What do you call what you travel with? The suitcase versus luggage discussion for another time, but no matter what you call it we’re on about the larger item or items that go into the hold when you’re flying, (or in the back of the car or storage compartment if you’re not in the air). Grammatically ‘suitcase’ is the singular noun, while luggage is used to describe multiple cases as the plural or collective, or more universally as everything you are travelling with. To throw another one into the discussion, ‘baggage’ is a term you often hear when travelling. However, the difference is luggage refers to the empty case whereas baggage describes suitcases that are filled with belongings, hence the ‘baggage claim’ area in airports.
The term “luggage” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1596 derived from the verb “to lug”, this described inconveniently heavy baggage, which wasn’t practical or available for the mass market to begin with. Although still classed as luggage, this initially described trunks, a now very much dated style that resembles nothing like the products we know and use today.
Most styles were constructed with wood, leather and sometimes an iron base, resulting in travel trunks that were bulky and hard to manoeuvre. Not to mention some had more protection than others meaning they were often damaged in transit due to sliding around or even becoming damp to the weather conditions. Travel trunks also became a significant indicator of class, the more you had with you when travelling suggested the wealthier you were. Not to mention these cases were almost exclusively lugged around by porters or servants, so the wealthy and worldly traveller didn’t have to worry about packing too much as they weren’t the ones doing the heavy lifting.
This was the way it remained until the around 19th century when mass tourism started due to significant railway infrastructure, cruise ships and air travel becoming more commercial, proving travel wasn’t just for the wealthy anymore. The increase in air travel significantly shaped the next wave of innovation in the luggage world. Flying specifically called for the need for lightweight suitcases instead of trunks, with exact dimensions to safely fit within the airline restrictions. With tight restrictions in place no matter how wealthy you are, it was time to introduce new materials into the suitcase manufacturing process, welcome the initial, soft-sided designs.
However, the biggest change is luggage was yet to come. In 1972 American inventor Bernard Sadow knew things to change and designed the first luggage with wheels and strap, enabling customers to wheel their belongings behind them – which he patented for America. Revolutionary at the time this design was quickly superseded by Pilot Robert Plath, who flipped the orientation of the suitcase to upright rather than flat like Sadow’s earlier design, which he later went on to patent in 1989 – paving the way for styles sold today.
Since then luggage designs have evolved greatly over the years, adapting to trends and accommodating the needs of the modern traveller. Today the world of luggage is huge, with the main differentiator, (apart from budget), is the material you chose, it can be hard-sided or soft sided depending on the look or feel you prefer. Soft-sided designs are usually constructed from nylon, polyester or Cordura. Hard sided designs are typically constructed from polycarbonate, polypropylene as well as sustainable materials which are becoming increasingly popular. Another key variant is size, with everyone travelling for different lengths of time suitcases have evolved over the years to accommodate different durations, hence the birth of the small, medium and large suitcase.
Different types: Hard and Soft Luggage
As previously described in detail here (redirect to cabin category) there are two different types of suitcases, some are hard and some are soft.
Whilst historically hard shell designs have been known to be more durable, according to tests in recent years this isn’t the case, (or suitcase), anymore but each has their own pros and cons.
Here is a brief breakdown of some points you may consider before purchase:
• Historically associated with being more durable.
• More lightweight suitcase designs are being made.
• More protection is perceived to be offered for valuables inside after knocks or bumps with another case mid-journey.
• Don’t tend to have any exterior pockets – for your last minute items.
• Due to hard shell these styles are less flexible in squeezing into boots or storage lockers or packing extra items in.
• Typically associated with being heavier in the past.
• Takes up more storage space when not being used.
• Takes up less storage space when not being used due to soft compressible shape.
• Historically associated with being the more lightweight option.
• Construction commonly features external pockets or expander compartments.
• Can be less water resistant than hard shell designs.
• Can be perceived to offer less protections to valuables inside.
• Can be harder to clean.
Although the material choice is down to personal preference it is clear that consumers are becoming increasingly interested in lightweight suitcases.
Small (cabin) Suitcases:
A soft or hard small suitcase for weekend trips away.
Imagine the scenario, you’re travelling for a short stay, a surprise weekend in the country or even a quick business trip, you don’t need to take much and even with packing a couple of outfit options along with your travel essentials, you don’t need that much room. Or you’re flying with only hand luggage and don’t mind putting your bags in the overhead lockers, because you know you’ve not got to worry about waiting around the luggage carrousel to spot your stuff. If this is your reality, then a small case is the one for you.
An essential for seamless and smart travel or the last size to complete your set, a small suitcase is compact enough for storage lockers, overhead compartments or the back of the car without the struggle of getting it in or wondering if it’ll fit. Whether you choose hard or soft generally the smaller the size is the more lightweight, with numerous carry options including trolley handle or top carry handle as well as smooth wheels they are the condensed travel companion you might not have realized you need.
Invest in a Small Case if:
• You often take short trips away. There’s no need to lug a large case around if you don’t have to.
• If you like to take a wheeled case on board a plane, this is size for you.
• You like to travel in style. Small cabin cases area compact and stylish accessory for travel.
A soft or hard medium sized suitcase, for 1 week trips away.
Imagine you’re going travelling for a week, either an annual holiday with family or friends or a business trip abroad. You have several outfits and shoe choices, essential toiletries and maybe some swimwear (depending on the location), there’s a lot to pack and need all the help you can get. Elasticated packing straps to harness and compress your kit down, and zipped pockets some separation would really help in knowing what you need to wash on the way home. You need more than a cabin sized case but are don’t really want to use a large suitcase because 1) you don’t all need the room and don’t want to overpack, 2) you don’t really want to be dragging around the bigger, bulkier case if you don’t need it. The middle size suitcase is the one for you, for week long trips away when you want to maximize the space you need and be efficient with your packing.
Often a size that can be forgotten about is the medium size case, the unsung hero of 7 day trips. When you think about it, really it does make sense to always have a small, medium and large option in your collection so you’re ready to go regardless.
Invest In a Medium Case If:
• One week trips are your thing, this is the perfect size case for a 7 day trip.
• Or simply you want to complete your travel get-up with a size fit for any occasion.
Soft or hard large suitcase for 2 weeks+ trips away.
Imagine you’re away for two weeks or more, it’s your annual summer holiday and you’re stocking up on your new wardrobe since the first sighting of sun earlier that year. We’re talking various pieces of swimwear, smart and casual clothes for day and night, shoe options to go with every outfit and that’s before your toiletries and must have electricals. You’ve made the mistake before of thinking the hairdryer in the hotel will be just fine and know that’s never the case, so vowed to take yours wherever you go, and therefore need a case to accommodate this. From past experience, you have learned how much easier it is when your belongings are organised. You don’t want to have the fear of what the inside of the case looks like after it’s moved around in the hold, and want a case with zipped compartments and packing straps to keep your stuff as you left it.
In this scenario it’s the large suitcase you need, there’ll no be no regrets when you’re trying to squeeze in holiday purchases you can’t leave without buying. Or when helping a friend when they’ve exhausted all the space in their case on the way there or the way back. Simply put, if you’re paying to put baggage in the hold and want to maximize space and bring everything you need (and probably more) then do this with a large case.
Invest in a Large Case If:
• If you’re going on 2 week + long trips this is the size for you.
• You’re travelling with family, this spacious size will always come in handy.
Key Factors In Choosing Any Size Suitcase
• Wheels – check the quality to ensure they move around freely and smoothly.
• Material construction – know the material the case is made of to help establish if this is suitable to your lifestyle and what it will be used for.
• Handles – check the telescopic handle is comfortable and there are no issues with the trolley system.
• Zippers and hardware – ensure that they are smooth and are easy to open and close.
• Weight – be aware of the weight of the empty suitcase so you can maximise the weight limit set by the airline.
• Price – generally the higher price, the higher quality product.
• Comfort – check it is easy to manoeuvre around and use all handle options.
• Additional safety features – how is your luggage going to be protected?
Luggage Restrictions and Weight
When talking about suitcase sizes, or buying new kit for a holiday you have booked it is always important to check the luggage limits you are given with the holiday package or plane ticket that is purchased. At Xplore, we also strongly recommend weighing luggage before you get to the airport is essential in ensuring there aren’t any shocks or additional fees throughout your travels.
Medium and Large Luggage In The Hold:
It’s not just cabin or hand luggage that has restricted items, but larger items that go in the hold. This guide is just for the UK, countries outside of this may have their own list of prohibited items. While some of these are self-explanatory, please continue to read if unsure.
• Flammable solids and liquids.
• Infectious substances such as live viruses.
• Party poppers.
• Radioactive materials.
• Toy gun replicas (plastic or metal).
• Any gas cylinders, including tear gas.
• Non-safety matches.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, if you have any items you aren’t sure are allowed complete some extra research before your travels to ensure you’re not breaking any rules.