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Travel Packing Luggage ~ What Suitcase to Take

Wheeled suitcase, duffle bag, back pack, day pack, laptop tips

Travel Packing Luggage -- Wheeled suitcase, duffle bag, back pack, laptop: Airlines can severely limit carryon bag size or require all luggage be checked. Many airlines charge extra for more than bag. And Baggage allowances change all the time, at most airlines. So choose your travel luggage carefully, and pack wisely. If you are just over the baggage allowance limit, take something out of your checked bag and put it on!


TIP If you must take extra bag(s) on your trip, and you have an economy ticket (lowest baggage allowance), check the cost of a Business Class ticket (generous baggage allowance): Depending on the excess baggage charges, it may be cheaper and more comfy to upgrade your ticket.


Travel Light One Small Bag When I first started travelling, I packed a huge suitcase and a few small ones. Then, when I had to go 'cold turkey' in packing light (see what-to-pack for my tale of woe), my new soft-sided wheeled suitcase measured just 11x21x16 inches, and easily fit into the airplane's overhead bin. And I have never gone back. Though these days, my suitcase is a bit larger than this first tiny one, and I usually check it in, it's so much easier to get around without a lot of baggage. See this suitcase in action Borneo Sandakan Malaysia and How to Pack Suitcase.

Hard-sided or soft-sided, a smaller suitcase is still better, and wheels are good!

Soft-sided suitcase or Hard-sided suitcase? I find that softsided bags are more forgiving on interior space -- you can get more stuff into them than you can into hardsided bags. And softsided bags and come with handy exterior zippered pockets. (See my blog post for info). This is a personal preference, though. Try both types if you can before you decide. I've relaxed my 'super-small' suitcase rule to allow a slightly larger (though still softsided and wheeled) suitcase with an extra panel that, unzippered, gives me 2 more inches of cargo space. This extra space has proven handy for storing an unneeded jacket in the tropics, and for carting home souvenirs. Here's some examples I found on Amazon com to show what I mean:

Note: If you want to blend into a crowd, choose dark neutral colors.
Zebra prints or other bold designs will make you stand out.

Luggage Features ~ sturdy, well-made, dark color

Wheeled Suitcase or Back Pack? The debate continues in our household. (My middle child is a confirmed backpacker.) While it's true wheeled suitcases are difficult to manoevre on rough surfaces, most of the time I find they are a godsend and are a handy carrier for my heavy back pack. And when the backpack is stacked on top of the suitcase, they both easily fit into washroom stalls. I did consider a back pack with wheels, but haven't yet tried one. Let me know if you have, and how it worked for you.

What to look for in wheels on a suitcase: Look for sturdy wheels set into the base, and not one with the wheels just screwed on to the bottom or the back. Life on the road can be rough on luggage - lose a wheel and it gets a little tougher. My next suitcase will have 4 sets of wheels that spin in circles. I like the better stability. (See range on Amazon, like this Samsonite model with 360 spin, and good reviews.)

"On a trip to Hong Kong with friend Sheila, we were determined to take along just one super - small suitcase each, and we did.

We were able to stow our bags in the cabin, rather than check them in, knowing we would save a lot of time at the airport.

But Hong Kong is the shopping capital of the world, and we went overboard. Back in the hotel room, packing for home, we were sure we had no room for all our goodies.

I went out to a corner shop and bought two zippered plastic shopping bags and came back to pack all the extra items.

But no need for more bags! Sheila managed to repack BOTH our bags so cleverly that she was able to fit everything into our suitcases. I was, and remain, very impressed! Sheila is my packing light hero!"
Suitcase Handles The suitcase handle should pull up and release with the touch of a button in the hand grip; the handle bars should stay rigid and steady, not twist and swivel. There should be hand grips on the top and side, and one on the bottom.

Zippers on luggage : Zippers should be sturdy and large, and glide smoothly around corners (See my blog post for info). You will be zipping up and zipping open your bag dozens if not hundreds of times, and if the zipper is sticky, your frustration is boundless! And do check that the zipper pulls lie flat and aren't likely to get snagged on other baggage.

Best Color for Luggage (suitcase or Backpack) - For my current suitcase, I chose a dark rust-orange color, thinking it would stand out on baggage carousels. Well, it appears that many travelers must have had the same thought, since more and more travelers now use red or orange luggage.

Looks like New? Not! And, somewhat disappointingly, my new rust-color bag showed dark black grease marks, courtesy of its very first encounter with a baggage handling system. My future bags will be basic black!

TIP Stand Out in a Crowd Here's another travel packing luggage tip to help find your bag in the crowd: Put an unusual sticker(s) on the solid plastic corners or bottom. You can spot your luggage quickly when it comes down the baggage carousel. (Mac computer users, this is a good spot to use those Apple stickers that come with your computer.)

Safety First - Address Labels, etc on Luggage: Put all personal identifying details *inside* your bag where airline staff will look if your bag is damaged or lost; do NOT print them on an outer luggage tag for any casual passerby who might be wondering whose house is vacant for a while. Instead, tuck a business card or address label with the printed side facing down into the outer luggage tag pocket.

What about Duffle Bags for Travel? In my experience, travelling with a dufflebag for luggage is a guy thing. Not sure why. Maybe they just happen to have them around from sports things, or guys are stronger and can carry them, or guys aren't as obsessed with wrinkle issues. What's a duffle bag? See pics > Duffle Bags. And Bonus! Duffle bags can be used for non-travel purposes -- the gym, weekends at the cottage, kids' stuff.

Duffle Pack Packing Tip Get more stuff into a duffle bag: When you think the duffle bag is as stuffed as much as it can be, close the zippers and try this:

Lift up one of the small ends of the bag, and give it several shakes to shift the contents to the opposite end and set it down. Grab one of the long sides of the duffle bag and shake the contents down to the opposite side. Set the bag down again, unzip it and check: You will have shifted the contents enough to allow for a lot more packing. Impresses the heck out of guys, too!

Back Pack Does Double Duty: In Transit or Day Trips

See backpacks too, on Amazon - BackPacks for Travel and check for the ones with user reviews.

  • When in transit (bus, plane, van etc), my backpack holds my camera bag and my toiletries bag, along with snacks and water (bought after you clear airport security), meds, bathing suit, rain poncho in a pouch, inflatable neck pillow, travel guidebook, notepad, pens, sunglasses, glasses -- and it goes where I go. If my checked luggage goes astray, I have enough to keep me going till it catches up to me. (All liquids, gels, etc must be in 100 ml containers and enclosed in a clear plastic (ziploc) bag for airport security -- See travel packing - medications).
  • When I am touring around I use the back pack as my day pack to carry what I need. As with your luggage, choose a good quality bag designed for travel, not school books.

No Laptop or Camera Equipment? If you don't have to transport a laptop or camera equipment and film, a smaller day pack may be all you need. Use it as your carryon for snacks and items you'd like on the flight, and anything you'd miss should your checked luggage go AWOL. (With ever-changing airline allowable carry-on items, just go with the flow, and modify as needed).

Travel with Laptop to USA Be aware that US Customs can inspect and seize laptops; that 'reasonable suspicion' is not required at borders as of news reports April, 2008. You may want to limit any proprietary information on laptops or leave it at home.

Lost Luggage? Not a problem if you carryon important items. On a 5-day trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, USA, my luggage didn't show up at my room until late in the evening on Day 4! I coped without any luggage at all by hand washing undies etc each night, but I was okay, really! Know what is in your bag, and don't pack prescription meds or other essentials in your checked luggage.



More travel tips

Travel Tips main page

Travel Documents tips passports, etc
Travel Insurance Tips

Travel currency tips travel money

What To Pack to pack light
Travel Supplies

General Travel Packing tips

Travel Packing -- Medications

Travel Packing -- Safety, Comfort