Travel Luggage Choices – What is right for You?

Types of Traveller

The options for travel luggage are vast and bewildering, before deciding on which bag to invest all your hard earned cash on it is necessary to decide what kind of traveller you are.

The choice of luggage will undoubtedly be influenced by this; frequent flying business travellers that are usually just ‘passing through’ their destination will manage with a carry-on size wheeled case. Gap year students completing a round the World odyssey however will be struggling with a backpack almost as big as themselves and pop divas will have over fifty matching designer luggage items that cost more than the private jet they flew over in and an entourage of minders large enough to carry all this baggage!

The business community already has the perfect item of luggage for their needs and there are almost as many brands making them as potential users. It seems a little doubtful that any divas read this website and only buy from their favourite designers anyway so any advice would be wasted on them, though their minders might be interested.

Specialist’ travellers such as skiers, mountain bikers, musicians and photographers will of course have specific luggage requirements dictated by the equipment they will be carrying. It is not the aim of this article to go into detail regarding such particular items.

Therefore this article will concentrate on those that travel because they love the journey, regardless of whether they are on a round the world trip or taking the opportunity to visit a dream destination once or twice a year whenever they get some vacation time.


Size – Size is obviously a prime consideration for any savvy traveller. The choice of luggage needs to be sufficiently large enough to carry all of their belongings, however guard against picking the largest available, this will only result in it being filled with items that are not required. Restricting the size of the pack will force the traveller to be more selective in what they actually take, between 55-65 litres should be sufficient for most. When considering size, bulk should also be considered as unwieldy luggage will become tiresome, especially on an extended trip.

Weight – This is extremely important as a great deal of time will be spent carrying luggage around, whether it be in airports, destinations or in wilderness areas. Equally important are airline weight restrictions, especially if choosing to fly on a budget airline. A heavy item of luggage will greatly reduce your baggage allowance. 15kg allowance – 4kg luggage = 11kg for the contents!

Comfort – Comfort is especially important to the traveller that chooses to use a backpack as by design it will spend a great deal of time being carried. It therefore stands to reason that if it is uncomfortable after being carried for just a short while this will be exacerbated during an extended journey. When buying a backpack visiting a specialised retailer cannot be recommended enough. Seek the advice of the qualified assistants they are usually outdoor people themselves. A backpack is like a pair of hiking boots, never buy online, try them for size! Try on a number of packs, put some weight in them and have the assistant adjust the straps to ensure it fits properly. Allied with comfort is convenience, the comfort of a suitcase may not be as important as a backpack but convenience of portage and storage will be. Is the choice of luggage being considered portable, can it be easily stowed on trains or in hostels? Choosing poorly could end up becoming expensive, as you may be forced to make another purchase mid trip!

Security – Having the perfect luggage; size, weight, comfort and style is all irrelevant if your baggage of choice get stolen or broken into and your valuable possessions go missing. Almost nothing will ruin your trip faster or more. A durable fabric, which is slash resistant will provide some protection, solid materials will be even better, but there will be a weight penalty. The ability to lock your luggage is essential, on backpacks and holdalls this will generally require double zips which can be padlocked together preventing them being opened. A secure fixing to enable securing to immoveable objects is useful, Pacsafe make a variety of these, from cables to full pack mesh covers, check them out first though, some of these can prove heavy.

Durability – Your luggage is likely to take a great deal of punishment during its travelling lifetime, not least from baggage handlers. It is also likely to be subjected to extremes of temperature and weather conditions, having your baggage fall apart in a beautiful but isolated country miles from any suitable replacement can will not be pleasant. Duct tape, a sewing kit and some high breaking strain fishing monofilament will be useful for minor repairs and should be taken on any trip of extended duration.

Versatility – Some of the luggage choices available cannot be categorised into one particular format, duffels and even some backpacks have wheels. Duffels usually have harnesses to enable them to carried as backpacks. Having a variety of options for portage of your possessions in one form of luggage can be extremely handy as the traveller is likely to be confronted with equally as many different situations.

Functionality – Having plenty of features and pockets to organise documents and valuables will ease the travelling experience. Baggage which is compartmentalised is useful, protection for laptops, cameras or mobile phones and mp3 players will be little extras that will become appreciated. Waterproof covers will help protect your precious possessions in foul weather, or just choose destinations which do not have a word for rain in their vocabulary!

Style – Looking cool may not be the most important aspect of choosing your luggage, well unless you are a diva of course, but you will have to live with your choice throughout your travelling. As with comfort if you do not like your luggage you will eventually come to resent it.

Price – Price is a prime consideration for most travellers unless they recently won the lottery of course. Whilst it is true that quality does cost, there are a great many mid-price travel luggage options which are available that will fulfil all of the above criteria. It is therefore not necessary to ‘blow’ all of your hard earned cash on the most expensive duffel or backpack available, leaving some for other desirable/essential items or for travelling.

Luggage Choices

Traditional Suitcases – Apart from pop divas is unlikely to be of any use to serious travellers, they are bulky, often heavy, with a poor size to weight ratio. Larger ones are not particularly portable, even those with wheels are usually unstable.

Trolley Cases – Whilst these are an improvement on traditional suitcases and are perfectly suitable for vacations to cities, resorts or anywhere with a good road/pathway network. Most independent travellers will often venture to more isolated locations without such excellent facilities in which case the wheels are seldom durable enough to cope with rough tracks and terrain. In this situation it will merely revert to being a normal suitcase and lose any advantages.

Holdalls/Duffels – Traditional holdalls are probably not the ideal travel luggage, but their more travel/outdoor related derivatives; duffels are a pretty good option. They have most of the most useful attributes from the list of considerations. Available in a variety of sizes, they are lockable, durable and versatile, a few even come with wheels. The North Face, Osprey, Berghaus, Eagle Creek, are all good brands and some good choices are:

Berghaus Mule on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Berghaus Mule Courtesy of Berghaus

TNF Basecamp Duffle on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

TNF Basecamp Duffle Courtesy of TNF

 TNF Rolling Thunder on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

TNF Rolling Thunder Courtesy of TNF

Backpacks – Probably the most popular choice of luggage for the serious traveller, simply take a look at the average baggage reclaim conveyor in any popular ‘gap year’ destination. Backpacks tick all the boxes for independent travel, usually lightweight, comfortable for extended portage and extremely versatile. There are a multitude of different options, with many designed specifically for travel which are better options than those produced for climbing or outdoor activities. Most even come with an attached daypack which can be separated when required.

There are a number of companies producing high quality backpacks, almost as many as actual rucsacs, TNF, Berghaus, Arc’teryx, Macpac, Caribee, Karrimor and Osprey all make reliable packs but some recommendations include:

Caribee Akula on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Caribee Akula 65 Courtesy of Caribee

Macpac Genesis 85 on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Macpac Genesis 85 Courtesy of Macpac

Osprey Farpoint 70 on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Courtesy of Osprey

Combining – These choices are suitable for the traveller that only wishes to take a single item of luggage. Many travellers will have some expensive items which they wish to keep with them, cameras and laptops are obvious examples. An excellent option is a good quality daypack, which is well organised and sensibly sized but is large enough to take and protect a laptop/netbook and a few essential items. Pairing with a good wheeled duffel such as the Berghaus Mule will provide an excellent and versatile luggage combination for the most demanding traveller.

Do you have any tips that you want to share, do you agree that suitcases are not suitable for independent travel or are you a big fan, leave a comment.


Comments 7

  1. TravelDesigned

    Hi Iain,
    My favorite luggage is Burton– the snowboard company. It is rugged, has lots of useful features, a wide varitety of sizes and comes not only in black but some pretty cool patterns too. They make a complete line of backpacks and luggage with durable skateboard wheels.

    1. Post

      They make some great stuff, besides their snowboards which are awesome and I liked the luggage they produce too, thanks Stephanie for contributing

    1. Post

      There is a growing number of these available now Lisa, like any good idea once one company brings one out the others follow suit. PacSafe and Magellan are probably the market leaders. Most as far as I am aware are daypacks which makes sense as a full blown backpack maybe quite heavy as they usually involve an inner compartment. The beauty of this however is that it can also be used as a portable ‘safe’ in a hostel etc. The two manufacturers mentioned are pretty well established and make quality products but like any pack it is definitely worth trying on and having a qualified assistant fit it correctly. Once purchased, fill it with some kit and wear it around the house, if it begins to become uncomfortable return and exchange it.

  2. Sherry

    Just wanted to say thank you for this article. I’m in the process of finding a backpack for my RTW in which the research and information has been overwhelming. I’m glad to see some info from someone I believe is trust worthy. The pack is really indeed the most important purchase to make, especially on a long term trip. So much to consider and so much to lose, if you pick the wrong one. Yikes!

    1. Post

      I agree Sherry it really is something you will have to live with for the whole trip so it needs to be right. It all depends the destinations and activities you are planning. Most go for backpacks because they are totally flexible and suitable for all situations however if you really aren’t likely to be going on any serious trekking really would suggest considering a wheeled duffle such as the mule, I have one as well as a normal TNF duffle but prefer the Mule most of the time, especially as can be paired with a small daypack for the odd trek. They are pretty big though so have to be careful don’t get carried away and take too much.

  3. TravellerCity

    I am with TravelDesigned with snowboard company! I am always proud of their luggage because of how durable and rugged they are.

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