How to do it, Paraphernalia, Travel checklists

How to choose a suitcase

After my virtual window shopping for a new suitcase yesterday, it got me thinking about all the factors you need to bear in mind when you’re choosing the best luggage.

Now... have I packed everything?

Now… have I packed everything?

Price, performance, size, hard shell or soft case, expandable, weight… the list goes on.

So here are my tips for all you need to know about buying a suitcase.

What type do you want?
Assuming you’ve already decided on a case rather than holdall or backpack, do you want a hard shell case or a softer exterior? Hard sided suitcases tend to be sturdier but also more expensive and often heavier, while cheaper versions can crack and scratch.

If you prefer an expandable model, soft sided cases are usually the only option. They’re usually lighter, cheaper and may have external pockets as well.

How many wheels?
This depends where you’re likely to be wheeling your case. If it’s mostly around airports or the occasional train station, four-wheel cases with their ‘spinner’ wheels are ideal as they’ll glide easily in any direction as well as being more stable.

If you know you’ll be dragging it up and down curbs or over bumpier ground, two wheels can be better than four. Bear in mind the handle will make a difference too – an adjustable handle lets you adapt it for your height, which helps.


How big?
For family travel, bigger might sound better – but as well as considering the type of travel you’ll be doing, bear in mind the airlines you’ll be using. A large case isn’t necessarily best if weight restrictions on low-cost flights mean you’re never able to fill it.

Equally if you’re travelling solo with kids, a medium case might be easier to manoeuvre when you’re also lugging a buggy and various other bags around. And while cabin bags tend to stick to the same measurements, medium and larger sizes do vary so check the dimensions before you buy.

How much room
Once you’ve settled on your perfect suitcase size, always check the volume – not all cases are made equal, so you might find one has a larger internal size than another.

Then look at the extras – is it expandable? If your trips vary between solo short breaks and long family holidays, that’s far more versatile. Are there internal or external pockets. A basic one size suitcase might seem a bargain, but if it drives you mad with no compartments or you need to buy extra luggage dividers, it’s not such a great deal.


How heavy is it?
Luggage technology means cases are getting lighter and lighter – after all, you don’t want to blow too much of your baggage allowance on the bag itself.

The more lightweight the suitcase, the more it can cost – when you’re desperately trying to get everything below the limit, or dragging it around the terminal, ask yourself how much difference the extra weight will make.

What design?
Not purely a superficial question – although there’s nothing wrong with choosing a suitcase which cheers you up every time you start packing.

For instance, how easy will it be to spot on a luggage carousel? If you prefer a basic black model, that’s fine but be prepared to hunt for it each time. For brighter colours and prints, will you still love them in two years? And will they work as well for family travel as a chic hotel or a business trip?


And there’s a good reason you don’t see many light coloured fabric cases…

Any bonuses?
Is there a guarantee, and if so how long for? Does it have a TSA approved lock (and if you’re not travelling to the USA much, do you care?). Is the pulling handle padded?

How does it compare?
It’s always worth taking a quick look at reviews, and something like the Which? Best Buy list. Big names often have a good reputation for a reason, but there are lower-cost brands with plenty of fans. If too many reviews talk about broken zips and wobbly wheels, it could be an expensive mistake.

What’s the price?
If you’ve worked out your perfect case, can you find one in your price range? Would you rather get a cheaper case and accept it will need replacing before too long, or spend a bit more on something which will hopefully last longer?


Images: james/Flickr; sean dreilinger/Flickr; E>mar/Flickr; LoJoLu Photography/Flickr