How Rick Steves Picks The Perfect Bag For Traveling

Experienced travelers know that a good piece of luggage will serve them for a long time, making it a valuable investment. For experts like Rick Steves, though, that knowledge has been hard-earned through the years. He has doubtless gone through his fair share of good, bad, and just plain ugly bags in the process. In particular, he explained on his blog that no luggage can be a monolith.

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"Frankly, no one bag is ideal all the time for every traveler," Steves wrote. "Go with the bag that meets your most important needs, and make sure its downsides are ones you can live with." That makes sense, even if 81% of surveyed Americans view themselves as good packers, per a survey done by Cheapflights. Even so, the specifics of one's suitcase of choice matter. Beyond the dimensions, comfort/mobility, space efficiency, and weight, Steves recommended that readers know their airline bag guidelines before proceeding.

Steves reminded travelers that the differences between American and European sizes, especially for budget airlines, are important to pay attention to, as are the differences in weight allowances. "Especially on cheapo airlines like Ryanair or EasyJet — it's best to pay for a carry-on or to check your bag when booking the flight, as on-the-spot baggage-check fees can easily top the cost of the flight itself," Steves wrote. However, those budget airlines help you pack smaller, so you can skip the bag check and pack everything in these carry-ons!

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Weighing the need for comfort and mobility

How do you roll? Are you an airport sprinter or two-hours-ahead-of-schedule meanderer? Are you strictly a luxury, tropical resort dweller, or do you crave the cobblestoned streets of Europe? These kinds of questions matter when considering a bag for traveling. How you maneuver these scenarios will depend on the type of bag you get.

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Generally, for comfort/mobility, Rick Steves says on his blog that a rolling bag is a great option, though not for uneven surfaces, and a rolling backpack is the best option regardless of the circumstance. However, you may want to think twice before traveling with a backpack. He adds that it is important not to let the ease of a rolling bag allow you to overpack. You can avoid that by utilizing these space-saving packing hacks. Further, he suggests a four-wheeled suitcase for rolling bags since they move more easily unless you're dealing with a lot of uneven ground. This impediment is so significant that Steves himself has sworn off using them for international trips.

"When faced with surfaces more challenging than the even flooring of an airport terminal, spinners become ungainly tote bags — and they're utterly hobbled by cobbles," he wrote. "Extra wheels mean extra opportunities for breakage, and the casings of many spinner-bag wheels are more fragile, and more exposed, than those of rolling bags ... I would never take one of these bags on an overseas sightseeing trip."

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Settling the hard or soft shell debate

There seem to be two types of travelers: the die-hard soft-shell luggage luggers or the hard-shell suitcase bringers. In his estimation, Rick Steves wrote on his blog that he sees the soft-sided bag as the superior option partly because hard-shelled bags are usually more expensive and heavier than their softer siblings. However, he acknowledged that they both offer different protection for breakable items.

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"Their [hard-shell bags] major advantage is the protection they offer any breakables you're hauling home," Steves wrote. "Remember that with a soft-shell bag you can still pack your breakables in a protective container inside the bag — or consider a hybrid hard-side/canvas bag." He also warned of being pulled into a particular suitcase just because of its designer label since the quality of the luggage isn't indicated by its price tag.

Instead of relying on the cost to determine whether a traveling bag is worth the investment, Steves recommends paying attention to a few elements: online reviews, brand reputation, and a product guarantee. He also suggested looking for things like even stitching on soft bags to indicate quality.

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