Evolution of Luggage
Most women are obsessed with buying shoes or clothes or purses. Not me. Those things just aren’t important to me. My obsession seems to be buying luggage. About 11 years ago when I started preparing for my study abroad trip to Salamanca, Spain, I ended up getting a huge suitcase so I would be able to fit everything I needed for the 6 week trip.
Now looking back, I can’t imagine what I had in that gigantic thing. We lived with a family for 4 weeks, and our señora did laundry, so I couldn’t possibly have brought weeks worth of clothes. But somehow I lugged this thing around with me all over Spain and thought it was crazy that my roommate Amanda was living out of a carry-on. We barely had room to walk around the 2 beds in our room, so I have no idea how I opened this thing to get stuff in and out of it.
I must have used this suitcase once more the next year because the checked luggage sticker is still looped onto the side handle, but after that it has been retired. Now it is the home to those clothes us females keep for years after we grow out of them, convinced we will once again fit into them and magically still want to wear something from the late 90s.
After several years of only traveling within the US, I took a trip to Greece, my first solo trip. I decided I wanted to take this trip with carry-on luggage only. I think I was paranoid about the airline losing my suitcase, and I thought it would be less of a hassle if I was on my own and didn’t have a lot to carry.
I found a suitcase in a department store that was small enough, and it has a backpack that zipped onto the front. The suitcase itself has hidden backpack straps so the whole thing can be worn as a backpack. I thought this was genius. Of course, I have never actually worn the whole thing on my back. But I could if I wanted to, and I guess that was enough of a selling point.
I also used the suitcase along with one of those JanSport bookbags for my trip to Antarctica. The zip-off backpack was too small, but I still insisted on carry-on only, especially considering the number of flights I took on that trip. I actually had my rubber boots tied together and clipped onto the outside of the suitcase, and they were stuffed with socks, gloves, and whatever else would fit. It was the most ridiculous packing I’ve ever done, but it worked.
The Antarctica trip did make me realize that the bookbag was too awkward because it stuck out so far when it was full. So I took a trip to REI to find something better. I ended up with a 50 liter Kelty backpack to replace the suitcase/backpack combo. I LOVED this bag.
While technically too big to be a carry-on bag, I just walked up to the gates with confidence and boarded the plane. I never had anyone in the US give me trouble for the slightly-too-big bag, and I used it in Europe a few times with no issues. However, I got stopped twice in Ayers Rock and Cairns, Australia by gate agents who made me weigh the bag to be sure it was within limits. Both were close calls but I was able to redistribute things out of the backpack and into my purse in order to avoid the dreaded luggage check.
Please note the Delta carry-on tag, foolishly given to me in Sydney by the ticket agent before he got a good enough look at the bag. When I sensed him hesitating, I said “thank you” and walked away from the ticket desk before he could change his mind.
I knew my luck with taking the 50 liter bag would run out sooner than later, so I began looking for something else. My latest purchase was a 30 liter REI brand backpack. I was about to go to Ecuador for a week long Spanish class, and I knew I would be taking a bus to Otavalo. I didn’t like the idea of putting my bag under the bus where it might get stolen, so I wanted something small enough to keep with me. It worked pretty well for a week in Ecuador, but it would be a bit of a struggle for a week in full winter weather since I’d have to pack heavier clothes.
I have also realized I don’t like top-loading backpacks. Inevitably the thing I need is all the way at the bottom and I have to pull everything out to get to it. It’s ok for short trips but I think that would annoy me after awhile.
Now after experiencing a wide variety of luggage types and weighing the pros and cons, I think a 40 liter panel-loading backpack would be ideal. It might still be pushing the limits of carry-on acceptability, but if I could make the 50 liter work, I’m confident I can get the 40 liter on board with me. Panel-loading is just easier to deal with than top-loading because it means not having to unpack everything each time I get to my destination. I guess this means I should try selling some of the other luggage…anyone interested?
You might also enjoy:
- My Favorite Luggage for Carry-On Only
- Carry-On Luggage Size Chart with 150+ Airlines
- How I Make Money Online and Travel Up to 4 Months a Year
- On Living a Non-Traditional Life
February 28, 2011 @ 1:25 AM
Girl, I was using a floral suitcase from circa 1993 until recently, haha. I’m glad you actually took time to find pieces that suited your trips instead of just taking what you have, like I tend to do. That being said, do you ship to Australia, because I’m in the market for a new bag since the flower suitcase broke…
February 28, 2011 @ 7:19 AM
Ha! We’ve probably all had one of those floral suitcases! I’ll email you.
May 11, 2011 @ 5:26 PM
Ali – you are a woman after my own heart. I always know there is a better piece of luggage out there just waiting for me to find it and make it a home! My kids tease me about the number of luggage pieces I have, but you know, they may look good in the store – but then when you take them out for a trip . . . well that can be another story. These days I’m down to a carry on rolling bag and under seat bag by Eagle Creek that I LOVE. Fits under every seat and easy to get to stuff in it while on flights or trains. My problem – when the wheeled bag gets too heavy to lift in to the overhead, then I have to check it. And for my next trip . . . to Atlanta that is! Probably the under seat bag and trusty wheeled bag, but lightly packed. See you soon!!! Auntie D
May 11, 2011 @ 11:57 PM
Thanks Donna! I’m glad to know it’s not just me. I’m looking forward to meeting you in a few weeks!
February 28, 2011 @ 7:37 AM
I also have a bit of an obsession with luggage!
I wish I’d bought a panel loading backpack or something that zips open completely. I currently have a Deuter toploader which is amazingly comfy to carry, even when its so ridiculously heavy, but its a pain to get anything from the bottom!
I can’t believe I used to travel with such a big bag too. What did we pack!?
February 28, 2011 @ 12:43 PM
All I can think is that maybe I packed way too many alternate & just in case things. Crazy!
February 28, 2011 @ 1:54 AM
So, what did you do with your retired bags? Sell them?
I inherited a backpack from a colleague and have since taken it to Europe and throughout Asia. It’s a worthy companion, even though I think it was made shortly after zips were invented.
February 28, 2011 @ 7:20 AM
I’m trying to sell them now so I can get a 40L.
February 28, 2011 @ 1:18 PM
Good post, Ali. I’ve learned many of these same lessons the hard way.
The standard airline carry on dimensions for the US are 22x14x9, which will also fit the majority of international airlines. These dimensions equate to a 45L pack, a good size to fit everything you NEED without overpacking it with things you WANT.
February 28, 2011 @ 8:12 PM
Perfect! Thank you Fred, I appreciate the info!
February 28, 2011 @ 11:18 AM
I hear you 🙂 My newest obsession are semi-hard spinners. They weigh much less than other luggage (so I can put more of my own stuff in) and are easy to push/pull through airports. And my latest one is zebra print. So pretty! Can’t wait to use it.
February 28, 2011 @ 12:44 PM
I keep looking at the weight of the bag too since I don’t have much wiggle room with carry-on only!
February 28, 2011 @ 12:47 PM
I’ve carried all manner of suitcase and such in my travels. My first trip to Germany was an enormous duffle that I wore like a backpack with the handles around my shoulders until they cut off circulation. That wasn’t fun.
My current luggage is a small wheely suitcase and a backpack that probably needs to be retired. The wheely is nice to deal with as it is so simple and rolls along saving my back (which I swear I destroyed with the aforementioned duffle arrangement). the backpack makes me feel cooler when i walk around with it, so I keep it.
I like your evolution.
February 28, 2011 @ 8:14 PM
Yeah, that duffle bag as a backpack thing is never a good idea. I’m glad you still have arms 🙂
Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
February 28, 2011 @ 3:34 PM
After finding my latest piece of luggage (Britto), I’ll never buy anything else again. I’m a luggage chic too! Good luck selling all your old pieces. 🙂
February 28, 2011 @ 8:11 PM
I’m glad you found “the one!” Thanks Andi!
March 1, 2011 @ 7:39 AM
Man, if you need to check luggage then I dont wanna go!
March 1, 2011 @ 1:10 PM
No checking luggage for me!
March 2, 2011 @ 1:02 AM
backpacks are really important, they could determine how much trouble you will be having while abroad. the backpack should big enough to carry essential items but also be comfortable to carry around
March 2, 2011 @ 7:06 AM
I totally agree! I think the 40L backpack I just bought last night should be perfect.
March 2, 2011 @ 6:48 AM
It’s great to read your learning experiences with luggage. I too carry a rucksack and can empathise with the top loading issue. I never took the wheely route in my own evolution, as they aren’t much use on hiking trails.
March 2, 2011 @ 7:07 AM
Thanks John! Hopefully the 40L I just bought will work out well.
March 2, 2011 @ 6:05 PM
Everytime I read a post like this I feel the urge to go buy a new backpack 😀
I have one but it’s an old top-loading one and I just end up not using it. I dream about the day when I’ll finally go to the store and choose the perfect not-too-big panel-loading backpack and start thinking about what to pack/toss 🙂 And then… South America here I coooome! 🙂
March 2, 2011 @ 8:28 PM
I just ended up buying a 40L panel loading bag last night & I think it’s gonna be great!
March 2, 2011 @ 10:42 PM
This is the exact process we went through while designing our company’s bag. We’ve met so many people like you who have had the exact same thought process!
I can’t wait for you to try out the Tortuga:)
March 2, 2011 @ 11:08 PM
Thanks for reading, Jeremy!
March 2, 2011 @ 10:36 PM
Ja love that your thing was not shoes or purses but LUGGAGE. Thats too funny.
I am glad you went with the 40L, thats what I went with and to be honest I think it may still be too big. Oh well for now it will do cus I love it. I took it with me as a carry on and had no problems at all. No funny looks no nothing. It fit on the overben with no problems.
YAY for 40L!!!
March 2, 2011 @ 11:07 PM
Wow, you’ve been on the road for a day and already think your bag is too big?! Can’t wait to hear how re-packing goes in June!
March 6, 2011 @ 3:57 AM
I too am looking forward to your repack when winter rolls around! <3
Christy @ Ordinary Traveler
March 2, 2011 @ 10:49 PM
Front loading bags are amazing! I don’t know how I ever dealt with a top loading. Good luck in your search for the perfect bag!
March 2, 2011 @ 11:09 PM
Thanks Christy! I bought a 40L at REI last night, here’s hoping it’s the right one!
Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
March 2, 2011 @ 11:15 PM
I was very wary about buying a top loader, but went with it for my new 32L backpack. It’s got a handy feature though. The main top loading pocket actually has a divider in it, allowing you to section off about 1/3 of the main compartment which can have front loading access. Great for quickly needed things (like rain gear) which well hopefully help alleviate that issue!
Congrats on your new pack!!!!
March 2, 2011 @ 11:30 PM
That definitely sounds like one of the better top loaders. Thanks Aaron!
March 3, 2011 @ 4:44 AM
I inherited a set of luggage from a friend after her study abroad trip years ago — and it had been 2nd-hand luggage for her! The smallest bag is just over carry-on size and I’ve taken it everywhere. But I’m just about ready for my first backpack and really would love to go with a 30L, though a 40L is probably more realistic. I’m all about small wheeled bags but feel I need a backpack for certain places. Are there some bags that really stood out from your shopping trips and research other than the ones above?
March 3, 2011 @ 7:16 AM
Wow sounds like antique luggage! I love backpacks b/c it makes getting around easier & keeps your hands free. I just bought (2 days ago!) an REI Lookout 40 & even though I haven’t used it yet, I think it’s going to be great. It has good pockets, those little things on the outside you can hook things onto, straps at the bottom for a sleeping bag (not that I’m ever going to camp) & it came with a rain cover. Kelty also had a bag that was 40L, sort of a smaller version of the 50L I already have, that looked pretty good. I hope that helps!
March 6, 2011 @ 3:58 AM
While I do love my backpack I just bought, I am still head over heels in love with my roll on suitcase. Jansport did a series of artist inspired pieces that took my heart. <3 I love graffiti inspired art!
March 6, 2011 @ 10:53 AM
That sounds like a cool bag, definitely easy to pick off the luggage return.
March 17, 2011 @ 8:40 PM
Picked up a MEI Voyageur around six months ago and have been pretty pleased with it. I’ve only used it for a few weeks worth of travelling thus far, but I start the main bit in May and am looking forward to seeing how it holds up. It’s a 40L panel loader as well so we’ll see if that’s big enough. I’m a sucker for carry-on though. I love being able to walk right off the plane and hit the lines early. 😛
Congrats on the new luggage!
March 17, 2011 @ 10:10 PM
I agree about carry-on only, makes things so much easier in many ways. Thanks!
March 23, 2011 @ 8:20 AM
Retired luggage is very useful for the storage of out of season clothing. I have many examples of misplaced theories of what the best bag will be. Still seeking the perfect bag, but, I think that the real problem is often the “packer.”
March 23, 2011 @ 7:34 PM
My retired luggage stored so much clothing that doesn’t fit me anymore, and I’m very happy to be rid of it. I’ve definitely honed my packing skills over the years though! Thanks Lorraine!
Having Baggage while Traveling » Grounded Traveler
April 29, 2011 @ 1:58 PM
[…] you feel somehow cheated by this post not being about actual luggage, check out Ali’s look at changing luggage over time. Category: Tips and […]
May 16, 2011 @ 7:42 PM
I guess everyone experienced problems with the luggage, they always have problems because of the size of the luggage. It’s too small or just too big and heavy. I wish there were/will (be) made some perfectly sized luggages.