Packing for Travel–Step #2: Luggage

Luggage.  There is SO much luggage out there!  Odds are, your family has a suitcase or two laying around the house.  My parents have a TON of luggage.  Some old, some new, some big, some small, some giant.  This post is going to help lead you through the pros/cons of different types of luggage, from the perspective that you might be looking to buy a new bag for the trip, or at least trying to figure out which of the bags you have access to would be best for you to take.  Of course, you don’t need to buy new luggage to travel.  And you may be stuck with whatever your family has, like it or not.  Still, thinking about how to get your stuff from here to there is important.

Baggage limits for our trip

Students are allowed ONE checked bag and ONE carry-on bag, plus a small personal item.  While each airline makes its own rules, here is the general low-down:

Bag Type Measurements MAX Weight Max
Checked Bag 27” x 21” x 14” is a typical size.  Many will simply say 62 linear inches. Normally 50lbs.
Carry-On Bag (must be able to fit in overhead bin or under seat in front of you) 21.5” x 14” x 9”, give or take a bit here or there. Some will simply say “45 linear inches” which means add length + width + height 15-22lbs or so.  Some have no specific limits, some are as much as 35lb.
Small Personal Item (must be able to fit under seat in front of you) Often about 9” x 10” x 17”.  Again, give or take an inch, if measurements are specified. Usually not specifically stated, but this should be a SMALL item.

A comparison of common US airlines can be found here.  Some international airlines are more generous, some are famous for having very strict policies.

Styles of Luggage – Pro/Con List

There are several types of luggage on the market, each with its own pros/cons.

1. Hard-Side Luggage

PRO:  Items inside are less likely to get crushed or damaged.  Offers somewhat more water resistance, easier to clean.  Four-wheeled ones are easier to maneuver than ones with two wheels.

CON:  Hard bags are heavier.  And the more wheels, the more weight that is added. The shape can’t flex easily.

2. Soft-Side Luggage

PRO:  Lighter. Pockets on the outside allow for access to smaller items & possibly more organization.  Possibly more durable for longer periods of time.  Can compact & stretch a bit.  Same Pro/Con with wheels.

CON:  Not water resistant.  Same pro/con with wheels.

3. Backpack or Duffle Bags

PRO:  Lightest of all.  Flexible soft size to compress/expand. Easy to maneuver over rough terrain (carried as a backpack).

CON: Usually don’t have wheels.

The most important thing about luggage is psychological.

If you start with a large bag, you will often feel free to FILL that large bag. When planning to pack, start with the smallest bag you think MIGHT be okay.  And then only move to a larger bag if and when you absolutely need to.