These days, checking your travel luggage with the airline is more of a hassle than ever.  Not only are you likely to be charged for the privilege, you’ll spend precious vacation time in the baggage claim area.  And considering that 1.8 million bags were lost in 2008, your travel bags may not arrive when you do, or even arrive at all.

But the right luggage can help make your trip easier and more enjoyable.  And with a few simple packing tips you’ll have everything you need and still feel agile and unencumbered.

Start by creating a packing list.

You won’t really know what kind of travel luggage will work best for your trip until you know what you should  take.  The goal is to carry as few things as possible and still feel comfortable — physically and socially — and prepared for the conditions you’re most likely to encounter.

To figure out what you’ll need, think about what you’ll be doing each day and night of your trip.  Will you be swimming, hiking, staying in fine hotels, or walking for miles on end?  What’s the weather like?  Does the forecast call for rain, snow, cool nights, or constant sunshine.

By now, you should have a pretty good idea of what to take.  Lay it all out on the bed and then try to reduce it by half.  If you’re going someplace where you’ll need a coat or sweater, plan to wear it on the plane.  Ditto your heaviest pair of shoes.

Carry on luggage is your best bet.  So if you can fit everything in a carry on bag, finding the right bag for your trip will be pretty easy.

Shopping for travel luggage.

Many bags that are sold in the United States as carry ons are too big for international flights.  Usually, the maximum size for carry on luggage is 22” x 18” by 10”.  But some airlines have a maximum length of 20”.  To be sure, check the exact dimensions allowed on the airlines’ web site.

If the bag expands, make sure it’s smaller than that when fully extended.  Or plan to check it on the way back if you take advantage of the extra capacity.

Whatever you do, don‘t buy luggage without wheels, preferably in-line skate wheels.  Being able to roll your bag while you’re running for a train or plane is a tremendous advantage.  But even if your bag rolls, make sure that it’s light enough to carry comfortably when full.  There are always unexpected flights of stairs, puddles, and other circumstances which will require you to carry your luggage yourself.

Since carrying your bag once in a while is inevitable, make sure that the other set of handles is comfortable, well-located, and suitably padded.

Leather bags may look great and wear well, but the added weight isn’t worth it.  If possible, buy a bag that weighs less than ten pounds.

What to look for in a carry on bag.

If you travel a lot, invest in luggage made of ballistic nylon.  It’s more expensive than other materials but wears and lasts longer.  If you travel less frequently, cordura nylon luggage will probably be rugged enough.

Depending on design, even bags that are the same size can vary in capacity. So check the inside to make sure there’s plenty of room for your things.  Although having the handle retract inside the bag sacrifices some packing space, bags of that design are less likely to be damaged.

A single bar, with a T-shaped handle is less stable than  a bag with a handle made up of two bars.  And make sure the handle locks into position.

The more interior straps the bag has, the less wrinkled your clothes will be.  And a shoe compartment or zippered pouch is a nice feature.

Tumi bags are extremely well made, long-lasting, and stylish.   But they’re very expensive.  Victorinox, also known as Swiss Army Luggage, is almost as well designed and is more affordable.

What to do if you have to check your luggage. 

Chances are, you won’t be able to get everything you need for a three-week trip across Australia in a carry on.  So if you need to take a bigger bag, follow the same guidelines.  Make sure the luggage you take is not too big or heavy to carry yourself.  And pack as little as you can.

To minimize the inconvenience of a lost bag, include a complete itinerary with the dates and phone numbers of where you’ll be staying inside every piece of your luggage.   That way, the airline will be able to track you down and know where to send your luggage when it is located.

Pack several of your outfits in your companion’s bag and vice versa.  If your bag goes missing, you’ll at least have more than the clothes on your back.  And always take clean underwear, toiletries, prescriptions, and anything you can’t get along without in your carry on.

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