How to buy luggage
With the seemingly endless variety of travel luggage on the market, it’s sometimes a daunting task to decide what to buy. Fabric? Clamshell? Size? Wheels? ... And, the senior citizen traveler may have special considerations as well. Here are a few tips for how to buy luggage.
The reason there are so many types of travel luggage is that there are so many types of travel. Are you just grabbing a quick flight to visit the grandkids? If so, the luggage you choose should be modest, lightweight, and perhaps qualify as carry-on luggage. If, on the other hand, you enjoy extended stays such as a cruise ship vacation, or parking yourself at a single resort hotel, then the travel luggage you choose can be more substantial.
Travel luggage, like everything, has evolved immensely over the years. A suitcase is no longer a box with handles that you haul to your destination with the hope that the contents won’t be damaged. Instead, the industry offers technological advances in tear-resistant materials, strategic designs, intelligent compartmentalization, and baggage systems that work together as modules.
I’ve always recommended to spend a few extra bucks and purchase something a little more expensive than your inner frugal voice suggests. “You get what you pay for” has never been truer than with travel luggage. Buying cheap luggage will not only sacrifice the luggage itself, but more importantly, your contents. You’ll be cursing yourself when you’re dealing with a broken handle or wheel, as you struggle through your travel tour.
Hard-Shell vs. Soft-Shell:
Even veteran travel journalists weigh-in differently on this issue, and to date, I have not seen a consensus on whether buying soft or hard case luggage is best. All things being equal, it’s down to a matter of choice. However, here’s a few considerations :
- protects your contents better
- is heavier
- is generally not expandable
- more prone to scuffing, but less prone to structural damage
- more flexible shape accommodates stowing under seats and tight spots
- designs often include outer pockets and compartments
- features often include expandability (unzip section to enlarge storage)
- some designs offer convertibility (change suitcase-style to backpack or shoulder bag)
TIP: Use a Hard-Shell for check-in luggage and Soft-Shell for carry-on.
For the senior traveler, the main consideration is weight, which may add-up from additional features, pockets and hardware. Sacrifice features for weight. The good news is that you don’t have to sacrifice style, as there are many attractive designs of lightweight, streamlined luggage that are not weighed-down with heavy features. With today’s luggage merchandise, you can travel light, efficiently, and in style.
Zippers & Velcro:
Although Velcro is probably the best invention since sliced bread, I would avoid it completely for check-in luggage. It’s just too easy to rip open and spill your contents on some luggage carousel, or worse, in the cargo hold of the aircraft. But for your shoulder bags and other carry-on luggage, Velcro has got to be the best way to go. It seems like we travelers are constantly in & out of our bags, (after all, during our trip our entire world is stored in that bag) and ripping open a strip of Velcro is far less annoying than constantly fumbling with latches and clips. Velcro rules for carry-on luggage.
Zippers have enjoyed technological advances like all travel luggage. It’s not necessary to choose metal zippers, as the synthetic (plastic) zippers are even more reliable, are lighter, and can last just as long as the metal types. A bad zipper can be the bain of the traveler, and a simple “zip!” test will readily demonstrate a good zipper. (I get a disproportionate pleasure from a good zipper; Silly, I know. But I recently received a beautiful Samsonite travel case as a gift, and that baby zips like a precision instrument. )
And, finally, it’s a nice feature if your zipper “pulls” includes a locking device, or at least accept your separate luggage lock. These are not heavy-duty theft prevention devices, but certainly offer some security.
Nobody carries travel luggage anymore. Roll it, with a reliable, built-in set of wheels. But travelers find themselves in other environments aside from smooth-floored airports, so wheels should be large enough (say, 2.5” or 6cm) to accommodate rough surfaces. (You’ll know you’ve made a bad decision when you rattle your puny wheels across some cobblestone road, then finally decide it’s easier just to pick up your suitcase and carry it. Bigger wheels are better).
TIP: Look for designs that have the wheels partly recessed, and attached to the longest side of your luggage.
If your travel luggage has wheels, it needs a pull handle. Forget about those flimsy straps or pull chains – You’ll need a reliable, rigid pull handle for the job.
The pull handle should be telescopic (retractable) and lock sturdily into several positions. When in the fully retracted position during travel, it should be confidently locked down, securely in place. We’ve all seen those cheap suitcases with the deployed handles, snarling up a luggage carousel – nasty.
So, it’s clear that no single travel luggage set is the answer. It depends on whether you’re traveling for pleasure, business, a quickie getaway, an extended cruise, multiple destinations (cabs, porters, etc) or holing-up in a resort hotel for a couple of weeks. Over the years, my best successes have come from putting together a small ensemble of travel luggage. A smart soft-shelled carry-on for a quick trip as well as a multi-functional hard-shell for the full blown vacation. Mix & match is the only key to successful travel luggage choice.
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