With temperatures plummeting and vacations on the horizon, many would-be travelers are working through mental checklists of all the necessities for their winter trips. Depending upon the trip in question, clothes, toiletries, and other needs may vary greatly. However, regardless of whether you're planning to hit the slopes or just relax on a beach, there is one thing that you'll need: good luggage.
Strong, sturdy luggage doesn't come cheap, and it's all too easy to empty your wallet before you even pack your bags. Luckily, with some careful planning and thoughtful shopping, you can find the perfect case for your needs -- without paying a painful price.
When choosing your bag, the first thing to consider is what your traveling needs will be. If you plan to buy a lot of souvenirs while on vacation, and like to have a lot of compartments, you will be best served by a traditional nylon suitcase. Combining a hard frame to protect goodies with soft walls that will enable you to really pack in the presents, these suitcases are perfect for the traveler who plans to hit the gift shops.
On the other hand, if you don't really care about compartments and aren't worried about carrying breakables, you might consider a duffel bag. These soft-sided bags collapse for easy storage, but don't have a rigid frame, which means that you can really pack in the souvenir t-shirts and flip flops. Many large duffel bags also come with attached wheels and pulling handles, which makes it easy to get them through the airport.
If you aren't worried about finding room for a lot of souvenirs, you might think about buying hard shell luggage. Strong and durable, these bags will protect your clothes but won't leave a lot of room for any extras on the return trip. On the bright side, any fragile goodies that you pack in a hard-shell case will be likely to make the return trip with minimal breakage.
Regardless of which bag you choose, you will definitely want to pick one with wheels and a pull strap. As a general rule, the larger the wheels, the easier the bag will be to pull. Also, be sure to do a test roll before buying anything: depending on how tall you are, some handles will be too short for your needs.
Another thing to consider is weight. Even the best-prepared traveler is likely to spend a little bit of time dragging a bag around, and the heavier the bag, the harder that will be. Generally speaking, soft-sided nylon luggage that is built on a hard frame is the heaviest option, often weighing twice as much as other choices. This is largely due to two factors: the built-in plastic frames and the ballistic nylon fabric, which is often very thick and heavy.
Hard shell luggage looks like it should be heavier than nylon, but the opposite is often true. Rigid shells, while sturdy and durable, tend to be made out of thin molded plastic, which means that they can offer the same structure of nylon bags, but don't need the heavy frames. This can result in bags that are several pounds lighter, which could make things a lot easier when you're lugging it through the airport.
Duffel bags tend to be a lot lighter than other options. While their weight may vary greatly depending upon material, the lack of a rigid frame or case makes them a lot easier to navigate through airports. Then again, they also can be stuffed full of souvenirs, which means that they could be a lot heavier on the return trip than on the flight out!
Between plane tickets, taxis, trains, and other travel costs, you might not have a lot of money to spend on your bags. If this is the case, then you might want to think twice about nylon luggage. With prices in the $400 to $600 range, premium nylon bags could take a big bite out of your travel budget. On the bright side, these bags often carry lifetime warranties, which means that once you buy the bag, you won't ever have to buy it again.
A cheaper option, hard shell luggage generally runs in the $150 to $200 range. For that money, you get a durable bag at a fairly reasonable price. And, depending upon the brand, you may also be able to get a lifetime warranty.
By far, duffel bags are the least expensive option. At L.L. Bean, prices for rolling duffels range between $80 and $199, depending upon size and materials. Best of all, Bean's lifetime warranty ensures that you will be able to take your duffel on trips for years to come.
Matching Needs to Bags
When buying luggage, your most important question will be what you need on your trip. If you plan to bring home lots of fragile gewgaws and see lugging a heavy bag as a fun bit of extra exercise, a nylon bag might be the perfect thing for you. On the other hand, if you see yourself as a hardy traveler who doesn't want to be dragged down by weighty luggage, think about a duffel. Or you might, as our intrepid video reporter Martha Millan, want to go with the perfect compromise: a lighter-weight, lower-priced hard shell case. Either way, you'll find that holiday happiness is indeed in the bag!