Nearly two years has passed since I wrote Stuff I Bought & What I Thought and—surprise, surprise—we’ve since bought more stuff. More travel stuff, to be precise. Most of it was purchased pre-pandemic and sat collecting dust from the air and wistful, longing looks from us while we locked down and avoided travel. But that all changed when we got vaccinated and took our recent trip to Southern California. Items were whisked excitedly from storage, dusted off, and put to use, and I’m here to report my findings to you, dear reader, in the hopes that my honest opinions here help you make your buying decisions there. Now here goes:
What I bought: Solgaard® Check-in Closet™ suitcase
I stumbled upon this travel-changing suitcase online and quite by chance, but it was love at first sight. Actually, it was their smaller version—the Carry-On Closet™—that first caught my eye. My reaction was mixed: one of instant longing, but also worry that it would be too small for someone as incapable of packing light as I am. Later I realized that they had a nice big version for Class 4 Overpackers like me.
As you can see, it has a brilliant expandable and removable closet. My only complaint is that the S-hooks are too small and thus didn’t fit the closet rod provided at our Palm Springs accommodation. We ended up improvising with some hangers and all was well, but I’m going to buy some larger S-hooks for future trips. As a big, important shareholder in the company (Yes, you read that right. I’ve since bought stock Solgaard. That’s how much I love this suitcase.), I’m sure I can lean on the design team to equip future cases with bigger hooks. (Just a brief pause here while I write myself a reminder to give Adrian Solgaard—founder and CEO—a quick ring.)
The pluses of this case are many, but my favorite pluses revolve around ease and neatness. For me, pre-trip packing is a laborious weeklong exercise in indecision, vacillation, and second-guessing. Things go into the case, only to be demoted back to my clothes closet the next day. A few days later, after a good deal of hemming and hawing, they might find themselves reinstated as official travel gear. The expandable closet made my ping pong-style packing a breeze. It was easy to group like items and simple to see what I’d already packed—I didn’t have to root around disrupting all the neatness while searching to see if I’d remembered all three of my swimsuits, say, or my dozen shirts of every style, color, fabric, and sleeve length.
Because I like choices.
Anyway, while actually on the vacation, it was effortless to keep organized the clothing that had made the final cut. Our first accommodation of the trip—the Harmony Motel—didn’t even have a closet, so I just hooked my built-in closet over the raised handle to keep it expanded, which is part of the ingenious design. The empty space between the top part of the closet and the bottom seems like a lost storage opportunity, but it’s necessary to have that area free and open so it sits properly when expanded and hanging off the handle. For future trips, I’m planning to bring one of my packing cubes to nestle in there for just that little bit of extra storage space when it’s dangling in a closet.
I could go on and on about the smooth, all-wheel-drive wheels, the numerous clever features of the case, the company’s commitment to pulling plastic out of the ocean, the awards they’ve won, and so on, but I’ll steer you to the Solgaard website for all that. The most important piece for me was that things started out neat and tidy and . . . drumroll, please . . . remained neat and tidy for the entire trip, without any fuss or extra work on my part. That alone makes it my most prized travel possession.
What I bought: Beskar® Airplane Foot Hammock
Actually, I didn’t buy it. The husband did, but it got such a big eye roll from me that you may have heard it where you live. I’m not sure why he spent our hard-earned cash on what seemed like a silly gimmick, but I think it was because we’d enjoyed the built-in business class footrests on the way back from our R.E.I. Laos-Cambodia Multisport Adventure and he though he could recreate a bit of that luxury in coach. (Spoiler: he couldn’t)
I have to admit, my first impression was this, which I wrote to the husband seated across the aisle:
In fairness, though, a four-hour flight that I could do standing on my head probably wasn’t the best place to test this product. For a fairer shake, I’ll drag it with me on our next overseas trip and hope this uni-tasker is worth the space it takes up. For the moment, though, when people ask about it, my response is, “There’s $30 I’ll never get back.”
What I bought: Grid-It® organizer
After recent-ish trips to SE Asia and the UK in which sundry cords were secreted into various pockets of my carry-on, forcing me to go on frustrating hunting expeditions to find the right one, I decided to buy something that would confine my unruly cords together all in one spot, like drunks at the county jail on New Year’s Eve. This is another organization-lover’s must-have. Grid-Its come in many sizes and colors and frankly, I wish I had gotten a slightly larger one. I know that someday the elastic will lose its springiness, as the material is wont to do, but I also know that I’ll just buy another one when that happens. The only drawback is that the back side is pretty much wasted space. The designers should have put either a zippered pocket back there or else more criss-crossed elastic. Maybe by the time the elastic gets saggy—both on the Grid-It and on me—they’ll have righted that wrong.
What He Bought: Space Saver® vacuum storage bags & pump
Poo-pooer of glitzy items with lots of bells and whistles (except when it comes to road bikes and sports watches), the husband—no-frills guy that he (sometimes) is—likes to keep things basic. To that end, he has eschewed packing cubes in favor of Space Saver vacuum storage bags, which I think were originally designed to minimize the space things like pillows and comforters take up in your storage closet in the off season, but which can also be used to flatten your travel wardrobe before packing. Having recently acquired the requisite pump, the husband flattened his clothes at home before packing, then opened packs as needed on the trip. When packing up to change destinations or return home, he got out the trusty pump and pumped away.
The husband remains a devotee of this plebeian method, but I find it much too fussy and inconvenient. Plus, with everything crushed into a bumpy square pancake, things are apt to become wrinkly and it can be difficult to see exactly what’s in each bag, especially if a lot of your clothes are the same color. Packing cubes are much less of a pain, but better yet, just get a Solgaard suitcase and save yourself the trouble.
What I bought: Solgaard® Lifepack™ backpack
When I went online to buy my Check-in Closet, I suddenly remembered that I was in need of some carry-on luggage as well. How convenient! A nook-and-cranny lover who’s partial to backpacks with lots of pockets, I ended up buying Solgaard’s Lifepack backpack with Solarbank (a rectangular doodad that fills with electrical charge via the lifegiving rays of the sun, and then turns around and charges your phone via the solar power stored within. That’s about as scientific as I can get). I didn’t actually use the solarbank on our recent trip—sunlight was abundant, but so were charging points—but I expect it will come in handy at some point, probably when I least expect it. I did use the rest of the backpack, however, and I’m giving it a solid A. There was room for our laptop, which is on the larger side, and all the stuff I need to keep from freaking out on the plane, as well as several hidden pockets for things like credit cards and a passport. Unfortunately, Twentynine Palms and Palm Springs were quite safe, so I was denied the opportunity to test its built-in theft-prevention lock and cable. Maybe next I’ll head back to Gibraltar to watch the thieving macaques try (and fail) to steal my backpack.
It seems like a small thing, but I especially loved the strap that enabled it to slide onto the extended handle of my suitcase like a Soyuz capsule docking with the International Space Station.
Here’s a photo from Solgaard’s website that shows the interior much better than one of my photos can.
To be clear, space is not limitless in this well-made pack. The rigid batting that enables it to stand upright unaided and wraps a laptop in a protective embrace means it’s not as spacious as some flimsy, cavernous duffle bag. This forced me to curb some of my more egregious overpacking tendencies, but in the end, maybe this is a good thing. For, in a moment of lucid post-travel reflection, one must ask oneself just how many inch-thick hardcover novels one really needs at one’s fingertips on a four-hour flight.
Not five, Travel Architect. Not five.
Have you ever loved something so much you bought stock in the company? Microsoft, perhaps? (If so, send money now.)