Probing Luggage Problems

Dear Pamda: Our family has a collection of old, tattered, mismatched suitcases. We'd like to have new luggage for our cruise so we don't look like refugees. Any suggestions? Bonnie Baggott

Dear Bonnie: Keep in mind that your luggage is going to take a beating. On the plane, off the plane, on the truck, off the truck, on the ship, to your cabin - and the same drill in reverse on the way back. Very expensive luggage makes no sense. Our last two sets of luggage came from places like Wal-Mart. As much as we travel, we figure average luggage life at about five years so it's not an investment, it's an expense. While a bellman at a ritzy hotel might be impressed with Louis Vuitton or Hartman, the guys flinging suitcases onto cruise ships just don't care.

I'd look for soft-sided cases, preferably lined with waterproofing in case of heavy rain during a transfer. A second zipper that opens to expand the bag to accommodate purchases is a plus, as are outside zippered pouch pockets. Most luggage these days comes equipped with wheels, a lifesaver if you can't find a porter.

With airlines cracking down on carry-ons, garment bags have lost much of their charm. They can end up at the bottom of a stack of suitcases, crunching the clothing inside, regardless of how carefully they were packed.

Our current suite includes one 26-inch bag (me), two 24-inch (one for miscellaneous, one for him), a large duffle bag (diving gear and spare shoes), a garment bag and two roll-aboards. Just add more bags for more family members, keeping your own packing habits in mind.

Dear Pamda, I hate those little, tiny suitcase locks and their little, tiny keys that I can never find when I need them. Besides, I don't think they are very safe. What to do? Harriett H.

Dear Harriett, I've never tried it, but I'd bet $2 that we could walk through a stack of luggage with one key and open a lot of it. Rather than going to the expense of combination locks, the simple answer is at your local hardware store: electrical cable ties. Ratcheted down (think about the ties with teeth that used to come with trash bags) and with the "tails" snipped off, they are almost invisible and more trouble than they're worth to remove if somebody wants to take a quick snoop through your sequins and undies.

The best removal tool, once your cases are in your cabin, is a large nail clipper. In a pinch (we've been pinched by packing the clipper), ask your cabin steward for a corkscrew - they have small, dull knives attached. Don't forget to pack extra ties for the return journey.

Dear Pamda, I saw my sister's pictures of the lines of luggage on the pier when she returned from a cruise. How on earth will I ever find mine? It's black and it seems like everyone else's is, too Carrie N.

Dear Carrie, This is easy and fun. Go to your local craft store and buy a skein of yarn in the brightest color you can find. Make pom-poms and attach them to the handles of your bags. The handles part is important, because that's the part you will be able to see among the battalions of uniform suitcases. Make sure to attach the pom-pom with something sturdier than yarn, which can break.

If you don't remember grade school, here's how to make a pom-pom. Take a piece of sturdy cardboard about half the size you want your pom-pom to be and begin winding your yard. Keep winding until you have about twice as much as you think you will need. Slide a sturdy line under the yarn on one side and tie, tightly, with good knots. Turn the cardboard over and cut the yarn exactly opposite of the tie. Presto! One pom-pom. Two- and three-toned pom-poms will make your bags even easier to find. Don't worry if your first effort isn't as fluffy as you might want. Give it to the cat and keep winding. There's a lot of yarn on one skein.

Dear Pamda, I know I am going to pack too much and take too many suitcases. I've been looking at cabin pictures and layouts in the brochure and on the Internet. Where do I put all those suitcases? Worried in Wisconsin

Dear Worried, Beds have two uses on cruise ships. There is the usual use and, second, as a place under which one stows one's suitcases. One of the reasons to get luggage in descending sizes is so one bag will fit into another for easier stowage. In case of way too many bags and way too few beds, ask your cabin steward(ess) to store your suitcases for you.

Dear Pamda, How soon can I expect my luggage to be in my cabin after we board the ship? I just have to change my clothes before dinner. Lovely Linda

Dear Lovely, If I knew the answer to that, I would be rich and famous. In general, your luggage will show up in your cabin before sail-away. It makes no difference whether you're in a top suite or an inside cabin near the aft. You get it when you get it, and tipping won't make a bit of difference. Just make sure anything you can't live without is in your carry-on.

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