Like a year-round jacket or a solid pair of Oxford shoes, luggage is an investment that’s not to be taken lightly. When hopping over borders and switching time zones, a stylish suitcase or carry-on to cart your kit in is the most important thing to have to hand (second only to a passport).
However, it’s not a case of any old backpack will do. “Luggage is becoming more of a fashion and lifestyle accessory, as consumers demand both comfort and style,” says Victor Sanz, creative director of suitcase brand Tumi. “It’s more than ‘just a bag’ in which to transport personal belongings; it’s becoming an extension of the journey.”
That’s marketing speak, sure, but if you want to minimise hassle and maximise style (not to mention space) while on the go, you’ll need the right tools for the job. This is your guide to what to buy and where to find it. Safe travels.
Key Luggage Styles
The big daddy of travel bags. The linchpin of luggage. Shopping for a suitcase is where it pays to think long and hard before coughing up. Why? Because buy right and this one’s for life.
Whether it’s a lightweight, curved design you’re looking for, or something that’s closer to a preppy-style trunk, consider not only what you’d rather be seen with, but also what won’t emerge in pieces at baggage collection.
Remember to buy the smallest case that meets your needs. While it’s good to be prepared for all occasions, there’s little point splurging on a suitcase that’s rarely – if ever – entirely filled.
The Carry-On Bag
No, that thing you drag your gym kit around in won’t do. Even if it’s just an hour-long domestic flight, a nylon barrel bag will struggle to cut the mustard.
“Compact carry-on luggage is essential when flying, while classic holdalls and weekend bags – particularly in leather – will never date,” says Annalise Fard, director of home at Harrods.
As Fard suggests, there are two main options when it comes to carry-on luggage: those with a soft shell and those with a hard shell. Soft-shell styles take the form of a weekend bag or holdall. As well as there being a fair chance you already own one of these, a classic weekender in black or brown leather works well if travelling light, and when all the practical features of a wheeled hard-shell suitcase aren’t needed.
The Cabin Case
Planning a city break or hoping to stay on an extra few days after a work conference? A hard-shell, wheeled cabin case is the Goldilocks of the luggage world. Not too big, not too small, these allow enough room for stowing a couple of days’ worth of wardrobe and holiday grooming essentials neatly and securely.
Provided you ensure the case is manufactured to airline size specifications, you’ll also save yourself the hassle of having to check-in a bulging weekender – and pay handsomely for the privilege – too.
While a fairly standard feature on most modern suitcases, it’s worth mentioning the benefits of doubling up on wheels from two to four. These include (but are not limited to) reduced arm strain, increased manoeuvrability and less risk of running them over some hench guy’s clean white sneakers.
The Best Luggage Brands
Upholding the Germans’ world-renowned reputation for innovation, Rimowa makes some of the lightest, sturdiest luggage around. Founded in 1898, the pioneering label has made its name on aluminium and polycarbonate suitcases featuring its signature grooved shells.
A lot stronger than they look, Rimowa bags are built to last. However, if yours does suffer a beating, it can be taken care of by the company’s repair service. Just leave your worse-for-wear suitcase at any partnering hotel’s reception, and servicing will be carried out while you’re out exploring museums or cutting deals.
Launched in 1910, Luxembourg-based Samsonite is one of the market leaders in luggage – and it’s easy to see why. Combining innovative materials with modern design, the label’s wares offer exceptional value for money.
Add to that exclusive collaborations with leading British brands, such as Alexander McQueen and department store Liberty, and it’s no wonder this (relatively) young brand has won both Red Dot design awards and legions of fans worldwide.
Herschel Supply Co.
Hailing from Canada, Herschel Supply Co. is instantly recognisable thanks to its discreet white stitched-on patch branding. But, although the brand has a well-deserved foothold among sensible yet stylish men, it’s a toddler in comparison to others manufacturers.
Still, in its short lifespan, Herschel has built a reputation for turning out some of the sturdiest stuff-carriers money can buy. Much like with its failsafe range of carry-ons, in its hard shell luggage collection you’ll find simple, slick design teamed with high-quality and durability, leaving you wanting for nothing.
It’s a big world out there. But while seeing it all might sound appealing, carting a hefty suitcase around probably does not. That’s where Eastpak steps in.
As well as offering an extensive collection of luggage and carry-on bags at prices that won’t mean you’ll need to cut your holiday short, the US-brand turns out duffle-suitcase hybrids that can easily be carried like an ordinary bag or condensed down and stowed away.
Aside from producing some of the best-built suitcases on the market, a key draw of Tumi is the unique metal plate the brand puts inside each bag. This features a unique 20-digit registration number that is registered on a central database so you can be reunited with your four-wheeled friend should it ever go missing.
A British institution (via Germany), 1897-founded Globe-Trotter has gone to great lengths to cultivate its status as one of the world’s leading luxury luggage makers – including having Hamburg Zoo elephants stand on its suitcases to prove their strength.
“Handmade in Hertfordshire with leather handles that take five days to make on a Victorian press, Globe-Trotter has a rich history that everyone wants to buy into,” says Mr Porter accessories buyer Simon Spiteri. “Its luggage is durable and hardwearing, but it’s their sheer beauty and craftsmanship that makes them such covetable cases.”
Like everything else beloved high street favourite John Lewis puts its name to, the department store’s carry-on luggage and suitcase collection is a prime example of well-made, good looking travel kit.
Strong and lightweight (and with enough colour options to keep maximalists happy) each case embodies the brand’s core promise of delivering the goods at a fair price. Plus, if you’re looking for third-party brands (including the likes of Samsonite and Bric’s) you can be confident there’s not a chance of you being ripped off.
The Swiss Army Knife created by Victorinox more than 120 years ago is an actual work of art, having appeared in design exhibits across the world. Now a fully-fledged lifestyle brand turning out everything from fragrances to Swiss watches, its range of carry-on luggage and suitcases is no less impressive (or bad-ass).
Built with the same ready-for-anything mentality, Victorinox bags comes packing features such as front zippered doors for easy top-load packing and the ability to expand up to 47 per cent their own size. Never be caught in the forest without one.
The words ‘American’ and ‘tourist’ aren’t always used in succession to positive effect. Thankfully, in the case of wallet-friendly luggage brand American Tourister, plenty of form is on hand to back up the function.
The brand lays claim to being second biggest carry-on luggage and suitcase brand in the world, and despite being owned by premium firm Samsonite, price tags come in at less than the cost of a night out once you’re at your destination.
Louis Vuitton is a behemoth among luxury brands, with its initials stamped across everything from trainers to timepieces. But, the springboard to its staggering success was stylish luggage, which has been a pillar of the Parisian fashion house since 1854.
Today, King Louis’ luggage keeps the same fusion of hardy, high-end design intact, but adds some modern tech from this side of the millennium (ultra-light coated canvas, aluminium hardware etc.) to ensure that LV trunks and suitcases have plenty of smarts to match their sleekness.
The Other Luggage To Know About
The Dopp Kit
Named after Chicago-based leather craftsman Charles Doppelt, who invented the bag for the US army in 1919, a dopp kit (better known on British shores as a wash bag) is ideal for storing toiletries while travelling, keeping the rest of your stuff dry and spill-free.
As with anything expected to go the distance, steer clear of cheaper polyester and polyurethane options. Instead, opt for something in durable leather with a nylon lining, which will perform on both form and function counts.
Garment & Shoe Bags
Regrettably underused in the luggage world, garment and shoe bags might seem superfluous to the frequent business traveller, but those who’ve turned up to a meeting looking like a well-thumbed broadsheet know they’re anything but.
Designed to transport items of clothing you’d usually hang, rather than fold, a soft-sided garment bag is essential for keeping workwear crease-free until landing. Meanwhile, shoe bags ensure freshly shined brogues don’t emerge subpar after several hours in a suitcase, nor leave their mark on a crisp Oxford shirt.
There’s traveling clever — getting to the airport in time for a pre-holiday pint, packing at least two pairs of swim shorts etc. — and then there’s traveling smart.
Forget juicing up your phone in a wall or waiting at baggage reclaim like a Victorian, the latest crop of cases and carriers puts intelligence front and centre with features that makes switching between time zone, dare we say, enjoyable.
Think built-in chargers (Away), Bluetooth-enabled locks (Aerolite), proximity sensors (Samsara) and even motorised cases that you can ride through the airport (Modobag). Just make sure you opt for a model with removal batteries to comply with airport regulations. Welcome to the future, we think you’re going to like it here.
The Luggage Buying Checklist
“It’s all about quality,” says Mr Porter’s Simon Spiteri. “You can have the most beautiful suitcase in the world, but if it breaks after two trips, that’s kind of a false economy.”
Materials, then, are crucial. “A hard-wearing outer shell constructed from durable leather, nylon, canvas or aluminium will age well and stand the test of time as it gets bashed around by even the most enthusiastic baggage handler.”
As with clothing, craftsmanship makes all the difference. A quick way to gauge quality is to check the stitching, specifically how close the stitches are sewn together. You’re looking for consistency in spacing here, as consistent stitching balances tension and strengthens a carry-on luggage bag’s overall structure.
Reinforced stitching at stress points (such as where a strap or handle joins the body of the bag or case) is also a must if it’s to last, as is hardware that’s made from high-quality metal rather than easily obliterated plastic.
Don’t Forget the Details
Of course, the primary purpose of a carry-on or suitcase is not to look good, but to pack things in. So your first consideration should be whether it’s up to the job.
“Look for a case that has plenty of inside pockets, compartments and zipper dividers, so that you can maximise the space you have,” adds Spiteri.
Lock It Down
“Security is also extremely important,” says Fard. “Opt for pieces which boast locks and other features that keep belongings safe and secure.”
A TSA lock will ensure your luggage can be unlocked quickly and easily by US security personnel, meaning they won’t have to ruin your case by forcing it open manually.
Make It Your Own
Worth considering for investment pieces like carry-on and check-in suitcases, personalisation and monogramming lends luggage an inimitable edge.
“This is a service which many of our customers take advantage of,” says Fard. “They feel it makes a piece truly theirs.”
Keep It Classic
If a carry-on is simply an extension of your travel wardrobe, it should be treated as such. So don’t be tempted by garish designs or all-over patterns (even if shirts of that variety are currently on-trend). Stick to classic colourways and metals such as black, navy or silver.
Use a cool or personalised travel tag as a way of marking out which is yours on the carousel instead.
Trim The Fat
With airline luggage allowances seemingly shrinking faster than bars of Toblerone, the weight of your case is more important than you might think – a kilogram here or there can be the difference between having to shell out extortionate excess baggage fees.