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I have a perfect travel companion. He's sleek, good looking, deep brown and he lugs all my gear around for me. Whenever I need him he's totally reliable, doesn't forget his passport, doesn't moan when the planes are late and he doesn't mind being dragged around. Don't worry, I didn't dump my husband and trade him in for a perma-tanned Italian stallion. My companion of choice is my Eastpak Transfer bag and for the past 6 months it had gone everywhere with me.
If luggage manufactures wanted to design a super-tester for suitcases, I might well be their customer of choice. Most years I buy at least one or two new bags. Whilst other women go crazy over handbags, my addiction is for travel luggage. Whilst most people only use their suitcases for a couple of weeks a year and can manage with cheap and cheerful bags that will last them a few years before the baggage handlers and their evil 'hooks' shred them, I use my suitcases all the time. If I'm UK based, I'm back and forth to the northwest with my stuff in my Eastpak but more often than not, it's accompanying me back and forth to airports and hotels around Europe.
My bag is like a salesman's car - it has to be something with which I'm comfortable because we spend a lot of time together. My past promiscuity with bags has been due to never finding the 'right bag' - the one I wanted to settle down with. But now I think I've got it and I'm considering a period of prolonged bag-monogamy. I've found 'the one' and I hope we'll be very happy together.
~Small is Beautiful~
I have the Eastpak Transfer in the smallest size which complies with most of the airline rules on cabin baggage with the possible exception of Ryanair and their devious evilness. Even then if it's not overstuffed I suspect I'd probably get away with it on volume but not on weight as my work laptop is around 3 kg and their limit is 10 kg. It's a soft-sided wheeled cabin bag made of a tough, hard-wearing canvas so good that the manufacturers confidently offer a massive 30 year guarantee on this range. Most companies offer one or two years, maybe five at a pinch, with so many exclusions that you struggle to get anywhere if you have a problem but Eastpak really do believe in their products.
My first experience with Eastpak was nearly 20 years ago when a good friend gave me her old Eastpak backpack to go Inter-railing. I loved it but over time I got lazy and gave up carrying my home on my back like a tortoise and moved into wheeled luggage. Then a colleague in Holland had the small Eastpak Transfer and I thought it was a really smart, well-designed bag. It was in my mind to buy one but I was finally prompted when the Black Friday deals on Amazon included the small Transfer in 'mental brown' for just £30. It was too good an offer to pass on, and whilst brown isn't the most exciting colour in the range, it wasn't black and that was good enough for me.
When my bag arrived I was a little disappointed. It just looked too small to be of use. I lined it up beside my previous cabin bag and it looked rather titchy and inadequate. Surely it wasn't going to be big enough for a week away. Looks can be deceptive and good design makes an enormous difference. I soon found that despite appearing to be smaller, the design of the bag means you really can get a lot more than you expect into it. Once you unzip the Transfer, the two halves of the bag are zipped compartments - each of them pretty capacious. Generally I put all of my clothes for the week into the half that has the wheels on the bottom and has the hard back to it. Everything else - my toiletries, electrical cables, bear, umbrella, work stuff, etc. goes into the front half of the bag. When both compartments are zipped up, I then shove my laptop between the two compartments for maximum padding and zip up. What I particularly like about this design is that it makes it much easier to find things in your bag and when going through airport security, you don't have your bag spewing forth its contents on the luggage belt. If I know my bag will be searched, I wedge all the things I need to take out - toiletries, laptop - between the two closed compartments to make them easily accessible.
The official sizing - according to Amazon - is 23 x 49 x 31.5 cm but the fatness (23 cm) will depend a lot on how full the bag is. That size is fine for most airlines but right at the edge of Ryanair tolerances so I'd recommend to pack, measure and see if you're still within their crazy rules. The bag itself weighs 2.4 kg.
~Keep it Simple, Stupid~
This is not one of those bags that have lots of pockets and clever little hidden compartments. I've had plenty of those and more often than not I couldn't ever find anything when I needed it. This has just the two big compartments and a flat square pocket on the top of one of them where I hide a few spare tablets for my medication (just in case I forget or my handbag got stolen) and a charging cable for my phone. On the outside of the bag there's a deep zipped pocket which I almost never use but if you need it, then it's there. If you're flying with an airline that forces you to shove everything into just one bag - EasyJet, Ryanair and the like - you can squeeze quite a bit into that front pocket.
The bag zips around and if you are security conscious, there's a look through which you can fix a padlock. I don't bother on the grounds that if someone wants to steal stuff from my bag they will but I'd rather they don't knife the canvas to get inside. Steal by all means but please don't vandalise in the process. Once the bag is zipped up, there are four compression straps to help squish everything down to minimise the volume of the contents.
The bag has a handle with extends smoothly and without too much jiggling about. I'm five foot eight and I find the handle length perfect. It has just the two wheels and if I were asked to improve just one thing about the Transfer, I would add another two wheels as I do prefer four-wheel drive bags. The problem is that you really can't do that easily on soft sided luggage. If the bag is not well stuffed it can become like a best man on a stag weekend and struggles to stand-up without falling over but generally I pack it well enough to prevent that problem.
~I started a trend~
My bag has proven so popular with my colleagues that several have gone out and bought their own ones - thankfully in different colours so we don't risk running off with each other's things. I covet the mid and large sized transfer bags but really can't justify the expense when I have other perfectly good and serviceable bags for our bigger volume needs. The larger bags get particularly expensive with even the best deals for the least popular colours starting at over £100. The list price of mine is £95 but if you keep an eye on Amazon and you're not too fussy about the colours, you can get them from around £60. You can see why I didn't hesitate when mine was on offer for £30.
I recommend buying from Amazon because I had fantastic service when my first Transfer had a rip in the lining. I'd had the bag for less than 5 months and whilst it's true that it had taken quite a hammering in that time, I considered the split to indicate faulty manufacture and I wanted it replaced. When the compartment top shredded I went online to Amazon at about midnight in a Barcelona hotel room, pouring out my sadness to the customer service chap in India. Within just a few minutes he'd processed a replacement, sent me a printable label for a free return and when I got home my new bag was waiting for me. I kissed goodbye to its predecessor and sent it on its way.
I've not therefore tested the 30 year guarantee directly since when I checked on line it appeared I was going to have to sent the bag to Germany or return it to a store. For that reason I recommend Amazon as their replacement service was quibble-free and fast. I believe I just got unlucky with the first bag but if anything should go wrong with this one, he'll be back quicker than you can say 'Speedy Boarding'.