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Best Luggage?

This is a luggage question. If you're flying to Europe and then taking trains pretty much everywhere until you're flying home... and you're gonna need city clothes, low-key hiking clothes, jackets for cold weather, and a daypack, and you're going for at least a couple of weeks, what kind of luggage is the best option? I'm thinking of a hard-shell suitcase that's travel size for US planes (so bigger than European planes) as I need something small enough to carry through train stations but am not flying within Europe? Which brands are best without breaking the bank? Are those "closet in a bag" things useful or just annoying? Are there good options that include daypack+suitcase?

Posted by
7195 posts

Lisa,
I am not a person that buys luggage based on name brands or for style. I want something that is durable, light and inexpensive. I would never buy Louis Vuitton.
We have traveled quite a lot since I retired in 2010 (about 2-3 international trips a year-except in 2020 Covid). We have luggage that is light and durable. It is made of fabric and has rollers. Also, it zips up. I personally don't care for the heaver hard-shell luggage. I don't think it is necessary to protect your stuff.

Of course, our luggage has a large size, but acceptable by the airlines if you fly second class. I think the huge suitcases that I sometimes see at airports is usually owned by people flying Business or First Class. As for traveling on European trains, we have done this a lot and our luggage is still good for that. Our suitcases never go over the 50 lbs weight limit and at 75, I am able to lift the suitcases up on the trains.

Not sure what you mean by closet in a bag, unless you are referring to some luggage that focuses on inserting jackets, shirts and trousers hanging on coat hangers. Those are good for business trips when you have to have a suit, but not for touring.

Posted by
5156 posts

I really like my TravelPro Maxlite international spinner carry-on. It’s only 5.4 lbs and very easy to maneuver. You can usually find them on sale. I fell in love with spinners awhile ago and love them. Take note that there are others on this forum who do not agree with me. Everyone has their favorites and opinions differ when it comes to spinners vs. roller bags. 😊

My day bag changes a lot. Sometimes I use a crossbody bag and other times I use a packable backpack. YMMV.

Posted by
13237 posts

My nephew has the closet in a bag and it is heavy. With the shelf it weighs 9# empty. Nephew is a big guy, travels for work so this works fine for him but is way too heavy for me to even consider.

**Editing to add: BTW, as soon as you start doing luggage searches on your computer, tablet or phone luggage ads will start popping up incessantly as side bars on your mail program and on your FB page. I'm still getting Biaggi ads and that just looks like a useless bag for my needs. I also started getting a ton of the Sologard ads as well but they have finally quit.

My recommendation is to go for the lightest case possible. I was concerned about weight and dimensions for a trip last Fall that included a leg on Air France so went with the International dimensions of 55cmX35cmX25 (so basically 21.5 inches). The bag I went with was the lightest I could find at 4.5# but it was horribly overpriced. It's the Osprey Ozone and may be more than you want to pay. When I left my house in Sept for a 3.5 week trip, my bag weighed 16.1 pounds. If I'd had that Sologard it would have been over 20# with the extra weight of the bag.

My next choice was going to be the one Mardee has, the TravelPro Lite at 5.5#. It is soft-sided and often on sale at Amazon.

I'm not a huge fan of the hard sided bags. Most open like a book with equal volume compartments on both sides so work better if you can lay them out flat. There is never enough room in a European hotel room to do that. I prefer the bag style that has all the volume on one side. Your needs may be different than mine.

Based on my search last year, I recommend you start some kind of spread sheet so you can compare bags and have all your information in the same place. I drove myself crazy for a few weeks before I realized I needed to record all the research information.

I'll also ask what the difference is between your city clothes and your low key hiking clothes? I wear the same shirts for everything including hiking here at home. If you are doing just low key hiking then really technical clothing is probably not needed. You've got "jacketS" listed...do you need more than one?

Do you live in the US? You might go to TJMaxx or Marshalls if there is one near you to look and see what's what. They generally only have 4 wheel bags which are a bit heavier but it can start you on your way. I recommend you purchase a hand-held scale to take with you so you can see exactly how much bags weigh.

Good luck with your search!

Posted by
25588 posts

You didn't mention how you intend to travel between train stations and hotels. To me, that's a significant factor. I nearly always walk, so I prioritize light weight and try to find bags with two sturdier wheels rather than the more fragile wheels you generally find on inexpensive spinner bags. It's getting much harder to find 2-wheeled bags, however. And I'm sure the spinner wheels on better-quality bags are sturdier than the ones I've had on my cheapo bags.

A point someone else made some time ago in an earlier thread about luggage (which I see has just been posted by Pam here as well): Most hard-shell bags open around the middle of the bag (rather than near the top edge) when the bag is lying flat, so you need to open them all the way in order to retrieve something without things falling out of the top half of the bag. If you stay in budget-level hotel rooms (as I do), there may very well not be room on the floor to open the bag like that. I think that's a very valid point for me, because my bag is always shoved right up against the wall so I can squeeze past it.

On the other hand, I assume a hard-shell bag is more protective if you get caught out in the rain--less of an issue if you plan to take taxis back and forth to train stations, I guess.

There have been many, many earlier threads about luggage--a topic with which many of us are at least semi-obsessed, so it will be worth your while to review some of those. Most are in the packing forum: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/packing. You can pick up some very good tips there for reducing the weight and volume of what you carry, which will make your trip more pleasant. It seems there are steps everywhere, starting with some train stations.

Posted by
13237 posts

@acraven, I guess I stay in what I call "mid-range" hotels instead of budget in Europe and even those singles do not have enough room to open a bag flat!

I guess I also should have said to Lisa, there is no "BEST" bag for everyone. The best you'll be able to do is to find a better bag for you.

Posted by
5156 posts

There have been many, many earlier threads about luggage--a topic with which many of us are at least semi-obsessed…

🤣 So true!!!

Posted by
13237 posts

Hahahahaa, Mardee!!! Did you want to get Lisa started on obsessing about her personal item now or later? I know you mentioned your crossbody vs day pack but I decided to concentrate on the bigger item to start with, lol.

Posted by
250 posts

I like the Away Bags (smaller carryon) we bought my daughters. They are a clamshell design which, as mentioned above, people either love or hate them. If your prefer a top opening, as do I, then the TravelPro Platinum Elite is a great option. Check out Macy’s if there is one around you as they are often on sale at a substantial discount a few times a year (President’s Day?). Just keep in mind that their retail price is inflated so make sure you are really getting a deal by shopping the TravelPro store on Amazon.

Posted by
2446 posts

More important than what kind of carry-on and personal item you choose, is weight and your ability to carry it all and lift it. My get-ready-for-trip exercise program includes "suitcase overhead lifts", or how many times in a row can I lift a 20lb suitcase as high as a plane/train luggage rack without hitting someone in the head.

The RS Rolling Carry-on works good for me. Outbound I pack as light as possible, which isn't light enough. First trip I took a PacSafe Tote as a personal item, but it was a little on the heavy side, 1-1/2lbs. Last year, and probably again this year, I took a very light packable tote with a trolley strap. It's discontinued RuMe cFold, 7oz, holds a lot and is surprisingly durable. Amazon has similar if you do a search. Just be sure the size works as your airline's personal item. My SisIL gave me a nice looking lightweight nylon tote for Christmas but I'm sure it's too big, will know when I do a test pack. I also take a packable backpack as a day bag.
Homebound, I expand the RS Carry-on and check it. Then fill the tote and backpack with souvenirs, gifts, etc. and carry them on the plane.

Be sure you use packing cubes. They help to keep things organized. After the first time I used them, I can't imagine traveling without packing cubes.

Posted by
672 posts

Another vote for packing cubes! I won't leave home without my ebags. It's so easy to stay organized with them.

Posted by
16593 posts

1 The carry-on bag size: has different size limitations depending on the airline but the one that fits 90% of the airlines you are likely to book with is: 22” x 14” x 9” and that’s what I prefer because I have learned that I will exceed the weight limit before I fill it (which brings up the next two topics - weight limits and the trick with the personal item). https://upgradedpoints.com/travel/airlines/carry-on-luggage-size-chart/ (do confirm this info with the airline website)

2 The carry-on bag weight limit is generally 8kg (17.6 lbs) with the notable exceptions being British Air (23kg – wow!) and KLM that sets it at 12kg (but there is a caveat to that); and that's all I would worry about as a 4 pound bag and a 6 pound bag both weight 17.6 pounds (for most of us) when packed and are equally easy or hard to lift.

3 Personal Item: Most every airline will also allow what they call a Personal Item (intended to be placed under the seat in front of you) and the maximum dimensions on that can also vary (this can be your daybag) and the size that most ever airline allows is 16” x 12” x 6”; the most notable exception being Lufthansa which limits the size to 16” x 12” x 4”.

4 Personal Item weight limit: Most airlines do not put a weight limit on the personal item so this is where you pack the shoes and cosmetics and anything else heavy; but the one exception is KLM, remember they had a 12kg weight limit on the Carry-on; well that is the weight limit on the combined carry-on and personal item so be careful.

5 Now you have to worry about the type of bag, hard or soft, two wheel (trolly) or four wheel (spinner),or back pack even; and the weight of the bag because a heavy bag will cut into what you can carry and still make the 8kg limit

6 There are plenty of bags out there of every description that fall under 6 pounds (I think a reasonable limit) and some of the soft sided two wheel bags come close to 4 pounds (a pair of men’s old fashion jeans weighs about 1 pound). Continued on next post

Posted by
16593 posts

1 You really have to do some shopping but for a trolly softside you can get one about 5.5 lbs, the right size, at Walmart for $75 and it will last as long as a $200 bag (but not as stylish).

2 My problem with the softside bags was the pockets on the outside, they were pretty much useless to me without exceeding the size limitations once packed and, for me, they kept getting hung up on things in the airplane overhead when I push them in or pull them out; so I have used a hard bag the past 6 or 7 years and it holds up fine (because its in my hand as a carryon).

3 Then there is 2 or 4 wheels and as mentioned the 2 wheel is lighter generally and some worry about the four wheels on bad pavement but for that you just drag it on two of the four wheels and you have the same end result (in 60 trips touching more than 30 countries on 4 continents I have never had an issue with 4 wheels).

4 For me the ease of hanging the personal item over the handle of the carry on and knowing it wont fall over and the ease of the the spinner from the house to the car, and from the parkin lot to the plane and from the airport to taxi and from the taxi to the check-in counter offsets any argument against them (easier in the plane aisle too); but its preference.

5 So in summary: With a combined load of 12kg I use a 22” x 14” x 9” hardsided spinner (I splurged and spent $140) that weighs in at just under 6 pounds and combine that with a 16” x 12” x 6” (a tad thicker actually but it scrunches down if need be) personal item backpack (I think it was $30 on Amazon.com) and if I wear my sportscoat on the plane I can do as long as I want (laundry service) in Europe in the winter including the theater.

6 Things like wallet, phone, keys, passport cash, reading glasses, a few days of meds; go in a small cross body bag (its about the same dimensions as a passport (passport barely fits, but it does) and about ¾” thick and is technically a violation as it’s a second personal item but it also fits in my cargo pants if that becomes an issue.

Posted by
5156 posts

Hahahahaa, Mardee!!! Did you want to get Lisa started on obsessing about her personal item now or later?

Plenty of time for that, Pam! LOL

Posted by
1317 posts

I'm not a fan of the hard sided shell. They are too heavy for me. My husband loves his Travelpro Maxlite spinner. I love my Briggs and riley two-wheel 22 inch (which if I'm flying within Europe usually needs to be checked). I'd suggest going to a luggage store and checking them out. We are packing cube people and I also use a couple small compression bags. There are lots of great videos available to help with packing and luggage choices. We usually travel without rollaboards (which I usually check) and a 15L or 20L backpack which I bring onboard. My "day bag" is packed in my backpack - which is a small leather bag since i don't usually carry much stuff with me while we are out and about.

Posted by
14150 posts

Wow, the answers have not only gone all over the place but also off topic.

Let's start with a few questions....

Where are you going?

What airline will you be using? (Remember, most European airlines, even across the Atlantic, have the same size and weight restrictions for carry on luggage as they do intra-Europe.)

Are you willing to check the bag for your flights across the Atlantic?

Do you want two wheels or four?

Have you ever traveled with carry on only?

Have you made out your packing list?

What time of year are you going?

Let's start with these and I can add more if needed later.

Let's start with hard vs soft shell. It really depends on whether or not your bag will be checked. Baggage handlers report they see more damage with hard sided bags than soft sided. Remember, the hard sided bags are not made off steel. They are made of polycarbonate that can crack fairly easily. I went from soft sided to hard sided back to soft sided. Unless you buy the cheapest of the cheapest, the material used in soft sided bags these days is very durable.

Posted by
114 posts

Where are you going? Germany, Switzerland, France

What airline will you be using? (Remember, most European airlines, even across the Atlantic, have the same size and weight restrictions for carry on luggage as they do intra-Europe.) -- Haven't bought tickets yet; we are flying from Boston into Munich and out of Paris.

Are you willing to check the bag for your flights across the Atlantic? Yes.

Do you want two wheels or four? Four.

Have you ever traveled with carry on only? Yes but only in the US for short journeys.

Have you made out your packing list? Not yet -- we have a long time to go, but I think we can keep things simple!

What time of year are you going? September.

Posted by
14150 posts

I forgot to ask an important question.......what is your budget for a bag?

Since you are willing to check a bag then the actual size and weight doesn't matter. Of course, it might for future trips. (You will get arguments on this.)

One key to packing for a longer trip is to do laundry. My trips usually last about 3 months and I take a European size rolling bag and a personal item. It contains five days worth of clothes. To keep my bag down to manageable weight and size I just plan to do laundry. It's going to be impossible to pack enough clothes for a two week trip in a carry on bag unless you plan to wear each item multiple times.

Forget those "closet in a bag" items. Watch a bunch of packing videos on youtube and then decide how you will pack--packing cubes, no cubes, folding, rolling, etc.

The next step is to go to department stores and discount store like TJ Maxx, Ross or Marshalls. They usually have a large selection of bags. See if there are any that you like. Next, if there are any real luggage stores or travel goods stores, visit them for ideas. (They will mostly have the more expensive brands.) Samsonite has many of their own stores in malls and outlet malls. Spend some time seeing what is available at all of these places. There is an Away store in the Boston Seaport area.

Posted by
114 posts

thanks! my hope was to find a bag that could travel in the cabin in the United States -- but would be checked for transatlantic flights. I want to get a backpack with a trolley sleeve to go with it. I don't want to spend a fortune -- maybe $150 or so on the suitcase and less on the backpack. I personally prefer soft bags for various reasons.

Posted by
4086 posts

I think any decisions about what new luggage to get needs consideration of how you plan to pack. Have you made it to the Packing Forum yet? https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/packing

Researching there could take some of the plurals out of your implied packing list. For example, rather than multiple jackets, layering would probably be your friend for your trip. My own packing list remains roughly the same in terms of number of basic items, all of which are coordinated around a scarf, whether or not I wear it with them. Wearing the heaviest shoes and warmest clothes on the plane, and perhaps while in transit on trains helps to cut down on the amount that is needed to pack. I pack for a week no matter how long (usually 4-6 weeks) I'll be gone and do laundry along the way. Over time I've learned to tolerate sink-washing, not mind having laundry done for me and enjoy visiting local self-serve laundry facilities. On my trip last summer I did all 3.

I have 4 two-wheeled bags. Three weigh 4.5 lbs each empty and have T-shaped handles. Two of those are "international" bags" which are smaller and have less capacity than the typical 22x14x9. The one with international shaping (shorter than 22" but wider at 16") was designed the best for packing what I was taking on last summer's trip, even though it had the smallest capacity. However, it was too wide to wheel in front of me down the airplane aisle, so I had to carry it. My 4th bag is the usual 22x14x9, but has a U-shaped handle. The handle and other design elements make it weigh about 5.5 lbs. It's expandable, but it has to be checked when that's done. I do like being able to use a sleeved tote or backpack over the handle, which you can't do with a T-shaped one. I wear my backpack or cross-body bag with the T-shaped handle bags.

Your $150 price limit may make weight vs. price a trade-off. Keep in mind that you should be able to wheel your bag in train stations most of the time, but elevators and escalators are rare. Going up and down stairs is more common. Some stations may have slanted walkways. Getting into and off trains may also involve a few stairs. And in the countries you're visiting, the trains are typically very efficient with little time between arrival and departure when changing trains. Your ability to be as efficient as they are can be hampered by dealing with a bag that is too heavy or cumbersome.

A luggage scale can help to keep the total weight down. A flat digital kitchen scale that can weigh individual items in ounces, pounds, grams and kilos can be used to weigh individual items. If you go shopping for a bag in person, be sure to take a luggage scale AND a measuring tape with you. Most of the time the bags won't list the weight and their dimensions will be for the box alone and not the handles and wheels. The airlines count those and if you are flying one that has a sizer, you'll likely have to use it to prove that your bag isn't too big.

About the hard-sided vs. soft-sided issue. All it took for me to stop being attracted to hard-sided bags (or checking bags at all) was watching the baggage handlers throw them on the belt into the plane. It was at a steep angle and more than one fell off the side at about 6+ feet off the ground. The soft-sided bags were less likely to slide off the belt, but the handlers put the pocketed sides down on the belt, not the flat backs. I'd guess that's more about the backs of handlers on the ground and in the plane than the backs of the bags. My conclusion was soft-sided with no pockets on the front or at least nothing in any pockets.

Good luck with your search for a bag that will work for you and with all your trip planning.

Posted by
130 posts

Our family spent 3 weeks in Europe last year—daughter met boyfriend and tacked on an extra week in Spain. We each had a travel pro maxlite 22inch carry on. We traveled by plane, train, bus, tram, vaporetto and car. We bounced them down cobblestone streets and stairs. Daughter now lives a 1,000 miles away and travels frequently with the same suitcase. While we each had a back pack as our personal item, I now have a new bag with a trolley sleeve that I look forward to using when we visit our daughter next week. Our suitcases were carryon compatible and we had exit row tickets on easyjet and carried them on-no issues at all on any mode of transportation. The travel pro also has a spinner…

Posted by
5156 posts

my hope was to find a bag that could travel in the cabin in the United States -- but would be checked for transatlantic flights.

Lisa, if that is so, then you could get the TravelPro Maxlite 5 Carry-on expandable spinner. This will be accepted by any US airline as a carry-on. It might not be acceptable to foreign airlines but if you plan to check your bag for overseas travel, you should be fine. It's 5.4 lbs and very easy to maneuver. Right now it's $144 on the TravelPro website, but I would check other places like Amazon and Macy's. I found my bag on sale at Lexington Luggage and just noticed that it is $124 there (with code).

FWIW, I've been using TravelPro for years - my brother is a pilot for Delta and he told me about them. Many of the flight crews use their bags. They are very durable and look good.

Posted by
130 posts

We bought our travel pro luggage from Amazon. Pay attention to the color as the price is different based on color.

Posted by
7898 posts

Popular posting.

We too use Travel Pro Ultra Lite 21" swivel wheel carry on bags. And my wife has an oversize purse with her medicines in it. We limit ourselves to 22 lbs. or less on the carry on's.

We follow Rick Steves' packing list with some minor changes. And we can travel indefinitely that way.

Last time we flew out of Venice, a bunch of cruise ship travelers were flying out. The husbands were having to handle two or three of those huge 45 lb. suitcases. Poor guys. They were showing themselves as inexperienced travelers.

Every trip, I carry less and less. I'm down to one polo shirt for every 3 days and I rotate them daily. I carry two pairs of heavily starched (at the laundry) pants--khaki and jeans. And I only take one pair of shoes. Tablets work well--instead of laptops If I need toiletries or anything, it's available in Europe.

Posted by
45 posts

I have a TravelPro Maxlite rollaboard (2-wheel) that I absolutely love and will run into the ground. I don't like spinners because the wheels aren't as durable as the "classic" style. I am considering buying a backup to hedge against them discontinuing the rollaboard.

Mine is North American sized and I have used it on Lufthansa and Austrian at least with no issues. Occasionally I have been found overweight, and in that case I remove a few items and carry them by hand, which is silly, but within the rules, so Lufthansa is fine with it. I have stuffed it to the brim in North America and never been challenged, but I also have tags that discourage that.

Posted by
16593 posts

The only thing I want to caution is that there is no American size, and there is no European size. If you look at the requirements of the various airlines, there are more than a half dozen size standards. 14 x 9 x 22 will work in about 90% of all instances both domestically and in Europe. But you still need to check. And having broken the rules a number of times with no consequence doesn't mean the next guy won't get nailed.

Posted by
4092 posts

I do the same as Mardee. I have often used a Jansport bookbag as my personal item, but now prefer something with a sleeve that can roll on top of my spinner. I pack a very small daypack or sometimes a Pac-Safe purse as well. Packing cubes are a must-have-I have some of the compressible Lewis and Clark ones and some heavier ones from Eagle Creek. I take two pair of shoes-LL Bean hiking shoes(wear heaviest/bulkiest shoes on plane) and either Keen Rose Sandals or Mary Janes. I take one dress at most and other clothes I wear are same as I would wear on low-key hikes(the only kind of hikes I would do).

Posted by
16593 posts

Just boarded Lufthansa BUD to FRA. A lot of carryon bags got checked for the size and weight and ended up being gate checked. YEA!!. Austrian Air was doing the same at the adjacent gate. 🥳🥳

Posted by
842 posts

Right now plan on going through several bags to find the one that works for you. Anything you buy should be returnable after you get it home and it does not feel right to you. When you get it home measure it. As stated, 22x14x9 should include the wheels and handles. Then pack it once and see what your usable space looks like and is that going to work for you. If the bag does not work for you, return it and try another. Remember less is always better when traveling. If you need something along the way there are plenty of stores.

Posted by
14150 posts

This thread is four months old. A spammer wrote something that makes no sense and people are responding.