Technology is bringing that ol' kit bag into the 20th century . . . and beyond.
Some baggage even calls out for you. California-based ACTS has a bag with an electronic beeping device that alerts you to its location -- assuming you know your beep from the cry of someone else's luggage. (The Sentry 2000 carry-on retails for about $495.)
The same company offers luggage with card locks instead of key or combination locks. You slip your identity card (about the size of a credit card) through a slot to unlock your bags. ("Cardmate" carry-on retails for about $249.)
These are just two of the bags Patty Fox lugs across America. As spokeswoman for the Luggage & Leather Goods Manufacturers of America, she's considered an expert on packing to get the most benefit with the least luggage. But she doesn't always practice what she preaches.
She has been spotted in airports negotiating 35 pieces of luggage teetering on rolling crates.
But it's all in the name of progress -- and product promotion.
Ms. Fox is schlepping luggage around the country to show retailers and consumers what's new, what's hip and what's practical.
"Basically, everything is being designed to make life easier," Ms. Fox says. "Two-in-one uses, expandable bags, improved wheel systems that rotate 360 degrees."
Here's more of what's coming in luggage:
* Robot luggage is on the way. Using electronic beacons, travelers will be able to "drive" their luggage through the terminal. Look for this technology in golf bags, too.
* Also on the drawing boards: luggage that responds to voice commands. (All the bugs haven't been worked out, yet. For instance, will you have to constantly chat with your bags to get them through the hotel lobby?)
* Also coming soon is luggage that sets off a signal -- like a car alarm -- if thieves try to pry it open (already on the market for briefcases and attaches).
Here are tips for luggage shopping:
* Analyze your purpose for traveling. If it's for business, select baggage that gives a serious, executive impression. If you travel for pleasure, you have more leeway in pattern selection. If you travel both for business and pleasure, steer toward conservative looks.
Analyze your travel style. If you travel mostly by car, then you might want soft, expandable luggage for convenience. Airline or overseas travel might call for something "hard-sided" for durability.
* Look for durable fabrics, such as leather and balistic nylon -- you can run an ice pick through it and it reseals the hole.
* Check the closures for sturdiness. Zippers should feel secure in their track, and the seams should be firmly sewn.
* Check the wheels for sturdy casings around them. Pull the bag behind you. Does it move the way you want it to?
* Check the handles to see how they are attached. Are they screwed in or merely stapled or glued?
* Consider the latches and locks. Open and close the luggage several times. Listen for a solid sound, rather than a dainty click.
For more tips on selecting luggage, call 1-800-862-4BAG for a free booklet from the Luggage & Leather Goods Manufacturers of America.