Finding the Right Suitcase

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.

Both Brett and I like the Delsey Helium Aero suitcases, and they’re highly recommended if you’re wanting a hardside bag.

  • 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.

    The Travelpro Maxlite 4 line: It’s the brand that many in the travel industry use and recommend.

  • 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.

    The Granite Gear Reticu-lite line

  • 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.

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16 thoughts on “Finding the Right Suitcase

  1. Vivian Gibson says:

    My luggage is over 40 years old. Bright pink Samsonite. Don’t know if it would even match today’s size guidelines but would hate to switch to something else. I have never had a problem locating my luggage on the carousel.

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  2. Laura says:

    My first luggage was bright kelly green – my mom saved Blue Chip stamps (they were like Green Stamps in California) to get me the entire Samsonite set, which included a train case. When WenYu chose her luggage she chose the same kelly green, which tickled me. It was also easy to find, as I imagine bright pink was. I am leaning toward purple this time – it will be easy to pick out on the carousel. I remember buying new hardside luggage when we adopted Meiling – it was highly recommended, and all we had was soft-side (and I mean REALLY soft side). But boy did that luggage weigh a ton, even before you put anything in it.

    After one was run over and destroyed, I bought a giant soft side bag in Hong Kong. It stood up and had shelves! We used to call it “the condo.”

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  3. Janette says:

    I have the 25 inch Travelpro and LOVE it . My older 29″ Travelpro, with a bit more then a million miles on it :), can hold its own with a hardsided case if I had to go big, heavy or take fragile. Not sure that even my old hard case could have been run over by a bus. I think you were lucky. All of my bags have very large ribbons on them for ID. Haven’t lost one yet! Although there was that time in Egypt….
    I recently purchased a eBag TLS Mother Lode Weekender for my carry on. I took one trip with it to Phoenix in the winter and it did great (going from down coat to shorts). I love the compartments that can be used or stored. Since my packing history is Navy, this bag was a natural for week trips.
    I don’t ever foresee using a 29″ or duffel again. Are you going to be camping? That is the only way I could see taking so large 😉 I guess we have to wait and see!

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    • Laura says:

      Thank you so much for your Travelpro recommendation – it pretty much matches everything I’ve read about the line. They all come in a lovely purple color too, which I love. The big decision would be 25″ or 29″? Most reviews said the 29″ had too much space. So, maybe the 25″ it will be, but I’m still thinking it over. No decisions until later in the year – we want to get this right!

      Ah, navy packing! It’s where I picked up many of my skills, and Brett is a master packer from what he learned (and did) in the navy.

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  4. tpol1 says:

    I have an ultra light hard sided suitcase with spinning wheels. It is a Turkish brand not one of the international brands. I am hoping to find one just like that so that I can take them both to my trip to the US. I will use a backpack and two hard sided suitcases. The one I have can hold up to the maximum allowed weight limit so, it is perfect. It is black with saddle brown trim but I tie bright ribbons so, it stands out.

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    • Laura says:

      Like Brett said, it’s hard to decide between soft and hard side this time, for a variety of reasons. I hope you have good luck finding a matching bag – the black with the brown trim sounds quite elegant!

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  5. JJ says:

    I bought my luggage at Costco (Ricardo brand) a couple of years ago. It’s a matching set with a large hard side and a smaller carry-on. I’ve taken them to Japan, Hawaii (twice) and other local, non flying trips and haven’t had any issues. I’d go with a hard side because the luggage handlers at the airports are rough with luggage and back when I used to use soft side luggage, things inside would get crushed/destroyed.

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    • Laura says:

      This is why we are seriously considering hard-side luggage this time, or at least one piece of it. I may go with soft-side, and Brett may get a hard-side bag.

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  6. Vicky says:

    I would do everything I could to avoid buying that larger suitcase as I’ve found there is no situation where I really need that bigger case. I did a 10 week trip to Asia in summer followed by a month in Europe in winter and managed to cope with just a 20 inch carryon. We did a 3 week trip to Iceland and Stockholm last winter and managed to stay within that carryon. My motto is to be smart about what I’m taking and be willing to pay for laundry as needed. My luggage for that trip weighed in just under 11 kg. I think for us ladies it’s easy enough to fall into the trap of too many toiletries and too many shoes. I try and be realistic about what I take and if it is going to be worn on multiple occasions. I’ve found it more stressful to take bigger luggage, it encourages one to take too much stuff and buy too many knick knacks to bring home. It’s a pain if you are doing train travel to find luggage space. I find keeping to my soft sided carryon I am a much more nimble traveller and I’m not dependent on others to lift my bag for me.

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    • Laura says:

      I have been a carry-on only traveler for as long as I can remember, but we’ve mapped it out and this next trip is going to require larger suitcases. We are also planning to do three months/year in Japan beginning in 2019, and that will require a large suitcase as well because we will be spanning seasons, and cannot buy clothes in Japan, or at least they will be nearly impossible to find in our size and cost way more than we want to spend. We may be able to do one large suitcase between us for that trip, but we will not be traveling around Japan on those visits, but living in a small rental in Tokyo while we’re there.

      Otherwise I completely agree with you!

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  7. Marji Peterson says:

    Laura,

    I have enjoyed your blog for several years. Now I (and my husband) will be visiting Kauai in May, and wonder if you ever meet up with your readers. We would love to take you and your husband out for a meal somewhere, and just visit. I am originally from Kauai, but left for college, and now have lived in the Seattle area for over 40 years. I appreciate so much how you write so positively about areas of Kauai, and how you have settled in so well into the local culture.

    If a visit is possible, please send me an email and I will send contact information. I realize that I may be overstepping the boundaries of propriety since I do not know the proper way to approach a blogger. Please forgive me if this is not right.

    Marji Peterson

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    • Laura says:

      I LOVE to meet my readers, and Brett and I would love to get together with you and your husband next month. I will email you in the next couple of days with contact information! So exciting!

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  8. Vicky says:

    I think to span season the key is to have a foldable jacket i.e. parka that can simply be layered over clothes from warmer seasons. I have a friend who makes a point of taking all her old underwear, jeans etc and sheds them as she goes. My next trip to London, on my return leg I have to bring back a Le Creuset pot in my carry on which seemed like a good purchase at the time I got a friend to buy it on my behalf. So I am going to be packing light on the outwards leg.

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    • Laura says:

      I have a very packable jacket/parka right now, but while it’s light, clean and warm it’s still very casual, as are all my current travel clothes. When we’re in Japan for three months, living there, I would like to look less like a tourist and have the option to dress a little nicer, like the Japanese do. So, I’d like a bigger suitcase to carry a bit more variety than what I usually travel with. Same for next year’s adventure.

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  9. Laurel says:

    Interesting luggage discussion! My husband convinced me to carry on for 10 days in France a few years back, and while I felt it was impossible, we did it. After that, I only check bags on my way home, and only when I’ve added too many souvenirs or downloaded my briefcase (when I was still working).

    I had many pieces of Briggs & Riley, but switched to a Travel-Pro carry on when I started traveling constantly for work. We both have the ubiquitous black version, but DH is a sailor and added large colorful “Port” and “Starboard” stickers to the sides of his, so he has no trouble identifying it. Ha! We also have two Patagonia “MLC” bags and that’s what we carried to France. They’re soft sides with backpack straps that can be concealed or used.

    I’ll be interested in what you both decide on, as we haven’t researched luggage in a while and I’m sure ours is all out of date weight wise, except possibly the Travel-Pro bags.

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    • Laura says:

      We did our past 11 day trip in Japan with carry-on only, but it was tight, especially with taking gifts over to Japan and bringing stuff back (all those KitKats!). So, that’s why after some discussion we decided to bump up to checked bags, and as I’ve said we’ll need them for our long stays in Japan starting in 2019. At this point I’m sort of hoping we split between hard-side and soft side – I’d get a Travelpro bag, and Brett would get a hard-side. But we have a while to decide.

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