I have packed a suitcase for a business trip at least a thousand times. It’s probably more but I’m tired and the math is unnecessary. Suffice it to say, it’s A LOT. That also means the suitcases I have purchased have seen more wear in five years than most tourist suitcases do in a lifetime.
The upside to this is that every time there is a significant innovation in luggage technology (there actually is such a thing), I’m about due for a new suitcase. Expandable. Check. Fiberglass frames. Check. Compression sides. Check. Water bottle and outside zippable passport pockets. Check. Padded laptop compartment. Check. Wheels… and then Spinners. Check. Check.
I could be accused of having a bit of a baggage fetish, and I have owned a lot of suitcases, but I can tell you in three minutes what you will hate about the bag you just picked off the shelf at the local discount store. If there were such a thing as a Luggage Designer, I would rock that job. I know I irritated eBags.com enough to stop offering free shipping on returns, but for the reviews I provided, they should have been thanking me.
Mind you, suitcases… even the cheap stuff you find at discount stores, is designed to last for a few trips. Brand names like TravelPro, Samsonite, Briggs & Riley, and (believe it or not) Amazon Basics and eBags.com will all last you for years of weekly wear and tear. There are a couple of caveats to this claim.
- Never check your suitcase
- Never loan your suitcase
- Don’t leave your suitcase sitting open where the cat may take a bit of revenge on you for your regular absences
There is nothing harder on a suitcase than going through airport baggage handling. It’s no one’s fault, and you may be tired enough that it doesn’t matter, but how your suitcase gets from the check-in counter to the belly of the airplane is a dirty, messy, fast-paced process. It’s worse if the weather is bad.
This is one reason not to get one of those extra large suitcases. You can’t carry it on. You’ll also be tempted to over-pack, which means you’ll have perfectly good clean business clothes that need another round at the dry cleaners when you get back home. Expensive.
I’ve had a super durable hard shell Samsonite get dented in baggage handling. A clean suitcase came back covered in grease and mud. And, inexplicably, wet clothing when I unpacked in the hotel room after I checked it so that I could carry on some training materials.
#1 Rule of Travel: Keep your luggage with you whenever possible.
Loaning a suitcases is like checking a suitcase, only more unpredictable. The person who borrows a suitcase almost never travels… ergo, they will almost certainly violate Rule #1. Secondly, they will always assume that those movie scenes where you shove twice as much clothing into a suitcase as its actual capacity, sit on it and strain to close the zipper… bear some relation to reality. They will then attempt to duplicate the experience, because, after all, it’s their trip and it looked romantic when Meg Ryan did it. If they’re particularly new to the travel experience, they may become impatient, throwing the suitcase around because travel can be annoying. Worse, they will fail to tip the bellhop at the hotel when they leave the suitcase for an additional 7 hours after check out before they are ready to head to the airport. It will make its way to the back of the baggage storage closet, it will fall over, it will get stepped on, there will be leaky icky things on the floor, etc…
The third item may well just be my cat, but I don’t think so. An open suitcase not only resembles a cat litter box in shape but to the cat’s acute sense of smell, it stinks a bit of your dirty everything. Plus they’re annoyed because you left for four days! Enough said.
Ah, finally… the cost of the luggage. Bet you thought I’d forgotten. There is a tiny line between high quality luggage that has a decent warranty, and luggage that is all about status. A tiny line, and many many hundreds of dollars (or in the case of a Louis Vuitton, many thousands).
The quality of a Rimowa is not exponentially greater than that of a Tumi, yet they run 2 – 4 times as much.
Likewise, the quality of a Briggs & Riley and a Tumi (both with decent lifetime warranties) are pretty close, but the Tumi version you want will probably put you back a couple hundred dollars more. There’s a similar cost step down from a B&R or Tumi – to a Samsonite or a TravelPro. It’s crazy.
I’ve hedged my bets over the years and purchased a Briggs & Riley for my regular travel bags that I know I’ll be using All The Time. They’re not kidding about their Lifetime “Simple as That” warranty. I purchased a backpack for my ex, that she used constantly (she was a professor, she biked to work and then carried it around all day, then took it to yoga on the weekends). About three years in, the stitching on one of the straps came unraveled. She took it into a luggage store that carried the brand, whereupon they offered her a new one. She didn’t like the new configuration. So they sent the old one to the B&R factory and completely rebuilt hers. “Simple as That”. Briggs & Riley, they’re not kidding. (tell them I sent you)
That being said, for the price point and the brand’s quality, you can’t go wrong with a Samsonite. They may not have all the “new technology”, but a good Samsonite will last you for years… even if you’re a serious road warrior.
There are some countries where having expensive luggage will get you better treatment. They are high context cultures with respect for power structures. If you have expensive luggage, you have face and deserve respect. It’s not an American thing, but in some Asian and Latino cultures… it’s important.
So I would never sneer at you for spending a grand on a Rimowa, even though you can get a Samsonite for about a tenth of the price that will last you at least half as long. If you are traveling abroad for business on a regular basis, it might be a worthwhile investment. It might even keep you out of trouble long enough for someone to review your passport.
On the other hand, it could make you a target for thieves. Listen to your peers who have been on similar trips. Some of them will have paid close enough attention to recognize the subtle cultural cues – which is what travel is all about, right?
So what about you? Have a luggage brand you want to brag about? What is your craziest baggage claim story? Hit me up! Leave a comment at the bottom.