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Suitcases: a window on the traveler's soul

A guide to packing predicaments, from sartorial crises to rides on the baggage carousel.

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I did not propose to my wife, the estimable Lady Janet, simply because she is a skilled suitcase packer. However, when listing her many abilities – from deboning trout to deconstructing Princess Anne's hairdo – I place packing at the top. This is invaluable to our travels since, when I pack, the clothes emerge with more wrinkles than a flabby Shar-Pei. Now that I have retired from packing, I have noticed that the ability to pack messily is not the only suitcase blunder.

THE COCKY PACKER: Proud of his single carry-on bag for a three-week trip, this traveler vows not to sweat, spill, or stain. And he is sure that if he does smudge a garment, he will find a laundromat in Kazakhstan on Saturday night. He is mistaken.

THE NERVOUS PACKER: The reverse of the Cocky Packer is the Nervous Packer who plans to change multiple times daily in order to always look neat and pressed. This requires many bags, even on an overnight trip – boosting the odds of an airline losing at least one, and possibly two, of them. Once again, this packer will search in vain for a Kazakhstan laundromat on Saturday night.

THE NONPACKER: "I'll just buy all my clothes when I get there." A great idea. A wonderful idea. Unfortunately, if you are going to any city in Europe these days, the cost of socks is equal to a restaurant dinner with foie gras, truffles, and a 25 percent tip back home. Nonetheless, this is a small (smallish) price to pay compared with the humiliation of an average-sized American shopping for clothes in France. The last time an airline lost my suitcase in the world's most fashion-conscious country, I had to buy some clothes in Aix-en-Provence. The one store open had a wide range of clothing that, unfortunately, did not come in my size – a large in all 50 states. The salesman took one look at me trying to squeeze into a pair of pants and remarked with a sneer, "I regret, Monsieur, we do not carry the elephant sizes."

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