Choosing Quality Luggage

Over the years, we’ve been consistently asked how we choose our luggage. These are some of the questions we’ve been asked:

  • What luggage should I get?
  • How much should I invest?
  • Do I need a full set?
  • What do I need the most?
  • What kind of luggage is the most useful?

There are a lot of answers to these questions and what is best for one trip may not be best for another trip. Much of it really has to do with what sort of trip you are taking and what kind of terrain (literally) you will be covering. If you are headed somewhere that you will encounter dirt and gravel roads, then you need a backpack or possibly heavy duty wheeled duffel. For most other travel, your standard 21′ and 24-25′ inch suitcases should cover most of your needs. There isn’t really a need for different types of bags beyond this.

Brands

We have had good luck with Samsonite and TravelPro over the years. Anthony and I have both tried other suitcases and usually come back to one of these two brands for their durability. We usually replace our luggage after about 40-50 flight legs. We track individual legs because each individual flight results in one abusive trip through the airport luggage handling system before it is tossed around the tarmac and eventually into the hold of the aircraft. For example, a short trip like Tokyo to Saipan via Guam still endures double the abuse as a longer, non-stop flight like Los Angeles to Guangzhou.

Price

You don’t need to break the bank on expensive Tumi or Rimowa luggage (although we’ll both admit that those brands are pretty stylish). We have been able to find pretty good prices on Samsonite and TravelPro at Costco and through eBags. Sometimes you can find decent bags at a good price at Ross or Marshalls but ensure that you are not buying a bag with defects. If it’s too incredibly cheap, maybe there is a defect and you shouldn’t buy it if you want it back in one piece. No offense if you have ever done this but bags from Walmart are not good quality – you always get what you pay for.

After coupons, I usually pay about $65 for 21 inch bags and our sets have never cost more than $130 at Costco.

Ease of Use

You always want a suitcase that is comfortable to handle. We try to pull them around the store with some weight in them and lift them before we buy them (make sure wherever you get them from has a good return policy). In spite of this, you can’t really simulate actual packing there, so be sure to do it when you get home. If we realize the bag isn’t good, we take it back.

We have found that four wheel spinner bags work the best for us because they are easier to walk with especially if you have a toddler in a stroller. Anthony insists that the suitcases roll smoothly enough so that he can easily push two suitcases placed back to back with one hand while pushing little J in the stroller with his other hand…yes we’re THAT detailed.

If you do a lot of traveling to places like Europe where you will pull your bag over cobblestone streets, a 2 wheeled bag will be better since the wheels are more durable. Using a four wheel spinner on these types of roads will cause your front two wheels to wear out faster and will cause the bag to push unevenly over time.

Luggage

Our $120 Hardshell Spinner set from Costco fit 12 days of clothes for 3 people for 3 climates

Color

Get a dark gray or black bag. This may seem counterintuitive as they are slightly harder to spot at the baggage carousel, but we started to pay attention after bell boys in multiple countries always carefully set our black suitcase on the luggage rack in the room and then unceremoniously deposited the blue suitcase in the closet. The black bag (perhaps considered more professional?) was ALWAYS treated better. The blue bag, was tossed around, jammed into trunks, thrown and otherwise mistreated in various ways by the baggage handlers, bell boys, and transit drivers.

My mother has a bright green suitcase and we asked her to compare how her bag fared in comparison to my dad’s black bag and my aunt’s black bag as they recently flew overseas together. The black bags arrived in pristine condition, while the green bag was dented and never given the same care as the other bags. Now these are just our observations after traveling with a blue and a black bag for five years (they finally wore out and we have since upgraded) but they seem to hold true, especially since when we switched to two dark bags (grey and black this time) which have not been abused like the blue one was.

You can always get a brighter colored luggage tag or lock to make your suitcase easier to spot on the luggage carousel.

Size

On nearly every trip, we use a 21 inch suitcase since we can bring it on board the aircraft. If our trip is less than a week and to a place with the same climate, we will just bring 2 separate 21 inch bags. We take a bigger 25 inch case (in place of a second 21 inch case) when we have to pack for multiples climates or for trips over a week. Anything bigger than 25 inches will likely case you to pack too much and be over 50 pounds. So stick to smaller/medium sized bags and avoid the overweight charges.

Once you’ve bought your bag, remember to pack light!