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Best Luggage for International Travel

Updated on November 25, 2016
Samsonite Cosmolite
Samsonite Cosmolite

The Best Checked Luggage

Find the best luggage for international travel right here. I'll be giving you in-depth comparisons of the brands that experienced travelers rave about. Gear up for holiday and winter travel with a new suitcase.

Choose from the top-rated wheeled uprights, spinner luggage and light-as-a-feather hardside suitcases.

Find international luggage that is convenient and compliant for rail and air travel. Read on for some things to consider, and buy the best luggage for international travel.

Recommended Lightweight Luggage

Travelpro is the luggage brand that airline piiots and flight attendants use -- and those people know the ins and outs of luggage!

Get the Travelpro Maxlite 25" Expandable Spinner >>

An expandable bag like this one allows you some extra room (1.5 inches) for things you might bring back from your trip. The Travelpro Maxlite line a telescoping handle with 2 different heights and a handy full-length lid pocket for stashing last-minute items.

There's a full-length zipper pocket on the lid that makes for easy accessibility to the things you need first and foremost.

This spinner bag offers 360-degree mobility via 4 multidirectional inline skate wheels (rollerblade wheels), which are the best wheels for luggage.

The telescoping handle has two stops, 38-inches and 41-inches, to accommodate travelers of different heights.

If you're sure you need a large suitcase for extended overseas travel (or just to pack for several members of the family), this bag is a great option. At under 10 pounds, it leaves you lots of weight allowance for your belongings before hitting the 50 lb limit.

Travelpro Maxlite 29" suitcase >>

Side handles become extremely important for larger luggage sizes, and this bag has a sturdy one for lifting.

The partially recessed design of the inline skate wheels help protect them from breakage -- an important consideration for checked bags.

You might think you want a larger bag (29-30 inches), but it's going to cause more problems than it solves.

1. It's way too easy to go over the 50 lb. weight limit with a 29 inch bag. (Not an issue if you don't mind the excess bag fee.) You can always get a 25 inch bag that's EXPANDABLE if you need more space.

2. In addition to the overWEIGHT fee, airlines can hit you with an overSIZE fee -- at a whopping $100 to $300 -- for going over 62 inches in total size (length+width+height). Rolling 29-inch bags (and primarily, their wheels) will put you over the limit in most cases. While most agents won't whip out the measuring tape if you're being "looks" standard, it's important to know the risks.

4. A bag that big is going to be difficult to lift once packed. Think about all the different scenarios in which you'll need to lift your bag: putting it in the trunk, lifting it up the the stairs to board the airport shuttle or a city bus, getting it up on the hotel bed, etc. Plus, you never know when elevators and escalators will be out of service (or nonexistent) at your destination. You may be forced to lug your bag up a flight or two of stairs. Never pack more than you can carry yourself if you're forced to.

4. Huge bags are going to be frustrating for you (and annoying for others) when you find yourself trying to move around with them in crowds, at the airport, on buses, trains, or on other public transportation (including cramped airport shuttles).

5. Large luggage won't always fit in the trunk of a car, on a hotel luggage rack, etc.

If you absolutely can't pare down and pack lighter, then you'd be better off just taking an additional 25-26" bag than hauling one big 29-30" bag.

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Best Hard Sided Luggage for International Travel

Here's a budget hardside bag by the French brand, Delsey. It's a sturdy spinner bag that includes a surprising organizational features like a front zipper pocket and a zippered divider with a built-in pocket.

Other smart features include double spinner wheels (which are more weight-bearing and offer greater stability) the side carry handle (on 25" and 29" bags), recessed zippers and recessed telescopic handle (to protect them from damage), and a combination TSA lock. It comes in 21", 25" and 29" sizes in blue or platinum if you want to collect a set.

* This style has larger wheels, so the 29-inch might get flagged by some airlines as an oversized bag once the wheels are included in the measurement. Keep that in mind.

Weight: 12.5 lbs. (29-inch size)

Extras: Double spinner wheels, TSA combination lock, divider, zipper pockets


Pros:

The primary advantage of hardside luggage is its light weight. The light weight of the bag will help you stay under the 50 lb. weight limit imposed by the airlines. You can pack more stuff and still be under the limit.

Hardside luggage typically comes with spinner wheels. The 4 wheels make it easier to maneuver in a crowd or on public transportation. They're also better for moving heavy loads, because you don't have to drag the weight behind you.

The telescoping handle construction and placement leaves you more capacity inside the bag for your belongings.

Hardshell luggage offers better protection of your contents from rain / moisture.

Cons:

Hard-side luggage doesn't give, so it can't be fit in with other luggage (in overhead compartments, on luggage racks, etc.)

This type of luggage typically doesn't have any external pockets or compartments or a luggage tag slot. (Delsey bags DO have a front pocket.)

The clamshell design means you have to lay the bag flat to open it. That makes it hard to stuff in last-minute items or purchases while the bag is upright. (Again, Delsey offers a front pocket for this.)

Though scratch-resistant, hardside luggage is more susceptible to visible scratches and scrapes than softside bags.

Recommended Hard Luggage

When I travel to Europe, I always notice how hardside luggage is more popular there, the way it used to be in the U.S. My mom and I used to travel with it ourselves, back in the 80's. Our alligator-green American Tourister hardshell bags had a certain 70's fashion appeal that was lost on me, even as a kid. But there are several reasons why hard luggage is still a popular choice:

1. They provide superior protection. They're made of polycarbonate (same stuff used to make bulletproof glass), or ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), or a combination of both, which protect your contents from impact. They also offer better protection from rain than softside bags

2. They weigh less. Hard luggage is extremely lightweight, so you'll be able to pack more (or heavier) things in them without going over the 50 lb. limit. If you're packing for a long or extended trip, consider hardside luggage.

3. Flat, hard luggage (like the Tumi and Hartmann suitcases below) is stackable, which is handy for putting them on airport trolleys.

Here are the top-quality hardside luggage brands that travelers rave about. (Note that none of these have a warranty that covers transport damage by airline carriers.)

What color luggage would you prefer to buy?

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Luggage Colors

I like basic black because it hides dirt, but the down side is that every bag on the luggage carousel is black, so it's hard to tell them apart.

Some people like to make a fashion statement with their luggage, with bright colors or a fun print.

How to Buy Luggage: Frequently Asked Questions

What's the Best Size Luggage to Buy?

Most major airlines only allow you one free checked bag (when traveling internationally), so choose a size large enough to hold everything you need to take, while keeping the weight under 50 lbs. to avoid the excess baggage fee. A 25 or 26-inch bag will do just fine for a 10-day trip (assuming you'll repeat / mix and match outfits).

If you need more capacity for an extended trip, a 29" bag might be a better choice. Travelers in this group should seriously consider hardside suitcases, which are much lighter than their softside counterparts and less likely to put you over the 50 lb. limit.

You also need to be careful about oversize bags, not just overweight bags, particularly with the 29" 30" sizes. Once the wheels are included in the measurement, some 29" bags may exceed the combined length+width+height allowance (usually 62" on international flights). Make sure that the length + width + height (with wheels included) adds up to 62" or less. I highly recommend staying under 28 inches if you want to avoid the oversize baggage fee.

For European travel (my geographic area of expertise), the best size depends on what kind of trip you've got planned. If you're going to be based in one place, and only dealing with your luggage a minimum number of times (just from the airport to the hotel in a taxi, for instance), then you can go with a bigger bag -- but only if you need it.

For trips that involve multiple cities, trains in between, and public transportation to and fro, I'd definitely recommend sticking with a 25 - 26 inch bag, paired with a carry on. Any bag larger than that will be hard to maneuver. (And elevators / escalators are NOT a given. You'll likely have to lug your bag up multiple flights of stairs during the course of your trip.)

Travel experts say to pack the same amount, whether your trip is for just a few days or for a few weeks. You want something that's not so large that it can't be easily loaded into taxis, placed on train luggage racks, put in a train station locker, or taken onto public transportation. The rule of thumb is to only take what you can carry yourself, and I can tell you that that's a very good rule -- the rest of the world is not as handicap-friendly (with ample ramps, elevators, smooth sidewalks, etc.) as the U.S.

What's the most durable luggage?

Polyester luggage is lightweight, but it doesn't hold up as well. I don't recommend it for bags that you have to check, which will be subjected to rough airline baggage handling. It's cheaper, but you really don't save money in the long run because you have replace your luggage more often.

Instead, choose luggage made of ballistic nylon, which is a a high-quality, durable material. You'll pay a little more, but your luggage will last.

How long should a suitcase last?

This ain't your grandmother's workhorse luggage -- nothing is made quite the way it used to be. That said, the life expectancy of a sturdy bag nowadays is 10 years.

What do the bag sizes mean? (26 inch, 29 inch, etc.)

Those numbers refer to the height of the bag, as measured from the top to the bottom of the suitcase. Many manufacturers to do not include wheels and handles in their measurements, so pay close attention to the dimensions. (The product info will indicate if the measurement includes wheels. If it doesn't say, assume it's not included.) The rule of thumb is to add roughly two inches to the stated height to account for the wheels.

For wheeled bags, your actual packing space will be less than whatever height the bag is listed as. Some of the space on two-wheel bags will be taken up by the internal wheel housing, and on spinner (4-wheel) bags, packing space is traded off to allow for the external wheels.

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