I get this question all the time: What should I consider when buying luggage?
In the interest of full disclosure, I have my own luggage line carried exclusively by HSN. I designed unique gear that looks great and overcomes some common shortcomings. The purpose of this article is not to promote my line, but to give you some insight into the types of things I look for when buying luggage, plus what I considered when designing my own line. One thing I’ve learned in this process is that there is not one piece of luggage that fits everyone’s needs or travel personality. How I travel is probably very different from how you travel.
Here are some tips to ensure the next piece you buy is a love match. Did I mention I have my own luggage line?
Size and Weight
Do you think anyone in the history of travel has ever under-packed for a trip? It’s easy to over-pack a large suitcase and end up crushing the 50 lb. limit. Overweight fees are worse than taxes, so make sure the bag isn’t heavy when it’s empty.
Bags are often marketed as “lightweight”, but don’t take their word for it. Make sure you find the actual weight of the bag printed on the sales tag. A carry-on should be less than 10 lbs.
A lot of lightweight bags are soft-sided, which is great for stuffing the bag into a small overhead bin space. If you tend to travel with items that could be easily damaged, then go with a harder side piece of luggage.
Carry On Bags
The carry on bag…it was supposed to make our lives easier and avoid fees, but it’s become such a pain in the rear. I blame the airlines and their inconsistent regulations. Here are a few things you need to know to get the one that will work best for you.
- Size Matters: The airlines control this size, not the TSA. Just because you got passed security doesn’t mean your bag is compliant with the airline’s regulations.
- The Ugly Truth: Not all overhead bin space is the same. Not airline to airline or even plane to plane of the same airline. That’s why all carry on luggage states that it fits in the overhead bins on most planes.
- Measurements: What airlines will allow ranges from 45 linear inches up to 55. Delta, United and American being stingy and Virgin and Southwest being very generous. So if you fly mostly Southwest, then don’t go with a 45” bag. (Hot tip: The bag I fly with is 48 ½ inches and it has always fit in the major (stingy) airline bins).
- The Wheels: Now that you know the smallest carry on size is 45-inches, you also need to know how the luggage industry measures the bag. Those measurements only refer to the container itself, NOT the two to three inches the wheels use up. This could possibly make the difference of you fitting your bag in or not. I always look for bags where the wheels are slightly embedded in the case itself not “up on roller skates.” It keeps the bag closer to its true measurements and protects the wheels from being damaged or ripped off.
- Four wheels vs. Two: Travel purists may shun the 4 spinner wheel bag as for amateurs but when you walk onto a plane, spin the bag to its narrowest side and effortlessly roll down the aisle without spilling your $7 double caramel soy latte. You’ll be a believer too.
- Pockets: Whoever thought “the more pockets, the better” on luggage obviously has never found themselves on the floor of an airport, panic-stricken, searching for their boarding pass and passport. I only want two pockets on the front of my bag: one shallow, one deep. The deep pocket is perfect for a magazine I’ll want handy during my trip and the shallow one is for anything I might need in 2 seconds…and freak out if I can’t find. Compartments on the inside are excellent for separating stuff, but remember whoever designed this might not pack like you pack. I like to keep these simple and want luggage to be an empty vessel so I can use it as I wish with no obstructions.
Things That Always Seem to Break
Luggage is like a car. Before you buy you have to kick the tires, check under the hood, and take it out for a spin. Pay close attention to the things that usually break when you need them the most: wheels, straps/handles and zippers. Make sure you visually check the seams, stitching and hardware.
Construction and Durability
I’m often asked to give advice on the best materials for durability and ease of travel. Typically there are four elements to consider: frame, fabric, and waterproofing. If the bag has an inner frame, look for fiberglass which provides strength, but is very lightweight. If you are choosing fabric, choose a light and sturdy fabric such as ballistic nylon. Waterproofing is important too, look for DuraGuard® fabric protector coating.
Just say no to black luggage! A few years ago, I introduced my favorite color (canary yellow) for a few of my bags (did I mention I have a luggage line?) and it sold out immediately. Last year was the dawning of the age of colorful and stylish luggage and I couldn’t be happier. Hard case luggage has taken this to a new level, with incredible designs that become movable art. People do notice the bag you travel with and who knows? You may get an upgrade from an airline or hotel clerk just because they like your style.
Brands and Warranties
Some brands have a reputation for standing behind the quality and durability of their bags.
Briggs and Riley has a lifetime guarantee that will repair your luggage free of charge for life. Tumi has a five-year warranty that gives you full worry free protection in the first year and covers defects in years two through five. TravelPro and Victorinox (limited number of collections) both have limited lifetime warranty.
A lot of warranties I’ve seen are for defects in materials or workmanship. To me that means you would have to make a pretty strong case it was an original defect if a wheel popped off during travel. Take the time to consider warranty in your decision, but don’t let it be the deciding factor unless you are the type that will follow up on every warranty repair.
What’s the one thing you look for in luggage that is a must-have? What’s your favorite brand? Or least favorite?
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