There are four factors to consider when selecting luggage: capacity, weight, durability, and price. The ideal luggage has infinite capacity, weighs nothing, is indestructible, and (of course) is free. Not surprisingly, we’re still in search of the ideal luggage.
It would be nice if we could find luggage that excels in even one of those areas. We started last year’s 6-month trek through Europe with the bags shown at the top of this blog. They had good capacity, which is to say they were just a bit too large, and they were fairly durable (though Lori’s front pocket zipper didn’t survive our first Atlantic flight). Unfortunately, they were heavy, and with finite airline luggage limits, every pound or kilo a bag weighs is a pound or kilo of less stuff you can bring with you (Lori was “only” able to carry six pairs of shoes with her last year).
The best thing about our bags last year was their price. Our luggage buying seems to be restricted to stores like Marshall’s or Ross, and if I remember correctly, we paid only about $100 for both of those bags. The suggested retail, according to the price tags, was roughly the same as a brand new Lexus, so we appear to have gotten a pretty good deal.
Once stateside this year, we decided what we really needed to do was to find bags that weighed less. We found similarly sized bags for cheap at (you guessed it) a Ross while we were down in Florida in January that bragged they were the “world’s lightest”. They were indeed feather-light at about 2 pounds. These “International Traveler” bags achieved their low weight with aluminum tube construction with nylon and canvas walls and few frills like pockets and dividers and fancy spinner wheels.
Our Ultra-Lightweight Short-Lived Bags for Spring, 2015 (stock photo: they didn’t last long enough for us to get a picture of our actual bags)
We’d show you pictures of these “IT” bags, but (you might have guessed) all of the aforementioned advantages were at the complete disadvantage of the final quality, durability. These bags didn’t survive our first trip with them. In fact, on the very first flight, Chuck’s ultra light IT bag’s front zipper was ripped off the bag. It never made it home, and Lori’s bag was jettisoned in Southern California in July.
So what’s the nomadic travel blogger to do? We were prepared to suck it up and suffer in that fourth category and take out a 10-year loan to get some nice-sized, lightweight luggage that could last more than one flight. But ambling around in a Marshalls (maybe a Ross, what’s the difference?) recently, we became enamored with another cheapo bag configuration and decided to give it a try.
Our New “Sharper Image” Lightweight, Hardside, 4-Wheel Bags
These are “Sharper Image” bags. We know that this is a brand better associated with infinity lights and automatic foot sole massagers, but hear me out. First off, it occurred to us that we don’t have to have identically sized bags. The fact is Lori travels with more stuff than Chuck, so the first thing we decided was that Lori gets the 25 inch bag, Chuck gets the 20 inch bag. Plodding through airports and train stations we’ll likely switch bags, but getting right-sized bags helps us optimize the capacity factor.
Next, these bags are lightweight. They’re not as light as the IT bags we recently had, but then again these bags survived the trip from the cash register to the car, so that’s something. They’re also hard-sided bags, that durable-looking textured plastic you’ve seen at the luggage store. The plastic, admittedly, is thin but should endure anything but a direct jab of something sharp (hopefully the airlines don’t start employing shovels or flounder gigs for loading luggage). Otherwise, the bags achieve their comparatively light weight by foregoing pretty much all frills except for 4 nice spinner wheels (we really missed 4 wheels on those last bags).
Lastly, these bags were inexpensive. At $120 or so all said and done, they were a wee bit more expensive than our previous bags, but nothing like the similar Samsonite and International Touristers we also considered.
Why not go with the better-known brand you might ask? Because we’re cheap (obviously!) but there’s also the assumption that any bag we buy is going to go through airplane hold hell and wind up looking like Nick Nolte’s mug shot. That in mind, we can’t help but assume luggage is more a tool useful for a year or so than it is a family heirloom. The perfect luggage, then, is simply the best balance of those four factors for your use at hand: if you only travel occasionally, or only travel for business, your needs are going to be considerably different from those of the full-time traveler.
We just would like to get a year or more out of our bags. That would be ideal enough for us.