Your first issue to consider is bag construction and materials:
Soft-sided and Semi Soft-sided: The lightest in weight, soft-sided and semi soft-sided pieces use stiffeners or partial frames to give them shape. These are the most expandable but are also the most susceptible to crushing.
Hard-sided: Hard-sided luggage is usually constructed of some type of molded material such as ABS plastic. Or they feature a box and framed construction and are then covered with vinyl or fabric. They tend to be a little heavier but are wonderful for keeping more fragile items secure and protected.
Nylon and Polyester: These are commonly used materials. Look for a tight and dense weave. They are highly tear-resistant and can be treated with water and stain repellants. One of their best features is the fact that they're so lightweight - sometimes up to 30% lighter than hard-sided. Look for the term "denier" when shopping around. Denier is the number of threads per square inch. A high denier is a good thing, however it doesn't tell the whole story. For example, a ballistic nylon bag with high denier will be more durable than a bag made with inferior material and a higher denier.
Frame: The backbone of luggage, frames are typically made of metal or plastic. The frame is important as it helps the luggage retain its shape. It provides structure as well as securely holds the wheels and handles. When looking at luggage, look for frames that are strong yet lightweight.
Also, look for a long warranty period. This is a good indication that the manufacturer believes in their product.
What types of bags are available?
When looking for luggage, keep in mind how you travel. A garment bag is perfect if you like keeping your clothes neat and wrinkles to a minimum. If you travel lightly, then a duffel bag or backpack may do the trick. For most a traditional suitcase is best.
Uprights/Pullmans: Choose a bag that has separate storage compartments and wheels so when you make your cross-airport trek, you can walk - or run - smoothly without having to lug along a heavy bag. They are available in a variety of sizes, anywhere from 22" high to over 30" and hold the most clothes and other belongings. You might want to think about adding two sizes to your set for flexibility.
Garment Bags: If you're traveling on business, going to a wedding or any occasion that requires smart corporate or dressy formal wear, you might consider purchasing a garment bag. These act as traveling wardrobes letting you pack clothes on hangers, keeping them as neat as possible during your trip. Look for pockets and wheels and handles for added convenience.
Carry-On Bags: These are great for short trips or for carrying more valuable personal items on board a plane. You'll want to look at roominess, removable shoulder straps, external pockets, wheels, inner compartments and other helpful features. Individual bag sizes range from 19"- 22" and are designed to fit underneath the seats on a plane. Check with your air carrier for specific carry-on requirements.
Totes, Backpacks and Duffle Bags: These casual bags are great choices for road trips, college students and young kids. Backpacks are a great way to tote extra belongings around conveniently on your back while keeping your hands free. Duffle bags are a big hit with the college crowd especially because of their large size and roominess making it easy for everything to be packed and tossed into the car.
Features to look for:
- Get a grip: Keep an eye out for retractable handles that are mounted directly to the frame and slide directly into the bag for the best durability.
- A word on wheels: Look for wheels that are spaced as far to the corners as possible. The wider the spacing between the wheels, the more stability you'll have when you're rolling from place to place. There are different types of wheels available, too. Inline wheels are always a sturdy bet and also provide smooth handling. Spinner wheels are multi-directional wheels located in each of the bag's bottom four corners and let you push or pull your bag through smaller areas with ease and without tipping the bag. Another option is recessed wheels which are less likely to be damaged.
- Expandability: Most uprights are expandable meaning that the outer pockets grow, giving you even more packing room.
- Add-a-Bag Straps: Many have straps that let you piggyback smaller bags on top giving you an extra hand and less stress. (Note: Spinner wheeled pieces do not have this feature. Since they are wheeled upright, they would topple over if you added a second bag to them.)
- Helper Handle: Is an extra carrying handle to give you the help you need when lifting your luggage out of a trunk or off a luggage belt.
- Padded Straps: These straps make it more comfortable to carry heavy bags.
- Self Healing Zippers: These zippers hold up well under pressure. If this zipper pops open, it can be reset ("healed").
- Organization: Look for internal and external pockets that increase your packing options. External pockets allow you to reach for items without opening the main compartment.
- Wet Packs: Wet packs are great for storing wet or soiled garments. There are also removable suiters which are an inner garment bag that can be easily removed from the suitcase and hung in a closet or on a hook.
A few extras:
With many regulations and restrictions regarding air travel, a few accessories can make your trip a little easier.
- Luggage Scale - Checked baggage fees vary by airlines and many carriers charge extra for overweight bags. To ensure your bags are not overweight, it pays to have a luggage scale at home. Travelers can find analog versions as well as digital. A scale with a tape measure is an added bonus so you can measure your carry-on bags. (Always check with your airline for luggage fees and weight requirements.)
- Voltage Converter - There's no need to buy new personal care appliances when traveling overseas. A voltage converter is all you need to dry your hair, charge your razor and more. Some voltage converters also come with a voltage adapter. This adapter comes in handy when your appliance doesn't have a voltage switch.
- Bottle Kit - When it comes to liquid items, there's a limit to the ounce capacity you can carry on the plane. If you like to keep your toiletries with you while traveling, a bottle kit can come in handy. Look for one that is TSA approved to avoid any problems at security.
- Travel Pillow - Traveling can be uncomfortable especially when you have to sit in the same spot for long periods of time. A travel pillow can make things a little more comfortable for you and fit conveniently in a carry-on bag. There are traditional shaped pillows as well as neck pillows and lumbar pillows to target areas that need extra support.
- Garment Care - If you're traveling for business or a special event, you'll want your clothing to be in tip-top shape. A travel iron or garment steamer stowed away in your luggage will be a welcomed companion to rid your clothes of unsightly wrinkles, and they're the perfect size for traveling.
- Luggage Locks - Keeping you clothing secure is a priority when traveling, but with new airline regulations you must make sure that your locks are TSA approved. These locks can be opened by the airlines if needed, but will keep others at bay. Locks come in key-lock and combination-lock styles.
- Luggage Tags - Many people have similar looking luggage, so remember to attach luggage tags to easily identify your bags.
- Money and Passport Holders - You have enough to keep track of when traveling without having to worry about a pocketbook or extra bag. A neck pouch or waist belt can keep your money and important documents close to you. A passport case is also handy so your various ID is all in one place.
- Bed Bug Encasements - Recently bed bugs have become a concern for those traveling both abroad and within the states. Luggage encasements help to minimize the chance of bringing bed bugs back from a trip. There's a size available for different bags, as well as encasements made especially to place clothes in before storing in a drawer.