Finding the perfect bag to carry all your belongings from one place to the next can elude even the most seasoned of travelers. Luckily, a crop of modern suitcases and carry-ons offer more maneuverability and storage space than the lofty trunks of the 1940s. But with an array of bags catering to different price points, preferences and travel styles, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the dizzying array of choices. To guide you to the best suitcase for your needs, here's a primer on the latest luggage pieces and simple questions to ask yourself to pare down your options.
Do you want a luggage set?
Traditional luggage sets come in a variety of styles, shapes and sizes. Most luggage sets advertise anywhere from two to six different bags and range from small carry-ons to medium-sized bags to super-sized suitcases. They can be purchased separately or in a set. Once you determine whether you want to invest in a luggage set, you must decide which model best caters to your needs.
See: How to Pack Light
Do you prefer hard or soft shell luggage?
Before you invest in hard or soft-cased bags, you should factor in practical matters such as whether you want two or four wheels. Hard shell suitcases are often made with quasi-flexible polycarbonate, and tend to be the most appealing for tech-savvy travelers carrying gadget due to their durability. Another bonus: The outside hard shell is designed to endure the elements. What's more, the material comes in a variety of easy-to-identify colors and patterns.
On the other end of the spectrum, soft shell luggage is typically designed with thick fabric or leather, and these tend to be easier to squeeze into overhead bins. Plus, they sometimes come with additional pockets and zippers, making them an ideal choice for those in search of extra storage.
Do you like to travel light?
When it comes to choosing between soft or hard shell luggage, weight should be a top factor. If you want to eliminate extra checked baggage fees at the airport, it's best to pick a light suitcase that you can easily carry through security and place in overhead bins. Travelers will find many luggage manufacturers advertising lightweight baggage options. Samsonite's MIGHTlight collection, for instance, offers a carry-on bag that weighs less than 6.25 pounds.
How much are you willing to spend?
The amount you pay for your luggage comes down to personal preference. Wayfair, a home goods shopping site, shows the majority of three-piece luggage sets priced between $100 to $200. Meanwhile, luxury and designer luggage pieces come attached to heftier prices, but if you're willing to splurge, can prove to be more resistant, durable and built with accessories designed for strategic packers.
What's your perfect size?
Before you choose which suitcase best fits your needs, keep in mind that each carrier imposes carry-on and checked bag size restrictions and requirements. Though rules vary by airline, most U.S.-based carriers allow travelers to bring checked bags under 62 inches (in length, width and height) and carry-on pieces that do not exceed 45 inches, including handles and wheels.
Do you prefer wheeling or shouldering your bag?
Wheels are one of the most important features to consider: Not only must they be able to withstand rough treatment, they also make maneuvering lofty luggage a cinch.Traditionally, suitcases come with two wheels. However, most hard shelled bags are designed with four wheels, enabling travelers to roll their bag upright to eliminate extra weight.
Have you cross-compared your ideal suitcase with other bags?
There's no one piece of luggage that would fit the needs of every traveler or every trip. With that in mind, it's smart to consider backpacks and duffle bags. These are most practical for long-haul and multi-destination trips. And when it comes to finding the best bag for you, the trick is utilizing trusted sites and resources. Rely on helpful tools, such as comparison charts on The Container Store website, to cross-compare luggage options based on price, weight and additional features, like anti-theft accessories, retractable handles and warranties.
How do you like to organize your bag?
After choosing the best luggage for your travel needs, consider which packing methods and accessories enable you to maximize storage space and efficiency. To easily lighten your load in nine steps, check out these smart packing techniques.
Julie Loffredi is an award-winning journalist and correspondent. She writes about travel tips for a variety of publications and is a contributor at travel insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip. You can follow her on Twitter @julieloffredi or connect with her on LinkedIn.