Study Abroad: Finding the Right Luggage (page 3)
Luggage is certainly not the most exciting part of going abroad, but it is necessary. When you're going abroad, good quality luggage is a must! Whether you're heading out to a store or simply climbing the stairs to your parent's attic to choose your luggage, I've written this section in order to help you find luggage that will work for you!
Adhering to baggage guidelines
First off, you need to remember that all airlines have baggage guidelines. Go to your airline's Web site or call its customer service number to find out what those guidelines are. With international flights, you typically can check two bags, and your airline will impose luggage size limits. Ask your airline what the maximum total dimensions of your luggage should be. One carry-on bag (total dimensions cannot exceed 45 inches) is usually allowed, but it must fit under the seat. In addition to size dimensions, many airlines also have weight limits (usually 40 to 70 pounds).
If your luggage exceeds size and weight limitations, most airlines charge you an extra fee. This limitation shouldn't be an issue, because you just don't need that much stuff.
Whenever you're worried about exceeding the baggage allowance limitations, measure the height, width, and length of your bags when they're all packed, and use the bathroom scales to check their weight.
Choosing your luggage
You want to invest in luggage that is of good quality, making sure that it offers plenty of space, is made of durable material, has wheels, and is easy to carry. I found my canvas duffel bags, with wheels and shoulder straps, worked very well. A small carry-on bag that can double as an overnight bag for weekend trips also is a good idea.
Don't buy the lowest priced luggage you can get your hands on if you want it to last for a long time. Also, because you're packing the luggage for a trip that will last one month or longer, buy luggage that has at least 5,000 cubic inches of storage space (you can find this capacity information on the luggage tag).
Luggage comes in many varieties. If you're looking for a travel backpack, I devote an entire section later in this chapter to picking the perfect pack. The classic suitcase often falls into the wheeled luggage category. Suitcases with durable wheels and reinforced handles (that usually retract) are great for whizzing through airports and train stations. The convertible luggage category includes wheeled bags with hidden shoulder straps that allow you to convert the bag into something you can carry on your shoulder. And then there is the duffel which you usually carry using straps, but larger sized duffels may offer wheels to make transporting them easier.
Other suggestions to keep in mind when choosing luggage:
- Luggage with multiple storage compartments and pockets makes it easy to organize packing and to secure items.
- Compression straps on the inside of the luggage are helpful in holding down clothing.
- Don't worry too much about the weight of the empty bag in the store. The weight of your bag is primarily determined by what you put in it! Think of it this way: What is another pound or two when you are already packing 40+ pounds of stuff in your bag?
- Wheels should be securely fastened to your suitcase by durable hardware. In-line skate wheels often work best.
- Zippers should pull smoothly and not catch on corners.
- While leather is the most expensive material for a suitcase, it is also the most durable. Ballistic nylon is the most popular material in high-quality luggage today. It's durable and has a stylish, high-tech look. Other popular, durable materials for luggage include high-denier fabrics, canvas-like nylon, and parachute nylons.
- Hardside suitcases adequately protect items inside the case but are more likely to receive dents and scratches during baggage handling. Softside suitcases allow more flexibility and therefore can better absorb and withstand rough baggage handling, and they protect fragile items that are packed carefully just as well as a hardside case does.
Picking the perfect pack
You also may want to invest in a backpack (not the kind you use at school) if you plan to travel extensively. Look for good backpacks in an outdoors or sporting goods store.
When considering a backpack, remember the following:
- Don't buy a backpack (or any piece of luggage, for that matter) that is bigger than you! Make sure your backpack is proportional to your body size. Experts say to limit yourself to a pack that has a capacity between 2,800 and 4,000 cubic units.
- As with most major purchases, you need to shop around. Be patient and give yourself enough time before your departure to check out a few stores and try out a number of styles.
- High cost does not necessarily mean equally high quality. Just because the backpack is the most expensive one in the store doesn't mean that it's the best one and will satisfy all your requirements. Unless you plan to do quite a bit of backpacking during the course of your lifetime, a moderately priced backpack ($85 to $180) probably is just fine. You don't want to be stuck with a $400 backpack that collects dust in the attic after this one trip.
- Backpacking is neither a fashion show nor a fashion statement. Don't buy a backpack because it's available in your favorite color. Don't refuse to consider a backpack because you don't like the looks of it; it may suit your needs perfectly, and you may be able to order it in a different color. Comfort is your number one priority here, not aesthetics.
- Test your backpack in the store to get a good fit. You want to make sure that you can easily carry at least 25 to 30 pounds in your pack. Most stores that sell packs have weights you can put inside the pack to determine how well you're able to carry it. Buy your backpack at a store, not online or through a catalog.
- Whenever possible, get a pack that qualifies as a carry-on. Carry-on size requirements vary by airline, but a good rule of thumb is to make sure dimensions do not exceed 45 inches (see earlier section on "Adhering to baggage guidelines"). You save time when you don't need to check and claim your pack in airports.
A backpack that has zippers that open around the pack (like a typical school backpack) is more efficient. When you have access to the stuff in your pack only via an opening at the top, you spend too much time unpacking and repacking just to locate a single item.
Make sure your backpack doesn't have any protruding rods that are part of the frame. You wouldn't want them getting caught or stuck on anything. However, make sure that it does have padding on the hip belt, shoulder straps, and back, which definitely makes carrying your pack much more comfortable.
Remember to put your name, address, and telephone numbers inside and outside of each piece of luggage. Use covered luggage tags to prevent strangers from learning your identity or nationality and buy luggage locks to secure your belongings. While these days airports don't allow luggage to be locked when it is checked, locks are still handy when traveling on trains or buses or for securing your items in hostel lockers.
If you notice that many other people's luggage out there happens to resemble yours, try tying a particular color ribbon on your bag so you can easily pick it out at luggage carousels.
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