I got my first serious piece of luggage in 1995. I’d just started working at the New York headquarters of Vanity Fair. My office was next to the fashion department and I witnessed the daily arrival of free gifts from people hoping to curry favour with Elizabeth Saltzman, the fashion director. If Elizabeth didn’t want them, her deputy got first dibs, then her assistant, her second assistant, and so on. Occasionally, some unwanted piece of bric-à-brac was offered to me, the lowest person on the freebie food chain. Which is how I came to own a Tumi bag.
It was a cross between a computer bag and an overnighter, made of some durable, space age material that was billed as ‘indestructible’. It was a good size — large enough to take a couple of books, a pair of shoes and a change of clothes, but small enough to be classed as hand luggage. At that point, I was travelling back and forth to London at least six times a year, with a flat in both cities, so this bag was all the luggage I needed. I also used it as a briefcase, taking it to work with me every day. It was the most useful thing I never bought.
One of the reasons I liked it so much was because my late father had a brown leather briefcase that served the same purpose. Whenever he travelled for work — which was often — this was the only piece of luggage he took. I always marvelled at his ability to stuff everything he needed into this small vestibule until one day, as he was leaving for a two-week trip to Australia, he let me in on his secret. Undoing his suit trousers, he revealed that he was wearing another pair of trousers underneath. He was also wearing two shirts. All he had in his briefcase, apart from what he needed for work, was a change of underwear and some soap powder. Provided he washed his shirt, socks and underpants every night, all he needed was a change of trousers. Quite an effective system, albeit a fairly eccentric one.
My father was fanatical about travelling light and he passed on this obsession to me. Nowadays, I have four children and if we go on holiday anywhere we have to take at least two large suitcases. But I still pride myself on needing as little as possible. I leave the packing to my wife and she packs almost nothing for me even if we’re going abroad for two weeks. I would rather buy a new shirt on holiday than pack one I don’t end up wearing, such is my horror of taking more than I need.
The Tumi bag finally packed up this year — the zips stopped working. Not quite ‘indestructible’, then, but 17 years of loyal service isn’t bad. I immediately went to their website to look for an exact replica, but unfortunately my particular model had been discontinued. I bought the closest one I could find for £250. With a bit of luck, it’ll last me for the rest of my life.
HOW TO PACK AND STAY SANE
WRITE A LIST
If you’re only thinking about this because your mother – or wife, or girlfriend – has declared that she is not packing for you any more, start with the basics. Make a list. It begins with as many pairs of pants as you have nights’ stay, and twice as many socks. Oh, and your phone charger. After that, most things are negotiable.
DO IT A DAY EARLY
You will still have a last-minute panic, but if the suitcase is already full, then it will be about what you’ve forgotten, rather than whether you’ll be able to take anything at all. This is better.
DON’T DRINK AND PACK
An appendix to ‘Do it a day early’. If you want not to panic about what you’ve forgotten, it helps to be able to remember what you put in the suitcase. And few people find the experience of doing up a recalcitrant zip improved by a hangover.
STAY OUT OF THE HOLD
Everyone tells you things are much easier if all your stuff is on a carry-on bag. What they don’t tell you is that airlines, for fun and profit, now vary the size limit of carry-on bags by a few inches either way. Check the website, and don’t get mugged.
BUY IT OVER THERE
Most other countries have shops. Many of those shops sell shampoo, and shaving foam. Some may even have socks.
WATCH THE WIRES
When security tell you to pull the iPad out of your bag, life will be happier if it doesn’t drag your iPhone with it and then drop it on the floor. Winding up cables will stop that piece of malign magic happening.
THE MAN BAGS
The perfect bag can help you master the art