Here are some things to consider when preparing your bags before going on vacation, shopping for luggage, and general packing tips. This is all based upon what we’ve learned through extensive traveling over the last several years.
We thought this would be worth sharing as we have gone through a lot (way too much) of luggage. Thanks to our experiences that include countless hotel changes, plus hundreds of hours dragging our luggage through airports, train stations, and cities, we’ve learned a lot. We thought we’d share some things to look for looking to buy new luggage, some good brands, some brands to avoid, and other various tidbits about luggage (specifically, carry-on luggage…you’ll read why that’s all we own).
Getting the “right” luggage is important, so let’s dig right into with our recommendations. For starters, we recommend doing only carry-on luggage for any trip that includes multiple destinations. This is not important if you’re traveling to Walt Disney World and will be staying in the same hotel the entire trip. If you’re simply moving luggage from the airport to Disney’s Magical Express to a hotel, it doesn’t really matter if you have a larger bag or a couple of bags. (If that’s the case for you, skip down to the ‘What to Buy’ section for recommendations.)
With that said, we still do a single carry-on bag for every trip, and that includes vacations to Walt Disney World. We are big time believers in only traveling with carry-on size luggage. Traveling with more or larger bags not only costs more (checked bag fees!), but is unnecessary. We’ve traveled to Europe and Asia for 14-day trips without doing checked bags, so it’s entirely possible for a trip to Florida.
When we travel to Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, or Hong Kong Disneyland, on the other hand, we are always doing more than visiting those parks. That means a lot of time on subways and in commute with our luggage. If you’ve ever been in any subway station at rush hour, you know just how stressful it would be with a bunch of bulky luggage. Travel expert Rick Steves turned us on to the idea, and we totally agree with his philosophy and rationale.
You may think taking only carry-on luggage is “impossible,” but it’s really not. This philosophy encompasses not just your carry-on roller bag, but also your personal item. As I’m big into photography, my personal item is a camera bag, and my carry-on contains a backpack camera, tripod, and other photography trinkets. So already, a lot of my space is reserved for photography equipment, and I still manage to do it. The key is not taking junk that isn’t essential. This doesn’t mean only taking one pair of underwear and wearing the same stuff over and over (I pack clothes for every day, and that usually includes dress clothes and shoes). You just need to pack efficiently and not take things that are unnecessary.
Still, some people won’t be able to do this for whatever reason, and that’s fine. It may not be practical for parents or those with special circumstances, but for most people, it is possible. It’s just a matter of willingness. Try packing this way before just assuming it isn’t possible. It’s quite liberating.
Also, it’s worth noting that this “carry it on” advice doesn’t mean carry a lot of stuff but avoid paying checked bag fees. In fact, whether you check these bags or carry them onto the plane really doesn’t make a huge difference (although we prefer carrying them on). The point is to travel light, with an amount that can easily be carried around (and the carry-on allowance is a good proxy for how much stuff this is).
We mention this because, invariably, whenever we’re going through security at the airport in Orlando, we see parents juggling strollers, their carry-on luggage and personal items, and luggage “belonging” to each of their kids (who are entitled to a carry-on allowance, but can’t carry the bags themselves). They look miserable. Checked bag fees have made people try to carry-on everything possible, inconveniencing them at the airport. The point of the above isn’t to avoid checked bag fees, it’s to avoid stress and being a sherpa while moving around places.
What to Buy?
In the past 10 years, we have gone through a lot of luggage. My first couple of suitcases as an adult were the cheapest plain models carried by Marshall’s or TJ Maxx, and after a couple years of light travel, each broke. Once we started traveling more regularly, I decided to invest in nice luggage. My first purchase was a Tumi Alpha Carry-on, which was ridiculously expensive, but I bought into the name brand hype.
After a little over a year of using this bag, I became dissatisfied with it. It wasn’t as well-built as the price would have suggested, and I highly doubted it would last years. In short, I felt ripped off. Sarah now uses the bag, and has had to have it repaired a number of times (as of 2016, the bag is on its last leg). In my opinion, Tumi is now resting on the laurels of its “luxury” name, having established a certain brand cachet. That doesn’t do a whole lot for me, so I will never purchase another Tumi bag, nor do I recommend it to even the most well-off and frequent travelers.
When it came time for me to purchase a replacement bag for the Tumi, I did a ton of research, and spent inordinate amounts of time on FlyerTalk, which is a great forum for getting opinions of other regular travelers on a range of topics. The brand that kept coming up in discussions of luggage was TravelPro, which is the top brand of luggage used by flight crews. (Next time you’re at the airport, look at the bags they are pulling behind; guarantee you’ll see the little Eiffel Tower logo on at least 50% of the suitcases.) After a lot of reading, I realized TravelPro was the brand of choice for many serious travelers who wanted something high quality, but didn’t want to pay exorbitant prices for a flashy logo.
I took the plunge and purchased the TravelPro Flight Crew 22-Inch Rollaboard. It cost around $175 (currently, it’s $150 on Amazon), which I felt wasn’t too bad of a price by something that would last a long time. That was 3 years ago. It’s now 2016, and I’ve traveled 200+ days with that suitcase since buying it, and it’s still in near-perfect condition. It’ll easy last me another decade, which I’d say is pretty impressive given how much we travel and how hard I am on luggage. The thing is built like a nylon tank, and all at less than one-third the cost of the inferior Tumi. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about luggage and travels a decent amount. There’s a good chance it’ll be the last suitcase you ever buy.
If you care more about brand names and want something that looks “classier”, this Briggs & Riley carry-on has come highly recommended to me. Personally, that seems like a waste of money (and honestly, I don’t think it looks any nicer than my TravelPro luggage). If you do care about brand names, though, go for that. (For what it’s worth, no one is impressed by Louis Vuitton luggage–to the contrary, LV owners are considered tacky jokes among seasoned travelers.)
A lot of these frequent fliers also recommended the $99 Kirkland carry-on roller at Costco. I didn’t see either of these bags in person, just throwing them out there as they receive a lot of online praise. LL Bean, Victorinox, and Samsonsite also came up from time to time in discussions of best options.
Even if you travel once or twice a year, you’ll find yourself replacing cheap-o luggage more often than if you just spent a little more and got a nicer bag. I realize everyone’s needs and budget are different, and not everyone needs something built like a tank. Marshall’s and TJ Maxx do have great options from time to time, and even something like a Samsonite bag is going to last most people a very long time, and it won’t break the bank. I would not recommend American Tourister (based on both personal experience and widespread reports of low quality) or other “cutesy” luggage found in many stores.
Luggage serves a critical purpose, and isn’t a place to make a fashion statement or show your personality with some type of ‘rad’ design in a non-functional bag. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with colorful designs, but when your luggage breaks on vacation, you might be wishing you got something practical instead of pretty.
Beyond these specific recommendations, here are some general tips regarding carry-on bags:
- Carry-on luggage should have wheels…unless you’re backpacking through Europe
- We highly recommend packing cubes and compression bags to save space and organize your suitcase.
- Unless you have a specific need for it, don’t get a spinner (two wheel in-line rollers are best)
- Unless you have a specific need for it, get soft-side luggage, not hard shell
- Don’t get what you don’t need–extra pockets, suiters, etc., all take up valuable internal volume, and if you don’t need these things, they are a waste of space
- Use luggage tags that stand out; black luggage tends to be accidentally “stolen” due to people confusing luggage.
- Look for ballistic nylon and some type of water resistance
- “Materials and defects” warranties are virtually worthless
As far as personal items go, I don’t really have any useful recommendations. I typically carry a camera bag as my personal item (if you plan on using a camera bag, here are my recommendations for those). For non-photographers, I think going with a small backpack is the best option if you will be on the move, as it’s easier than balancing another bag on top of your roller. If you want a tote, my recommendation would be to get whatever one goes with the suitcase you purchase. In the case of the Travelpro suitcases recommended above, that’s the Travelpro Crew Tote.
In terms of what else you might consider packing, we have a lot of ideas for travel essentials and things that will improve your vacation in our Unique Packing List. Some of these things will save space, while others will take up more space (but ultimately improve the quality of your trip). Pack accordingly.
Overall, everyone is going to have different needs, preferences, and all of that. The two big takeaways from this article should be: 1) don’t overpack–try to take as little luggage as possible, especially for multi-stop trips, and; 2) spending a little more on quality luggage that will stand the test of time will save you money in the long run! There are some other tips in there, as well, but those are the big ones that we think will benefit anyone taking a trip to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and beyond!
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Do you have a specific brand or piece of luggage that you recommend? Any brands you don’t recommend? Any other tips regarding luggage? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share any of your thoughts in the comments!