When you're busy planning your next holiday, it's easy to overlook the smaller details in the excitement – like, what kind of luggage am I going to use? Do I need a big suitcase, or just a carry-on? Or do I need both? Buying right the first time means you'll have luggage that'll be your trusty travel buddy no matter where you go. Get it wrong and you could be stuck with dodgy wheels, poor handles or not enough space to bring your holiday splurges home in.
You can spend hundreds on a suitcase, but price isn't always an indicator of quality. It's important to do your own inspections of the suitcase before buying, to make sure you end up with the right luggage for you. This buying guide will answer your questions about what to look for in a suitcase. When you're ready to buy, see our luggage reviews.
Don't get too carried away with the size of your suitcase. Remember the larger it is, the more you've got to cart around with you. Not only that, each airline has its own size and weight restrictions for checked-in and carry-on luggage.
Weight and size restrictions vary from airline to airline so make sure you check first. Generally, your luggage can weigh anywhere between 15kg to 32kg. Stick to the airlines restrictions to avoid additional fees.
Each carrier has requirements for carry-on luggage. Bags that are slightly larger than the rules allow might fly under the radar, as cabin baggage isn't always checked by airline staff. But is it something you want to risk? If in doubt, it's always a good idea to check with your airline before you depart. Here are some requirements for some major airlines:
(Dimensions are measured by adding together the length, height and depth of the bag.)
Baggage requirements vary with each airline. If you have a multiple-sector journey and are flying with multiple carriers, the baggage policy for the most significant carrier in your itinerary will apply. If you're unsure, check on your itinerary or ask your travel agent.
Whether you have a small suitcase that you're using for carry-on, or a large suitcase that you need to check-in, the weight of the case counts towards your baggage allowance.
The wheels and extendable handle take up some of the internal space, so check first that the case has the right volume for your needs. If you want a small suitcase for carry-on baggage make sure you check the dimensions against the requirements for the airline.
Soft- or hard-sided
Consider how you'll be using it (for flying, driving or cruising) and where you'll be storing it. Soft-sided suitcases are more lightweight and allow you to cram extra items whereas hard-sided suitcases provide more protection for your belongings but cramming extra items inside or fitting it in a tight space might get tricky.
Look for handles that are firmly riveted to the body of the case. These are less likely to have weak points and break.
This should be easy to extend and retract, comfortable to grip and should lock firmly in place when extended. It should extend to a comfortable height, so the case doesn't bump against your legs as you pull it along.
The case should roll easily, and not bounce or tip when being pulled along. Four-wheel spinner models spin 360° making them easier to manoeuvre. You can push them alongside you, in front of you or pull them behind you (as you would with a two-wheeler), but some can be difficult to control when pushed across bumpy terrain and if you're on an incline they could roll away. On the other hand, two-wheel models only move forwards and backwards but are usually better for clearing curbs and rolling on a variety of uneven surfaces.
This is very handy if you need to squeeze in a few extra items.
Internal and external pockets
These are handy for keeping your belongings organised. External pockets are great for quick access, but check they can be locked if you want to use them for important items.
Extra carry handles
When it comes to lifting, it helps to have carry handles at the base and/or sides of the suitcase.
Zips should open and shut smoothly. The zip tags should be big enough to grip easily and have holes so you can padlock them.
These help to compress and hold your belongings in place. They should be a suitable length and have quick-release buckles.
No suitcase is completely waterproof and hard cases aren't necessarily more water resistant than fabric ones. Water can still get through gaps in the extendable handle and zippers.
Carry-on suitcases can range in price from $29 to $699.
Larger suitcases for check-in can range in price from $39 to $949.
Keep these things in mind when you're travelling next:
- The carry-on baggage allowance for the major Australian airlines for domestic or international travel is generally 7kg.
- If you exceed this you could end up with an extra fee, or you may need to check in your baggage.
- Government regulations restrict the amount of liquids, aerosols and gels you can take on board international flights.
- Containers must be no bigger than 100ml and all containers must be sealed in a transparent zip-lock bag (which can't be more than 1L). Only one zip-lock bag is allowed per passenger.
- Prohibited items include some sporting goods, kitchen utensils, tools and other objects with sharp edges/points capable of injuring someone. Different rules apply for domestic and international flights.
- Previously prohibited items like umbrellas with metal points, knitting and crochet needles, pointed metal nail files and nail clippers, corkscrews and rackets used in sports like squash and tennis can now be taken on domestic flights.
- Make sure your contact details are clearly labelled on each bag in weather-proof and securely attached tags, so you can be contacted in the event of a mix-up or lost baggage.
- If you have to carry hypodermic needles, you'll need to present documentation and identification at check-in.
- Don't leave your baggage unattended and always do your own packing. A lock is one way to deter thieves.
- Pack your valuables into your carry-on luggage.
- It's also a good idea to take out comprehensive travel insurance in the event that you need to replace any lost or stolen items.
- Make your luggage stand out in the crowd – instead of black opt for a bright colored case.
- If it's black luggage you want, tie something on the handle so you can easily identify it in the baggage lineup.