April is here and it’s new theme time! This month is all about Adventures, and what better way to start than by thinking about luggage and how to buy the best kind for you. I have to admit that I love buying (and using) luggage, but I’m a picky person, so before I decide to spend my money I like to really think about what I want and what features are a must for me! Here are my tips for buying the right luggage first time round.
Things to decide:
- What will your luggage be used for ie what kind of trip are you taking
- What Type of Luggage: Suitcase, Backpack, Carry-on
- How big will the luggage be
- External Pockets or Not
- Hard or Soft case
- How many wheels (if any)
- What Colour or style (will it be easy to spot yours)
- What size/weight is allowed on an Aeroplane/other mode of transportation
When you’re thinking about making a significant purchase like luggage, it’s best to start by thinking about how you will use it and what you will use it for. It can be really tempting to just pick any old one from the shelf because of the brand name and then worry later about how it will work for you. But to save you the stress of ending up with something that just doesn’t do what you want it to, (we’ve all been there) it’s great to start with an idea of what you want.
When I first went travelling, I did all my research and decided to buy a big backpack. It was a 65/75 litre hybrid that had a smaller day pack attached. The backpack was great for a few reasons: I was 18 and staying in youth hostels, where you can generally only keep your luggage under your bunk; it was easy to have everything on my back which made exploring and getting from one town to the next easier; and it limited what I took with me. No matter how good I was at rolling my clothing, there is only so much you can carry in a 75 litre backpack so you get really good at knowing the difference between what you want and what you actually need.
These are great for hiking and camping trips too. They can come in handy for years to come, so they make a good investment if you like this kind of travel.
When it comes to suitcases, I’ve had a few. When I bought my first one I searched high and low for a large, soft sided case that had no external pockets. It took about 6 months to find one (pockets were all the rage) and in the end I went with a surf brand. I chose it because I didn’t want anyone tampering with the outside pockets and I was moving overseas for 6 months so I wanted to take a fair bit with me, and I knew that I wouldn’t be taking it all that many places with me. It was a “clam shell” style, meaning that it folded in the middle and just had the two compartments that zipped up individually. It’s on two wheels (they didn’t sell 4 at the time) so it got heavy, but because it was a surf brand I never saw a matching one on the baggage carousel and I knew instantly which one was mine.
The next one I bought whilst travelling and is a very vibrant blue. It has way too many pockets on the outside, but at the time I just needed something. It’s carry on appropriate for the US, though too big for Australian limits. It’s also on two wheels and makes for a great weekend away case as it holds just over 10kgs.
I’ve also invested in a hard side clam shell case, and to be honest, not only was it the most expensive, it was the one that I was most disappointed in. It got cracked in transit 2 weeks into a 3 month long trip and I ended up buying another soft sided case to replace it. I really thought that I’d done my research and that it wouldn’t break, but hard sided cases are less forgiving, and I think I was just unlucky. I did love that it had the 4 wheel push system rather than the two wheel pull, as they just feel so light and you can walk so fast on the slippery airport floors.
The final one I bought is currently my favourite. It has what I call a “flip lid” where almost all of the suitcase is just one section and the top flips to one side and holds just a couple of things in a flat mesh bag. I like it because they are the quickest and easiest to pack and I’m less likely to forget where I put things. It has lockable zip pockets on the outside and the great 4 wheel push system, which makes it feel light even when it has 23kg/50lbs of stuff in it. It’s great for both flying, as you can fill it right to the weight limit (which I always manage to do) and road trips as it slips into the boot (trunk) easily.
When you’re thinking about buying a suitcase, think about how many stops you will take; how you like to pack things; if you have a preference for hard sided over soft sided (or visa versa) and how many wheels you’d like. Take them for a little test run in the store to check the wheels and zippers all work before buying. I also like to buy colours or patterns that aren’t too popular (if I can get them) so they are easy to spot. Black luggage makes it hard to find what’s yours.
Carry-on luggage can be a very individual thing. For the longest time I put as much as I could in my checked baggage and took barely anything as carry-on. Then my bags were missing for two days, and now I try to pack more into the bags that stay with me. Most airlines allow you a handbag as well as another piece of luggage so I tend to split my most important stuff between both.
The smaller wheelie case is a popular choice for carry-on outside of Australia (and sometimes in Aus too, though our baggage limits are much smaller than elsewhere), but I found out the hard way that when the plane is full it’s the wheelie cases that they make you gate check first. I may have cried when they gate checked my carry-on bag full of gifts that weren’t packed to be thrown around a luggage hold. So now I travel with a great duffel bag made by crumpler. It’s not the prettiest of colours, but it’s easy to see that it’s mine. The fabric is super strong, and the airlines always let me take it on board because at a pinch it will fit under the seat and in the tiny jets it’s one of the only ones that will fit in the overhead bins.
If you can take only carry-on, it’s great. You don’t have to wait at the baggage carousel and your stuff is with you. It’s not always practical or possible, but great for short trips. It also limits you to being very specific about what you need to take with you and what you don’t – and I kind of love that.
No matter what luggage you are buying, and for what purpose, also think about it’s longevity. If you want it to throw away after the trip you could look at an inexpensive option, but if you think you could use it for years to come, investing in one that suits your needs long term is a good idea. Watch out for sales if you can, as you can often get great deals on quality luggage, and some discount outlets (especially in the US) offer last seasons styles at half the price of the latest and it’s often only a colour change.
Do you have any great luggage buying tips to share? What’s your favourite bag for travel?