When it comes to travel luggage, I’m the baggage queen.  From the age of five, when I first started packing a bag for adventures – admittedly behind the sweet peas in the garden – I’ve had a deep and enduring love for bags of all types.  So I think I have given most of the luggage options a good try over the years of travel that followed.  Travelling with a less than ideal bag can be a pain, both literally and figuratively.   Here are some things to consider when you are choosing your suitcase, backpack, tote or other travel bag for your next adventure.


These are definitely the workhorses of the baggage kingdom.  They cover every length of packing list, and pretty much every budget.  Despite the sturdy and robust looks of hard shell cases, research from Which has found that both hard and soft cases can end up on the list of the most durable buys. Check out what Which has to say here: http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/suitcases/article/choosing-and-buying-the-best-luggage/hard-or-soft-sided-suitcase.

Hard Shell Cases

Reasons you might use a hard shell:

  • it may offer more protection for the bag contents
  • it tends to be more water resistant
  • hard shells have become more lightweight and increasingly cheaper
  • you love the look of it
  • it’s a solid base on which to trundle your cabin or tote bag
  • some options provide seats for kids at busy airports
  • it protects against extremes of temperature

And why you might regret it:

  • banging your knees while wandering around isn’t fun
  • those pristine finishes can get damaged
  • trying to wedge a hard shell into your home storage isn’t easy
  • most won’t expand a little bit further to accommodate your purchases on the way home
  • it can be more expensive than a similar sized soft case

Soft Cases

And if you bought a soft case:

  • it may be more tolerant of the travel process and show damage less
  • it’s much easier to wiggle it under your bed either on holiday or at home
  • it might expand to take all that lovely shopping you bought on your holiday
  • it was most possibly cheaper to purchase


  •  it could offer less protection to your belongings
  •  it may seem less stylish
  •  it may have less water protection for the case contents

Holdalls and trolley bags

These fall somewhere into the hinterland between suitcases and backpacks.  Many can be carried as a holdall with a shoulder strap, but also have wheels, allowing you to trundle merrily on your way.  I haven’t seen as many holdalls and trolley bags on my travels recently, and this could be because they combine the worst of both worlds.

On the plus side:-

  • they can be amazingly inexpensive
  • they are very easy to store at home or away
  • they are lightweight, so you can maximise your packing
  • they work very well for low cost flights, where baggage charges kick in at a very low size and weight
  • without wheels, they are brilliant for journeys with cobbles, and water-based or crowded local transit


  • the options with wheels can be unstable if not well packed, and difficult to manage
  • carrying the wheeled versions by their shoulder straps can require considerable strength
  • many don’t have internal structure, so unless you pack them fully, even with packing cubes, your belongings are subject to movement within the bag


No longer solely the choice of backpackers, a good backpack can be a logical choice.  At their best, backpacks

  • distribute your load carefully, allowing you to manage it easily over difficult terrain
  • offer plenty of organisation to sort your belongings
  • enable you to take one bag with ease

But be aware that

  • if your personal style veers towards crisply ironed, this may not be a match made in heaven
  • carrying the weight of your belongings constantly can be tiring
  • carrying backpacks on crowded transit can make it difficult to avoid hitting people with your bag

So how do you choose Your Travel Luggage?

Firstly you need to think about how much you are taking with you.  A tote is fine for a weekend away, but two weeks more of a challenge.  Secondly, what’s your destination?  A couple of weeks in a hot climate could easily be a carry on holdall only.  If you are taking conference materials and business clothing or winter gear, a hard shell might make your weekend easier.  Thirdly, what’s your style?  If you are happily casual, then you won’t need as structured a bag as someone who loves tailoring.

Size matters

Do check the requirements of your airline to see if the measurements include wheels or not.  You may be fine nine times out of ten, but a checked baggage charge at the airport is never a good start to a trip.  And consider where you are headed once you get to your destination.  For example, in theory you can take anything you like on the sleeper train.   Actually getting a large case on board and pulling it down the narrow corridor, let alone stowing it somewhere over your head in the compartment can be something of a pain.

Wheels matter

I speak from bitter experience, having dragged a fairly heavy two wheeled case around Tennessee last year.  If it’s going to be a heavy load, then two wheels bad, four wheels good, to misquote Orwell.  Four wheel or spinner cases will glide on smooth surfaces, but two wheel cases will still require you to support some of the load.  Two wheel cases are easier to pull up kerbs, and are also easier to manage on rougher surfaces such as cobbles.  On which note, plastic wheels make a lot more noise on cobbles than their rubber cousins.  People of Ghent, I am very sorry for your early awakening.

Materials matter

For soft sided suitcases, trolley bags, holdalls and backpacks made of nylon, the higher the denier, the more sturdy and durable the bag should be.

Check the trolley handle ribs that run inside the case.  These can take up a fair bit of space, so it’s useful if the lining is loose enough to enable you to fill the space between the handles with small and soft items.

Most hard shell suitcases are made from polypropylene or ABS plastic.  Polypropylene is heavier but extremely strong; it’s also used to make car bumpers.  ABS is used to make crash helmets, and it has an affinity with great shine and finishes.  It is also very strong, but a violent impact could cause a crack.

Try before you buy, if you can.  Take your luggage for a trundle around the shop.   This is particularly important with handles, and especially if you are tall or short.  Having to drag a bag where the handle height adjustment doesn’t work for you can leave you sore and uncomfortable for your trip.  Where possible, I’d recommend a handle that forms a loop through which you can put your fingers, rather than one with a bar that sits between the fingers.  My favourite wheeled backpack has one of those bar handles, and it’s the only thing I dislike about it.

Holdalls and Backpacks

If you are taking an inexpensive flight, then you need luggage with very little internal structure to add weight, and no wheels.  I would probably choose a backpack here.  For longer trips, some kind of internal structure will help keep your belongings in better condition, and wheels will help share the load.  My favourite holdall (or slug bag, as I prefer to call it) has wheels. It is structured so it flips open with a top compartment, and a lower compartment with retaining straps.  That bag works really well for up to two weeks international travel. You can use packing cubes to keep things less creased, while the top compartment stops shoes from wandering around.

If you will be doing a lot of walking with your backpack, do go and be properly fitted at a store.  The combination of straps and hip belt need to be right for you, and having this checked can make your trip way more enjoyable.

What are Your Favourite Travel Luggage Options?

Mine are really dependent on the trip we’re taking.  For long haul of any duration, I’ll have a wheeled suitcase in the hold, and probably a cross body tote for my carry on bag.  A smaller wheeled suitcase does shorter flights, or possibly a wheeled slug bag for quick stay long haul.  For road trips, I’ll use squishy holdalls for the car boot, and for overnighters I’ll take a tote or  backpack.

Hope that helps in choosing the bag for your next trip.  Do you have any tips and trips of your own?  Do share!


Author: Bernie

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