Packing is something many travelers dread, but it doesn’t need to be a stressful situation. A little planning on your part, and you’ll be ready to go in no time at all. The first decision you’ll need to make is what suitcase to bring. And, if we’re being honest, choosing the right bag can be just as challenging as deciding on what to put in it. The good news is that luggage has come a long way since the heavy, bulky, and impractical options of recent decades. But with so many options out there, how do you know where to begin when shopping for a new suitcase?
While there is no “best piece” of luggage for everyone, you can find the right piece for yourself by taking your own personal needs and travel style into consideration. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin shopping.
Size: the Smaller, the Better
Are you the type who insists on bringing extra clothes to be prepared for any situation that could present itself, regardless of how unlikely that might be? Overpacking may give you peace of mind when leaving the house, but it’ll quickly turn into an inconvenience – especially when it comes to packing and unpacking throughout your trip. We encourage travelers to embrace a minimalist approach to packing, both for the sake of simplicity and the ability to get around with ease. And with airlines getting stricter about luggage by the day, a standard-sized suitcase packed to the brim could easily get hit with overweight fees when souvenirs are added. A good rule of thumb is to pick the smallest size of luggage that will reasonably accommodate your needs. Believe it or not, a carry-on size suitcase is all you’ll really need if you bring the right things and pack smart – and that goes for any trip. We strongly recommend that travelers pack the same for every trip, whether it’s two weeks or a month. Click here for more tips on packing smart.
Four Wheels are Better Than Two
While baggage porterage is included at all the hotels on our guided tours, keep in mind that you will be responsible for your bag while traveling at airports. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that you can get around easily with your bag and can lift it. Fortunately, there are wheels on just about everything these days – from duffels and backpacks to standard hardshell luggage.
We recommend selecting a bag with four caster wheels rather than two as they’re easier to maneuver. There are also a variety of carry-on options available that take the headache out of airport travel. For example, soft shell backpacks with wheels allow you to alternate between wearing and rolling your bag and also make it easier to maneuver through tight spaces – think airplane aisles – with ease (and without bumping into other passengers in the process).
Finally, when it comes to selecting a bag, we say try it out. Even if you plan to purchase online, hit the luggage store in person to test how smoothly certain brands and styles roll and maneuver.
TSA Approved Locks
You’ll want to pay close attention to the zippers and stitching options for your bag, too. Make sure that they’re hearty to help prevent thieves from using knives to cut into your bag and steal your property. And if you wish to lock your luggage, choose a bag with a TSA-approved combination lock. That’s because TSA agents are allowed to remove locks on luggage even if it causes damage as a result. A TSA combination lock can be opened by a master key available to TSA agents only, ensuring that your bag is search compliant without running the risk of being damaged in the process.
Hard vs. Soft Shell
When it comes to deciding whether to buy a hard or soft shell suitcase, the choice is really just a matter of preference. Both options have their advantages: hard shell luggage has a reputation for being more durable and capable of withstanding heavy impacts and poor weather conditions. Also, soft shell luggage can be easier to compress to fit oddly shaped overhead compartments. If you plan on carrying on for any portion of your trip, a softshell suitcase will come in handy on smaller planes with tighter spaces. But if you always plan on checking your bag, you really can’t go wrong either way.
Airlines typically allow 40 to 50 pounds max per checked item before implementing overweight baggage fees. For that reason, it’s smart to choose a suitcase that’s not only durable but also as lightweight as possible. And while you might naturally assume that soft shell bags weigh less, that isn’t always the case. In fact, hard shell luggage has come a long way in recent years and is often just as light as, if not lighter than, softshell bags. Always check the bag's weight before you purchase, as a ten-pound bag can’t hold as much cargo as a 7-pound bag can, and those three pounds can make a big difference. Fortunately, there are now ultra-lightweight suitcases on the market, many of which weigh less than 4 pounds! Finally, be sure to look into your airline’s size and weight guidelines for checked and carry-on baggage as limits may vary between carriers.
Patterns and Colors
While neon pink polka dots or fire engine red may not represent your personal style, one thing is for certain: they’ll definitely grab your attention. When choosing the color of your suitcase, remember that it’ll be in a sea of other bags at several points throughout your trip. Choosing a common color like black or navy may seem like a practical choice, but it will increase the odds of having your bag mistakenly claimed by someone else. So have fun with your choice and be bold! And if flashy colors or patterns aren’t your preference, opt for a unique luggage tag that catches the eye.