When you're planning a trip, you're probably thinking about what clothes to bring, what time to get to the airport and what you'll do at your destination. But travel enough and you'll be thinking about your luggage too — all different types of luggage and how each one can impact your trip. It may be worth considering the types of luggage and which best fits your needs to make your trip a smooth ride.
What types of luggage are there?
Depending on where you're going, what you're doing and how you're travelling, there are different luggage options for different trips. You might want to travel lighter with a backpack or duffel bag, or maybe you want something big and secure like a trunk. If comfort is more your style (and who doesn't want that when traveling?), a midsize option like a traditional suitcase might work best. When choosing luggage, it's also important to consider whether you're willing to pay luggage fees if you're flying.
Backpacks and duffle bags
Backpacks are no-nonsense travel accessories, offering both a hands-free and light way to travel. They come in many different sizes, with or without frames, and some come with wheels. If you're going to choose a backpack, it's important to ask yourself, “What size luggage do I need?” — because you'll only be able to pack a limited number of items. Backpacks are a particularly good choice if you're going to be camping, hiking or traveling somewhere outdoors since they allow you to navigate rugged terrain more easily than you would carrying other luggage options.
Duffels also come in different sizes and are usually small enough to fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane if you're flying to your destination. They're soft-sided and flexible with plenty of open space inside. You can choose a more traditional gym-style duffel if you're driving on a weekend trip and just plan to throw your luggage in your trunk, or you can purchase a travel duffel. A travel duffel often has a retractable handle and wheels or backpack straps so you don't have to lug a heavy bag on one shoulder through the airport.
When you're choosing luggage for travel, a trunk might not be the first thing to come to mind. For many, it evokes images of heavy, old-timey wooden trunks from an age long gone. However, modern trunks have evolved for current times but still include aspects of old-school trunks like top-notch security and lots of space.
Trunks today are much lighter than they once were, taking advantage of new materials that weigh significantly less but still provide protection from damage. Many modern trunks also include longer retractable handles to make it easier to move the luggage. Trunks are best used for extended trips where you'll be shipping or checking your luggage, as they're too large for flying in the overhead compartment.
Softsided and hardsided suitcases
When someone thinks of the word “travel,” oftentimes a suitcase is part of that picture. Softside and hardside suitcases are two of the most popular types of luggage and are good for all occasions. If you need airplane luggage, softside and hardside suitcases come in a variety of sizes for either checking or carry-on. In fact, most suitcase manufacturers specifically design their smaller luggage to meet airplane carry-on size regulations.
Due to their soft exterior, softside suitcases are better for carry-on luggage, as the flexibility of the fabric makes it easier to squeeze the luggage into the overhead compartment. Additionally, these types of suitcases often have recessed wheels, which tend to save space. They may also be a bit lighter than the hardside suitcases. However, the fabric tends to be less durable, so be sure to choose luggage with waterproof fabric.
Much like trunks, hardside suitcases are not as heavy as they once were thanks to new material options. Their hard outer shell makes them particularly good for checking at an airport, as they can easily withstand being tossed around. Those stiff shells do make it tougher to squeeze them into the overhead compartment, though.
Choosing luggage for your trip: What to look out for
When choosing luggage, you may want to think about the following:
- Physical limitations: If you have a sore shoulder, then a backpack (without wheels) might not be the best choice.
- Where you're going, and for how long: If you're heading to Florida to escape cold weather for a few months, you're likely going to need a bigger option like a trunk. If you're going on a short business trip, consider a rolling suitcase with a protective laptop sleeve.
- Airplane standards and limitations: If you're traveling within the United States, the carry-on size is generally 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches. This can vary slightly between airlines, so always check ahead of time. However, those carry-ons may not be what type of luggage is best for international travel, as the U.S. has larger overhead compartments, especially compared to European airlines. If you're traveling abroad, check measurements with those airlines as well to make sure the luggage you bring fits.
What's the best color for luggage?
Luggage comes in a variety of colors and designs. When choosing luggage, it's largely a personal decision. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when picking a color. Luggage is dragged along the ground, thrown onto conveyor belts and shoved into trunks. With this comes scuffing, staining and more. A darker color like black or navy blue will hide those marks much better than lighter colors and will help keep your luggage looking nicer for longer.
It might be worth considering, though, that those dark, neutral colors are also the most popular. If your bag looks like everyone else's bag, it can be much harder to spot it at baggage claim or much easier to confuse it with someone else's bag in an overhead compartment. A unique color (or perhaps a distinctive accessory like a ribbon) will allow you to more easily identify your bag.
What other features should I look out for when buying luggage?
Once you've decided on a general type of luggage, you might be overwhelmed with options. Here are a few other features you can consider when picking out luggage:
- Two wheels or four wheels
- USB chargers
- External/internal pockets
- Organizational systems
- TSA-approved locks
- Comfortable handles
- Sturdy zippers
Ultimately, choosing the luggage that's right for you and your trip is up to your personal preferences. With so many types of luggage out there, use this guide to think through each option and decide what will suit your needs the best.