What is the Best Luggage to Buy?
Are you a woman looking for a new set of luggage or a new travel bag for your next holiday or business trip, but don’t know what is the best luggage to buy? Are you overwhelmed with the choices available for each type of bag? Are you looking for suitcases, carry-ons or travel accessories, like toiletry bags or packing cubes? You probably have an idea of what you want from your travel bags but knowing which type or brand will fit your needs can be confusing.
The Complete Guide to the Best Travel Bags for Women!
This guide will help you figure out how to choose the best luggage and accessories, what features to look for in luggage pieces, and will review the very best bags available in each category. We’ll do the grunt work and pick stylish bags that are practical, durable and best value for money, so that you don’t have to!
But first, let’s go over the types of bags that you may need and what kind of features to look out for in each. Some bags are more like travel accessories that you can pack into suitcases, duffels or carry-ons.
How large and how many bags or pieces of luggage do you need?
These depend on two things – whether you’re flying, taking the train, or driving, and how much you want to carry with you.
If you’re driving, you can take any number of bags with you, and they can be huge as long as you can fit all of them in the car! Trains and airlines have baggage restrictions, either as weight limits or as number of pieces, or both, and they vary from one provider to the next. Before you buy, you should check with current policies of domestic and international airlines and train services you’ll be travelling with.
If you’re like me, you like to be prepared for unforeseen events, so make a checklist of everything you’ll need to pack and then decide how many and what sizes of bags you’ll need. However, keep in mind that for air travel, in particular, it’s better to travel as light as possible. Plus, if the trip is short, there’s really no need take a lot of things with you and you may even manage with just a carry-on and no checked bags.
If you need more than one piece of luggage, you may be able to spend less if you buy a set instead of individual pieces. Use individual pieces for shorter trips.
Are you looking for more than just basic black?
In my opinion, the best travel bags for women are not black! Women have so many better alternatives than the boring cookie-cutter bags that men carry. There are pretty colors and cool prints for just about any type of bag or suitcase!
The advantage of going with the a colorful bag is that not only will it make you look good, but also that you’ll be able to spot your unique bag easily if it’s lost or on a baggage carousel.
No wheels, 2 wheels or 4 wheels?
If you don’t mind carrying a load, then getting a bag without wheels is a good option. They cost less, are lighter to carry and are perfect for places with no handicap access. If you’re going somewhere for just a day or weekend, most overnight bags, like duffels or totes without wheels are perfect.
However, if you can’t carry heavy bags, then get wheels. It’s not just suitcases that come with this option. These days, you’ll find rolling briefcases, duffel bags and totes too. Be aware that they’re heavier to carry if you come across stairs or uneven ground. They’re also more expensive.
If you’re going with wheeled bags, you have two options – 2 wheels (rolling luggage) or 4 (also called spinner luggage). Not all brands have come out with four-wheeled bags yet. The advantage of having four is that heavy bags can be manoeuvred more easily and they can spin 360° around its axis – great for moving down narrow plane or train aisles or through turnstiles.
While 4 wheels make rolling easier, a spinner is more likely to roll by itself, and the wheels are not recessed but protruding, making them more likely to break if the mounting hardware is not strong, so make sure that the reviews on the wheels are good. Spinners are more difficult to handle on carpet, but carpet can be avoided for the most part. Two wheeled luggage is usually better for dragging along cobbled streets or down stairs.
Also look out for reviews that say a wheeled bag tends to tip over in the upright position. This is more common for spinners where the wheels are too close together. If you usually sling a carry on by its straps around the telescopic handle of the suitcase, its center of gravity may cause both to topple over.
Hardside or Softside
To be perfectly honest, you shouldn’t try to decide between hardside suitcases and softside ones without considering the three factors that listed right after this. If a suitcase is light, durable and has the right kind of compartments to suit your requirements, and is within your budget, then THAT is the piece you should buy. You’ll find plenty of good hard shells and soft shells that fit that profile, so let’s get to those factors right away.
How light should it be?
Any travel bag should be as light as possible. After all, who wants to schlep around a heavy bag every time you go somewhere? Plus, with airline weight restrictions getting tighter, you don’t want the bag taking up most of the weight allowance. Extra baggage fees can be eye-wateringly high these days, so a bag made of an expensive but light and durable material is worth it in the long run.
The question is, are you sacrificing durability or style for lightweight luggage? If you’re fond of leather, think about whether the trade-off in weight is worth it. If you’re a frequent traveller, your bags, particularly checked bags, should be strong enough to handle constant abuse. If you’re talking about suitcases, except for 100% polycarbonate bags, soft shell ones are lighter than hard shells, but today’s top manufacturers make very lightweight hard shells that are best for durability.
Sometimes, the suitcase itself isn’t too heavy, the added features are. With any wheeled bag, there is an added weight that comes with the wheels and retractable handle. Sometimes the frame of the bag is made of heavy materials. For example, an overnight bag that comes with a flat and rigid bottom versus one without will be slightly heavier. A suitcase frame that is made of fibreglass, graphite or aluminium will keep the bag lighter.
So, what is classified as lightweight? If it’s a carry-on, you should be able to lift it into the overhead bin because you won’t always find space under your seat. If necessary, you should be able to carry even checked baggage up a few stairs.
A rule of thumb I use is that a 22” bag should weigh no more than 8lbs, while one up to 26” should weigh less than 10 lbs. For anything larger, check the reviews for individual pieces. These are weights when they’re empty, so you have decent leeway for packing your things. I rarely go above 26” or a very light 29” in height because I am not tall or particularly strong, but there are bigger pieces if you feel like you can handle them.
Here’s an interesting survey conducted this year by Suitcase.com, which shows you just how high most travelers rate baggage fees as a criteria while choosing an airline and a piece of luggage.
Does it have enough pockets and compartment?
For a checked suitcase, this isn’t as important as with a carry-on. Most people already have separate bags or containers for things like toiletries, cosmetics, shoes, etc to pack into a checked in suitcase. Having one large mesh pocket on the inside of the suitcase’s top flap is useful for gadget cords, photocopies of travel documents, or even empty plastic bags.
When it comes to smaller bags like carry-ons or purses, you need to be able to carry lots of small essentials without having to rummage about in one big compartment. Enough open and zippered pockets on the inside and outside of the bag will enable you to keep things organized. If you usually carry a laptop or tablet in your carry-on bag, make sure there’s a special padded compartment for it.
Keep in mind, you will have to sacrifice outer pockets if you pick hardside luggage.
For travel accessories like cosmetic or toiletry bags, make sure there are plastic pockets to contain leaks from liquid containers. In fact some of these bags come with a complete water-resistant or waterproof lining.
Is it Durable?
So, what is the best luggage to buy in terms of durability? If you want a bag that will last a few years, make sure you get one that won’t rip, crack or look dinged up after a few trips. For stylish options in the overnight bags category, you’ll find gorgeous cotton or quilted bags, but be ready to take care of them, as they can get stained or torn more easily. To avoid these problems, you may want to consider polyester-blended nylon or coated canvas that’s best for frequent use.
For suitcases, hard shells are generally more durable, especially if you’re going to check the bag. The best hard shells are made of ABS or polycarbonate, and the latter won’t even show scratches, as the entire shell is of the color that you see. ABS is great too, but it is painted or plated, so you’ll see scratches. Both these materials are very light and durable.
If you want the flexibility of soft shells, then pick Cordura or ballistic nylon, known for its durability and ability to handle everyday wear and tear. You may also consider a polyester-blended nylon.
What other features do you want?
All wheeled suitcases and carry-ons come with retractable or telescopic handles. Make sure they are durable and retract and extend smoothly. The handle should extend to a long enough position to avoid hand strain and having the bag hit the back of your leg. The handle should lock in place in both the extended position and the retracted position so as to minimize damage in transit.
Some bags have the retractable handle system mounted on the outside and not the inside. This is OK as long as it has a protective casing around it, otherwise it will be prone to damage. If you’re unsure, then pick a bag that has the handle system on the inside.
What about the other handles? You should never carry your bag using the telescopic handle. They’re not meant to handle loads. Make sure that there are two carrying handles, one on the side and one on top, and that they are strong. If they’re made of fabric, the seams should be strong.
Non-wheeled bags have gripping handles or shoulder straps or both. Shoulder straps should be wide, padded, and ergonomically shaped to minimize the stress on your shoulder. You may want to consider using a backpack if the bag is heavy and has to be carried a lot.
One of the biggest problem areas I’ve had with my bags is the zipper. Many cheap brands seem to cut corners with the quality of the zipper. On suitcases, the way they work around the corners is often not smooth. In the latter case, zippers that are not set right over the frame are better. In every case, bigger zippers made of strong plastic or metal are stronger.
Rivets, screws, feet and other parts that serve to keep your bags durable and protected make up the hardware of a bag. They help prevent handles from breaking, bottoms getting dirty and just making the bag look good.
What price range are you looking at?
As with most products, you get what you pay for. If you go with the lowest priced bags, they probably won’t last you more than a trip or two. Durability depends heavily on the materials used, and modern innovations with regards to luggage have more or less focused on that aspect. Unless you rarely travel, you should have a budget that allows you to look at medium-priced bags at least.
There are also more expensive models within many brands that target the frequent traveler. In these cases, zippers, handles and wheels are less likely to get damaged, and tears and cracks are rare, even if the bag is used often.
Another thing you should look at before you buy is the guarantee. In general, the more expensive the brand, the better the guarantee. Check to see that the warranty covers the most common problems encountered with luggage, like the zipper, wheels and handles. Certain things can’t be repaired by your local general repair shop, so make sure that the brand repair centers are located near enough to where you live.
Of course, if you happen to get a great deal on a very good bag, the warranty becomes less important. One tip I have for when something breaks or tears while on the road – carry duct tape with you. It has come in handy for me many times!
Now it’s your Turn
What is the best luggage to buy in your opinion? What are your experiences with travel bags? Have you had buyer’s remorse in the past or are you an expert? What features do you look for in the bag?
We’d love to hear from you, so please use the comments box below to reach us.
Photo credits: samsonite-vintage-collection by bbaunach, on Flickr