Which Luggage is Best for Travel? Tested and Updated Recommendations

After 18 months more than three years 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!

Which luggage is best for travel and how can travelers maximize packing space? We’ve been to more than 30 40 countries in the past two three 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 at combining products for the best travel luggage set of suitcases and carry on bags. We’ve had a couple of dreadful fails and so much of trial and error.

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.

Which luggage is best for travel

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First: Scrap the Spinner Bag

Trolley wheels! No, no, NO!

Trolley wheels! No, no, NO!

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, think hard about using a spinner bag for the long haul, no matter how awesome it looks.

q? encoding=UTF8&ASIN=B075QNTVFV&Format= SL250 &ID=AsinImage&MarketPlace=US&ServiceVersion=20070822&WS=1&tag=luggage2017update chester 20&language=en USir?t=personalitembag chester 20&language=en US&l=li3&o=1&a=B075QNTVFVNote: If you’re still on the hunt for the best carry-on luggage that is  sleek, hard-sided, and engineered for lightweight strength and durability, get The Minima spinner from Chester.
This bag is cabin-approved, aerospace grade polycarbonate in a beautiful selection of colors, with an interior organization system that will keep your belongings shipshape. Chester offers a 30-day no-hassle return policy, and a 10-year warranty on this bag.
PassingThru readers get a 10% discount and free two-day shipping on the Chester website, use code PT10. Click here for more information and pricing on this lightweight carry on luggage.
This bag is also available on Amazon in all colors. If you’d rather purchase from Amazon, click here.

Next: Recognize the Right Kind of 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. The following bags by Delsey boast all the must-have details: one-hand locking handle and protected recessed wheels glide smoothly, roomy expansion when unzipped adds more depth to the bag, exterior pockets keep items you need handy.

These two items are the same fabulous bag, just in different sizes. Love the purple, don’t you?

If you’re a light traveler, and many of our peers who prefer not to hassle with baggage claim are, you’ll want to check out this two piece carry-on set from Delsey. This is probably the best travel luggage set I’ve seen according to the parameters we’ve set. The smaller underseat bag has a handy trolley sleeve for stacking on top of the larger roller.

So Pete’s all set with his burly roller bags, and since this post was originally written, now so am I. (See my full review of the Delsey Montsouris I’m currently using here). The large rolling duffle bag I started with at the beginning of this journey is still going strong, just with another owner who was pleased to get it as a hand-me-down. This duffle is a winner for a couple of reasons:

  • It’s divided into two separate areas with a full horizontal zipper. This means I could access frequently used items without disturbing other contents. So dressier or alternate climate clothing went below and stayed packed until needed.
  • Its soft sides and pockets were versatile spaces for items of varying size. I often used 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.

pathfinderThis 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 wait! Don’t Overlook Vera Bradley Luggage

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 ones above, I’d been using an attractive Vera Bradley print weekender bag, along with a matching laptop attache for my technology. Vera Bradley travel bags are nearly weightless and the washable fabric is perfect for carryon because it’s pliable – easily stuffed into an overhead bin or under the seat.

The new Weekender is redesigned with a trolley sleeve.

The new Weekender is redesigned with a trolley sleeve.

The drawback to my Vera Bradley travel 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 creating a Vera Bradley luggage set 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. And who doesn’t love a complementary Vera Bradley travel tote?

vera bradley
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. If you don’t mind shouldering what could be a heavy bag when it’s packed full, this Vera Bradley carry on luggage option would definitely suit for many different kinds of trips.

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. Vera Bradley wheeled luggage is relatively new on the scene, and initially only came in black. Who wants that out of Vera Bradley? But, happy to see in the last couple of seasons, they’ve expanded the patterns available.

3. Vera Bradley Weekender is now improved 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.

Pick Packing Cubes for an Organizational Win

Packing Cubes 3 pc setNo 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 6. Even if you don’t use them all on your trip, you can find an organizational use for them at home.

packing cubes

1. 6-piece Packing Cube Set from NDX Global. Two each of large and medium, one small and a shoe bag. 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.

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. Jewelry and Cosmetics 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 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 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!

For more great ideas, check out the Travel Essentials section in PassingThru’s Amazon Store.

We hope you find this discussion of packing options 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!

Pinnable Images:
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Tips for Trip Success

Book Your Flight
Find an inexpensive flight by using Kayak, a favorite of ours because it regularly returns less expensive flight options from a variety of airlines.

Book Your Hotel or Special Accommodation
We are big fans of Booking.com. We like their review system and photos. If we want to see more reviews and additional booking options, we go to Expedia.

You Need Travel Insurance!
Good travel insurance means having total peace of mind. Travel insurance protects you when your medical insurance often will not and better than what you get from your credit card. It will provide comprehensive coverage should you need medical treatment or return to the United States, compensation for trip interruption, baggage loss, and other situations.Find the Perfect Insurance Plan for Your Tripimage 9133145 14418597

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Tuesday 23rd of February 2016

Hi, Love my spinner bags they are by Samantha Brown, I have traveled locally and oversea and have not had any problem...also a fan of the packing cubes so i'm not digging through my bag for clothes.


Sunday 14th of February 2016

Hmm.... interesting post. I'm totally in love with my spinner bags and have travelled extensively with them. The only problem I've had with my Samsonite luggage was my recent trip to Indonesia, even though my bag is equipped with TSA locks the airport staff ripped the zippers open for inspection purposes. At least they didn't put any drugs in there which apparently is a big worry in the area!

I have an injured shoulder so I find that a two wheel bag tends to niggle at my injury.

Betsy Wuebker

Monday 15th of February 2016

Hi Elaina - There are lots of people who love their spinner bags. We wanted to be among them, but when the trolley wheel gets torn off on their third flight rendering the bag unusable, we don't love it so much anymore. It's pretty easy to breach a luggage zipper with a pen - I think there might be a youtube showing how it's done out there. That's a pretty scary proposition. :-/


Monday 18th of January 2016

We too have bought and ditched some bags along the way. I currently use an inline wheel bag (not as nice as yours). I've had it for nine years so it can no longer be used as a carry-on but I actually like putting my main bag in the hold now that the seats are so tight. I use my small backpack for a carry on but if it ever wears out I would like to find a backpack that has a trolley sleeve as I like to be able to have my hands free but would also like to not carry it if possible. I do use packing cubes... one for laundry, one for socks and underwear and I couldn't travel without my hanging organizer. I now leave travel size items in it so that it's ready to go. My favourite story about bags happened in Bangkok. We had been traveling for three months and realized that we were tired of schlepping so much stuff from place to place. We decided that we could and should wear fewer items and that no one would notice as we were in a different place fairly quickly. (My green skirt had been photographed in a lot of different countries). We packed a bag of stuff we thought we wouldn't need including a camera. After taping the box up with a tonne of tape we went to the post office and sent it off. As we walked away we said, "Well, we can kiss that stuff goodbye, it will never make it home." and started to laugh. It did make it home. It took two months but it was there waiting for us when we finally got back. We didn't miss anything in that box. Lesson learned. In fact, it was a lesson I've applied to my life back home. I own way less clothes now than I used to! Only once did a student ask my why I usually wore black and green and how long had I had my jacket and he was interested in the answer.

Betsy Wuebker

Monday 18th of January 2016

Hi Nina - Isn't it amazing the lengths we'll go to keep stuff we wind up never missing? I'm guilty of the same thing: we sent winter clothes home to Minnesota a couple years ago. I find myself looking at photos and wondering if we ever make it back there, did I keep that sweater? hahaha Your story about the green skirt reminds me of my green dress. A couple of posts back, we did a summary of a year's worth of travel and I'm wearing the same green dress in each photo. :D

Irene S. Levine

Sunday 17th of January 2016

Great information! Do the recessed wheels take up interior space? I've fallen in love with my hard-sided luggage because it's weatherproof and light.

Betsy Wuebker

Monday 18th of January 2016

Hi Irene - I don't really think the wheels inhibit interior space that much. The packing cubes just sort of mold around the small indentations the wheels make. And yes, I like the look of hardsided luggage, too, but the only thing I seem to see is the spinner wheels with them and those are a deal breaker for me. :)