Monday, February 18, 2008

When Not To Be Cheap: Luggage

Now, most people generally haven't travelled as much as I have, and some people won't ever travel as much as I have -- I've lived overseas twice, have travelled overseas at least seven times, in over 30 countries. However, one thing that most people need and use, regardless of where they travel, is good luggage.

As I've mentioned, I've spent some time on the road -- from trips of 7-10 days, to nine (yes, nine) months. So, I know a little something about luggage. Namely: cheap luggage is never worth it. Yet, cheap luggage is available in so many places (including a Walgreen's drugstore in my city).

Cheap luggage will:

1. Hurt your wrists and/or elbows, when pulled for more than a few blocks (even if the ground is smooth);
2. Bust seams easily;
3. Have handles that get bent easily;
4. Have zippers that break easily;
5. Have zippers that will eat your clothes at every possible opportunity;
6. Provide less structure to protect your belongings (and breakable souvenirs);
7. Likely last 2-5 trips before "dying."

Good luggage will:

1. Provide some kind of shock support in the handles;
2. Standup to overpacking;
3. Have smooth, reliable zippers;
4. Have handles that stand up to repeated use and abuse (e.g. airline employees or kids);
5. Last for years, if not your entire life.

I've had both types of luggage. I usually end up with a cheap-o suitcase when I've been living abroad for a while or have been travelling a while, and need another bag to carry everything I've bought. One of those bags, a large suitcase on wheels...the handle came out once I was coming up the stairs to the house I lived in. So, that was about $40 for a one-use bag. I have one inexpensive bag that seems like it will last at least a little while, though I haven't put it through any major travelling yet.

It doesn't take a massive investment in designer luggage to purchase quality luggage for yourself. The luggage I've loved the most, is by Eagle Creek. Several other experienced travellers I know and have met also swear by it. When I took a year off (and travelled for 9+ of those months), I bought an Eagle Creek backpack on wheels. Like the first Eagle Creek backpack I ever owned, it stood up to overpacking, abusive handling by airport employees, and never did either bag show any signs of wear (except for dirt) or damage. Both kept my clothes dry when I was using the bag in the rain. More enticingly, Eagle Creek provides a lifetime warranty on its bags. So, for the $150 or so I paid for the backpack on wheels (I don't remember exactly how much it was, though I do remember it was on sale), I have a bag that is friendly to my wrists and elbows, can stand up against the over-packing that invariably occurs at the end of a long trip, and is guaranteed for life.

So, if the Eagle Creek bag lasts me for even the next ten trips, that is the equivalent of spending $400 (or more -- I figured one trip per year) on single-use suitcases (based on my example of the suitcase that fell apart as soon as I got home). This is for one suitcase. If you have a family, imagine how that adds up!

Even if someone only takes short trips (I worked with a guy once who spent all his vacation time within 300 miles of where he lived), it's just as worth it to get a good small backpack, or to invest in a quality duffel bag. I know from experience that having to drag, or otherwise try to carry, a duffel bag with a broken strap connector is a major pain in the neck. Ditto if a seam suddenly bursts in the bag.

If you're in the market for luggage, go to a couple luggage stores and talk to the sales people. Of course, I love my Eagle Creek bags, and I highly recommend that brand. Though I know that different people have different needs, which is why it's best to do some research, first. Ask what type of bag the sales person uses and what kind of travelling they do. If you do decide to buy online, read lots of reviews, first (I like Amazon.com for reviews). Some other questions that are good to ask are:

1. What kind of cushioning is in the handle?
2. How much weight can this bag handle?
3. How much weight can this bag handle if I overpack it?
4. What kind of warranty is available? (Beware of anything under 1-2 years. Really.)
5. How are the zippers? (They should be wide, big teeth, and zip very smoothly -- they should not be thin, tiny teeth, or otherwise "cheap" looking...even on a small bag.)

Once you've done some research, use an online site(Luggage Links, and Eagle Creek bags, on Amazon.com) to find great deals on the brand of luggage you choose.

Luggage is one of those things that should never be scrimped on. I'm not saying go out and buy a match set of Louis Vuitton trunks (oh, to dream!), but to go out and find the best bag(s) that works for your needs. More than simply saving money over the long-haul, quality luggage will also save you headaches and possible injuries to your wrists and elbows.

1 comment:

Kim said...

You have to be careful too where you buy your luggage. I got conned by buying an American Tourister set at Walmart because of the name.

It didn't hold up at all because the inferior sets end up at WM. My AM bag that I paid $120 for is wonderful and still working. You get what you pay for!