These days, there are a lot of baggage options to choose from. Even if you've bought luggage in the past, your needs may have changed. Also, luggage is always evolving to meet the demands of modern travelers. Whether it’s been a few years since you’ve shopped for luggage or this is your first time, check out these helpful guidelines:
1. Bigger isn’t always better.
A large suitcase is great for extended trips and hauling bulky gear, but is probably overkill for a weekend jaunt. Less is usually more, especially when you’re traveling long distances with one or more connections. If you rarely travel more than a few days at a time, smaller luggage is almost always better. When combined with a personal bag, smaller carry-on luggage is perfect for weekend trips and short business trips.
2. Consider the climate of your destination.
If you’re traveling to Hawaii in July, you won’t need loads of space to carry your shorts and beach shirts, so a smaller suitcase should be sufficient. Alternately, if you're headed for an extended ski weekend in Vail, you'll probably need more capacity to transport heavier clothing and outerwear.
3. You get what you pay for.
Cheaper bags may be adequate for infrequent travelers, but if you travel more than a few times a year, it’s worth investing in quality. Otherwise you may find yourself buying a new piece of luggage sooner than you'd like; or worse, your bargain suitcase could experience a catastrophic failure midway through baggage claim.
4. Choose “flying colors” for checked bags.
Black luggage looks good, but there will likely be a couple dozen other black suitcases on your next flight. Bright colors and patterns make your bags easier to spot on the carousel. If you have a black or brown bag, consider putting a brightly colored strap around it so you can locate it quickly.
5. Variety is good for jetsetters.
If you travel reasonably often and for different lengths of time, you should probably own a variety of luggage sizes. It always helps to have several options when you're ready to start packing for that next trip. This is why typical luggage sets include a carry-on bag, mid-sized suitcase and large suitcase.
When shopping for luggage, there are several features that are definitely worth noting. Although some of these can add to the cost, most of them are well worth it.
- Telescoping handles and rolling wheels for easy mobility through busy terminals
- Quick-release compression straps to keep heavy, bulky loads secure
- Grab handles for slinging bags in and out of storage compartments
- Separate internal compartments for shoes or dirty laundry
- Reinforced bottom panels for added durability
- Waterproof fabric or materials to protect luggage in rainy or snowy conditions
- Expandable carrying capacity, in case you need extra room on the return trip (souvenirs anyone?)
It’s a good idea to double-check with your airline regarding baggage size and weight guidelines before traveling, since these guidelines can change. As of autumn 2015, the most commonly accepted carry-on bag size for most major US airlines is 45 linear inches. In other words, when you add length, width and height, it should be equal to or less than 45”. The most common size limit for checked bags is 62 linear inches. Be aware that international carriers may have different guidelines. Luggage size limitations can also vary depending on the size of the plane you’ll be flying on. Ultimately, if airline personnel believe your bag doesn’t fall within carry-on size limits, they will require you to check it. The chart below provides specific baggage size and weight guidelines for several major US airlines.
Size Limits for Carry-Ons and Checked Bags
Airline Carry-On Bage Size Limit Checked Bag Size Limit Checked Bag Weight Limit Alaska 24x17x10” (60x43x25cm) 62” (157cm) linear 50lb. (23kg) American 22x14x9” (56x35x22cm) 62” (157cm) linear 50lb. (23kg) Delta 22x14x9” (56x35x22cm) 62” (157cm) linear 50lb. (23kg) Frontier 24x16x10” (60x40x25cm) 62” (157cm) linear 50lb. (23kg) Jet Blue 22x14x9” (56x35x22cm) 62” (157cm) linear 50lb. (23kg) Southwest 24x16x10” (60x40x25cm) 62” (157cm) linear 50lb. (23kg) Spirit 22x18x10” (56x46x25cm) 62” (157cm) linear 40lb. (18kg) United 22x14x9” (56x35x22cm) 62” (157cm) linear 50lb. (23kg) Virgin America 24x16x10” (60x40x25cm) 62” (157cm) linear 50lb. (23kg)
PROHIBITED ITEMS AND CUSTOMS
If you plan to bring anything aboard a US carrier, be aware that the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) prohibits specific items, including knives, sharp objects, firearms, ammo, hazardous materials, certain sporting goods, large tools and other items. Many of these can still be transported, as long as they’re stored in a checked bag. Visit the TSA website for a full list of prohibited items.
When traveling internationally, the list of restricted and prohibited items will depend on the country or countries you’ll be visiting. Do a little research in advance, and you should be able to avoid any potential problems with customs or airport security. When you travel outside the country, there are also some things that must be declared at customs upon your return. For more info on US customs policies, check out the US Customs and Border Protection website.
Although the faithful duffel bag may not be ideal for all applications, this reliable workhorse is still handy for hauling a wide assortment of items. Larger duffel bags are great for hauling sports equipment, hunting gear and bulky clothing. Smaller duffels make excellent gym bags. Unlike luggage designed for airline travel, duffels don’t have hard sides, which can be an advantage in certain situations. For example, if you’re planning to bring back a lot of additional stuff on your return trip, just fold up a duffel bag and stash it inside your suitcase.
ROLLING LUGGAGE AND SPINNER LUGGAGE
When you need to get across a busy terminal or hike out to a distant parking lot, rolling luggage is a lifesaver. Designed with a telescoping handle and two wheels at the base, rolling luggage is much easier to transport than a duffel bag. Most rolling suitcases also have a reinforced bottom and sides, which helps protect your personal effects as they pass through the baggage handling system. Unlike standard rolling suitcases, spinner luggage includes four rotating wheels called castors. This design allows spinner luggage to be towed behind in a diagonal position or pushed in an upright position. These bags can be rotated and maneuvered more easily in tight spaces, which makes navigating busy airport restrooms and shuttles easier. Although spinner luggage is more stable when standing upright on a flat surface, be sure not to leave your spinner suitcase unattended on a slope, as it could potentially roll away. Check out spinner luggage from brands like Bric’s and Travelpro, and experience the difference for yourself on your next trip.
When it comes to airline travel, many people consider carry-on luggage to be indispensable. Virtually all US airlines allow one carry-on bag plus one personal item per traveler. Examples of personal carry-on items are purses, handbags, tote bags, laptop cases and messenger bags.
It’s hard to go wrong with the trusty backpack, and some people actually prefer using a backpack instead of a carry-on bag. Most mid-sized daypacks are suitably sized for airline travel. If you have a larger model, just check that the dimensions fall within your airline’s regulations. Looking for the best of both worlds? Some travel backpacks include two rolling wheels, a telescoping handle and shoulder straps that tuck inside a zip compartment when not in use. Learn more about backpack sizes and fit on our Backpack Guide.
MESSENGER BAGS AND LAPTOP BAGS
For people who appreciate a more urban look, the messenger bag makes a nice alternative to a travel backpack. Most include a padded, adjustable shoulder strap, multiple organization features and space for books, documents and other smaller carry-on items. Messenger bags from brands like Timbuk2 and Eagle Creek come in a wide array of sizes, styles and colors. Since most will fit underneath an airline seat, many people use their messenger bag as a personal carry-on item. Add a laptop sleeve to a messenger bag and you get a laptop bag. Equipped with a padded, rectangular compartment, a laptop bag is designed to keep your PC shielded from light impacts during transit. If things get bumpy, most have a strap or zipper to keep your computer securely in place. Of course, laptop bags aren’t only available in messenger style. If you need to carry more gear, you can always choose a backpack with a built-in laptop sleeve.
TOTE BAGS AND BEACH BAGS
When you’re on vacation, tote bags and reusable shopping bags can be very handy. Just stash one or two inside your luggage, and you can use them once you arrive at your destination. If you plan to soak up some sun and relax on the beach, a handy, lightweight beach bag is a must-have accessory for transporting towels, sunscreen, snacks and other essentials.
Offering a water-resistant lining and designed to keep your bathroom essentials and cosmetics organized, the toiletry bag is a staple for avid travelers. Toiletry bags vary in size, depending on how much you need to carry. Although some people have no qualms about transporting their toothpaste and shampoo in a large zip-lock bag, a dedicated ditty bag is a nice upgrade, especially for anyone who travels frequently.
Many consider leather to be the "first-class" choice in the baggage world. Although leather luggage is pricier, the additional durability and aesthetics are worth the investment if you have room in your budget. It’s important to be aware that genuine leather bags require semi-regular care to keep them looking great. You should always clean and treat your leather luggage with an appropriate leather cleaner and conditioner. For more info, check out our Leather Guide.
Known for its high strength-to-weight ratio, nylon is a very durable material. Most of the nylon used to craft luggage and backpacks is thicker and more rugged than nylon used to make clothing. Ballistic nylon is one of the thickest and strongest varieties, and is often used to make the straps and reinforcements on bags. Ripstop nylon is lighter and less durable compared to ballistic nylon, but still offers very good tear resistance. A denier rating, such as "1000-denier nylon," refers to fiber thickness; the higher the denier, the thicker and more durable the material.
Hardside luggage, also called hard case luggage, is crafted of a stiff, molded and durable material, usually aluminum, polypropylene, ABS or polycarbonate. The primary advantage to hardside luggage is increased durability and protection. If you travel frequently for your job, hardside luggage will usually hold up longer than other luggage. However, this comes with a slight tradeoff, since hardside luggage usually doesn’t have any exterior pockets and is not expandable.
Along with leather, cotton canvas was a common material used to create luggage and duffel bags in the past. However, because they provide a similar level of durability with less weight, synthetic materials like nylon have largely replaced canvas in the modern baggage market. Despite this, there are still a handful of brands offering vintage-style canvas luggage and bags, including Will Leather Goods and Field and Stream.
Choosing the right clothing for a trip can have a big impact on your overall comfort level. In this section, we’ll cover some basic essentials to keep you feeling good, from departure to arrival.
TRAVEL SHIRTS, SHORTS AND PANTS
When you’re shopping for shirts and pants to wear during your travels, there are several features worth considering:
- Wrinkle Resistance: Fabrics with built-in wrinkle resistance help you look sharp, even if you’ve been crammed into a plane for a seven-hour flight.
- Stain-Repellency: Fabrics with a stain-repelling finish like Teflon® are a good choice for traveling. If you spill anything on yourself mid-transit, you can simply duck into a bathroom and wipe it off with a wet paper towel. Stain-resistant apparel is also water-repellent, which is ideal for wet weather.
- Keep It Light: Shirts and pants made of lightweight, breathable fabrics like nylon take up less space in your luggage, dry quickly and prevent overheating. If it gets chilly, you can always add a layer, but you can only remove so much clothing before you get into trouble.
- Adaptability: Convertible pants with zip-off legs give you the versatility to quickly switch between pants and shorts if the weather or temperature suddenly changes.
- Storage Capacity: Shorts, pants and shirts with plenty of pockets are great for storing extra items you may need when traveling.
- Shade: Believe it or not, if you spend enough time in direct sunlight, you can actually get sunburned through certain types of clothing. Apparel with built-in sun protection (UPF protection) is ideal if you plan on spending a lot of time outdoors in bright conditions.
TRAVEL VESTS AND JACKETS
Stylish and functional travel vests and jackets are usually non-bulky and offer multiple pockets to store extra items. Choose outerwear with a roomy fit that won’t leave you feeling restricted if you step into a cab, crowded bus or other transport. If you don’t plan on encountering any extreme weather, a water-repellent travel jacket or vest should be fine. If there’s a chance of rain or snow, you should probably choose a waterproof jacket. Planning a winter trip? Check out our How to Dress for Winter Guide.
TRAVEL CLOTHING TIPS
From an unexpected rain shower to an early spring snow storm, you should be prepared for any weather eventuality. Create a layering strategy in advance so you can quickly adapt to changing conditions. Ultimately, comfort and functionality are the two biggest factors when it comes to choosing travel clothing. However, style doesn’t have to take a back seat, either. Whether you need a lightweight travel shirt, fleece vest or convertible pants, take a look at our great selection of travel clothing from brands like ExOfficio, Royal Robbins and Columbia Sportswear.
When it comes to travel accessories, it’s hard to go overboard. From noise-cancelling headphones to neck pillows, the right accessories can really make a difference when you’re flying the friendly skies, hopping a train or seeing the sights from a charter bus. Below are a few examples of travel accessories that can help you get the most out of your trip.
- Travel wallets are specially designed to carry extras like a passport, travel documents, tickets and more. Some travel wallets are also designed to be worn on the body underneath clothing, which is ideal if you plan to travel in an unfamiliar urban area that may be home to prowling pick pockets.
- Toiletry bags, also called travel kits or ditty bags, are ideal for transporting personal hygiene items and cosmetics. If the lid pops off your mini shampoo bottle mid-flight, a ditty bag will keep the mess from spilling over into the rest of your stuff.
- Headphones, tablets, books and travel games help pass the time on long flights or layovers.
- Eye masks, neck pillows and ear plugs help you sleep more comfortably on long flights and train rides.
- Sunglasses are always a must-have item for any trip. Check out our sunglasses guide for more information.
- Water bottles help you stay hydrated and save money.
- Destination planning information like travel books, CD-ROMs and maps will help you get a head start on forecasting your next adventure. There are also a lot of great travel websites offering a wealth of information and reviews for tourists. TripAdvisor is a good example. Don’t be afraid to spend some time researching your destination. You never know what amazing sights and locations you’ll be able to explore.
Preparing for an upcoming trip? There are many different things you can do to minimize hassle, save time and avoid potential pitfalls. Ready to talk travel tips? Let’s get started.
GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS
- Apply for a passport at least 2-3 months before any vacation outside the country, or check to make sure your passport hasn’t expired. Children’s passports expire more quickly than adult passports.
- Check online or call your airline the night before you leave to verify that your flight time hasn’t changed. Delays are fairly common, but some airlines may even push flights up.
- Plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours before your flight’s boarding time (not departure time) in case of long security lines, heavy traffic and other delays.
- Leave even more time during the holidays. The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for airports in the United States. Christmas, New Years, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Spring Break will also cause airport congestion, so plan accordingly.
- Consider scanning your driver’s license and/or passport, then emailing the scans to yourself. In the unlikely event that your wallet or purse gets lost or stolen, you may still be able to board a return flight with a scanned copy of your picture ID. Airport security may not accept this, but at least you’ll have the option to try.
- If you’re traveling outside the country or to an unfamiliar urban area, consider getting a more secure travel wallet to protect your money, credit cards and travel documents. Many of these wallets can be worn on the body and concealed, rather than worn in a pocket.
- If you’re checking a bag, keep a change of underwear, a shirt, essential toiletries and medications in your carry-on bag, just in case your checked luggage doesn't arrive with you.
- Put anything that might leak in a zip-lock bag or liquid-resistant toiletry bag.
- Save money by bringing your own snacks and a water bottle. Just be sure to empty your bottle before going through security. You can always refill it once you get to the terminal.
- Check the TSA restricted items list. Many items that can’t be taken into the cabin can still be checked, including firearms, ammo, knives, sports equipment, etc. Just be sure to alert airport staff when you plan to check these items. Some items can be carried but can’t be checked, including e-cigs and lighters. Other items are completely prohibited. View the full list here.
- Policies for prohibited and restricted items may be different when traveling outside the US, so do your research.
- If you’re going to catch a connecting flight, pay close attention to the amount of time you’ll have to make it to the next gate. Try to avoid scheduling connecting flights with less than 45 minutes in between your arrival time and your connecting flight departure. If your first flight is delayed, there’s a good chance your connection will still be leaving on time.
- Even if you’re flying to Costa Rica in the middle of summer, bring a sweatshirt or a small blanket on the plane. Some airlines keep the cabin temp pretty cool.
- For longer flights, a neck support cushion, eye mask and ear plugs can make the difference between getting a refreshing nap and being too uncomfortable to sleep.
- Do you have special dietary needs? If you’re planning a long flight that involves a meal, be aware that not all airlines can accommodate you. Although many have vegetarian options, not all offer vegan or gluten-free options, so plan accordingly. Some airlines may be able to accommodate you if you call ahead.
TIPS FOR TRAVELING WITH KIDS
- If you’ve never traveled with a young child or children before, give yourself even more time than you think you’ll need. Kids add a whole new level of potential delays.
- Flying with a baby on your lap? Some airlines require an immunization record or birth certificate to prove that your child is young enough to fly without a ticket.
- Baby formula, breast milk and juice are exempt from liquid volume restrictions by the TSA, as long as they’re stored in a bottle or the original container. Just inform a TSA officer if you’re carrying any of these items in excess of 3.4 ounces.
- Bring small blankets for the kids. Airplane cabins are often kept cool, and kids get chilly easier than adults.
- Be prepared for potential airport delays with plenty of small games, toys and snacks.
- Prepare for the worst case scenario. Print and laminate a card with your contact information and phone numbers, including contact info for a family member or close friend. Place this card somewhere on your child’s person so it can be found in case they get lost or something happens to you. For older children, discuss a plan of action in case you ever become separated, even if that plan is to simply find an airport employee. Explain to your child how to identify airport personnel.