When it comes to travel, everyone has different needs.
Some use a small and light bag to hit the road, hoping to get most of the items they need even on the go. This might be tricky: you’re running the risk of not being able to buy items at all, or only at a considerably higher price.
Then there are those who prefer to buy everything in a particular size, color, and price, and then – in anticipation of every opportunity – require a huge suitcase. The obvious disadvantage for them is that the suitcase is more difficult to carry and may not fit anywhere.
Of course, the purpose of the trip and the destination also determines which suitcases you need. A weekend getaway with friends or a business trip to Europe?
Regarding luggage, you can choose from a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and functions. But which bag is designed for which type of travel? What are your preferences and needs and which luggage will be the perfect fit for them?
In this guide, I’ll help you find out which bag will be appropriate for your purposes so you can consciously buy for a long time and be happy with your decision.
Various Needs for Various Ways
How Will You Be Traveling?
If you’re traveling by plane, it’s worth checking out the size restrictions, as they can vary from airline to airline and sometimes from flight to flight. If you are traveling with a small-sized package, it’s enough to have a carry-on that you can take with you on the plane.
However, if you have a lot to transport, you will need a suitcase. Your suitcase should be checked in and you may have to pay an extra fee. More on that later.
If you travel by bus, train or cruise ship, there are still restrictions regarding luggage sizes, but they usually allow larger, heavier packages than airlines.
If you’re traveling by car, you have the freedom to choose the size and the quantity of your package. You are pretty much good as long as the luggage fits in your car. Also, you don’t even have to worry about rough airport handling, so duffel bags and soft-sided suitcases become viable options.
What Is Your Reason for Traveling?
You don’t need the same items for a business trip or a family holiday, so it’s worth considering the aim of the trip.
Business trips are usually short, so you don’t have to take much, but you’ll probably need a laptop, a dress or a suit, and matching shoes and accessories.
The most convenient solution for carrying these are rolling briefcases, carry-ons or lightweight suitcases.
If you’re going on a vacation, you may need one or two larger suitcases. Later we’ll explain how to choose a suitcase for your holiday.
If you are planning longer journeys where you will travel by car, train and taxi, a wheeled backpack can be a good solution so you can easily adapt to the circumstances.
Just heading out for the weekend? A backpack, duffel bag or a carry-on should be sufficient.
How Long Is Your Trip?
In general, the longer the trip, the more items you need to carry with you and the larger the bag needed. It’s also important to consider whether there are opportunities to wash your clothes at your destination (so you don’t have to pack as many).
And then there’s issue of the weather: if it’s expected to get cold, you should get extra clothes, and start thinking about layering).
If you have a lot of things to take with you, check out our packing tips for efficient and easy space-saving ideas.
Suitcases Versus Backpacks
Both luggage and backpacks have strong pros and cons… Since this is mostly a suitcase buying guide, we will highlight some of the pros of suitcases:
Suitcases win hands down for their ease of use. You’ll hardly break a sweat while maneuvering them through any airport.
A Sweat-Free Back and Dry Pits
Speaking of breaking a sweat…no matter if you’re on a business trip, or just trying to flirt at the airport, the importance of a first impression is indisputable, even when you’re traveling.
It’s all about the wheels! It’s kind of satisfying to roll your luggage with ease while fellow travelers crumble under the weight of their backpacks. Maneuvering is easy and fast, even if you have a fully packed suitcase.
Not everyone is physically able to carry a backpack, but even if you’re able, why do you want to force your back to carry unnecessary weight? Suitcases spare your arm and shoulder muscles and spine, making sure you will arrive safe and sound.
If you’re a hardcore organizer, you’re probably a suitcase person. A top loading backpack can be annoying when you immediately need something from the bottom. Having a clear view of all your belongings when you unzip your suitcase is priceless.
Suitcases – especially the hard-sided variety – can survive some very harsh circumstances. If you’re transporting valuable and fragile items, hard-sided suitcases are often the way to go.
If you’re traveling for business, an elegant suitcase can lend you a prestigious and professional look. Besides the casual appearance, in a suitcase you can transport your business clothes and accessories safe and wrinkle-free.
Types of Luggage
These small suitcases can be stored in the overhead bin to bypass the time and trouble of checking your bag. Most airlines limit carry-on bags to 22 inches.
Suitcases are larger than carry-on bags and must be checked in when traveling by plane. They’re available in medium, large and extra large sizes.
Garment bags are for carrying clothing on hangers. These bags come in handy if you are traveling with a dress, a suit or a coat that you don’t want to wrinkle.
Travel Duffel Bags
These soft and roomy bags come in a wide range of sizes. They’re great for weekend holidays, car trips, train travel, or for carrying bulky items that won’t fit in your suitcase.
Rolling briefcases are designed to hold your laptops and other work accessories while the wheels help you travel comfortably. Most of them lend you an elegant and professional look, thus they’re used most often for business trips and for everyday work duties.
Most luggage sets consist of two or three suitcases of various sizes, but you can also combine them as you wish. It’s ideal if you need different sized suitcases for different occasions, or you could surprise your family or other relatives with the same designed suitcases as a gift.
What Size Luggage Do I Need?
Besides material and weight, size is a crucial factor when choosing luggage: besides the regulations, no one wants a suitcase that is too big for them to manage.
The overall size of the suitcase should be limited to what you can handle alone, since there will be times when no one is around to help you lift it.
Let us emphasize again the importance of checking the airline restrictions regarding the size and weight of your luggage. If you’re traveling by plane, it’s not worth buying luggage that’s over the allowed measurements.
Huge luggage comes in handy if you’re traveling by car or if you need to move all your belongings from A to B by plane (but be aware of the extra fees you might have to pay).
As a general rule, opt for a carry-on no larger than 45” (length + width + height) and a checked bag no larger than 62”, which is standard for most US airlines.
Be aware that US airline restrictions allow larger carry-ons than the European airline rules. If you’re going international, it’s ideal to choose a smaller carry-on.
If you need checked luggage as well, we recommend the 25 – 27” size, Large Checked type. It’s roomy but convenient for an average trip.
It’s recommended to keep track of your baggage weight, especially if you’re using a suitcase over 25”, where it’s easy to pack unnecessary items just because you have more space. Many airlines limit you to 30 kg/50 lb for checked luggage. To avoid unpleasant situations, use a luggage scale to measure your bags.
If you order luggage online, do it well in advance, so you can return it and search for another if it doesn’t feel right. If your ordered luggage has arrived, test it before you travel. Make sure that the handle is long enough for your height, the fabric, weight and wheels suit your needs and it’s durable enough for your journey.
During packing, if you feel like you might have forgotten something, check out our packing list and make sure you have everything you need.
So What Are the Exact Sizes?
18 – 20” International Carry-on: If you want to make sure your carry-on complies with all of the airline restrictions, choose this size. European low-budget airlines like Ryanair or easyJet have incredibly strict rules and allow just these small sized carry-ons.
21 – 22” Domestic Carry-on: At most of the airlines this is the maximum allowed size. This is not-so-coincidentally a popular size among customers: it’s roomy enough but still light and manageable even if it’s fully packed.
23 – 24” Medium Checked: Suitcases with this size are not allowed on the plane as a carry-on, you must check them in. In turn, you can travel with a lightweight, handy, comfortable size suitcase.
25 – 27” Large Checked: As checked luggage, this is the most popular size among customers. It’s roomy, you can pack in it even for two people. Ideal for longer trips, vacations or for moving. Although it can be heavy if it’s fully packed, and you might need some space to store it.
28 – 32” Extra Large Checked: Luggage heavy hitters. These sizes come in handy if you’re transporting a lot of items at once. If you go by plane, take into consideration the extra fees that come with this size.
Note that when luggage sizes are provided in product descriptions, some will include sizes with wheels while some will only include the size of the actual body of the bag. Make sure to always check whether or not wheels are included in the size description!
Hardside vs Softside Luggage
Hardside luggage is waterproof, won’t stain for any reason and protects your belongings better than a softside luggage. They usually have TSA-approved locks as part of their basic construction.
Usually, hardside cases are heavier than soft side ones, but there are more and more lightweight hardside suitcases on the market. It’s a great choice for urban traveling, short-term trips or a vacation.
Softside luggage is generally lighter than a hardside luggage and they are also able to absorb shocks better than hard shells. Because of the flexible interior, if you over-stuff a little bit, you can still zip your suitcase.
These type of luggage are more compact: they usually need less storage space than hardside suitcases. Unlike hardside suitcases, softside ones often have outer pockets for small devices and other important documents. It’s a great choice for long-term travel where a light suitcase is more convenient than a heavy one.
This might be a no-brainer, but whichever you choose, look for quality: lousy soft luggage can tear and cheap hard cases can crack easily.
Features to Look for When Buying a Luggage Set
Hard-side bags are molded from difficult-to-pronounce materials like polypropylene and polycarbonate. Soft bags can be made out of fabrics such as microfiber, leather, nylon PVC or polyester.
Regardless of hardside or softside, most luggage are at least somewhat water-resistant, so you don’t have to worry about rain or splash.
Even if your chosen luggage is not waterproof, you don’t have to worry. You can buy waterproof covers for your suitcase or you can use a shrink wrap station at the airport. It costs around $10 a pop, and it protects your luggage not just against water, dirt, and dent, but against less persistent thieves as well.
Wheels provide the essence of your suitcase, so it’s better to have a high-quality, trustworthy and quiet feature. Some suitcases come with replaceable wheels, which is quite handy if one gets broken.
When it comes to wheels, you can choose between two types of suitcases:
Two-wheel suitcases are called rollers. They have recessed wheels, which are less likely to snap off if handled roughly. A great choice for urban travel and for rough roads. Rollers are lighter than spinners but have the risk of tipping over if they’re not balanced.
Four-wheel suitcases are called spinners because each wheel can spin 360 degrees. They spin well on smooth ground and are easy to maneuver in tight spaces. You can pull the suitcase behind you, but you can also push it in front of you, this way you have full control over the suitcase.
Also, if space is tight, you can push it sideways. However, because the wheels are salient, they can easily snap off and they also take up some space when you store them. Another con is that the suitcase won’t stay put unless they have a locking system.
Besides the material, the weight of your luggage is absolutely critical, especially when you’re traveling by plane. If your luggage weight goes beyond what is allowed by the airline, you have to pay extra fees. If you choose a lightweight luggage, it’s easier to avoid the extra fees and your arms and spine will be happier as well.
Tip: Before traveling, it’s worth measuring the weight of your packed suitcase. If you do not like the results of the measurement, you can rethink what to leave at home to ease the package.
Some people quickly drop everything into the bag and leave, and there are those who – as if participating in a ritual – put the items separately in the bag because they like to see that everything has its place.
Regardless of your personality type, pockets can be useful, especially if you have a lot of small items, or your items are valuable or fragile like a camera or a laptop. Many of the bags have padded dividers for laptops, and some of the bags have enough pockets to satisfy the most organized packers.
Packing organizers are also a great help to keep your belongings safe and organized. You can buy them in various sizes and colors, there are transparent ones and waterproof versions, so make your choice if you need some.
Besides the pockets and dividers, straps are a great help in keeping your belongings organized. The stretchy, adjustable straps are especially helpful when you need to deal with bulky items.
Do you ever notice that your stuff tends to “grow” when you’re returning home from a trip? Nothing ever seems to fit.
For this, an expandable suitcase is a great solution, but watch out: if you expand your suitcase, it may not comply with airport restrictions, so check the size and the weight of your luggage before arriving at the airport.
For the unplanned amount of items, an alternative option can be a packable bag. I always have one with me… you know, just in case I can’t abandon my collection of souvenir mugs.
If you’ve ever seen a bag fit into another bag – just like Russian dolls -, then you’ve seen a nested set of luggage. This is a practical solution for storing the suitcases, but it also comes in handy when you need extra suitcases just one way (for souvenirs for example).
The handles should be sturdy and retractable, that’s not even up for debate. Besides these features, you have to find out the size of the handle you need.
The handle can’t be too short because it will hit you on the heels as you walk, but it shouldn’t be too long because as you drag it too far behind you, it will annoy other travelers. If you try out some suitcases, watch out for this at the handles.
Padded handles increase the comfort and you can choose from single- or double-handle options. Single handle is lighter and looks good, but double handle is usually sturdier and makes maneuvering easier.
Side and top handles come in handy when you need to lift your luggage. The handle better be durable, because it has to withstand the weight of your belongings.
Sturdy zippers are crucial. Check that all zippers run smoothly before purchasing any piece of luggage. Also, broken pulls are inconvenient and annoying, so make sure you choose a luggage with pulls made of a tough metal or a VERY durable plastic.
Colored suitcases are fun and stylish, you can express and complete your style with various colors, themes, and materials. However, suitcases with nice and colorful designs tend to be pricier than a plain black suitcase.
If you can, try to pick a suitcase with recognizable color or print, so it can be easily spotted on the luggage carousel and not mistaken for someone else’s bag. If you go with a black suitcase, you can still mark it with luggage straps, tags or covers.
Try to stay away from white and other light colored suitcases: they are elegant and nice on the first trip, but they can get dirty easily. If you still go with light colors, you can protect it with suitcase covers.
Chances are, the more money you spend on a briefcase, the longer the warranty period will be. This shows that the manufacturer has confidence in their product. I wouldn’t be too skeptical about briefcases that only have a few years warranty if they’re not too expensive. However, if it has no warranty or just one year, I would avoid it unless they have a solid reputation for quality.
If you want a special suitcase, check out our article about unique suitcases…
A Word on Locks
This is not the most important feature but it can be useful in certain countries or areas. That being said, a word of caution: most thieves might already have a 3D-printed key to your TSA-approved lock if the news are to be believed.
In any case, if you want locks, consider going with TSA-approved ones to avoid the hassle, or something heavy-duty for extra protection.
Or better yet: anything worth stealing shouldn’t go in your checked baggage (jewelry, high-value electronics etc…). The safest bet is having these in your carry-on.
Luggage can be quite pricey.
If you’re a long-term traveler, keep in mind that a suitcase will be your portable wardrobe for the duration of your travels. That’s why you need a suitcase which is durable, fits your needs and has a great price.
There are various reasons why a suitcase is more expensive than an others. The 3 most common ones are quality, design, and branding.
Price usually reflects quality, and if you’re a serious traveler, you need a high-quality suitcase. Often, these high-quality suitcases come with a nice, long warranty, which is a big advantage.
Another reason why the prices are high is the design. If you choose a designer suitcase, you may have to pay double as you would for an average suitcase, but if the design is important to you, then why not?
You can’t really go wrong if you choose suitcases from reputable companies. It’s not a coincidence that they have a lot of satisfied customers. Yes, they’re not always the cheapest option, but why take a risk when you can get the best luggage from professionals, right?
Where and How to Buy a Luggage Set
If you visit a physical store, it will allow you to test the bag before purchasing. This way you can experience which style and size suits you the best. Buying in the physical store is fast and easy, but you can get great deals if you buy online. Also, you may have more color or size options to choose from online.
If you’re online shopping, order your item well in advance so you can return it if it’s not the perfect fit for you. Look for a retailer who offers free returns, so you can order several cases to see which you prefer, returning the others free of charge. Out of the many online shops, Amazon is my favorite because there’s an abundance of items with free returns and they tend to have the best prices.
You can also sign up for email updates from online retailers who sell your favorite brands. They often send out discount offers by e-mail.
You can just easily shop for seasonal sales and get the best bargains. Maybe you can’t choose from a wide variety of colors, sizes, and features, but if they have what you need, then why not, right?