Update: I just took my 19-inch Delsey Chatelet suitcase for a test run on a recent weekend trip from Los Angeles to Tucson. Because it was a quick trip, I decided to fly instead of drive, and guess what: not only did my friend Alison swoon over it as soon as she saw me, IT EVEN FIT UNDER THE SEAT in front of me on the flight! And, I didn’t overpack like I usually do–I stuck to the space I had, and instead of making a gigantic mess all over the guest room, I had everything rolled, packed, and stored in exactly the right place. And I used everything I brought except for one pair of pants and two shirts. It was glorious. Also, Delsey is offering free shipping on all orders right now, too 🙂
I’m in love with a new suitcase. If you know me, this won’t surprise you, as I’ve been carrying around one suitcase or another for the past ten years, but the story of how I became a suitcase girl is a little more interesting (more on that in a second).
But first, what do I love about my 19-inch champagne-colored Delsey Chatelet suitcase, this new little love of mine?
For one thing, the size: it’s the international carry-on size (which means, to my delight, that it will fit in the overhead compartment (and under the seat) of almost all international airlines). Also, like all of Delsey’s Chatelet collection, it features a TSA-friendly combination lock (which means that airport authorities can still open and rummage through your bag with a special key if needed but that a normal person can’t open your suitcase). And, it has these nifty spinner wheels you can lock so your suitcase won’t roll away from you if you’re standing on an incline. Yes, this has actually happened to me before (thanks, San Francisco).
It’s rounded shape is also adorable.
Over the years, a lot of my friends and fellow travelers have looked at me with skepticism when I’ve arrived, suitcase in tow, instead of toting around a large backpack on my shoulders.
What they don’t understand is that I’ve always been a suitcase kind of girl.
And here’s why.
When I was twenty-two years old, my parents did what most supportive, loving parents do when their child graduates college: they bought me a graduation present. But it wasn’t a briefcase, a suit, a plaque, or a new laptop computer, the kinds of sensible gifts my friends and colleagues at school were getting. It wasn’t jewelry, a commemorate necklace, a class ring, or a fancy diploma frame.
My parents knew me well: they bought me three pieces of blue luggage.
The afternoon of my graduation, my dad rolled the big one out into our family’s living room and presented it to me with gusto. He called it “big blue,” the same name bequeathed to my roommate Mary’s eponymous couch that followed us through four apartments. The day before, we’d given the couch—along with a bunch of other stuff I didn’t know what to do with—to the pizza delivery guy who, delivery box in his hands, saw us moving out and confessed he’d just moved to town and didn’t yet have any furniture.
Dad had even tied a big red bow to the top of it, where my hand would, for so many years, press down and lift up on the retractable handle. Inside, he’d piled in the smaller pieces like Russian matroyshka dolls, all zipped up into each other. I gasped in joy and pulled each one out, lovingly, running my fingers along the strong navy blue cloth and imagining the world at my twenty-two year old feet, the world that had become increasingly larger during my college years after I discovered what happened when a single girl goes out into the world. (In case you’re wondering, magical things happen).
Later that evening, once the flurry of the celebrations had given way to contemplation, I sat in my room, opened my mom’s card to me, looked at the three blue suitcases, all lined up like my little army in my childhood bedroom, and let my eyes well up with tears. In her elegant, curly handwriting, my mom had written a line from a hymn she’d repeated to me many times since I’d left home to pursue a college life four years ago: roots hold me close….wings set me free. Though I’d suspected it before, I knew it, in that moment, to be true: my life was never going to be the same.
That fall, this Southern girl from Georgia took a leap of faith and moved with all of my new luggage to Cartagena, Colombia to teach English. When I got there, wide-eyed and surprised that I’d actually done it, I opened each one to find letters and cards from my family nestled inside the t-shirts, pant legs, and tucked into the insides of my shoes, telling me how excited they were for my new adventure.
A few years—and a lot of travels—passed. In the meantime, I returned home to the U.S., moved to Tucson, Arizona, met my husband-t0-be, and stayed there eight years. I left home with nothing but those three blue suitcases, all of which I hauled on the plane with me and my dad.
I went to graduate school for creative writing, I started teaching, I decided to keep on going until I reached the furthest point I could really go in my academic life—to get that elusive Ph.D. after my name—and I traveled a lot as a solo female traveler. I took my blue suitcases everywhere, even after they started looking heavier and clunkier than the newer, sleeker models with their rolling wheels and lightweight aluminum bodies, even after the TSA changed the weight limit to 50 pounds and rendered the giant one effectively useless. They tread over continents, rolled over cobblestones, highways, and side streets, and sat in many a cargo pit. The dark cloth, thick zippers, and leather flaps over the corners stayed intact and never weathered.
I know the stereotype: the girl who totes around a suitcase leaves for her travels burdened. She isn’t really devoted to the cause. She’s a tourist, not a traveler. She packs too much (which, ok, yes, is true in my case). It’s the backpacker who deserves our respect: she’s the one who doesn’t care if her toenails are painted, if she remembered to pack her favorite perfume, if her shoes would look right with the pants she packed. She sports sandals with straps, leaves the makeup at home, and can wear and re-wear the same outfit twenty-five times if she needs to. I tried taking a backpack with me once, borrowing my friend Leen’s on a trip from Ghent to Amsterdam to visit friends, but I simply couldn’t convert—all my clothes got crammed into weird places in the pack and everything came out wrinkled and flat. Together, we took trains all over Europe; we stayed in hostels, on floors, and in hotels; we hopped around unencumbered.
And at the end of it all, I was still in love with my three blue suitcases.
But then, in 2013, someone took a very large knife and hacked open our outdoor storage shed. He stole all of my luggage, inside of which were all my summer clothes, and dumped the clothes onto the street before running away with all three bags. For a while after that, I was too scared to buy any nice luggage, so I bought a $19 carry-on from the clearance rack at Wal-Mart. A few months later, after it fell apart, I asked for a new suitcase for Christmas—and my parents came through again with a gorgeous, lightweight 26-inch baby blue number, one that, even though it has a bent zipper and a tear in the front, I still carry with me today.
In March of this year, exactly ten years after I took that first trip to Colombia, I taught a writing workshop at the Women in Travel Summit in Irvine, California and found myself swapping suitcase tales and packing tips with a new friend of mine as we walked through the conference tables. By the end of the conference and after walking by the Delsey Luggage table about 600 times, I decided to celebrate the fact that ten years later, I was still taking off, flying solo–while balancing a husband and an academic job–and relishing in my bag of belongings chasing behind me instead of piled up on my back.
After all, I’m still that girl.
I took one home, convinced it would completely change the way I packed. I was smitten with the sleekness, the sophistication of the lines, the ease with which the suitcases rolled around the floor, the locking mechanisms, the lined compartments inside.
I was even smitten with the idea of a sophisticated piece of luggage, something that would announce my presence before I even came running down the terminal. Something that would dance to the tune of those of us who, despite our wanderlust and freedom-seeking ways, love the feel of a handle in our hands and not a strap around our waists. Something that acknowledged my twenties and said a proper hello to my thirties. Plus, at $230, it’s not exactly a suitcase I would have planned on purchasing for my past self anyway–like a sturdy purse or a well-made pair of pants, this is a true travel investment.
“What do you think?” I asked my husband Ryan, spinning it around on its delicate heels and whirling it in his direction.
“It’s stunning,” he said, and paused to smile. “But how in the world are you going to pack the way you pack in a suitcase that small?”
Of course, Ryan is right—I honestly have no idea how I’m going to pare things down into a 19-inch carry-on for trips longer than a few days. But, I leave for two weeks in Eastern Europe with Viking River Cruises next week, and you know what? This girl is going to do it. I’ve got a wedding to attend in Tucson, Arizona next week, so I’ll do a quick test run and let you know how things go. In the meantime, if you’re interested, they’ve got a 50% off sitewide sale at the moment and are offering free shipping–lots of cute bags and suitcases to choose from!).
Stay tuned (and please send me packing tips!) 🙂
Yours in travel,
A special thanks to Delsey Luggage for providing me with a 19-inch Chatelet carry-on for purposes of writing this story. Right now, you can purchase one on sale for $230 using the links above!