I remember distinctly the moment I realized the folly of a conservative black suitcase. I was standing at the interminably long baggage claim carousel at London's Heathrow airport. It was the first time I had traveled abroad solo. I had traveled to the country of my Mum's birth with her before, so even though I was not visiting family, it felt familiar enough to be a perfect first solo destination. I carried two bags to be sure I had enough room to bring back whatever I wanted (mostly chocolate).
So there I stood, all of 5'1 and twenty-something, nervously examining each and every black bag that came down the line, looking for the brightly colored bit of yarn that would allow me to easily identify my bag upon arrival, or so I thought. I vowed, then and there, to never again be stuck pawing through dozens of bags in a sleep-deprived stupor.
Upon my return, I promptly visited eBags.com, still my favorite purveyor of luggage, and ordered two Samsonite Oyster hard-sided suitcases in school bus yellow. Those cases have traveled around the world with me, and I still carry them. I did, however, upgrade to two new stand-up spinner Samsonite F'Lite suitcases in safety orange. I like that these have four wheels, rather than the Oysters' two-wheel design (which was cutting edge when I bought them). One of my favorite features of these suitcases is one that is now hard to find in most luggage: they have latches rather than zippers. To me, zippers are too easily accessible by anyone with nefarious designs on the contents of your case. Don't take my word for it, though, check out this terrifying video from Phil Bradley to see why I prefer latches.
My Samsonite bags have literally been thrown around on dozens of international flights and they keep going strong. Last year, however, I did run into a bit of a snag. On a business trip, one of my new F'Lite bags was opened by a TSA official along the way. When the bag was closed and re-latched, something got caught in the latch. So when I arrived on Sunday afternoon and started to unpack, I could not get the thing open. I poked, prodded, and coaxed, all to no avail. Luckily, the hotel facilities person that was on site was kind enough to come and pry it open for me with a screwdriver. It latched back, but would no longer lock. Upon my return home, I called Samsonite, took it to the local outlet store for repair, and within a few days, I had it back completely repaired for free. Free! It was the kind of service I rarely find and never expect, but it definitely affirmed my loyalty to Samsonite.
The other thing I always use when I travel, regardless whether I check a bag with a zipper or latch, is a bag strap. A helpful AAngel at the American counter, who commented that my bright orange bag was the best she had ever seen, suggested it. In the event that something happens and your bag does pop open, at least the contents will be in place, rather than strewn across the luggage belt. In case you had any doubts, my luggage straps, and TSA-approved locks, are all in the loudest, brightest colors I can find as well.
After that initial trip to London where the black bag lesson was learned, I returned the following year with my two, school bus yellow Samsonite Oysters. As I was walking up to the belt to retrieve my bags, I heard the man in front of me exclaim, "Those are the ugliest bags I ever saw!" As I made my way through the crowd, I grinned, noticing him check black bag after black bag for a small tag that bore his name. I excused myself as my bags passed in front of him and I promptly snatched them up and headed on my way. "Oh, I see," I heard him say I walked away. When it comes to luggage, ugly can be beautiful.