When it comes to luggage, size does matter. A couple inches here and there determine whether your luggage and valuable belongings will be stored above your seat in an overhead compartment or below you in the underside of the aircraft. Size also determines if you’ll have enough room to pack every last item you wanted to take on your trip, including that incredibly tacky (and bulky) Christmas sweater you only bought for your forthcoming holiday vacation. My perspective on luggage size has always been simple and straightforward: luggage should be big enough to fit whatever it is you need on your trip and not an inch more. To help you determine what size is best for you, I look at a combination of different size criteria:
Size Classification – Like most good things, luggage size comes in 3s: Small, Medium and Large. Generally, classify each size according to the following size (length in inches) and trip duration (in days):
Dimensions (Length x Width x Height in inches) Including or Excluding Wheels & Handle – Sometimes the dimensions provided by airlines are inclusive of the most common external protrusions on the bag (wheels, handle, etc.), so make sure to confirm with your airline of choice.
Carry On or Checked Bag (according to airline regulations) – The majority of major airlines limit carry on bags to the following dimensions (including wheels & handle): 22i inches in length x 14 inches in width x 9 inches in height. These dimensions are only guidelines though. Every airline is different and there are number of larger and different shaped bags that will fit in the overhead compartment of different airplanes. If you’re willing to spring for carry on luggage larger than the aforementioned guidelines above, check your airline of choice to determine if your bag fits!
Storage Capacity (in cubic inches or liters) – When push comes to shove (and it often does when you’re dealing with luggage, how much “stuff” can you fit in your luggage.
Interior Configuration – Interior configuration comes down to the placement of partitions and pockets inside of your luggage. Some prefer wide open spaces, which allow you to pack however comes natural to you with no limitations (aside from the size of your luggage of course) on creativity. At the opposite end of the luggage interior configuration spectrum is highly compartilzized bags with designated locations for each one of your items.
Expandable – Some pieces of luggage are designed with flexibility in mind. Such luggage usually includes a 2nd set of zippers that allow for 1-3 inch expansion. Speaking from personal experience, this “expansion” feature seems to always to in handy on the return portion of a trip because I somehow come back home with more than I left with (souvenirs, merchandise, etc.)
“Fit Test” – Example of exactly what all fits into a full bag. An illustrative example of what one could fit into each piece of luggage.