How to Choose and Buy the Right Luggage

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“How to Choose and Buy the Right Luggage” should be required reading before making any luggage purchase. From duffel bags to garment bags, hard sided cases and soft-sided shells, this article is easy to read and filled with information that can be used immediately.

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Today’s traveler has more options than ever before when it comes to selecting their luggage. Bags can cost anywhere from $30 to $900 or more; and range in size from small carry-ons to steamer trunks. How are you expected to know what kind of bag to buy?

Through this article you’ll learn about the most popular types of luggage; how to protect your luggage; and perhaps most importantly, where to find the best deals when buying your luggage.

First, we’ll start off by identifying the most popular luggage choices you will find.

Duffel Bags
These over-the-shoulder bags are probably the oldest form of luggage.

At it’s most basic, this is simply a bag slung over the shoulder. Of course, over time duffel bags have evolved, and many now have zippered pockets to provide for some organization. This type of bag may be ideal for short trips or for students packing between home and college. However, the soft exterior and lack of structural support are major drawbacks for any serious packing or traveling.

Garment Bags
These are very popular with the business crowd since they provide a way to hang suits and keep them flat.

Most have an array of zippered pockets to help keep personal items organized. Good quality garment bags also have additional latches to keep the bag shut when folded. However, because of their size, these bags very often need to be checked with the airline and are not allowed on the plane. This can be an inconvenience to the frequent traveler. Many people also mistakenly assume that hanging clothes in a garment bag will result in fewer wrinkles when it comes time to unpack. The truth is often just the opposite – tightly folding or rolling clothes is the best way to minimize wrinkles.


Hard-sided Luggage
Hard sides, typically built from hard polypropylene, are probably the best at keeping contents protected. When transporting fragile or breakable items, you can’t beat the safety offered from a hard outer casing and well-packed interior. They are extremely resistant to stains and leaks.

However these containers are generally much heavier than other types of bags – some even weighing more when empty, than comparable soft-sided bags weigh when full. Also, when dropped or thrown, the corners of hard-sided bags can suffer dents or cracks, which can force the purchase of a new set of luggage. Good, strong, large wheels become a necessity if serious consideration is given to hard-sided luggage.

Soft-sided Luggage
These are perhaps the most popular form of luggage today. A soft outer shell built on a sturdy metal or hard-plastic frame delivers most of the conveniences of hard-sided bags without all the extra weight. Some soft-sided luggage bags even have built-in expansion, in the form of a shell that can be zippered open. Durability of the outer fabric comes into play when looking at soft-sided bags. Polyester is less durable, but cheaper. Cordura or ballistic nylon will last longer and stand up to wear and tear far better, but costs a little more. Durability of the outer fabric is usually measured in “Denier”; the higher the denier, the stronger the fabric.

When shopping for luggage, you will see that a number followed by a lower-case “d” usually represents Denier. For polyester, a minimum of 1000 denier is recommended; for ballistic nylon, a minimum of 1,800; and for Cordura, a minimum of 600.

The wheel was invented thousands of years ago; make sure you use it! Most luggage choices support wheels; even some duffel bags. This can be a great benefit when hauling luggage through an airport or on a trip. But not all wheels are created equal. In general, the larger the wheel, the easier it will be to maneuver. Small wheels tend to overheat and break down more rapidly than larger ones. Also, wheels with ball bearings will last much longer than those without.
Look for bags that support a handle on the side as well as on the top. When picking bags up and storing them in cars, trunks, or overhead compartments, sometimes having an extra handle can make life much easier.
And speaking of handles, collapsible handles are a definite advantage.

If your luggage doesn’t have one, be sure to pack some pain relievers! Luggage with cloth or leather pull-straps is inherently difficult to guide and control. Sturdy handles that can extend and retract at the push of a button make pulling that bag so much easier. For added convenience, make sure your handle has the collapsible button on the handle itself, not on the bag.
One of the best, but often overlooked bits of advice, is to only take bags that you can lift by yourself. It does no good to cram everything for your trip into one gigantic suitcase, only to require three men to move it! It’s far better to pack multiple luggage bags that can be individually lifted and moved when needed. Many luggage items come in sets with attachable luggage pieces. This way you can pack multiple bags, but only need to wheel around one of them – the others stack right on top or down the front.

Airlines have become more restrictive in recent years, in terms of carry-on luggage. In addition to a briefcase or purse, most will allow only one piece of luggage, no more than 9” x 16” x 22”. Most soft-sided rolling carry-ons are made to fit these dimensions but it’s still a good idea to check before you purchase. Also, if the bag you’re considering has a collapsible handle, you’ll want to make sure it collapses into the bag, not on the exterior. Many of the exterior-handles on luggage have suffered damage during airline trips, and in fact you’ll often need to sign a waiver of damages for this type of handle.

Black is a very popular color for frequent travelers.

It’s sleek, stylish, and cleans up easily. However, it’s also difficult to recognize your black bag when 20 others spill out of the baggage claim area. For this reason, I recommend getting a bag that’s not black. Red bags can be very stylish, especially with black trim. Dark green bags with leather trim are also handsome. If you have your heart set on black, then I suggest tying a colorful ribbon or luggage strap around the handle of the bag. This will take the guesswork out of finding your luggage.

Another important tip to remember is to label your bags. Very often people overlook the simple task of including their name, address, and/or phone number on the bag; or they forget to update the information when they move. Many bags come with some form of luggage tags. If you’re caught without one, you can always use a paper tag available for free at most airline check-in counters.

Baggage Claim
If you check any bags on an airline flight, be sure to claim your luggage as soon as you can.

Baggage claim theft is real and happens every day in all places around the world. You’ll want to find out where your bags will arrive and stand there until your bags are delivered.
If the worst happens and your bags don’t appear, you’ll want to find the airline service counter and make a claim immediately. Lost baggage claims will most likely not be honored once you leave the airport.

To further protect against lost baggage, keep all your important items with you in a carry-on. This includes items such as medicine, makeup, maybe even a camera; anything that you can’t afford to lose or be without.

Whenever you check a bag, you must consider that you may not see it again for 24 hours.
Another good tip is to put a copy of your contact information and/or trip itinerary inside the checked bags. This way, if something were to happen to the luggage tag on the outside of the case, you can still be tracked down with information from the inside of the case.

Buying Luggage
You can save hundreds of dollars buying good quality luggage online. With so many Internet stores, though, how are you supposed to know where to shop?

They can facilitate your comparison-shopping and make sure you get the best value for your money.

Following these suggestions should help you find the best luggage to fit your needs and give you the ability to buy it at the most affordable price. Good luck to you and happy travels!


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