I still want better luggage solutions

The more you travel the less luggage you want to take. Our world where a laptop and phone can almost do it all, combined with the cloud, is helping. But sometimes you have to bring stuff in checked suitcases.

When you do road trips, especially outside the USA, you learn that most cars don't have the trunk space of North American cars, not even close. You're lucky to get two rigid body suitcases in the typical small car, 3 needs a car with special capacity.

One way to carry more and still fit in the small trunk is to use a fully flexible duffel. You can only put non-fragile things, like clothes in your duffel, though. Usually that's doable, but it often means all the heavy things go in the box style suitcases and they don't get the padding of being packed with clothes.

My idea for the day is a duffel with a frame, possibly of aluminum poles, that can snap or screw together and give it strength. That way when they throw another bag on top of it, they won't crush what's inside. After you land, take apart the poles and your duffel can change shape to fit in your vehicle.

You could also do this with wheeled duffels, but they don't have the flexibility to fit anywhere. The ideal setup is a duffel that can securely go onto your rolling checked bag for easy transport to the rental car.

Other luggage thoughts

What's with the spinners?

I am surprised to see that 4 wheel "spinner" luggage has almost entirely taken over the bag market. Spinners can be slightly nicer on an airport smooth floor, but I find them harder to control than two wheeled draggers, and they are completely useless on rough surfaces outside, so you have to drag them on two of the wheels if you can.

But the big issue is that you get about 2" less bag with a spinner for the height. Is easy pushing in the airport worth that much less capacity?

Are any smart bags actually of value

I see a lot of kickstarters for various bags, many of them expensive "smart" bags. The most common features are built in cell phone chargers, which we all already have, and sometimes a locator tag. The phone chargers add weight and you often can't take them out to carry with you. Which means you need another battery, increasing the weight. In addition, you can't check them -- even at the gate -- unless you can remove the battery. Airlines aren't liking them.

Do any of the locators or proximity warnings actually work or add value? Sure, we all get paranoid about bags. A better solution for that is for the airlines to give us real time info on the progress of our bags as they scan them.

I have hopes for hanging shelf bags

I have seen a few bags whose insides are a series of shelves which unfold and hang in a closet. The goal is a laudable one we all want -- a bag that lets you access everything at once, so you don't have to pack and unpack.

Examples include the Rise and the Shelfpack -- the latter being heavy and stand-alone. Neither looks good for me yet. I carry fragiles in my bags which don't look like they could be trusted to these shelves, which would mean I would have to take them in and out each time before expanding the shelves.

The eBags professional weekender backpack I use

Cooler bag

If you read my article about road trip coolers you may know another type of bag that could be valuable, namely a cooler which can close securely shut and be used as luggage. When you get to your destination, take out the things you packed and put them in a small cloth or tyvek duffel that you packed inside, and now you have a good cooler for your road trip. I generally suspect that while people don't like leaving luggage in the back seat of a tourist car because thieves might decide to break in, a picnic cooler is probably not that attractive to thieves.


Even though I have about 20 schwag backpacks from conferences, I bought a higher end one as my laptop bag. I got the eBags professional weekender backpack, which is very popular and not cheap. The main feature I wanted from it (and from any other personal item bag) is that it has a pouch on the back you can put your rollaboard handle through, so it just rides on there easily.

I like all the different pockets it has, and the padding inside has probably saved my laptop a few times since bags like this tend to fall. But the bag is much too heavy, and it's also quite rigid. You can't really expand the large section if you have a bulky item, as I've been able to do with almost any other backpack. So I'm still hunting.

What do you want from your luggage?


I don’t travel a ton, but in most cases weight is a greater limitation than volume for my rolling bags.

If you can tolerate the load, backpacks are the best solution of all.

My luggage options now are a checked-size spinner, an underseat-size roller, a large soft backpack which is carry-on sized and has only one huge internal space, no special pockets, and a very small daypack with lots of pockets and a standoff vented back.

Whenever possible, I travel with the large soft backpack and the small daypack, carrying both on. The killer feature of the large pack is a side handle that allows it to be carried like a suitcase.

When I have to check a bag, I just use the big spinner, it is fine.

The giant pack is actually the remnants of a very clever luggage system: it has a small daypack that zips onto the outside of it. The idea is the two bags together are your carry-on and personal item for flights, but you can zip them together as one large backpack load when you’re on foot. I don’t know if something like that is still available.

Issue is, the spinner has 2 inches less real length because the wheels. So if you have 25 inch bag (common large bag size) which might fit in rental cars, you really have a 23 inch bag when it comes to what's inside. Is the pushing on airport and hotel floors to and from bag check/claim worth it. You can't use the spinning mode on sidewalks

Assuming you’re fit and healthy enough, a backpack plus an over-the-shoulder duffel bag (if necessary) is a good combination. It’s true that it’s less tiring to wheel a rolling bag around an airport, but again, if you’re healthy and you aren’t carrying a ton of stuff, you have more manoeuvrability with a backpack and duffel bag – along with more storage volume and less chance of things breaking.

Good backpacks and duffel bags can also expand and shrink in volume, and squeeze into tight places. If I’m on a flight with all the overhead luggage space taken up, it’s always easy for me to find a space for my duffel; not so for a rigid piece of luggage.

My current favourite is the Peak Design 30L backpack. It is, in my opinion, the perfect backpack, but for one thing: it’s uncomfortable. Quite why the designers stubbornly refuse to add more padding to the straps, I don’t know - it can’t be for lack of money, I think. Other than the comfort, it’s sturdy, has a million well-placed pockets, and surprisingly streamlined.

My TravelPro duffel is almost 20 years old now, and I dread the day it stops being fit for use. Still, it appears to be mostly indestructible and capable of holding and expanding to any size I need. Unfortunately it’s not possible to buy this kind of duffel any more because apparently no-one wants to carry big bags any more.

Storage cubes: I don’t see the point since I can stow all my cables (not even that many) in my backpack. But I imagine it gives people some pleasure and satisfaction to have everything divvied up into little bags, which is reasonable.

If I am doing photography, I carry heavy camera gear in the carry-on, it's too fragile to go below. So I do like the wheels. I travel with much more weight than the airlines allow in their rules, but only 1 time in 50 is it a problem. I expect others are the same. Indeed, most rollaboards are 7 to 9lbs, and many airlines have a 16lb limit on them. Backpacks can weigh 2-3lbs but this makes for fun on long treks.

A couple of years ago I got a bag from Ikea. I tried it for one trip and went and bought a second. It only has 2 wheels on the main bag. The front bags which is set up for electronics and folders can zip off and fits under airplane seats,leaving the larger section to go in the overhead bin. Both sections can convert to backpacks, which was useful on hilly paths in small towns along the Rhine where even the two wheels didn't work well. Unfortunately I couldn't find them on the Ikea website or I would have included a link. They were inexpensive, relative lightweight, had a variety of interior pockets that you can use or ignore and have stood up to fairly tough usage for the last 2 years kbeing dragged around Europe a few years ago. They've been checked once or twice but we try to avoid checking luggage if possible as it defeats the point of carryon for us.

We swear by the Rick Steves backpack suitcase. It's lightweight, has just the right combination of pockets and compartments, padded straps and hipbelt, top and side handles, and shoulder strap.
It also can expand if you've bought a bit too much along the way,
and compression straps if you've given gifts along the way.
Our rule is if you can't carry it when stuffed full, then it's too big (and you're [packing too much...)
I also pack a small thin duffel inside for the junk I've bought along the way. just in case.

We also bring carry-ons - mine is a Mountainsmith Lumbar pack (AKA oversized bum bag- fanny pack to you) which is big enough for a small laptop, camera, all the other electronics/cables/batteries, toiletries, snacks, waterbottle, book,etc. It can be used as a backpack, shoulder bag or fannypack,

Donya 's carry-on his a Rick Steves that she puts a shoulder bag inside along with everything else.
That combination is enough to get us through 10 weeks of travel- of course, if you can make it 2 weeks, you can keep going indefinitely.

We've tried a lot of different combinations, and these work for us.
We have this far avoided any wheeled or hard shell bags because they're too small, too heavy, and/or too unwieldy.
We are dreading the time when we get old enough to need them.

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