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Choosing the Right Travel Bag for Your Next Trip

  • Post category:Resources
  • Post last modified:July 8, 2021

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From luggage to organizers, starting off with the right travel bag makes any trip easier. You want something sturdy, lightweight, and just the right size for the trip.

Over the years we’ve been through our fair share of bags, and have developed quite the collection. Some withstood the test of time, while others left us trying to balance 50 lbs on the last remaining good wheel. Far from fun!

These are the various types of bags we routinely use; the trips they are best for, and the specific bags we recommend. 

Right Bag for the right trip Pinterest Image

From roller suitcases, to duffels, to backpacking backpacks, luggage is made differently for different types of trips. To choose the right bag for your trip, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Are you flying? What are the carry-on and luggage allowances?
  • How long is your trip? Can you and your partner share a bag instead of carrying multiple suitcases?
  • Will you be staying in one place? If so, a standard roller suitcase may be fine.
  • Will you be moving around a lot on public transportation? Backpacking backpacks work well when there are lots of stairs.
  • Are you road-tripping? Flexible bags, like duffels, that flatten and squish work well.
  • Is it possible or likely for your bags to get wet? Look for water resistant materials. Plus, we always use dry bags for boat trips.     

Best Overall Travel Bag

We’ve found Patagonia’s Black Hole Duffel 55 Liter perfect for just about every trip.

At 55 liters it’s a mid-size bag. It’s big enough for both of us to share on short trips, but we need a second bag for longer adventures. We love that it flattens which makes it easy to store when we have less space, like camper vanning or city breaks.

What we love about the bag:

  • At 3.2 lbs, including the straps, it’s one of the lightest checked bags we’ve found.
  • Shoulder straps convert it from a duffel to a backpack.
  • Flexible and can be flattened. Easy to stuff into the car on road trips.
  • Rugged, durable, and water resistant. We dragged this around South America, Iceland, the U.S., and the U.K., and it still looks new.
  • Folds up small. We use it as a spare bag on trips where we plan on coming back with more than we left with.
  • We use the 55 liter, but they also have a 40, 70 and 100 liter bags.

Tips:

  • The bag doesn’t come with a roller, which is what keeps the weight down. The larger version of this bag does come with a roller attached.
  • As it is an open space, we find it works best with packing cubes to give organization and structure.

Choosing the Right Travel Bags for Flights

Carry-on Bags

Picking the right carry-on travel bag is one of the more challenging luggage choices. Different airline carriers have different size requirements. Pay special attention if you travel internationally as they tend to be even more restrictive.

In addition to size, we look for a light weight carry-on. Ideally, we want them 7 lbs or less. Both Travelpro and IT Luggage make lightweight bags that hit our value point between quality and cost.

Carry-On Rollers

Look for roller bags with some protection around the wheels, though these are becoming increasingly harder to find.

  • Our favorite roller is the Travelpro Crew Versapack. The 21-inch version gives the most usable space, but is too wide for most airlines. So, opt for the 20-inch.
  • IT Luggage makes the lightest roller we’ve found that also maximizes our space, and is affordable.

Max-out Carry-On Weight

If we need to max out our carry-on capacity, we use the Cabin Max Tallinn.

It’s completely flexible so we use packing cubes to give it structure. Best of all, it only weighs 1.87 lbs.

Tip: “Backpacks” are less likely to be forced into checked luggage at the gate, like many roller cases.

Checked Luggage

Likely to be abused in baggage handling, checked luggage will eventually break in some way. It’s not unusual to see cracked hard cases, missing handles, or broken wheels. Sadly, this is true of cheap and expensive bags alike.

The Travelpro Maxlite 5, is a good compromise between price and quality. The two wheels are reasonably protected by the molding, instead of sticking out from the suitcase body.

The Travelpro brand is well trusted by flight crews and frequent flyers alike for their Built for a Lifetime Limited Warranty on defects and quality. Plus, they recently introduced a Trusted Companion Promise on damage the airline may cause, which includes shipping your bag for repair. Be sure to register your bag to obtain the warranty.

Choosing the Right Sized Checked Luggage

Long gone are the days where we could fit everything into our carry-on. Ever since I picked up photography as a hobby my carry-on is strictly reserved for all my camera gear. This means we always have a checked bag. It doesn’t mean the checked bag is always huge.

When we are moving countries or bringing a lot of gifts, we opt for the largest bag(s) possible for the weight allowance we have. We also opt for a larger 29″ roller when we are sharing one bag.

Normally, on trips where we need our own bags, we use our 25″ roller cases. Using the smaller bag is more manageable and keeps us from over packing.

Plus, most US airlines have a 50 lb. max limit, which fits nicely into the 25″. If you completely pack out a 29″ bag with mostly clothes, I guarantee you’ll go overweight. 

Right Travel Bag for Road Trips

Obviously, there’s no such thing as a “road trip bag,” but we’ve found soft-side roller duffels make great road trip companions. Their soft sides lets them conform to fit where you need them.

Since we like to stay organized on the road, we also prefer duffel bags with organizing pockets. Unfortunately, this makes them a bit heavier, one of the reasons they are not great for air travel. We also find baggage handling is a little too rough on them, wheels break and so does the roller. 

The right roller duffel travel bag should have at least compartments for toiletries, and shoes. We also love ones with divided interior storage. We’ve been using this roller duffel from Ful for the past 8 years and love it.

Right Backpacking Backpacks

When we first started traveling, we almost exclusively used backpacking backpacks. Designed to comfortably carry a lot of weight on your back, or rather your hips, these bags are great for overnight hiking and camping trips.

However, these bags are also convenient when moving from place to place where there are a lot of stairs. We found them invaluable in rural Asia and South America where sidewalks are mostly dirt and wheeled suitcases get destroyed.

Comfort is key when picking a backpacking backpack. Instead of buying them online, support a brick-and-mortar outdoors store who can help pick one sized for you. Load it up with weight and try it on. Wear it around the store while you shop. Seriously, it’s the only way you’ll know it’s the right bag for you.

We’ve always had good luck with the brands Osprey and Deuter. However, if you’re looking for something less expensive, many backpacking friends have found good deals at military surplus stores.  

Best Camera Bags for Travel

We bring a camera bag everywhere we go. It has to be strong, but also ideally not look like a camera bag.

For short trips, we slim down our camera gear and bring Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack 20L as it nicely doubles as a day pack. It keeps our gear safe while being stylish enough for a city trip, yet rugged and compact enough for hiking. We’ve had ours for over four years now and used it on countless trips; it still looks new.

The 20-liter fits all this, but there is also a 30-liter version.

  • Full-frame DSLR camera with Nikon 80-400mm attached
  • Second DSLR with Nikon 35mm attached
  • Nikon 50mm
  • Tablet
  • Memory cards, cleaning clothes, etc.

If we need to bring all our photography gear, we opt for the bag we’ve relied on for over 10 years, the Lowpro Vertex 100 AW.  This bag is a workhorse, we love it.

If you are looking for a cheaper alternative, the Altura Photo Wanderer mimics the layout.

Best Travel Bags to Keep You Organized

Packing Cubes

Packing cubes save space, keep you organized, and make repacking a cinch. We have three sets, but our favorite is the Eagle Creek’s Original Starter set, especially the Garment Folder. The other two are more budget friendly options, but they have still held up well over the years.

Toiletry Bags

The right toiletry bag has a sturdy metal hook, plenty of compartments, flexible but firm structure, and a quick drying water resistant material.

Cord Organizer

In the age of technology, everything comes with a cord. To keep us organized, we found a cord organizer keeps us from leaving anything behind.

Best Dry Bags for Travel

Dry bags are essential for camping trips, boat trips, or anytime your gear may get very wet. Instead of zippers or latches, dry bags roll closed to create a waterproof seal. If sealed correctly, with a bit of air, they should also float if they fall in the water. 

Some dry bags come with straps and can be used as a make-shift backpack. 

We hope you find these travel bags useful for your trip. For more recommendations on travel gear visit our Travel Shop.

If you have questions for us or suggestions for other readers, please leave a message in the comments below.

Travel Resources

We recommend and use these companies to arrange our travel plans; they make travel planning easy and affordable. If you have questions on our experiences, feel free to ask us!

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