I bought my first suitcase at a mega-discount-retail-o-rama while en route to IAH for my first business trip and filled it with wrinkled laundry from the clothes basket in the back seat of my Jeep. It was a pedestrian 22-inch roll-aboard that began falling apart and tipping over precisely 45 days after purchase.
Be more sophisticated than young me and consider the following before you embark on your journey.
1. You Get What You Pay For
You have probably applied this adage to many buying decisions like vehicles, plumbers, and babysitters. The price tag for quality luggage may suck the wind out of you like a gut punch from a schoolyard bully. It’s worth it; you’re playing the long game here.
Following my learning experience with cheap gear, I have used the same 22-inch TUMI since the fall of 1998. My other go-to valises are produced by: GORUCK, The North Face, Red Oxx Manufacturing, Inc., and ZERO HALLIBURTON.
You need not resolve yourself to a heartburn price point. Check out the store brands at REI and eBags; both offer high-quality products for less. And caveat emptor: One benefit of today’s oversharing online culture is a plethora of product reviews. Read them to get a feel for what you’re buying.
2. Size Matters
Carrying on your luggage is typically the best way to go, as you are in control of its transit to and from your destination. Not only can you switch flights on a whim, carrying your luggage eliminates risks like baggage claim delays, loss, content theft, and weather damage.
Choose a suitcase that adheres to airline size restrictions, which are based on linear inches: the sum of height, width, and depth of each piece. Cabin luggage is typically limited to 45 and 40 linear inches respectively for carry-on and the ever ambiguous “personal item.” Weight limits are ad hoc based on aircraft, but one limit is fixed regardless: If you can’t lift it when it’s full, then you need a smaller bag.
3. Ditch the Wheels
Suitcases on wheels are very popular since transporting them is relatively easy. However, quality wheeled luggage involves metal frames, handles, and hardware, which equates to weight. Your best option pound-for-pound is to choose a traditional suitcase or convertible style.
This style of luggage also tends to have smaller dimensions since there is no hardware to accommodate. They are easy to stow in most plane, train, and ground transport cabins. And while carrying your luggage does require a bit of work, it is easier to manage in the event of a sprint down a train platform or an evacuation that may involve rolling a suitcase through city streets, down stairs, and over obstacles.
4. Don’t Go Soft
If you must opt for wheeled luggage, then choose a rigid-sided valise. Rigid-sided suitcases are less likely to succumb to weather than the more popular cordura and nylon bags. Ask me about the time I watched from the plane as my bag sat for 45 minutes on the loading conveyor while a thunderstorm did its thing. If you insist on staying soft, weatherproof your softie with a spray protectant like Scotchguard to improve your chances of dry contents.