I frequently get asked what travel gear I recommend. By far, one of the most common questions is, “What luggage should I get?” Like many things in life, there is no one-size-fits all answer. What is the best luggage for you depends on your travel habits, preferences, and budget.
Here are some things to consider when looking for your next set of luggage.
Go cheap or high-quality?
Believe it or not, there are good reasons to seek out cheap luggage, even if you are a road warrior. Yes, to some extent you are choosing whether to spend more money now or more money later, but more than that, you are making choices about convenience tradeoffs.
Cheap and disposable. I know seasoned travelers who travel with $40 rollaboards. and, though this is not the route I personally choose to go, it’s perfectly reasonable choice. The person toting a $40 rollaboard never has to worry about their luggage being out for repair. If the airline destroys it, they simply buy something new. If the luggage starts to get worn, they buy something new. Generally, if you’re only taking one or two trips a year, this is what I would recommend.
Where to get your cheap luggage: I generally recommend discounters such as TJ Maxx and Marshalls for cheap luggage. You can probably find cheap luggage at places like Kohl’s, Sears, or Walmart as well. The clearance shelves of lower-end department stores are also a good bet. Target price: $40 for a rollaboard.
A sturdy tool. On the other hand, there are people who want to buy luggage that will last them for life. Your well-built luggage is less likely to fall apart on you during a trip. That rollaboard you have been using for the last decade may have a few scuffs and scars, but you will know every inch of that piece of luggage and you will come to know how to optimize every square inch of packing space. Yes, if the airline destroys your luggage, you might be without your luggage for a week or two while it is being repaired, but your luggage becomes a consistent, trusty traveling companion.
Where to get higher-end luggage: Go to a luggage store. In fact, go to a few luggage stores. If you are shopping for luggage that you will use for the next decade, take your time and find a piece that you love. Then wait for a sale. Often, luggage brands will have semi-annual sales where you can pick up quality luggage at a moderate discount.
Don’t go for mid-range luggage. Most mid-range luggage is junk; it is built like the $40 stuff and wears an expensive label. You’re paying for marketing budget. Many years ago, before I started traveling extensively, I bought a $200 TravelPro set because that’s what I saw the flight crews carrying. When my luggage gave up the ghost at the first taste of cobblestone sidewalks, I quickly learned that I had been duped. At the time, TravelPro offered its luggage to flight crews at 90% discounts. I was paying for marketing, not quality. Fortunately, I haven’t made that mistake again.
How to determine quality
Luggage quality varies widely in all categories and price ranges. Paying more doesn’t guarantee quality and I’ve seen $40 pieces of luggage that could handle even the most aggressive airline abuse.
Customer reviews online are largely worthless in determining whether a given piece of luggage is built to any standard of quality. The best way to determine the quality of a piece of luggage is to get out to a store and feel the luggage for yourself. Even if you’ve never shopped for luggage before, there are a few ways you can quickly determine if the luggage is well-built or a cheap piece of junk.
Quality of the zippers. Zippers are the first thing that will break on your luggage. Just remember two things: Big and beefy! I always go for the chunkiest zippers I can find.
Rolling smoothness. Does the luggage roll smoothly? Is there any play in the wheels? Are the wheels big enough to not bounce over tile floors (or get stuck in European cobblestone?)
Balance – Is the luggage going to stand upright when it is empty? When it is fully loaded? Expanded? Zipped up? Trust me, you’ll get tired of a suitcase that requires you to find some place to prop it up pretty quickly.
Telescoping handle – If your luggage has a telescoping handle, does it feel solid? If you twist it, does the luggage move with the handle or does the handle wiggle loosely? Is there a lot of play?
What do I carry?
So you want to know what conclusions I came to for myself after doing the research? Okay. For my main luggage, I carry a Briggs & Riley International Carry-On Expandable Wide-Body Spinner.
The classic, professional look certainly won’t win any fashion contests and it won’t turn heads like genuine Rimowa luggage, but it is a solid piece of luggage that is the right tool for the job. I particularly like the expansion mechanism, which can ratchet down once the suitcase is closed.
For my carryon, I have both a Briggs & Riley Kinzie Street-Convertable Brief and a Kinzie Street Backpack. I take the backpack with me day-to-day as my personal carryon and I use the convertible brief for my work gear. Only one will ever come on a trip with me.
Both of these pieces are built with the quality that Briggs & Riley is known for and are exceptionally well-designed. Pockets for pens? Check. Laptop and iPad sleeve? Check. Accessory pouch for chargers and cords? Yepper pepper! And they both have enough space for a casual overnight trip or a minimalist weekend trip.
There are no doubt people reading this post who will have their own experience and opinions. Do you use well-built cheap luggage? Or do you go Rimowa all the way? What piece of luggage do you love? Comment below or email me to let me know!
Happy luggage shopping!