How to choose the perfect luggage.

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Whether you are prepping for your first or 51st adventure, selecting the right luggage is one of the most important decisions in planning. There is so much to take into consideration, and honestly it can be a daunting and time consuming stage. But with the right information and options, the overwhelm can be mitigated and the stress can be limited. It might even be fun, and once you select the perfect bag to accompany you on your grand adventures, it’s hard not to get a sentimental attachment to it.

15+ years of trial & error, learning and experimenting with bags of all types (on journeys of all types) have taught me the best things to consider when wondering how to choose the perfect luggage for the next journey. I’m happy to share everything I know with you, so let’s get to it!

Guide menu:

Things to considerSuitcase vs. BackpackCarry-on vs. Check-inSecondary bagsMy favorites

How to choose the perfect luggage for your next journey…no matter what it may be:

Top questions to consider

Where are you going?

The country and cities or towns you will be visiting play a big roll in the best type of luggage you will need.

Pro tip: Think about the ground you will be traversing. Example: a rolling suitcase on European cobblestone streets, along broken “sidewalks” of India, or through mountains of South America is NOT good. Backpacks are best here. If you are going from smooth airport floor -> rental car -> smooth resort floor, a suitcase is a good choice.

How long are you traveling?

Naturally, the size of bag you need for a weekend getaway will be drastically different than a year long ’round-the-world tour.

How much moving will you be doing?

If you are only going on one train and two accommodations, for example, the type of luggage will be different than if you are spending two months hopping across 8 cities. Practicality is key here!

What type of travel will your adventure be?

Are you setting off on a rugged adventure consisting of many multiple day treks? Or is this a family trip, where you will spend the majority of your time in one airbnb?

How to choose the perfect luggage

Rolling suitcase vs Backpack

There seems to be a bit of a division in the traveling world, based on your luggage choice. Personally, I am pro backpack for a few reasons. Mainly because it’s easier to navigate through unpredictable experiences that travel often brings. Carrying a backpack tends to draw towards a more adventurous aproach to exploration, but many roller baggers will stoutly defend their need for less-wrinkled clothes and a more luxe aesthetic. If you are unsure which “category” you will fall into, I have made a quick guide to get your decision making started.

Type of tripSuitcaseBackpack
Island hopping in Asia+
Whirlwind tour of Europe+
Destination wedding+
Single location family trip+
India adventure+
Vanlife in Australia+
Carribean resort+
Multi destination via bus+

Choosing the perfect backpack

There is a lot more to think about than just the color when you are selecting a backpack. One of the non-negotiables that I always look for are straps. Waist and chest straps as well as straps for adjusting the way it carries are so important not only for comfort, but also for safety.

Women: keep in mind that we carry weight on our hips, so padded and secure waist straps are a must. The middle of the strap should sit along the top of your hip bones.

Men: you carry weight on your shoulders more than women do, so adjusting the arm straps to hug tightly to your upper back is key. The backpack should never sit below your butt.

Pro tip: try to distribute the weight inside the pack evenly and close to your back. If your pack fills too far away from your body behind you, you will be constantly leaning forward, fighting to compensate and this can lead to bad posture and injury.

Other things to consider when selecting your backpack:

  • How many pockets does it have?
  • How do you access the inside-is it a top loader only, or can you unzip along the front?
  • How many litres is it? (remember, the bigger it is, the more stuff you WILL fill it with)
  • Was it made with quality and care? (This is super important as no one wants to deal with a ripped bag or broken zipper from the other side of the world!)

Choosing the perfect rolling luggage

I will be completely honest here and say that because I am team backpack, I have only used a few pieces of rolling luggage throughout my travels. I have called on a few fellow explorers to help me with this section. Here are their words of advice and favorite brands/styles:

  • Wheels that roll in all directions are a luxury you didn’t know you needed.
  • Packing cubes like these ones are still fantastic (some even said “a must!”)
  • Get good quality luggage-the price will be worth it in the end if it’s the only piece you need to buy. Brands like Delsey Paris and Solgaard.
  • Hard sides keep your items protected in transit (baggage often gets tossed around behind the scenes at the airport)

Carry-on or Check-in?

If you are planning on taking only carry-on luggage, be sure to look up the specific airline’s specs rather than hoping for the best. The measurements can vary depending on the airline and some countries are much more strict on this than others. If your carry-on bag is too large, you will be required to check it, paying the highest, last-minute fee.

Checking-in a bag gives you a little more flexibility on size, but it will cost you a bit of time, waiting at the luggage carosel after you land.

Pro tip: Pay for your luggage when you book the flight (or shortly after recieving the confirmation e-mail). Most airlines charge more for baggage fees the closer you get to take off.

Secondary baggage

Once you have chosen your main piece of luggage, the next thing to think about is a secondary bag. Now, I am a big propnent of traveling light, but it’s most practical to have some kind of smaller bag to keep the must-get-to items in, even if you are traveling with a carry-on.

As you navigate airports you will need easy access to items like passport, wallet, phone, water bottle etc. Once you arrive, and begin exploring a new town or city and, obvously don’t want to lug your big pack around, having some kind of hip bag, day pack or purse will be ideal. If you’re working as you travel, a way to safely transport laptop, camera, and other electronics is necessary. Plus…much to my father’s dismay, having extra space to pack snacks along is a win in my book! 😉

A few of my recommendations are:

Day packs

Laptop satchel

Hip Bag (fanny pack)

Travel purse

Personal item to go with suitcase

If you are looking for maximum functionality, this all-in-one backpack might be a good option.

If hightened protection from theft is a high priority for you, these anti-theft bags are worth looking into.

My favorite brands & shops

Stores I frequent when in need of new gear: REI, Next Adventure (if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, USA)

Brands I use, love and trust: Kathmandu, Fjallraven, Cotopaxi (plus these companies all do good things for people and the planet! A triple win!)

Good quality backpacks: Deuter, Gregory, Osprey

Now that you know how to choose the perfect luggage for your trip, let’s fill the bags!

There's always more to explore: