Travel Gear – Luggage

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.

Your thoughts

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!

How College Retail Can Thrive

Almost everywhere you turn you hear about the demise of retail. Gap, Sears, K-Mart, J.C. Penny, RadioShack, Teavana, Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch… one could fill an entire blog post with just the list of stores that are making major cuts or have gone out of business this year alone. Even Warren Buffett has pulled almost all of his money out of retail. While bricks and mortar retail generally may be in what seems like an inescapable death spiral, there is hope for retailers who are willing to invest in innovation. A unique product mix, becoming a destination, and connecting with customers on their terms will be the keys to stores thriving.

Riches are in niches and service.

Nationwide, stores specializing in vinyl records are thriving; there are three such stores within walking distance of my apartment. All of these stores share two things in common: They offer a unique product that can’t be purchased elsewhere and they have knowledgeable sales people who are truly passionate about the product they are selling.

College stores can replicate this. First, accept that you are not going to be all things to all people and that there are many items in your store where you’re competing with Amazon on price. Eliminate these commodity items, even if it means eliminating some textbooks. If you can’t make a premium margin on it, it should be gone. Focus on items that are unique to your store, or that students need right away.

Knowledge comes from diversity of hiring. Find and hire people who are passionate about the items you sell. Pay more to get that junior year design major to help with art supplies or the computer engineering major to help sell electronics kits. Bring on a parent with kids in college to help with gifts for mom and dad.

Become the destination and don’t be afraid of people using your product for free

There is a reason why I am writing this from a coffee shop near my house. I don’t come here for the food, or for the coffee, though both are excellent. I come here because it is my “hangout” and I end up buying stuff along the way. Certainly I buy MUCH more coffee, but I often pick up other things while here. Gifts for friends coming into town? Those are now usually cookies from this shop.

College campus bookstores are well positioned to capitalize on this, as they generally have access to prime hangout space. Cull non-performing merchandise and spend some of your floor space creating places to meet, enjoy coffee, or work. Encourage students to use your space to meet, work, and play and it will pay dividends.

Barnes and Noble does to great effect. People are welcome to browse, pick out a book, read a chapter, and enjoy a coffee. Sure, there will be people who come in and never make a purchase, but these customers can be dealt with individually. The proof is in the numbers: Barnes and Noble Education’s 2017 revenues were $1.4Bn with 22% gross margins.

Meet your customers where they are.

Younger consumers are native users of technology. The average college freshman was six years old when Facebook launched and got his first smartphone before he was 11 years old. Marketers immediately assume that the solution is bombarding their customers with Google AdWords, Facebook, and Instagram. But invading a person’s social media risks turning consumers off.

For a college freshman, their smartphone is a window to their world and human connections. Rather than cramming advertisements into social networks, use the tools to provide a superior customer experience. First, forget about text message and social media marketing and use the platform to provide as much service as possible. In the college store space, this can mean rental return reminders, book buyback offers based on purchase history, or helpful tips for freshmen on campus. Second, lower the barriers to being reached and respond to your customer’s text messages with a real human. They don’t want to text “Hours” to figure out when you are open, but they do want to ask you “I need 17×22 drafting paper for my design class. Do you have it?” Your approach to messaging could turn these inquiries into additional sales.

Retail is not dead… far from it, but innovation in retail will be the key to retail thriving. Stores that curate a unique product selection, hire passionate and knowledgeable staff, create an experience that draws customers, and foster human connections with their customers will win. For those who don’t bother, well, there’s always Amazon.


Aaron Hurd is the Founder and CEO of Flamingo, a retail technology startup that helps retail partners enable customer interactions
that are helpful, meaningful, and natural.