The Gear Junkie: Rick Steves Travel Bags

The 21-inch Roll-Aboard is made to pass most airlines' carry-on size limits, and magically store enough clothing for a week's stay.
Rick Steves, a travel writer and television host, has spent one-third of his adult life living out of a suitcase in Europe. Since 1973 he's been away an average of 120 days a year, often taking his wife, Anne, and their two kids along for the trip.

As such, Steves knows--I'd assume almost preternaturally--what makes for good travel gear.

Working with KIVA Designs in Benicia, Calif., Steves' namesake company (www.ricksteves.com) sells a line of travel accessories, ranging from money belts to suitcases to billfolds made for deriding a thief.

I employed some Steves gear traveling last month, including the 21-inch Roll-Aboard. This $139.95 suitcase--sized at 9 x 21 x 14 inches--is made to pass most airlines' carry-on size limits, though still magically cram enough clothing for a week's stay.

The polyester package is nothing too unique. It's essentially a nice suitcase at a fair price, plus there are little touches like a Lexan frame to provide some protection of your belongings inside.

Multiple small zip pockets and a large internal mesh pouch promote organization. For toting through the airport, there's a telescoping handle that pulls out to 23 inches long. Inline-skate wheels keep it rolling smoothly on carpet or cement.

Classic Back Door BagThe Classic Back Door Bag ($79.95) is a similar product, though with backpack straps instead of the wheels and pull handle. This pack also lacks the Lexan frame found on the Roll-Aboard.

Described as a "just-the-basics" bag, the Classic Back Door measures 9 x 21 x 14 inches and weighs about 2 pounds when empty. There are several zipper and mesh pockets.

But the Classic Back Door has no waist belt for support, and the design is kind of boxy and strange--halfway between a suitcase and a backpack, but not really either one. I was a bit perplexed as to when this in-between design would have an advantage.

More interesting was Steves' Lambskin Travel Wallet, an $8.95 billfold made to hold just a day's worth of spending money and receipts. Your passport, credit cards and other valuables should be kept safely tucked inside a money belt.

Lambskin Travel WalletFollowing this philosophy, in the rare case you're held up or pickpocketed, you'll lose only a small bit of cash.

Plus, there's a multilingual card inside the wallet made to perturb the proverbial thief, as it reads: "Sorry this contains so little money. Consider changing your profession."

I like that. The billfold is an idea born of experience on the road; the words, humor and optimism in the face of the wide world.


Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit www.thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.

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