to change multiple times daily in order to always look neat and pressed. This requires many bags, even on an overnight trip – boosting the odds of an airline losing at least one, and possibly two, of them. Once again, this packer will search in vain for a Kazakhstan laundromat on Saturday night.

THE NONPACKER: "I'll just buy all my clothes when I get there." A great idea. A wonderful idea. Unfortunately, if you are going to any city in Europe these days, the cost of socks is equal to a restaurant dinner with foie gras, truffles, and a 25 percent tip back home. Nonetheless, this is a small (smallish) price to pay compared with the humiliation of an average-sized American shopping for clothes in France. The last time an airline lost my suitcase in the world's most fashion-conscious country, I had to buy some clothes in Aix-en-Provence. The one store open had a wide range of clothing that, unfortunately, did not come in my size – a large in all 50 states. The salesman took one look at me trying to squeeze into a pair of pants and remarked with a sneer, "I regret, Monsieur, we do not carry the elephant sizes."

THE STUBBORN PACKER: There he is, clogging the airplane aisle as he tries to squeeze a too-large suitcase into a too-small overhead compartment. Hats are crushed. Shopping bags are ripped apart. But will the Stubborn Packer give up? No way. The line stretches back into the airport. Will the plane take off on time? Forget it.

THE WEATHER-DENIER PACKER: We've all seen this forlorn traveler. He's the one standing on a London street with rain soaking his seersucker suit, or sweating in Disney World, trying to figure out how to cut the sleeves off his shirt and turn his tweed trousers into Bermuda shorts.

THE OH-NO-NOT-ANOTHER-BLACK-BAG PACKER: Round and round they go on every baggage carousel: an endless circle of black suitcases, each without any identifying mark. "I know what my bag looks like," the owner insists. Yet he picks up each one to make sure it isn't his – then tosses it back so carelessly that the real owner must scramble onto the still-revolving carousel to retrieve it before it goes around again ... and again ... and ...

Chuck Cohen, an advertising writer, lives in Mill Valley, Calif.

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