Have bag, will travel

By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Contributor

In the market for some new luggage? Backpack or roller bag? Hard or soft sided? Packing cubes? Before you purchase, pack, and carry on with those new bags, there’s a lot to consider. Luggage can be a huge investment, and it’s certainly worthy of some serious research before you part with your hard-earned cash (or those holiday gift cards).

Photo by Francesca Tirico.

I must admit that one of my guiltiest pleasures is new luggage every two or three years, so my children are the recipients of many hand-me-downs sets (and, to be truthful, sometimes I have bought for brand or beauty over function and was eager to replace a less-than perfect choice).

The choices are truly overwhelming, and luggage is not a “one-size fits all” purchase. U.S. Consumer Reports offer invaluable advice about luggage purchases, and, after all these years, I have begun to heed their recommendations as well as the expert advice from savvy women travelers on Facebook groups to which I belong. 

First, consideration should be given to what type of baggage suits your travel style.  For those who are strictly carry-on nomads, soft-sided backpacks and roller bags are recommended as they have more give and can flex and squeeze into tight spaces (I have a propensity to try and overpack this type, defeating the purpose).

For checked bags that will keep your contents safer when airlines (and cruise ships) are stacking them, hard-sided are a good choice. Today’s hard-sided bags are extremely light weight and more secure as they can’t be slashed open, though they are harder to access contents, if used as carry-ons (I have a carry-on size with an outer pocket, which is great for storing your computer for onboard use). 

For serious backpackers, an internal frame with a harness and a hip-belt is highly recommended. Osprey brand, with their innovative custom body molding (and lifetime guarantee), seems to be the universal choice. You can see all their backpacks and accessories at: www.osprey.com/us/en.

Once you decide what style of luggage suits you best, do your research. Wear it, wheel it, lift it, swivel it and measure it. Make sure the handles are sturdy and retract easily. Open and close zippers and other closures. Check out the warranties and replacement policies. Some companies offer them on all of their luggage sets, and others only on specific product lines, so read the fine print before you purchase.  If you find a deal you can’t refuse online, try and find the bags at a brick and mortar store so you can try them out.  I learned that lesson when I once bought a smart-looking set of bags and one of them tipped over every time I rounded a corner (another purchase, relegated to the children).

Airline weight and size restrictions vary, so before you make your purchase, review the policy for checked and carry-on luggage for several airlines. If you’re planning an international trip, take those restrictions into consideration before your purchase, as they are usually more restrictive than U.S. rules. Currently, for U.S. carriers the rules are the ones set by the big three —American, Delta and United —at 22 inches high by 14 inches wide by 9 inches deep. 

We’ve come a long way with luggage. Suitcases now easily slide, glide and swivel, and if the airline loses them, you can even track them yourself with a built in GPS. Some smart luggage even has motorized wheels and USB charging ports. If you do choose to purchase smart luggage, make sure you can remove the batteries, as many airlines have placed a ban on luggage with lithium batteries that can’t be removed. 

Besides the baggage, there are game-changing accessories, and a favorite of mine is the “wine diaper.” There are many brands of these padded wine protection bags available on Amazon, and most will hold a liter of liquid. Though I’ve never had a bottle break, the bags are designed to soak up any spillage from the bottle should a disaster occur inflight or during handling. I’ve also used these bags for a variety of other glass-encased treasures, such as mustards from France and olives from Italy. 

I pack all of my clothes in large, sealing gallon-sized plastic bags that I force all the air of before I seal them. They take up a lot less room and keep my clothes clean and organized (and safely separated from my myriad food-souvenir purchases). 

For a comprehensive look at luggage reviews and purchase recommendations, you can review the full US Consumer Reports at: www.consumerreports.org/cro/luggage.

Now, carry on. 

After many years on the supplier side of travel, along with her previous career as a chef and event planner, Marcia is deliriously happy to use her combined passions and expertise to help others fulfill their travel and adventure dreams. Find out more about her business, Capers, at www.CapersTravel.com

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