I’ve been putting off shopping for a new bag for a long time, as in years. Up until a few months ago, I was using a vintage Swiss Army black roller that still sported the Vietnamese and Hong Kong customs stickers it picked up in 2008. A few years ago, I’d retired it in favor of a grey Samsonite bag, but had to force the old vet back into service when the Samsonite’s rollers got wonky — the rubber wore off and the wheels splayed out after 2½ years of trundling across New Orleans sidewalks.
But then, right before Thanksgiving, the old Swiss guy resigned, rendering itself unusable when its retractable handle stuck in the extended position. I was still able to avoid luggage shopping, though. I pulled out the Bluesmart smart bag I’d bought from their Indiegogo fundraising campaign. I recharged the battery, updated its iPhone app, and put it back into service — only to read the next week that it was about to be banned by airlines because its lithium battery isn’t removable.
With nothing left in the attic, I was finally forced to shop for a new suitcase. But what to buy? I started with a survey of fellow travelers. Actually, it was more like stalking; I eyeballed every piece of luggage that passed by me for two weeks. Then I wandered through the basement luggage departments of a couple of Macy’s, opening bags and waving off clerks. After all that, I gave into my OCD and built this prioritized list of suitcase shopping evaluation criteria:
- The bag has to be a carry-on. Now that may seem a bit of a “duh”, but there is some ambiguity; the approved height of a carry-on bag varies by airline between 19 and 22-inches. If I want to play it safe, I’d go for a 20-inch bag, but then I also want to maximize my carry-on space. Most US carriers accept a 22-inch bag and that’s mostly what I fly, and even when I’m on European carriers I usually have enough alliance status to glide past the baggage sizer. So I tilt the balance in favor of maximum packing volume and go for a 22-inch bag.
- It needs to be black. As I said in my Ruthless Packing Tips post, black not only makes you look thinner, it makes your bag look thinner to gate agents scanning for bag-sizer bait. Black also doesn’t show stains. My grey Samsonite bag, after 3-4 months of my travel schedule, started to look a lot less non-black. Smudges from grease on overhead bin hinges, muck from taxi trunks, muddy water from New Orleans gutters, spilled coffee…. It’s why I can’t have nice luggage.
- Two wheels, not four. This is more of a personal preference. My Bluesmart is a 4-wheel spinner and my wife swears by hers, but because the 4 wheels have to extend from the bottom of the bag, spinners sacrifice packing space for agility. Also, I find 4-wheelers have a tendency to wander off — rolling away down ramps or on uneven floors. I go for the 2-wheeler, and with the biggest wheels I can find to make it an easier, smoother pull. I was surprised how much this limited my selection. Spinners definitely rule.
- The inside of the suitcase has to be plain and empty. No clever collection of zipped compartments, or built-in suit hangers, or ratcheting clothes dividers; just a wide open box that I’m free to structure how I want for each trip. I was surprised how this also limited my selection. Indeed, in the end, I couldn’t find just a plain box, and settled for a bag where I could detach the suit hanger and clothes divider and stash that stuff up in Luggage Retirement Home next to the Bluesmart.
- Buy on-line. A recent study of 32,672 luggage price showed that you can save an average of $110/39% buying on-line. Walmart and Target’s on-line stores had the highest discounts. And while Amazon was in 10th place for average discount (in the 40% range), it was tops with the greatest variety — over 12,000 luggage items.