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What is the best suitcase for you? (photo by Bigstock.com)

If you’ve traveled very often, you already know that your suitcase is an important contributor to the enjoyment of your trip. Choosing the suitcase that best meets your needs is a very personal decision and you’ll find yourself considering luggage and basing your decision on many different factors. As you conduct your search for the perfect travel accessory, here are five key factors to keep in mind.

1. Function

The first thing you will want to ask about your luggage is what you want your luggage to do for you. This will let you know narrow your selection considerably from the beginning. Questions you should ask yourself include:

  • Are you carrying clothes, equipment, or a combination of clothes and equipment?
  • Does it need to be waterproof or water resistant?
  • Will you need to get items such as computers or cameras in and out of it quickly?
  • Do you need pockets for organization?

Once you’ve narrowed down the choices to a particular function, the next thing to consider is size and weight.

2. Size and Weight

Size matters. As does weight. It is often difficult to consider one without the other. Consider

  • How will you be carrying it?
  • Will you want to carry-on the bag onto an airplane?
  • Will you check (or gate check) it?
  • Will you need to carry it up stairs?
  • How much will you be carrying in it?

For me, weight is the bigger issue. We fly frequently, often for weeks long active (swimming, hiking, biking, etc.) trips that require 2-3 outfits a day along with multiple shoes and specialized gear. Staying below the 50 lb airline limit can be difficult when you start with a suitcase that is 10+ pounds. No matter how pretty or fabulous a pretty bag is, a heavy bag will end up costing you every time you use it and/or having you leave something you really want behind.

At the same time, lighter isn’t always better. For instance, I once looked into a large roller suitcase and narrowed it down to two options. A 33 inch and a 30 inch. Somehow the larger suitcase was noticeably lighter than the smaller one. However, the majority of users commented that once loaded the suitcase and its contents exceeded airline limits. I knew I’d be using the bag primarily for airline travel, so I opted for the slightly smaller bag because I knew I would fill whatever space I had and that I’d constantly be paying the heavy bag up-charge.

A good rule of thumb if you want to travel as lightly as possible is to get the smallest bag you can fit your items into. Too big of a bag will leave you with things rolling around, not good if you have breakable souvenirs that you’re trying to bring home. And with a larger bag, you’ll be tempted to throw that one thing you might use in simply because there is room. Trust me, you’ll fill whatever space you have.

3. Maneuverability

Duane carrying his suitcase up stairs in Venice on the way to the train station. (photo by Louellen Coker)

This is one of the bigger criteria when I choose a suitcase because I use multiple modes of transportation (planes, trains, boats, ferries, subways, busses, cars, bike taxis, and carts) and have had to move my suitcases through masses of people in airports, busy city streets, cobbled walkways, and even dirt paths. Up, down, and sometimes around stairs. The easier, the better.

While a single-handled suitcase is retro and extremely cool, they are a beating to carry. They’re heavy and unwieldy. At a minimum, go for a wheeled suitcase. Two wheels are better than none, but you can’t beat a nice 4-wheeler, provided it has spinner (rather than inline) wheels. If you opt for something that does not have wheels, make sure it has strap(s) so you can sling it over your shoulder or wear it as a backpack. Or that you have a luggage handler that will be moving your baggage for you.

After you determine maneuverability, you’ll want to think about…

4. Durability

The last thing you want is your suitcase to fail in the middle of your trip, so it is a good idea to consider the suitcase’s durability. Regarding the durability of the suitcase, ask

  • Do the handles go up and down smoothly?
  • Will the material rip, tear, ding, or crack easily?
  • Are the zippers (and zipper pulls) sturdy?
  • Do the wheels roll smoothly?
  • Does the interior seem as though it will hold up?
  • Do the handles look sturdy?
  • Can you unzip the liner to clean it or to get to the handle and wheels easily?

These questions will narrow your choices down a bit more and allow you to move on to my last consideration.

5. Cost

Cost is important. Should you go with the cheaper or the more expensive option? That, indeed, is the million dollar question. The answer? It depends. We’ve had some inexpensive ones that were fabulous and are still going strong and some very expensive ones that lasted one trip.

Obviously your budget is going to be the driving factor. It’s usually best to determine the price-point for your starting point and go from there. With that being said, don’t be afraid to look above your price point as you might stumble upon a deal somewhere.

A visit to a local store will allow you to get a hands-on look at several different options and a real person to talk with, often providing different things to consider. Online shopping, while not hands-on, will give you the broadest selection and possibly even a lower price.

If you’re not in a hurry to get your luggage, then be sure to ask the seller (online or brick and mortar) if there will be a sale soon. Often the sales or customer support person will be happy to tell you about an upcoming sale. And if you’ve found a cheaper price for the bag you love online but want to buy locally (or vice-versa), it never hurts to ask the local retailer if they would match the online price. They may match the price or provide some other perk.

Bonus: Peer Review and Color

By the time you’ve gone through the five criteria we’ve already discussed, you’ll likely still have a few to choose from. At this point, it’s time to turn to your friends or product reviews to see if they have any advice or mention anything you might have overlooked or not even considered. This is how I learned that the large ultra-light suitcase I told you about earlier was impossible to keep under weight. Ask around.

Color, though trivial, can be important. If there is any distinguishing quality about your bags, you’ll be able to pick them out of a line up easily. From a safety perspective, it won’t blend in with all the other bags and is less likely to be picked up accidentally by another traveler or on purpose by a thief. Additionally, if you’re meeting up with someone you’ve not met yet, you can always use the description of your bag to allow whoever is meeting you to spot you in the crowd and speed up the finding each other process.

Hopefully you will find these five considerations helpful the next time you choose a your luggage. Stay tuned for future blog posts as I tell you about different luggage we’ve purchased and used.

Did I leave anything out? Let me know what else should be on my consideration list in the comments.