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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 8 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 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 the 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: United, American and Jet Blue, Virgin, and Hawaiian all have the standard 22X14X9 as their measurements. Southwest is the most generous at 24X16X10! A good plan is to get the standard 22” with expandable feature and expand your bag for a Southwest Flight. I would never buy a carry-on with a height more than 22”.
- It’s also very important to note that most international carriers (Air Canada to Air New Zealand) require a slightly smaller bag at 21”. If you think, “Well, who’s going to notice one lousy inch?” believe me, they do every time. I’ve tried! So if you plan on doing most travel thru international carriers go with the smaller bag. One more note! if you are taking a domestic carrier to an international destination, let’s say a Delta flight to Amsterdam, it’s a 22” bag.
- When you go to buy luggage bring a measuring tape. The luggage industry infuriatingly will measure a bag differently from the airlines (how can we win?) measuring only the “Bucket” but the airlines measure from the base of the wheels which usually add 2 inches. With my own personal line, I measure the entire bag wheels included.
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.
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. And never buy luggage with tiny wheels. They won’t last more than a few trips, and that luggage is basically disposable.
Just say no to black luggage! Colorful luggage is where it’s at. 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.
Well Samantha, if you design both hard side and soft-sided luggage what do YOU use?
Before the pandemic, I was an ardent fan of the hard side carry-on, and I do love the hard side, but I’ve actually made a move back to soft-sided luggage simply because it is far more accommodating when it comes to keeping essential items organized and most importantly accessible at all times during your journey. With major delays at airports, canceled flights, and long waits for rental cars I want more access to my stuff immediately, not when I find an appropriate place in a busy terminal to open up a hard clamshell bag to get to what I need.
The carry-on is ultimately about having more control in an uncertain circumstance.
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