There are some accessories in life that you just can’t do on the cheap. Shoes and handbags—unless of course you find good quality ones on sale—are two of them. And luggage is another. Frequent travelers, especially, need sturdy, versatile, user-friendly luggage that makes their voyages easier. Here are our tips for which bags you need, and how to shop for the best quality.
1. ROLLING CARRY-ON
If you spend money on just one piece of luggage, it should be this. A soft-sided carry-on bag with wheels is your best friend for a long weekend and, if you’re a light packer (which, let’s face it, you should be), it can even get you through a trip of several days or more. Here’s what to look for in a rolling bag.
Dimensions of no larger than 22” x 14” x 9”, the maximum allowed for airplane overhead bins. If your bag bulges to beyond these dimensions because outside zippered pockets are full, some airlines will let you bring it onboard anyway, while others will make you check it—it’s luck of the draw.
Buy the highest quality material you can afford. The current preferred materials are types of industrial nylon. Cordura is more scratch resistant and ballistic nylon is more tear-resistant but also more expensive. Both are good choices if you will occasionally check this bag, as airport baggage handlers are likely to be harder on your bag than you would be. Look at the denier (or weave-density) of the bag. Measured like thread count in bed sheets, a higher denier general indicates a more durable bag.
Give the bag a workout before buying. Open and close all zippers several times. Look for zippers which are fused to the suitcase fabric, rather than sewn in. Tug at seams. Raise and lower the telescoping handle several time. Does it open and close easily, or does it catch? Does it feel sturdy, or flimsy and flexible? Roll the bag around the store, turn corners, stand it up with the handle extended and see how balanced it feels.
Check the wheels. Look for a bag with four wheels, set into the body of the bag, not attached to the outside of the frame. “Spinner” suitcases, with wheels that can rotate 360°, are the easiest to navigate, particularly since you can pull the luggage at your side, rather than dragging it behind you.
Consider your needs. A lot of extra pockets and compartments in bag may seem handy, but they can also just take up precious space for clothing. For example, if you’re putting all your cosmetics in a transparent bag (for security checks), you don’t need a lot of pockets to stick makeup and toiletries.
Read Related: Family-Friendly Vacation Packing Tips
2. LARGE ROLLING BAG
This is the suitcase you’ll most likely keep stored under the bed most of the year, and take out only for long trips. So while this bag won’t get used very often, it will take a beating each time you travel; it will be heavy, tossed around a lot and buried under piles of smaller bags as it goes to and from the airplane cargo hold. Look for a bag that includes a garment bag and an inside clip for attaching the bag. Buy the highest quality you can afford, and you have a piece of luggage that can last you a decade or more.
3. LARGE SHOULDER BAG
Most airlines now allow travelers to bring onboard a carry-on suitcase and one personal item—usually described as a purse or handbag, computer bag or small backpack. Women travelers are wise to choose a big shoulder bag into which they can stuff overflow from the carry-on bag, gifts, and laptop or tablet. We much prefer this option to taking a laptop bag which can hold little more than a laptop. At security checks, you can even stuff a small purse into this large bag, and still meet the “one personal item” limit. A zippered bag is ideal, and be sure to choose one with two wide shoulder straps, preferably with padding where the strap rests against your shoulder.
For all three of these essential bags, look for waterproof material. Shop department store sales but remember that if a set of luggage seems too inexpensive to be true, than it probably won’t survive more than a few trips. And a busted piece of luggage in the middle of a busy airport is a traveler’s worst nightmare. So if you have to choose between a cheap set and buying one high-quality piece at a time, opt for the latter. Even if you wind up with mismatched luggage, you’ll have reliable bags that you can count on for years.