Like swimsuit or washing machine shopping, buying luggage can seem a vortex of expensive, confusing options that blur into an amalgam of despair after two hours. That carry-on bag looks TSA-approved now, but once you fill it with that second pair of shoes, will it scream “gate-check”? Do you really need a wheelie bag with a phone charger in the handle or will this feature sooner than later seem as useful as a floppy disc?
These are tough questions (but for the record: probably and yes). Most often, I’m asked what bag works best for a weekend trip when checking a bag doesn’t make sense or a road trip is involved. If I could channel Flannery O’Connor for a moment, a good duffle is hard to find.
In the world of bloggers to Instagram influencers, it would seem all you need do is throw a pair of sunglasses, a pullover, a good book, your phone, and some lip balm in a tote bag, and you’re ready to head to the beach for over 24 hours. If you want to bring a bottle of shampoo, another pair of jeans, or, oh say, underpants, that doesn’t fit into this filtered reality where issues like hygiene solve themselves.
For the realistic, practical traveler, may I present to you the Herschel Novel Duffle. I just celebrated two years with mine, and it’s still the one (cue dad rock soundtrack). In fact, I find it so efficient, that I often bring it on longer trips that involve air travel. Without wheels, it rarely peaks the attention of bag check-happy airport employees, but easily fits as much as a carry on. The strap is also padded enough that even when filled to capacity, I can carry it comfortably. Seriously, I once jogged back and forth between Concourse A and E in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport in 30 minutes with it slung across my shoulders.
And while most mobile bags have a rigid parallelogram for fitting clothes, shoes, toiletries, a laptop, or maybe even a hairdryer into it, the Novel conforms to the shape of what I put in it.
For instance, I typically lay what I want to bring out on my bed and layer each item on top of the other. Once I have a stack of what I want to bring (say two dresses, a jumpsuit, three tops, and a skirt), I roll them into a loose burrito. I nestle that on top of my laptop, shoes, and toiletries in the bottom of the duffle, and when I arrive at my destination, I unroll it into a relatively unwrinkled, organized stack again.
But I haven’t even got to the best part of the Novel Duffle. It also has a pocket where you can put a pair (or two) of shoes that you don’t want to rub all over your clothes. Personally I find it functions well as a place to stash dirty laundry that I don’t want ruining any remaining freshness in the main compartment.
As for my closing arguments: while leather luggage looks great in that whole Darjeeling Limited sort of way, I love that after years of abuse, even once using it as a seat on the floor of LaGuardia’s chair-less baggage claim for an hour, it remains undamaged and still gets compliments from strangers and Uber drivers. I have the navy-and-red version, but it comes in a variety of colors and patterns, including a Golden Girls-inspired palm print if you’re so inclined.
While spending $70 to $90 on a duffle might make you feel three sandwiches short of a picnic, when there’s so many cheaper options out there, in the realm of luggage, and swimsuits and washing machines, you often do get what you pay for.