When planning a trip, it pays to think ahead. Taking the time to select the perfect hotel, the right transportation, and the best entertainment options can ensure that your trip will be a success.
But there is one more thing you need to think about – luggage.
Will you travel light and stick with a simple carry-on or will you try to stuff your entire wardrobe into a checked suitcase just to make sure you have options? Choosing the right luggage for an upcoming trip may seem like a trivial decision, but it makes a bigger difference than you realize. Making the right choice will help keep your trip as easy and hassle-free as possible.
So, how do you choose the right luggage?
In this in-depth guide, we’ll explore the benefits of traveling with a suitcase versus a carryon. We’ll also talk about key elements to consider when choosing luggage for an upcoming trip and provide some simple tips for making the right choice.
What Are Your Luggage Options?
Travel can be stressful. From departure to arrival and all the steps in between, there is a lot to worry about, so don’t add luggage to your list of travel worries.
Having a high-quality suitcase to transport and protect your belongings gives you peace of mind even in the hustle and bustle of the airports, train stations, and taxi cabs that stand between you and your final destination. But what are the benefits of traveling with a suit case versus a travel backpack or a carryon?
Before getting into the details, let’s take a quick look at the main options.
Travel backpacks have become increasingly popular of late as a practical option for travelers. A travel backpack is exactly what it sounds like, a backpack designed with unique features to make travel easier. Travel backpacks aren’t just for hikers – they are a sensible option if you’ll be changing accommodations several times during your trip or if you’ll be doing a lot of travel on foot. They are easy to carry up stairs, but many models also come with wheels for convenience.
Though travel backpacks certainly have their benefits, there are downsides as well.
Travel backpacks can be large, especially those designed for hiking and backpacking trips. If you have back problems or difficulty carrying heavy weight, a backpack may not be a viable option. Travel backpacks are also designed to carry gear but not necessarily for easy accessibility – if you need something, you might have to unpack the entire bag to find it.
Another luggage option to consider is a carry-on. Depending on the length of your trip, you might be able to get away with a carry-on as your only form of luggage. This method of travel allows you to check in more quickly and you can bypass baggage claim entirely at the end of your trip (which can be a major time suck). Traveling only with a carryon does limit what you can bring with you, and you’ll be subject to restrictions that might not apply to checked baggage (such as the maximum volume of liquid you can bring with you).
If you’re looking to make the transportation portion of your trip as quick as possible, a carryon may be the way to go. For longer trips, however, many travelers prefer a good old-fashioned checked suitcase.
Last but certainly not least is the checked luggage bag. When it comes to checked luggage, you can obviously pack more but it comes at a price. You’ll have to lug it around and you’ll need to check it prior to boarding, which means you you’ll also need to wait for it at baggage claim. Checking luggage also poses another risk many people overlook — the possibility that the airline could lose your luggage. Although rare (less than 1% chance) it does happen.
Beyond the fact that you can pack more, checked luggage does allow you to not have to think about your luggage once you’re at the gate, boarding, and on the aircraft. That means no need to lift it into the overhead or worry about taking it down after the flight has landed.
What Are the Benefits of Traveling with a Suitcase?
For a quick weekend trip or a business venture, many travelers prefer to pack light and stick with a carryon, duffle bag, or backpack. When you’re planning for an extended stay or simply want to bring a bit more, a suitcase may be the better option.
Here are some of the benefits of traveling with a suitcase:
- Protection – The last thing you want is to arrive at your final destination to discover that your personal belongings have been damaged or ruined due to rough handling. Depending on the design, of course, a suitcase typically offers better protection for your belongings than a soft-sided duffle bag or travel backpack. Even a carry-on can be jostled around during a rough flight.
- Convenience – If you’re packing heavy items or you have a lot to bring with you, being able to roll a suitcase by your side is much easier than carrying it all in a travel backpack. You’ll need to consider obstacles like staircases and escalators but using a suitcase versus a duffle or travel backpack will literally take the weight of travel off your shoulders.
- Easy Access – In an ideal world, you would arrive at your final destination quickly and with no hang-ups, but sometimes life isn’t that easy. If you find yourself needing to access your belongings during your trip, you’ll have an easier time finding them in a flat-lying suitcase than a fully stuffed backpack or duffle.
- Containment – Another practical benefit of traveling with a suitcase is that it keeps all of your belongings (and the mess they make) neatly contained. With a duffle or travel backpack, you need to be more intentional about how you pack your belongings whereas with a suitcase, you can sometimes just toss everything in, close it up, and you’re good to go.
- Condition – If you’re traveling for business, you’ll likely be carrying suits, dresses, and other formal wear that needs to be kept in a certain condition. Suitcases tend to be the best option for transporting pressed clothes, though you’ll still likely need to iron them before wearing them.
Choosing the right luggage for an upcoming trip is largely a matter of preference, though practicality certainly comes into play as well.
Keep reading to learn about the key elements to consider when choosing the right luggage for your trip.
Key Elements to Consider When Making a Luggage Choice
Modern luggage comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors – there are even high-end options from luxury brands like Tumi, Gucci, and Prada to help you travel in style. With so many options to choose from, how do you make a choice?
Here are some of the key elements to consider when choosing your luggage:
Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these elements in greater detail.
This is perhaps the most important element to consider when choosing luggage. The main question you need to ask yourself before your trip is whether you can get away with a small carry-on or if you need the additional space offered by a suitcase – or perhaps you’ll need both.
When it comes to luggage size, you need to think practically. Not only do you need to think about the items you plan to bring with you and how best to store them, but you also need to consider how much weight and bulk you can physically handle. While you might be able to fit your entire wardrobe if you find a large enough suitcase, whether you can actually carry it or maneuver it well is the real question. And remember that your carry-on will need to be lifted into and our of the overhead bin of the plane.
Another factor to consider is size regulations set by your preferred method of travel. For example, if you’re traveling by plane, your luggage will be subject to size and weight allowances whereas if you’re traveling by car you might not be so limited. Generally speaking, carry-on luggage should be limited to a total measurement (length + width + height) of 45” and checked bags to 62”.
Once you’ve chosen the proper size for your suitcase, it’s time to think about the design and the various factors that affect durability. First and foremost, ask yourself whether you prefer a soft- or hard-sided suitcase. Soft-sided suitcases tend to be more lightweight while hard-sided luggage is more likely to withstand rough treatment. If you go with soft-sided luggage, just be sure to choose a high-denier material that will be less likely to rip.
After deciding between hard- and soft-sided luggage, you need to think about other aspects of durability such closures, handles, and wheels.
A broken zipper is every traveler’s worst nightmare – one minute you’ll be heading toward your departing gate, and the next minute your belongings are strewn along the entire length of the moving walkway. When it comes to luggage, there are two main types of zipper: chain and coil.
Chain zippers feature two sets of interlocking teeth (typically made of metal) whereas coil zippers consist of two parallel coils, typically made from polyester. Not only are chain zippers less likely to break, but they are also more secure – you can break into a polyester zipper very easily using a ballpoint pen or a small knife.
Another aspect of durability to consider is the quality of the wheels that come on your suitcase. Externally-mounted wheels can be a weak spot for a suitcase because they might snap off with rough handling. Wheels that are attached with screws rather than rivets tend to be more secure, and if they are recessed, they are even less likely to break.
One final feature to evaluate for durability is the handle. If the handle on your suitcase breaks, you might be forced to carry it. Look for a fully retractable handle so it will be protected from damage during transport and look for smooth movement during extension and retraction.
Size and durability are two of the most important elements to consider when choosing luggage, but you also need to think about what’s inside the luggage. How many pockets and compartments does the suitcase offer and do they improve or take away from the design?
When it comes to suitcase compartments, you need to think about what’s going on both inside and outside the suitcase. External pockets and compartments can be handy for holding items you need to access quickly while internal compartments are useful for organization. Think about compartments of different sizes to accommodate things like toiletries, jewelry, shoes, and more. Of course, there could always be too many pockets, making it hard to find where you placed a certain item or items.
Another feature that many suitcases offer is a tie-down strap. These stretchy, adjustable straps help you compress clothing and other belongings to maximize space and to limit movement during travel. Even if your suitcase has these straps, it’s always a good idea to pack the night before so things can settle.
In order to allow for more space at the last minute, consider luggage that is expandable. This type of luggage often has an extra zipper on the outside that allows for up to a few more inches of volume to help fit more items within the bag.
It won’t do you any good to spend hundreds of dollars on a new suitcase if you find it difficult to use. The whole point of taking the time to carefully choose your luggage is to select on that will make travel easier and more efficient for you, not more difficult.
When it comes to usability, the most important thing to think about is handles. Even if your suitcase has a telescoping handle, having a traditional handle is also beneficial if you have to carry the suitcase upstairs or pick it up to put it in the car or in an overhead airplane bin. Look for ergonomically designed handles made from durable materials that are securely attached to the top and/or sides of the suitcase.
Another feature that affects usability is the inclusion of wheels. Suitcases typically offer a two- or four-wheel design and each of these has its own set of benefits. Two-wheel suitcases usually have the wheels inset which is better for durability, though you may lose the benefit of 360-degree movement. Four-wheel suitcases offer 360-degree movement, and the design keeps the suitcase upright for balance. The downside is that these wheels are usually externally mounted which makes them vulnerable to damage.
Though it may not be directly related to usability, one more factor to consider is the weight of the suitcase itself. Lightweight materials are obviously easier to carry but may not protect your belongings as well. Heavier materials improve durability but may require the addition of wheels to ensure usability. Look for a good balance between the two so you have lightweight durability.
Though the primary function of a suitcase is to transport your belongings, you also want to make sure that they stay safe and secure during your trip. Features that affect security include waterproof materials, zipper strength, and locks.
When it comes to luggage, certain materials are simply more durable and water-resistant than others. Hard-sided luggage is generally the most water-resistant, though you do need to make sure that the sides are properly sealed to keep moisture out. Soft-sided luggage can be made from water-resistant materials or treated to resist moisture. Don’t forget to think about the bottom of a soft-sided suitcase because it might sit on wet, dirty, or sticky surfaces during transport.
We’ve already covered zipper strength to some degree, but it is worth repeating that metal zippers are generally more durable and secure than plastic. Remember that you may be able to get away with other parts of your luggage breaking but if a zipper breaks midway through your trip, it could mean disaster. You should also make sure that the zippers on your luggage can be locked. Some suitcase feature an integrated locking system while others can be used with padlocks.
Once you’ve considered the practical elements of a suitcase such as size, durability, and design, you can start thinking about extra features that make the suitcase unique. Modern luggage offers a wide variety of add-on features such as built-in GPS tracking, shock-absorbing wheels, and integrating USB charging.
When it comes to “smart luggage” options like these, you need to be careful. You don’t want to sacrifice basic necessities like durability for the sake of bonus features like USB charging. If you want to capitalize on your investment in high-quality luggage, choose an option that checks all of the important boxes for size, durability, security, and usability before considering additional features.
It may seem like price is the most important factor to consider when shopping for luggage, but that is not necessarily the case. It is entirely possible to find high-quality luggage at nearly any price point, but shopping by price alone is dangerous. In many cases, lower prices mean lower quality. This may not be a problem in the immediate future, but it can affect long-term durability. For example, your first few trips could be perfectly fine but down the road a wheel could fall off or zipper could break. In the end, it is generally better to spend a little more on a suitcase that will last than to save money now just to buy a new suitcase a few years down the line.
Pro-Tip: Only buy a suitcase at an airport boutique at the last resort. These airport luggage stores almost always dramatically increase their price. If you’re in the market for new luggage, we do recommend going into these stores and physically checking out and testing the luggage but then looking for the best deal online.
Which Option is the Best Choice for You?
In the end, the best type of luggage is the one that suits your needs for the trip or trips you have planned. This means that the best option for one trip may not be the same for another trip – you’ll need to consider all of the factors from the previous section to make your decision.
Before you settle on a suitcase, there is one more factor to consider – the warranty. It is not recommended that you shop for luggage by price alone because lower prices are typically equated with lower quality materials and construction. Because you’ll likely be spending a little more to purchase a high-quality suitcase, you want to make sure that your investment is protected with a warranty.
Each luggage company offers a different warranty, so do your research before you buy. Most of the top brands like Tumi and Victorinox offer a warranty of at least one year, but there may be restrictions. Keep in mind that many warranties only cover manufacturing defects and not normal wear and tear. You should also pay attention to the repair process – check to see how many service centers the brand offers and their policy for repairs or replacements. If your luggage is damaged, many brands do offer some sort of repair service or will send you the products needed for a DIY repair (e.g. a new wheel).
By considering all of the elements listed above, you can make an educated decision about which suitcase is the best option for you. With so many options available, you should have no trouble finding a suitcase that suits your needs and is also within your desired price range.
Have a question about your next luggage purchase? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible!