Winter sun cruising the Med seeing the sights... there's nothing quite like the thrill of travel. Once you've booked your holiday, how do you choose the perfect bags to take with you? We've put together this luggage buying guide to help make the choice a little easier.
Hard or Soft Shelled
The first choice you need to make is whether you prefer hard-sided or soft-sided luggage. Today's luggage, whether hard or soft-sided is durable, water-resistant and long lasting.
Hard-sided luggage has a rigid shell that stands up to knocks and bumps, so it's ideal if you're a frequent flyer or if you like to bring home fragile souvenirs from your trips abroad. If you're worried about security, then look for a hard-shelled case with an integral combination lock.
Some people prefer the elegant appearance of hard-sided luggage, especially on cruise holidays where 'dock appeal' is all part of the romance of the journey. If you buy a Luggage Set they will often nest inside each other when not being used – ideal to make the most of limited cabin space.
There are no weight limits on a cruise, so you can take as much as you want. Suitcase organiser bags can help you separate items like shoes and underwear to keep everything easy to find when you unpack.
Soft-sided luggage is usually more lightweight and, depending on the style, folds down small for storage. They have surprisingly roomy interiors, often with lots of pockets which make it easy to organise your packing. Soft-sided trolley bags and weekender bags are a good choice for family holidays as they squash up even when packed, so it's easier to get more bags into the boot of a car.
Soft-sided bags are also useful for special items, such as boot bags for wellingtons or walking boots, or for a casual weekend away.
A new type of hybrid luggage has a soft fabric stretched over a rigid fibreglass frame, which gives you the protection of hard-sided luggage with the lighter weight and multiple pockets of soft-sided.
Ultimately your decision will come down to the type of travelling you do most often and the look that you prefer.
Hard Sided Luggage
Soft Sided Luggage
Rigid hard shell designed to withstand knocks, so could last longer if you're a frequent flyer
Greater protection of any fragile items
LOOK OUT FOR:
Four-wheeled hard suitcases that skate along with just a nudge, so they're very easy to move and don't topple over
Sets of hard-shelled cases in different sizes that nest inside each other for handy storage both on holiday and at home
Integral combination locks
Recessed zips to avoid snagging
Generally more lightweight than hard-sided luggage
Can be carried with a shoulder strap or wheels, depending on style
Folds down small for storage
Easier to get more bags into the boot of a car or on a coach, so ideal for families
LOOK OUT FOR:
Soft-sided cases with lots of pockets for organising your packing
Reinforced corners and a hard base to help withstand wear and tear during transit
Tightly woven nylon (eg: 1200 denier) that's durable and waterproof
One of the big improvements to luggage in recent years has been the wheels on suitcases. This makes your suitcases easy to manouevre so there's no need to pay for a trolley at the airport and you'll never be stuck if the porter's off duty.
Baggage generally comes with either two or four wheels. Two wheeled suitcases have a telescopic handle and you simply tilt and pull the case behind you.
Four wheeled suitcases are much easier to manouevre. They stand up by themselves and the wheels move in any direction. You can tilt and pull the case or gently push and the suitcase glides along in front with minimal effort, even round corners. If you have any arm or shoulder problems four wheels are a great choice because they put a lot less strain on your upper body.
Four wheels really come in to their own when you're queuing for tickets or to check in, as you simply nudge the case as you shuffle forward, with no worry about it toppling over – especially useful if you have more than one case. These very responsive and stable types of wheels are usually only found on hard-sided suitcases.
Onboard Luggage Restrictions
In a recent poll, the top things people like to have with them on a plane journey are; something to read, an Ipad or laptop, their own blanket, moisturiser or lip salve and a change of underwear and a toothbrush, just in case the hold luggage gets lost.
Most airlines let you take just one bag on a plane, so choose one that's large enough to get in everything you want, plus your handbag, wallet or purse. Alternatively you could invest in a security belt that you wear close to your body so you always know where your passport and money is.
Airlines are very specific about the maximum size. Generally, the more budget the airline, the smaller the case. RyanAir is notorious for being extremely strict about carry-on bags – one centimetre over their allowance and you have to check it in to the hold and pay a pretty penny for the privilege.
However, even the smallest allowable cabin bag usually has enough space for everything you need for the journey.
In fact, bags of this size can even be enough for a weekend away, provided you're smart about your packing. Remember when going through security all liquid, gels and aerosols within your hand luggage must be less than 100ml and contain within a clear plastic bag approximately 20cm x 20cm and no bigger . Also plan your wardrobe so that you can manage with just one pair of shoes to match all your outfits.
Our Hard-Shelled Four Wheel Case comes with an On-board Case which should suit most airline cabin baggage requirements.
Luggage Weight Limits
Just as you need to be careful of the size for on-board bags, you need to watch the weight of bags checked into the hold. Many of the budget airlines now limit luggage to as little as 15 or 20 kilos (33-44 lbs) per bag. Try to check in more than this and you could be slapped with a hefty excess baggage charge.
This is not simply to make money for the airlines, it's also because of concern for the health and safety of baggage handlers who can easily injure themselves moving very heavy suitcases.
Always check your weight allowance before you fly, as airlines do sometimes change the allowance without warning, and invest in a set of Digital Luggage Scales to ensure an accurate weight before you travel.
Materials of Manufacture
Hard-sided suitcases are usually made from either ABS or polypropylene.
ABS is often used to make crash helmets, so it's very strong and comes with an attractive finish. These cases are light in weight, stylish and economical.
Polypropylene is an extremely rugged and resilient material, which is also very light. In laboratory tests it has been shown to withstand the impact of .22 air rifle pellets. It is used to make top-of-the-range suitcases, which offer the best protection and the lightest weight.
Soft-sided suitcases are usually made from Nylon or Polyester and Fibreglass.
Nylon is a rugged man-made fibre which is woven to make a durable, lightweight waterproof fabric. It is often used for holdalls and trolley bags.
Polyester is a strong, water-resistant fabric which is lighter in weight than Nylon. It is used in top-of-the-range soft-sided suitcases, often stretched over a fibreglass frame. Together this makes these types of suitcases extremely light and durable – ideal for air travel where excess baggage charges seem to increase all the time.
Security and Customs
Did you know that if you travel by air to the USA that security personnel and customs officials are entitled to open your luggage without your permission and without you being present? If it is locked they could break open your locked luggage or cut through the lock.
That's why it's a good idea to invest in a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) lock if your suitcase doesn't have one fitted already. In everyday use, these open like a normal padlock with a combination or key, but US Customs officials hold a universal master key, so they can open it without damage.
Another worry when you're travelling is whether someone else may take your luggage from the carousel by mistake. Personalised Luggage Straps and Personalised Luggage Handle Wraps are a good way to make your bags stand out. You can also buy Electronic Luggage Finders which is like a luggage tag which sends a radio signal to your key fob to make it bleep when your bags arrive.