After 18 months of full-time travel with both checked and carry on bags, our ideas about packing and which luggage is best for travel might surprise you!
We’ve been to more than 30 countries in the past two years, and have dragged our belongings along in a variety of ways. Some of the initial choices we made, to be brutally honest, were just awful. We were so dumb! But, we’ve hit some winners after numerous false starts, a couple of dreadful fails and a lot of trial and error. Which luggage is best for travel and how can travelers maximize packing space? We’ve decided to share recommended examples which we hope might help you in your own decision-making. And, if this inspires you to shop – even if it’s just for more information, click on any of our affiliate links below to be taken directly to Amazon.
Scrap the Spinner Bag
Who hasn’t schlepped heavy stuff in an interminably long slog to the farthest gate, only to encounter a blithe spirit effortlessly gliding a swift and stylish spinner bag along? We hated those people! We had spinner envy! So, when Pete’s first suitcase got ratty enough, we ditched it in Istanbul and bought a bright red, expander bag with spinning trolley wheels off a no-name shopkeeper. We were going to OWN the baggage claim area with this bag. And yes, sure enough, we could definitely spot it coming off every carousel! But our win was short-lived: what also came off within a couple of flights was one of the wheels! Plus, who leaves room in their luggage? You’re going to fill that bad boy up, aren’t you? Do this, and you’ll have not a spinner, but a toppler. You’ll still be a schlepper. The only bright and stylish spinner you might want to consider would be a hard case which will balance, but they weigh a lot more. And, you’ve still got the trolley wheel problem. Trust us, you don’t want a spinner bag for the long haul, no matter how awesome it looks.
Start with the Right Roller Bag
For our money – and we’ve spent a sufficient amount on the wrong luggage to be right about this – a roller with in-line wheels is the way to go. This type of wheel is recessed, which protects and makes it a challenge to damage. Pete bought a large expandable bag with these kind of wheels to replace the ill-fated Istanbul spinner when we got to Bangkok, and it performed so well we went back and each got a carry-on size.
These bags by Delsey boast all the must-have details: one-hand locking handle and protected recessed wheels glide smoothly, roomy expansion when unzipped adds 2 inches to each bag, exterior pockets keep items you need handy.
1. Helium Hyperlite Expandable 2-Wheel‘s lightweight fiberglass frame keeps its weight to 7 pounds. Sized right for most domestic U.S. airlines at 20.5 x 9 x 14 inches before expansion. Sturdy enough to check if you choose. Available in taupe or black. Pretty basic on the inside, but we’ll get to what to do about that later in this post.
2. Helium Quantum Black Trolley is larger at 22 x 10 x 14.5 inches, weighs 9.8 pounds and is available in black only. This is a manageable size to check without being a monster. This baby has a tote along clip with adjustable strap allowing additional bags to be carried.
So Pete’s all set with his burly roller bags. The large rolling duffle bag I started with is still going strong. This has been a winner for a couple of reasons:
- It’s divided into two separate areas with a full horizontal zipper. This means I can access frequently used items without disturbing other contents. So dressier or alternate climate clothing goes below and stays packed until needed.
- Its soft sides and pockets are versatile spaces for items of varying size. I often use one for small amounts of laundry, and another for an extra pair of flip flops or a sarong, which can double as a wrap or a travel blanket.
This rugged, yet stylish duffle from Pathfinder is very similar to the one that I’ve been using going into a second year. It’s got the inline wheels, telescoping handle with an ergonomic grip, and a bit more infrastructure in the top compartment than mine. Web hauling straps and an additional handle are very helpful when you need an assist boarding your train or hoisting into an overhead shelf. Pathfinder makes this in different sizes depending upon your needs.
But there’s another part of our overall experience that relates to the question of which luggage is best for travel. Up until the point of purchasing the wheeled carry on like the one above, I’d been using an attractive Vera Bradley print weekender bag, along with a matching laptop attache for my technology. Vera Bradley’s nearly weightless, washable fabric is perfect for carryon because it’s pliable – easily stuffed into an overhead bin or under the seat.
The drawback to my Vera Bradley bag system was having to carry them through airport and customs security lines. Carts aren’t always available or allowed in these areas. So I reluctantly accepted the change to a plain roller. If I had the chance to start completely over, though, I’d look at Vera Bradley again. Old favorites like my Weekender have been redesigned into newer versions of themselves with convenient infrastructure: multiple pockets and built-in trolley sleeves. There is even a new double-compartment wheeled carry on which is similar to the duffel style above.
1. Vera Bradley Grand Traveler Tote has a little more structure but still pliable. It is a roomy 21 x 14-1/2 x 9-1/2 with removable strap and trolley sleeve, two slip pockets in back and one large pocket under the front magnetic flap on the outside. Inside there are four large slip pockets. This bag would work for technology if you use a padded laptop sleeve.
2. Vera Bradley Lighten Up Wheeled Carry On is 21 x 14 x 9-3/4 in water resistant poly fabric. Inside the front zip-around pocket there are a zip and two mesh pockets. The lower compartment is separate from the top compartment, which has compression straps.
3. Vera Bradley Weekender is newly designed with a trolley sleeve and removable strap. This bag comes in at 18-1/2 x 12-1/2 x 8, easily fits underneath an airplane seat. Five inner pockets for smaller items, fully zippered front compartment and two back slip pockets.
Compare our recommendations with Amazon’s:
Pick Packing Cubes for an Organizational Win
No matter your decision on which luggage is best for travel, organizing your stuff inside can be an ongoing challenge. In packing clothing, there are generally two camps: folders and rollers. We’re both rollers, as we’ve tested the two methods and it’s clear you save more space when you roll clothing. As well, you get fewer wrinkles. But that said, we diverge a bit because I am a huge fan of packing cubes. Pete, not so much (if I could only get him to try them I think he’d be hooked, but I digress).
The advantage to packing cubes is not having to handle each item. Instead, you’re handling clusters of items when you unpack. If you don’t unpack, then you’re not digging through everything in your suitcase to find the one item you want. So like items go into their cube. I’m using two separate sets: a set of 3 and a set of 3 slim size. If you’re new to packing cubes, you might want to consider the set of 5. Even if you don’t use them all on your trip, you can find an organizational use for them at home.
1. 5 piece Packing Cube Set from NDX Global. Two each of large and medium, and one small. Double toggle zip with mesh inserts for easy viewing. Strong nylon fabric and foldable handle. 2. 3 piece Weekender Packing Cube Set. Small, medium and large cubes. Small is good for scarves and socks. I use the medium for swimsuits, sarongs and coverups. Large holds bulkier items like jeans, dresses and jackets. 3. 3 piece Slim Packing Cube Set. Versatile size for undies, tank tops or tees. Tuck into unused suitcase space, or stack vertically. Here are additional recommendations from Amazon:
Best Jewelry and Cosmetic Organizers
Finally, I have to share the winning combination for organizing jewelry and cosmetics. These three items have carried me through thick and thin. One of the things I didn’t want was to feel deprived of favorite pieces of costume jewelry, which does so much to liven up a minimalist wardrobe. Likewise, we all have our favorite cosmetics and toiletries. Keeping things organized is reassuring and saves time. 1. PurseN Tiara Square Jewelry Case with interior pouches. This little soft box is like an origami puzzle. Multiple clear zip pouches separate your jewelry into easy to see groups, and fold in on one another, squared up in an zip expandable case. Comes in 16 colors. Pops into odd space, and holds a lot! 2. Travel Smart Jewelry Case. This is another great find. At first, I thought it might be too small, but there are bracelet holders, earring display, and interior pouches. You’ll be surprised at what fits in this little quilted, zipper bag. Easily tucks into a purse or briefcase. 3. Vera Bradley Hanging Organizer. One of the first things I do in a new hotel room is hang this organizer in the bathroom. When it’s open I can see everything at a glance. Compartments are lined with waterproofing. The bottom zip pocket is gusseted and holds a lot. The top pocket has slip sections for organizing within. Ties closed with carry handles. This is such a great organizer that we’ve given it to all three of our girls – it makes a great gift! And the recommendations keep coming from Amazon:
We hope you find this discussion of packing and which luggage is best for travel has been helpful. It’s going in our new Travel Shop section here at PassingThru. We’ll be adding to it in the coming weeks, too. As always, your reactions and suggestions help us to refine what we include, so let us know what you think in the comments!