It’s been a bag-buying week here at Chez Wanderlust. I found some great deals, too, which I am going to share with you. But first, why the heck am I buying more wheelie bags when I already have one? I am so glad you asked!
If you have been following me on Instagram for any amount of time, you already know I try to spend every Thanksgiving in Paris. For a couple of years I was splitting my time between Paris and LA, and Thanksgiving was still my favorite time to be in the city. By mid-to-late November, the Christmas market is set up and not too crowded, there are fewer tourists, and the weather is usually pretty good. It’s cold enough to wear all my hand knits but not so cold that I’m miserable.
I wasn’t sure how Thanksgiving would go this year. The Captain has three kids, two in college and one in high school. We started chatting about how we were going to approach the holiday break and I said, “Man! I wish we were bazillionaires. Then we could fly all the kids to Paris and they could have a whole different kind of holiday!”
And we both agreed that being bazillionaires would be awesome.
Even though the conversation ended, my brain kept noodling on it. How could we do this without an enormous pot of gold? It was just such a cool idea. And I do have a serious talent for finding deals. And right now there are deals galore out there for travel to Europe. Maybe it could work?
When I floated the idea to the Captain he got really excited, too. We started looking at fares and set up alerts all over the place. It took us a few weeks of looking but we managed to find the boys three roundtrip tickets to Paris for under $1500! Two tickets are nonstop from Los Angeles to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, and one is from Boston to Orly Airport with a layover in Lisbon for the oldest boy. He attends school on the East coast so it made sense to fly him out from there.
The direct flight (LAX-CDG) is on Norwegian Air and it was about $430 roundtrip per person. We booked each leg of the flight as separate tickets to get the lowest fare.
The Boston-Paris (BOS-ORY) flight was on TAP Airlines, another low-cost carrier, and we got that ticket for about $470 RT. That flight has some serious carry-on baggage limits, with no rollerbag exceeding 8 kilograms (or about 17 pounds.)
The Great Roller Bag Search of 2017 Was Officially ON
Super Lightweight Bag: My favorite pick for ultra-light luggage is IT Luggage. They specialize in very light bags that are also durable for travel. I chose this bag that weighs only 3.6 pounds. By comparison, my Samsonite wheelie bag weighs almost 7 pounds. I love my Samsonite and it’s durable enough for all the traveling I do, but three pounds of weight is a pair of shoes, a book and some T-shirts. We bought the IT Luggage bag for the Boston kid online so we could utilize the awesome free shipping on amazon prime.
Roller Bags On Sale At Marshall’s: The other kids have more leeway on the luggage, up to about 22 pounds per carryon (or they can check their bags for free, too.) So I found two smart-looking rolling bags at Marshall’s for less than $79 each. They are solid Samsonite suitcases, they will easily fit in the cabin, and their smooth wheels and sturdy zippers mean they’ll last for all the trips to come.
There are SO MANY BAGS at Marshalls’s to choose from:
Honestly, I debated between getting them each a nice-but-really-inexpensive bag (in the $40 range) since they’re the younger kids and they don’t travel much.
In the end I decided that spending $20 extra for a solid quality bag that will last a decade seemed preferable to buying a cheaper one that will see a dumpster in one year’s time.
Funny story: Before we went to Denmark, I tried to find The Captain a samsonite rollerbag exactly like mine since we like to be samesies. Every discount store in the east valley had this brand but not the exact same bag. I bought him a Samsonite case that was similar, but not an exact match. Fast forward to last night when I was suitcase shopping … the two bags I got for his younger kids EXACTLY match the Captain’s Samsonite case. It was meant to be!!
These are the bags I bought them:
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So, how do you pick a great carry on bag?
You do not need to spend a big chunk of cash to get a great suitcase. This is one of those pieces that is best bought at a discount store like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Ross, or Burlington Coat Factory.
Definitely go in person and try out a few bags. Open them up, try the zippers to be sure they move smoothly, and pick up the case to test its weight. Once you find a bag you like, walk around with it in the store. Does it feel good? Is it heavy even though it’s empty?
(Note: I picked out the ultralite bag online because I already own one that’s similar and am really familiar with the brand, but in general try to go in person.) (Also did I mention free shipping?)
You don’t need to go into analysis paralysis for a suitcase. It comes down to getting the best bag you can buy for the money. Ever since my one terrifying maybe-encounter with Paris bedbugs (or were they fleas? We shall never know because I got rid of every. last. thing) I no longer buy pricey luggage. My rule is that all suitcase bags must be $79.99 or less. Arbitrary but also, totally do-able.
When buying a bag, some things to consider are:
• Weight. Lighter is almost always better. I have tried several lightweight bags on the market and the lightest bags are the IT Luggage brand, often available at discounted prices at TJ Maxx and similar stores.
• Soft fabric bag vs. hard-sided luggage. This is a personal choice. I only used soft-sided bags until I found my lovely hard-sided Samsonite at TJ Maxx for $79. I adore it! It feels really stable and tidy, but it’s still lightweight(ish). Another upside is that it is so much easier to clean. After each trip I wipe it down with spray cleaner and it looks like new.
• Color. Black and dark colors hide wear and tear better, but brighter colors are easier to spot if you ever need to check your bag. Also, if it’s only going to be in the cabin and in the back of a cab you’re probably fine picking a light color. If you plan to haul it through the streets of Paris and in the subway and down to your hotel, eh …. you’re not going to love that sleek white bag any more. Also, don’t worry about avoiding a loud floral if you think that will make you a target in the streets. You’re dragging around a suitcase. People have figured out you are not from the neighborhood.
• Durability. For a carry-on bag you can prioritize weight over durability. In the cabin, lighter is always better. The zipper needs to be the most durable part of the bag, so test it out in the store and make sure it zips easily with no snags. If the zipper catches on the lining at any spot on the bag, put it back. You want the zipper to feel sturdy and well-attached and it must move easily. Also, consider your style of travel: Are you planning to take the metro to/from the airport? Is the metro a long walk from your hotel or apartment? You’d be surprised how many stairs you’ll be lugging that suitcase up and down in the metro, so this is where it’s nice to have a very durable bag with strong wheels and a solid handle.
• Spinner wheels. Trust me on this, spinner wheels are so much better than the standard two (or four) inline wheels. Spinners are 360-degree spinning wheels that glide easily and allow you to push your bag upright instead of dragging it behind you. Dragging a heavy bag behind you does a number on your wrists!
• Handle height and strength. Take your bag for a spin through the aisles of the store. Is it comfortable in your hands? Is the height good for you? Can it be adjusted to fit a few different heights? Pick a bag whose handle feels easy in your grip and isn’t funky to wheel around. Does the telescoping handle release easily? Is it solid? Or is it kind of flimsy? If the handle feels flimsy or has too much give, put it back. You will be miserable wheeling it around when it’s full of stuff.
• Pockets and compartments. I almost never use those exterior zipper compartments on a suitcase. The hardsided bag I’m using these days doesn’t have many and it’s been no problem. What I do like is a nice way to divide the separate sides of the suitcase — if it folds out in half, like a book, I want at least one of the sides to be secured with a strap or a zippable lining. A small interior pocket is a nice-to-have item. Other than that, I pack mostly in packing cubes and don’t need pockets. You may be the exact opposite, however, so open the bag when you are in the store and get a sense of how your clothes would sit inside.
• Size. Saved the best for last! Size varies a lot in carryons which is surprising, since most airlines have a pretty standard cabin regulation. The universally accepted carry-on luggage size for a domestic flights (within the U.S.) is 22″ x 14″ x 9″. That means your bag must measure 22″ or less from the wheel to the handle in height, it must be no more than 14″ wide and no more than 9″ deep. Depending on your airline carrier, they may also have strict regulations about the weight of your bag so check before you fly (or better, check before you book a ticket as you may be able to upgrade your bag allowance for $25 or $50 when booking.)
• Internal Size is another matter. Some bags have a weird construction or extra padding that eats up valuable interior space. Be sure to open the bag and compare it to others in the store. You want the most internal size you can get, even if it means less padding or nifty pockets. If it smells stale, you can add a few dryer sheets to the inside when you get home, or air it out for a few days and then store it with a dryer sheet on the inside.
You can get a great bag for well under $100 in lots of stores. Try not to stress yourself out with the shopping experience, you do want a bag you like but also I think there’s less pressure for the suitcase to be PERFECT when you keep the price low and more affordable.
A few folks mentioned they love CALPAK bags, look what I found last night at Marshall’s in Burbank:
It was hard to resist that cute pink bag!
Why Carry On Instead Of Check A Bag?
I vary my packing style depending on the location, connection details and duration of the trip.
For short trips, a wheelie suitcase and a backpack carries everything I need (mostly, anyway.) (See:”Yarn stuffed in coat pockets” on my way to Helsinki.)
Carry-On Only is especially useful international flights with a connection. You often have to deplane and go through customs, gather your checked luggage, go through inspection, re-check your luggage at the service counter, and then go back through security. Yup. It is a process.
The re-checking hassle happens in Heathrow a lot, and it happens every single time you make your connection in the United States. You have to go through immigration at your first port of arrival in the United States, that’s the law. If you are flying from London to Dallas and then Dallas to Phoenix, you need to exit the airplane in Dallas and do the whole immigration/customs thing, even if your final stop isn’t until you arrive in Arizona.
I love the freedom of wheeling past the long line of folks stuck at the baggage carousel during the connection. It also feels good to have your bag with you for a short trip. If you have a tight connection, your checked bags don’t always make it during the transfer. Short trips and lost luggage do not a happy vacation make.
HOWEVER, there are times where a checked bag is the right choice. When I go to France I almost always check a bag because I bring a ton of stuff back with me. I bring French wine and laundry detergent pods (theirs smell so much better) and all kinds of lotions and soap and chocolate. I need a checked bag and also a sherpa.
When purchasing luggage that will be checked, all the rules above still apply. Prioritize durability over weight, though only by a hair because you want both for checked bags. And consider getting a bright TSA-approved luggage strap to secure your bag and make it easier to spot. I have these in pink and green and I love them.
Add a cute luggage tag or two and get on the plane! The world is waiting for you.