Brett and I haven’t owned a big suitcase since our trip to China to adopt YaYu in 2005, but we will both need to check bags for next year’s Big Mystery Adventure™ – it’s going to be more than a “carry-on only” sort of trip. We will also need to check bags when we begin our three-month Japan stays in 2019. We bought Meiling a giant suitcase as one of her high school graduation presents (from Costco), and big and medium rolling duffels for WenYu for college, but otherwise we are in the dark about what we each want and need.
So, lately we have been reading articles about what to look for when buying a bag that will be checked, and the features we each want in a suitcase.
- Laura: I am leaning toward a soft-side bag, and would consider a big rolling duffel, just because of the amount you can get into them. They are usually lighter than a hard-side suitcase, although modern materials are changing that up. Still, a bag that’s heavy before you start packing is going to be too heavy by the time you finish. But, a hard-sided case saved me from disaster back in 1999, on the adoption trip to get WenYu. One of our Samsonite suitcases fell out of the back of our taxi on the way from the Hong Kong airport to our hotel, and a bus ran over it! Everything inside survived though, which is why I’m willing to consider a hard-sided bag, although it’s not my first choice.
- Brett: My design perspective on the ideal bag requires a perfectly plumb, seamless interior, for maximum packing/storage space, and a durable, impact resistant exterior with no sharp edges or corners. But….. what to do about all that wasted space between the rectangular interior and smoothed cubic exterior, without adding weight? Steamer trunk or duffel/the lady or the tiger? I haven’t shopped yet, but instinct tells me I’m also going to settle on soft-side luggage.
- Laura: The things I know I do want, even in a soft-sided bag, are spinner wheels (because they make moving the suitcase around easier on my back, shoulder and arms), loads of inside space, and a bright color, so it’s easy to find at baggage claim. Durability will be key though – if I go with soft side I’m going to be looking for fabric that’s waterproof, stainproof and tearproof. I also want a metal zipper and TSA-approved locks. One big downside to a hard-side bag, for me anyway, is that I might have to get additional bags to carry small items, or wet items, etc. because soft-side bags typically have additional pouches built into them that can be used for these types of items. My Hong Kong suitcase experience showed me a soft-side bag is not as safe for any breakable items – if that bag had been a soft-side most everything inside would have been toast.
- Brett: Chiefly because I won’t be looking at my checked luggage at length, I have no aesthetic preferences. Just about any finish or color will be perfect so long as it has a grip or handle that doesn’t cause pain. My only other concern is the noise generated by locomotion: less than 70db, no audible screams, no “What’s that noise; where is it coming from” reactions among nearby travelers.
- Laura: My suitcase is also going to have to be something I can maneuver on my own along with a carry-on. While Brett will be there to help, he’ll have his own bags to wrangle. I will also be checking airline regulations for size and weight restrictions before I make my decision. Sixty-two inches (length+width+height) is a pretty standard limit for most airlines, but it may be too large for some. We could pay extra for oversize luggage, but I’d prefer it if we didn’t have to.
- Brett: Yes, “Utility Man” will be on the job, BUT as Laura says, I’ll have my own luggage to shuffle along as well. On our last trip, last-minute shopping became so intense that I had to ask, “Who’s going to carry all that home?” My principal complaint about rolling duffels is they are almost too accommodating; that is, nearly infinitely expandable so that it’s easy to stuff them beyond one’s ability to move them, and secondarily, the corresponding lack of protection for fragile and/or heavy articles.
- Laura: What bags am I leaning to? The TravelPro Maxlite 4 Spinner bag has shown up on several sites as one of the best brands for checked luggage, and the price is reasonable. The bag (either the 25″ or the 29″) has all the features I’m looking for, and gets great reviews, although many say the 29″ is very big, maybe too big. While TravelPro is a different brand than my carry-on (Samsonite), it would coordinate well enough without being matchy-matchy. I could live with it. I also like several of the rolling duffels from REI, and Eagle Creek duffels get good reviews but I’m not all that excited by them. For a hard-side bag I’ve been looking at the Delsey Helium Aero. It’s affordable, made from lightweight polycarbonate, and also comes in a variety of bright colors.
- Brett: Extremely undecided after looking at REI, their best deal dujour being the 34-inch Granite Gear Reticu-lite rolling which offers 170L capacity, but with dimensions at 66.5 inches it busts the 62-inch girth limitation. (If memory serves well it is not prudent to carry luggage that is both oversized and overweight.) Meanwhile, Amazon is featuring a terrific expandable hardside, 29-inch Delsey Helium Aero Expandable Spinner Trolley, which I like because it has a padded laptop sleeve with two web pouches for accessories in the top compartment (although I would never check my laptop). Unexpanded, the Delsey measures only 61 inches total girth (add 2-1/2 inches fully expanded), and it’s available in a variety of colors that I wouldn’t be shy to be seen around.
So, no decisions yet. This is something we will be working on over the next few months, although I read somewhere that a great time and place to look for reduced luggage prices is Cyber Monday, on Amazon. We can do that.