How to Pick the Perfect Luggage

Decide which suitcase is right for you by weighing factors like size, durability and price.

By Julie Loffredi, ContributorSept. 14, 2015
By Julie Loffredi, ContributorSept. 14, 2015, at 10:30 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

How to Pick the Perfect Luggage

Man holding vintage suitcases, ready to leave home.

Ask yourself a few questions to find the suitcase that's best for your needs.(iStockphoto)

Finding the perfect bag to carry all your belongings from one place to the next can elude even the most seasoned of travelers. Luckily, a crop of modern suitcases and carry-ons offer more maneuverability and storage space than the lofty trunks of the 1940s. But with an array of bags catering to different price points, preferences and travel styles, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the dizzying array of choices. To guide you to the best suitcase for your needs, here's a primer on the latest luggage pieces and simple questions to ask yourself to pare down your options.

Do you want a luggage set?

Traditional luggage sets come in a variety of styles, shapes and sizes. Most luggage sets advertise anywhere from two to six different bags and range from small carry-ons to medium-sized bags to super-sized suitcases. They can be purchased separately or in a set. Once you determine whether you want to invest in a luggage set, you must decide which model best caters to your needs.

Do you prefer hard or soft shell luggage?

Before you invest in hard or soft-cased bags, you should factor in practical matters such as whether you want two or four wheels. Hard shell suitcases are often made with quasi-flexible polycarbonate, and tend to be the most appealing for tech-savvy travelers carrying gadget due to their durability. Another bonus: The outside hard shell is designed to endure the elements. What's more, the material comes in a variety of easy-to-identify colors and patterns.

On the other end of the spectrum, soft shell luggage is typically designed with thick fabric or leather, and these tend to be easier to squeeze into overhead bins. Plus, they sometimes come with additional pockets and zippers, making them an ideal choice for those in search of extra storage.

Do you like to travel light?

When it comes to choosing between soft or hard shell luggage, weight should be a top factor. If you want to eliminate extra checked baggage fees at the airport, it's best to pick a light suitcase that you can easily carry through security and place in overhead bins. Travelers will find many luggage manufacturers advertising lightweight baggage options. Samsonite's MIGHTlight collection, for instance, offers a carry-on bag that weighs less than 6.25 pounds.

How much are you willing to spend?

The amount you pay for your luggage comes down to personal preference. Wayfair, a home goods shopping site, shows the majority of three-piece luggage sets priced between $100 to $200. Meanwhile, luxury and designer luggage pieces come attached to heftier prices, but if you're willing to splurge, can prove to be more resistant, durable and built with accessories designed for strategic packers.

What's your perfect size?

Before you choose which suitcase best fits your needs, keep in mind that each carrier imposes carry-on and checked bag size restrictions and requirements. Though rules vary by airline, most U.S.-based carriers allow travelers to bring checked bags under 62 inches (in length, width and height) and carry-on pieces that do not exceed 45 inches, including handles and wheels.

Do you prefer wheeling or shouldering your bag?

Wheels are one of the most important features to consider: Not only must they be able to withstand rough treatment, they also make maneuvering lofty luggage a cinch.Traditionally, suitcases come with two wheels. However, most hard shelled bags are designed with four wheels, enabling travelers to roll their bag upright to eliminate extra weight.

Have you cross-compared your ideal suitcase with other bags?

There's no one piece of luggage that would fit the needs of every traveler or every trip. With that in mind, it's smart to consider backpacks and duffle bags. These are most practical for long-haul and multi-destination trips. And when it comes to finding the best bag for you, the trick is utilizing trusted sites and resources. Rely on helpful tools, such as comparison charts on The Container Store website, to cross-compare luggage options based on price, weight and additional features, like anti-theft accessories, retractable handles and warranties.

How do you like to organize your bag?

After choosing the best luggage for your travel needs, consider which packing methods and accessories enable you to maximize storage space and efficiency. To easily lighten your load in nine steps, check out these smart packing techniques.

Julie Loffredi, Contributor

Julie Loffredi is an award-winning journalist and correspondent. She writes about travel tips ...  Read more

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.


The 16 Best San Diego Tours

Take advantage of the adventures this coastal city has to offer with a guided trip.

Lyn MettlerJune 24, 2019

12 Top Napa Valley Wineries to Visit

Set your sights on these can't-miss wineries during your next visit to California's wine country.

June 24, 2019

The 6 Best Denver Brewery Tours

Discover the buzz about Denver's craft beer scene with these tours.

Holly JohnsonJune 21, 2019

The 10 Best Charleston Walking Tours

Experience true southern hospitality as you explore Charleston on one of these strolls.

Claire LawtonJune 20, 2019

The 15 Best Charleston Tours

See everything this historic South Carolina city has to offer on one of these guided excursions.

John RodwanJune 19, 2019

The 5 Best Kauai Helicopter Tours

See the Garden Island's far-reaching beauty from the air.

Holly JohnsonJune 14, 2019

The 6 Best Las Vegas Helicopter Tours

Get a thrilling look at the lights and sights of Sin City and its surroundings with one of these tours.

Holly JohnsonJune 13, 2019

20 Road Trip Essentials for Your Vacation

These road trip must-haves can help you save money, travel more comfortably and ensure you stay safe on the open road.

Holly JohnsonJune 13, 2019

13 Top Charlottesville Wineries to Visit

Sip a glass of Virginia's signature viognier as the sun sets over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

June 12, 2019

The 16 Best Seattle Tours

Explore the Emerald City's natural beauty and urban offerings with these guided excursions.

Lyn MettlerJune 12, 2019