Picture the scene: your phone pings with a message from a friend who lives abroad. “I’m coming to visit you next month!”
Admit it. After the initial “yay!” reaction, your first thought was what can I ask them to bring over for me in their suitcase?
Or another scene: you’re taking a trip to foreign lands. Sure, you’re Googling for attractions to visit — but I bet you’re also looking up stationery shops, and wondering how much room you’ll have in your bag on the way back.
This situation used to be a regular thing for me, back when I used to travel for work. It’s dried up almost completely since I changed job, which is frustrating because it’s never been more valuable. The effects of Brexit and Covid have had such a ruinous effect on international shipping that I find many of the products I want to try are simply unavailable to me, or certainly at reasonable prices.
So when the opportunity to try the suitcase challenge does appear, it’s even more delicious.
All of those vendors, announcements, brands, products that I have previously dismissed as “off limits” are suddenly back in play. I dredge my memory, my Instagram saved posts, and old wishlists looking for gold. Invariably I end up with a huge list of items that are either much cheaper abroad or that I’ve never seen available in the UK. And this is where the fun starts.
The suitcase challenge is all about constraints.
- Budget, of course. A surprise visit from a friend, an unplanned business trip — these opportunities don’t often strike when you have your pen fund in a healthy state. How much are you willing to stretch? After all, if you miss this chance, it may not come again for years…
- Then there’s weight and size. It wouldn’t be fair to ask a friend to take up half their luggage allowance with reams of Tomoe River or gigantic Visconti boxes, would it? And that brings another delicious conundrum: if you choose to buy a flagship pen, do you tell your friend that they can leave the gift box behind and just pack the pen itself? Ouch.
- And then there’s risk to consider. Ink is a tempting proposition: so many unusual brands and shades that are country-exclusive or simply unavailable in the UK! But are you really going to ask your friend to risk broken glass and leaking ink as they clink their way through the airport concourse?
- Lastly, there’s the spectre of shame. Will your kindly mule raise their eyebrows at an avalanche of expensive parcels hitting their doorstep the week before they fly? The suitcase challenge has the danger of revealing the full extent of your stationery addiction.
Right now the suitcase challenge is on my mind because it’s not just hypothetical. My dear brother is unexpectedly coming over from the US to the UK, and I have burdened him with quite a haul — most of which was on my “idly considering” list until the opportunity arose.
Here’s how it played out.
My first stop was to Desiderata Pens, makers of unusual designs with in-house piston fillers. I’ve owned several in the past, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add a Eucalyptus Burl Soubriquet to my tray — especially since Desiderata no longer ships to the UK due to Brexit. A small, light pen is hardly any burden… and Desiderata ships pens wrapped in newspaper, no boxes to worry about.
I hit Yoseka Stationery, mainly for inks. I bought another Dominant Industry ink, before realising that Pure Pens already stocks them. But I also bought a bottle of Yoseka’s exclusive Origin ink. One bottle shouldn’t be too much for the suitcase, right?
Next was a triple whammy.
I ordered one of Schon’s Ultem pens, this time in black with a #8 section. I’ve owned one of these before in natural amber, but I think I’ll prefer the black… and I have a plan for this pen.
I ordered a King of Pen on discount from PenSachi, miles cheaper than you can get them in the UK. The giant paulownia wood box may have to stay in the US, but that may not be a problem. My recent revisiting of the KoP in its Urushi guise has reminded me how much I love these nibs, although I take issue with the plastic KoP’s body and threads. So I plan to steal the nib from this KoP and use it in the Schon. The pen itself is just an organ donor. Ouch.
But to do that I need a KoP nib > Bock 380 nib unit adaptor. And to make that happen, I headed to Flexible Nib Factory. It was nice to find that shipping to a US address was under $4.
For those of you keeping count, my dear brother now has these three pens, and he’s already holding a Rotring 600 Lava for me… so my final stop was to San Francisco’s finest, Rickshaw Bags, to order some tweed pen coozys to transport them safely in.
I am definitely stopping there.
Hopefully I’ve stayed well within my constraints — and of course I’m fully expecting my brother to make free use of all these products I’ve ordered in his name over the next month. It’s only fair, right?!
Do you enjoy playing the suitcase challenge like I do?
What products are on your list that you simply can’t get in your country?