Dec. 23, 2015 - Austin Grandt
Ever gotten to the end of your trip and realized you only wore 25% of the clothes you brought? Or maybe you've been in the middle of Borneo only to find out you are ran out of underwear with 2 weeks to go (guilty as charged). These types of situations can be avoided by buying and utilizing the right suitcase for the trip you are taking. While I am a huge fan of packing light, we realize that there are many times (kids, buying souvenirs, etc.) where you might need to bring a different sized suitcase. We created this handy guide to help guide you through the nuances of purchasing the perfect suitcase for your next trip.
Buying a suitcase can be a confusing process a lot of the time. What should be a simple purchase often seems to become increasingly complex as you try to add up everything you normally pack on a trip. Sizes range from a small carry-on to a massive bag where you could pack for weeks. Having the correct suitcase is key for proper packing when going on a trip.
Most guides focus on the specific dimensions of a suitcase, which I found confusing. I am more interested in knowing how long of a trip or how many items I can fit in a bag. We will focus on usability versus dimension in the guide to suitcase sizes. We simplify sizing by breaking it down by Large, Medium, and Carry-On sizes.
We define a large suitcase as anything over 26 inches. Large suitcases will need to be checked unless you are one of those magical people who can make it fit in an overhead. Be aware that you should expect to have to pay for checking this bag unless you have a credit card or status on the carrier which waives bag fees. Some airlines, like Southwest and Etihad (when traveling internationally), have two free checked bags as well.
Large suitcases are perfect for families who need to pack for children that can’t carry their own luggage yet. Depending on the length of the trip, you can likely pack for yourself and two other children in a large piece of luggage.
The drawbacks for large suitcases are obviously portability. If you need to be mobile or plan on walking a lot to your destination, you may want to reconsider a smaller suitcase. Large luggage also often has trouble fitting in smaller rooms, elevators, and trains. I once was on a trip in France where a family member packed a large suitcase and we had to send it up in the elevator by itself!
Number of People: 2 Adults or 1 Adult and 2 Children
Length of Trip: 2+ Weeks
What It Can Fit: 2 complete weeks worth of clothes for one person
Average Cost: $120 – $150
We define a medium suitcase as anything between 23″ – 26″. Medium suitcases can fit enough items for week long trips for single people. If you are a family traveling, we recommend purchasing medium suitcases for your children once they can roll their own suitcase. Having multiple medium suitcases could become troublesome if you have to roll multiple yourself.
If you are a solo traveler heading on a short trip and want to take a lot of souvenirs home, take a medium suitcase and leave room inside before you leave on your trip. Keep in mind that medium bags will also need to be checked as they are too large for the overhead bins.
We’ve found that medium sized bags can sometimes be somewhat awkward. They are only marginally more portable than a large suitcase and you don’t get. We recommend committing to the large size if you are planning on anything larger than a carry-on.
Number of People: 1 Adult
Length of Trip: 1 Week
What It Can Fit: 1 Weeks worth of clothes
Average Cost: $90 – $130
Carry-ons are my personal favorite size of suitcase because of the portability, plethora of options, and the savings on baggage fees. Carriers made over $1B on bags alone last quarter, so you can see why customers are so keen to avoid these fees! Carry-ons have historically been the bag of choice for most business travelers, but they are becoming increasingly popular with leisure travelers as baggage fees continue to rise.
In my experience, you can fit a surprising amount of stuff into a carry on. I’ve been able to comfortably pack for a week long trip in one carry on and a backpack. The max recommended size is 22″ for a carry-on piece of luggage. While you may see many people trying to fit their medium or large sized luggage in the overhead bin, it rarely works and either ends up taking up too much room or needs to be checked. Having properly sized luggage (under 22″) will save you the hassle of having to lug your suitcase back off the plane for it to be checked.
Prices on this item can vary greatly. As a past baggage handler, I never saw much of a change in quality between the cheap and expensive suitcases. They will likely rip or a zipper will bust at one point, so save some cash on the front end and opt for the cheaper option.
Number of People: 1 Adult
Length of Trip: Up to one Week
What It Can Fit: 7 underwear, 5 shirts (rolled), socks, and two pairs of jeans. If you need to carry a suit, you will likely need a separate suit bag.
Average Cost: $50 – $120
Duffle bags seem to be coming back in style and they are a great options for a weekend getaway. One of their greatest benefits is that they can be shoved nearly anywhere on any mode of transport. I personally use a Herschel Weekender Bag that I use on 99% of my long weekend trips to visit friends and family. If I am leaving for longer, I will most likely bring my rolling carry-on to fit more clothes and leave room for souvenirs.
If you are traveling for business of any sort, don't bring a duffle bag. They are notorious for not keeping your clothes wrinkle free and aren't suited well for business casual clothes. I made the mistake one time of packing my duffle on a short business trip and spent half my time in the hotel room ironing. Don't make my mistake!
Number of People: 1 person
Length of Trip: 3-5 days
What It Can Fit: 3 days+ worth of clothes and an extra pair of shoes in the shoe compartment
Average Cost: $60-110
We wanted to mention travel totes, half bags, and briefcases in this post because they all can be incredibly useful in lieu of using backpack. These types of bags are ones you often see flight attendants, pilots, and road warriors using. The best ones attach to your rolling suitcase by the extendable handle and rest nicely on top of your bag. I've noticed that it seems to be the bag of choice for flight attendants who are only working for 1-2 days.These bags won't replace any of the other bags above, but they can be a nice addition to help keep things organized.
Number of People: 1 person
Length of Trip: 1 day
What It Can Fit: An overnights worth of clothes and a laptop
Average Cost: $55-110
If you found our guide to suitcase sizes helpful, please give it a share! If you have any questions or need any assistance in finding a bag, don't hesitate to ask in the comments below