Having traveled several million miles on business and leisure over more than 20 years, I have bought and used countless luggages to find the perfect one for my trips. I have been accused of having a luggage problem, but I assure you, it was just the pursuit of the perfect luggage for different kinds of trips. Here is what you should look for in a luggage, regardless of the trip: Solid quality, leight weight & proper size and flexibility!
One of the most important purchases you make prior to a trip is your luggage and the most important feature is a solid build quality. Whether you are on a business trip with your boss or the dream vacation with your loved one, you don’t want to be the person spilling their clothes across the arrivals hall because the zipper broke… Or carry a 70lbs check-in luggage because the wheel broke! So, I always cringe when I see people buy cheap or fake luggage for their vacation. You really don’t want to spoil your dream vacation, because you saved a few bucks on your luggage. If you plan to buy it online, make sure to buy a trusted product with good reviews online. Focus on reviews of very frequent travelers and skip reviews written after one trip. Most luggages survive one trip, but few will last a life time. If you purchase in a store, in addition to the reviews, check especially the quality of the zippers, wheels, grips and extending handles. If the zipper or extending handle doesn’t work smoothly in the store, it won’t make you happy in the long term.
Light Weight & Proper Size
These days, airlines enforce the size and weight of your check-in luggage and carry-on luggage, so you should look out for luggage that not only meets the size restrictions, but also is as light as feasible. It might just save you from having to check an overweight carry-on or pay an excess luggage fee for a check-in bag that is too large or heavy. Unfortunately, the size restrictions for carry-on luggage are all over the board. For US domestic flights, you are pretty safe with a luggage of 22in*14in*9in (56cm*36cm*23cm). There are either no weight restrictions or very generous ones for US domestic flights (minimum 25lbs) and I never had a check-in or gate attendant weigh my carry-on. On international flights, you will find all kinds of measures and to be on the safe side, you will want a slightly smaller luggage at 21in*14in*9in to get by. What will be more difficult is the weight restriction many foreign airlines, both budget and full-service carriers, put on carry-on luggage: Some limit it to as little as 7-8kg (15-18lbs). If you check in online or at a kiosk, the weight will not matter – I have never had my luggage weighed at security or the gate, they generally lack the scale. But I did have to check my trusty Tumi Alpha due to weight, courtesy of the dragon ladies at Lufthansa check-in! The limitations for check-in luggage are even more varied, but a safe size across various airlines is 62 linear inches (157cm) or a typical size of 27in*21in*14 (69cm*53cm*36cm). More frequently, the check-in luggage is limited by weight: Most airlines will allow 50lbs (23kg) per piece, while on flights to/from the US you will sometimes find 70lbs (32kg). While “solid quality” and “light weight” might be at odds, you can find a good compromise. In the age of poly-carbonate or strong nylon luggages, a sturdy lugggage doesn’t have to be heavy!
Flexibility is important, especially for carry-on luggage, because you have all your belongings in the carry-on (and possibly a personal item) and you have to find things quickly at security or during your trips. Unless you are willing to buy many different luggages for different trips, like a luggage for a short or long business trips with or without suits, a leisure trip to a city or a beach, an adventure trip, you want your luggage to be at least somewhat multi-purpose. Things to look out for are a good, easy to access organizer in an outside pocket for gadgets, reading material, water or snacks, the see-through toiletry bag, metal items, or anything else you need during your journey or at security. You will want a flexible, but somewhat organized interior, giving you a main section for your clothes and pockets for small items. Compression straps on the inside are helpful to tie down your clothes if the bag is not completely full. I found a colorful interior lining very helpful in spotting little things – they often seem invisible with a dark, grey or black interior lining.
I will review a few luggages to make it more tangible soon:
A carry-on size backpack: It’s the most flexible luggage and least likely to get singled out to be checked at the gate or counter. It has enough room for a week’s worth of clothes (at least if you are traveling light), it’s much lighter than a wheeled carry-on and more practical if your trip goes beyond cities in developed countries – navigating broken pavement in developing countries, cobble stones in Europe or an outrigger boat to a romantic island beach with wheeled carry-ons are a hassle!
A wheeled carry-on for business travelers: If you are on a business trip, requiring suits and shirts or dresses, you will want a rolling carry-on with a suiter to keep your clothes in good shape and save you lots of time. While I was traveling, almost weekly on business, I never checked my luggage. Let’s say you travel 25 times a year, making it 50 departures and landings, at 1h to check-in and pick-up your luggage per leg, you save 50 hours or a weeks worth of productive time or vacation time, whatever way you want to use that saved time!
A wheeled carry-on for leisurely city travelers: If your business travel is casual or you travel on leisure to cities and developed destinations, a light, wheeled carry-on without a suiter might be more convenient than a backpack.
An international check-in luggage: Your international check-in luggage should meet the 62in and 50lbs restriction mentioned above. Luggages that fit the linear inches are typically sold as 25in or 27in cases. Anything larger is likely to fail the linear inch requirement! If you have seen how check-in luggage is treated, you want it to be as sturdy as possible and have an TSA approved lock! Given the size and weight, it should have wheels and I haven’t seen one without in a long time! Depending on how frequently you check luggage, you have an option of hard case or soft case luggages.
A personal bag: Most airlines allow a personal item in addition to your carry-on, often descriped as purse, backpack or laptop case. I know absolutely nothing about purses and will stay away from any reviews of those. Instead, I will look at practical travel back packs and bags for business and leisure trips. They should be small enough to fit under an economy class seat and leight enough to easily be carried in addition to your carry-on. If you can’t carry or lift it or rush through an airport with it, don’t bring it!