22.11.2019

The case for cheap luggage

Traveling, at least the way I’ve learned to do it, is messy and human. Phones will die, things will get wet, cabs will be missed, and running through train stations while sweating in your winter coat will happen.

It doesn’t have to be that way. At least that’s the message of Travelmate, an Indiegogo campaign for what’s billed as “a fully autonomous suitcase and robot.” In the promotional video, a man walking at an awkwardly slow pace roams an abandoned airport, followed by a sleek, self-propelled rolling bag. A woman watches him and his self-propelled bag with what appears to be a mixture of envy, astonishment, and lust.

Complete with Bluetooth, a removable battery, LED lights, auditory cues, and the requisite buzzwords of “AI” and “machine learning,” this smartphone-paired suitcase promises to “follow you wherever you go.” The cheapest model starts at $499 (£380), according to the Indiegogo campaign.

The thing is, without being too inventive, I can think of a litany of situations where the Travelmate might not be able to follow me: Traversing wet and cobble-stoned European streets. Walking swiftly to get away from street harassers. When out of battery midway through a multi-country itinerary without charging access.

I should say here that I have nothing against this particular brand of AI luggage. I’m just skeptical of fancy luggage in general. I’m fiercely loyal to the £25 carry-on I once bought in one of those tourist shops on Oxford Street in London—the ones that nobody but teenaged Italian tourists buying selfie sticks ever dares enter. My existing carry-on had broken that day, and my Eurostar was in a few hours. Desperate, I bartered the guy down from £30, and I’ve never looked back since.

That trusty silver suitcase has taken a beating like no other in the ensuing years. It has endured vicious rush hours from Tottenham Court Road station to Tokyo. (The Travelmate promises that it “works seamlessly in crowds,” though there is a grand total of two people in its promotional video.) In Madagascar, my budget suitcase acquired a thin film of red dust when my driver on a reporting trip insisted on barreling through the bush with the windows open; it added a nice patina so I just let it be. It has been my trusty companion on countless adventures, and each time I slide it under my bed, I marvel at its ability to just keep going, immune to my continued abuse.

Robot bags may be fine if your traveling involves levitating from one slick-tiled American Express lounge to another—as our glacially-paced Travelmate owner seems to do. But they have a long way to go before they can handle the vagaries of even a quick weekend getaway, for me.

These off-road adventures aren’t an inconvenience of travel, to be eliminated by technology; they’re the place where all the magic happens. The unpredictable chaos of travel is its whole point. Don’t let your luggage hold you back.

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