Pity luggage manufacturers.
Luggage these days is like the bride (or groom) in an Indian arranged marriage. It has to all things to all people.
In the case of the bride, she has to be dutiful daughter-in-law, supportive spouse, nurturing parent and red-hot lover depending on time of day and relationship.
In the case of luggage, it has to be sleek and stylish in business settings, adventurous and efficient while on outdoor treks, safe , sexy, helpful, highly utilitarian and possessing the ability to hold it all in.
Speaking of holding it all in, there used to be a piece of luggage that my family (and other Indian families) carried while on long two-day journeys on the great Indian Railways. We called it the “hold-all”, and it was an amazing object. It looked like this.
For Indians of a certain generation, the holdall is the fantasy. Particularly for those Indians who currently hold jobs in the luxury business, the trips they took with their families on “unreserved compartments” seem to evoke the greatest amount of nostalgia, and angst. The more dollars or euros they earn, the more they long for those “simple times” when time seemed to stretch forever on long train rides.
These trips are anchored by the triumvirate of 1) the large stainless steel tiffin carrier containing 2) puri and aloo-bhaji lunch, following which the 3) holdall was spread out for a nice snooze, lulled by the click-clack of the train.
Our holdall was made of brown canvas and it looked somewhat like a withered banana. It folded out like a sleeping bag. You stuffed a pillow into the top flap, blankets in the bottom flap, and a soft mattress through the length of the holdall. There were many extra compartments for shoes, a water bottle and books.
In the end, you simply rolled it up, tightened the leather buckles and belts and bunged it on top of the porter’s head—who would then proceed to curse you for its weight. At night, on top of a train compartment, the holdall would be spread out so you could sleep.
Holdalls still find their way into trains. Their value lay in the fact that they contained everything needed for a comfortable train journey. Air travel has been trying to duplicate this comfort ever since. A place for everything and everything in its place.
For Ken McKaba, the inventor of the Shelfpack, it was ruffling through dirty laundry during a business trip that was the tipping point. He was fed up, and not just because of the chocolate and chewing gum goo that somehow finds its way into clothes. Today we have fancy ziplock bags to organize and press clothes into air-less vacuums. But still, it is nothing like a nice shelf at home, which is where the Shelfpack story begins.
Forget the travel. The best part about the Shelfpack is the packing and unpacking. You open the suitcase and pull up two retractable handles—broadly akin to the handles on top of airline carry-ons or spinners. You lift a collapsed shelf—four shelves actually—and hang it atop the two handles. Et voila! You have four ready-made compartments into which to organize your clothing.
After that it is up to you. If you are an “underwear at the bottom” kind of guy, go for it, be my guest. At least the guests entering your room will not see your stuff on full display atop your shelves—which by the way, is one of the problems with this model of packing. Everyone entering your room can see your clothes and things. To minimize this scenario, the shelves can be fully removed and hung inside hotel closets with a hanger-like set of hooks.
The Shelfpack weighs 8.16kg (versus 5.9kg for the skinny Raden suitcase reviewed here earlier) before you put in a single item of clothing. Are you sure you want to carry that much empty weight, thus reducing the amount of objects that you can stuff in?
The Shelfpack comes with three additional flaps for putting in small objects: your socks, trinkets, combs, sunglasses and whatnot. The only problem is that these flaps are on the outside of the suitcase. It is convenient and adds extra space. But it would have been nice for safety reasons to have or heave a couple of them on the inside so you could store your valuables and lock up the suitcase.
Speaking of locks, the lock-hole is tiny, so buy one of those TSA-certified locks, not our Indian bronze whoppers. Also, the zippers can be tight but this is an issue with pretty much every suitcase.
The last problem is personal, not universal. With its inherent weight, this suitcase could have really benefited from four wheels rather than two. But there are many men, my husband included, who hate four-wheeled spinners, so they may love this arrangement.
The best part about the Shelfpack is that it is perfect for Indian train travel, where there are no luggage restrictions, where you can pay a porter to carry your luggage into your compartment, and where you could really use the help of a suitcase that morphs into a shelf at the end of the trip.
The Shelfpack retails online for $349. It is shipped free within the US and can be shipped globally for discounted rates.
If you are going to a big fat Indian wedding and need a variety of clothes, and not just organized but also accessible in a hurry, the Shelfpack is for you. Particularly if you live in one of those joint boisterous families where a dozen people crowd into one bedroom—with no chance or choice of closets to put your personal belongings.
In such a (common) situation, having a suitcase which not only carries but also classifies and categorizes all your belongings is godsend.
Disclosure: this product was loaned for purposes of this review.
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