13 May, 2012

Best & Largest Carry-On Luggage

So... I wanted to return to this post. Since it was originally written in May of 2012, I've traveled extensively in Europe, lived in Brussels for four month, and because of this it has changed my views on things. The truth is, originally, when I suggested the High Sierra product below, it was from a very American perspective. Honestly, the thing just sits and rots in my closet now, and almost everywhere I go I simply use a hiking back pack. This is what I recommend now and I will tell you why:


#1 Decathlon 40 Liter Hiking Style Pack - So as I mentioned before, I was leaving for Spain to hike the Camino-de-Santiago-de-Compostella, when I purchased this pack (60). You could buy one anywhere, at any sporting good store. We recently acquired a second one for Shannon at Wal-Mart for under $30. If this is going to be a life-long-luggage arrangement, consider brand-names like the MEI VoyageurNorth Face or REI.

Why this works. Well for one thing, I've discovered you really don't need wheels on your luggage, it's silly. Putting your world on your back expedites almost every aspect of travel including curbs, security, and public perception of you as a traveler. People treat you different when they see you as a college backpacker. You strike up conversations, and my pack, with its patches each tell a story of where I've been. I can place 5-7 days of clothes, even attach a tent or sleeping bag, it fits in both U.S. and European overhead bins, and I've never had to pay a luggage fee.

When I travel for a couple days, the pack shrinks to what I need. It's versatile, and transitions easy from car, to foot, to train, or to air. The best part is you don't look like a tourist, you look like an adventurer, and that suits me well.

#2 High Sierra A.T. GO 556 - (portions below were written on 5/13/12)

Of course if you absolutely refuse to break norms, and want the more traditional option, this was the previous winner. A High Sierra ATGO 556 (be careful with the model numbers [Google:AT556] as they're are super important as H.S. makes tons of different bags.) My concerns was that it would fit in the over-head bin. (The FAA says 45 linear inches or 22x14x9) This measures exactly that, but somehow magically is much larger than all of its competitors. I wanted the ability to both throw it on my back, as a backpack (which it can) and use it as a traditional wheeled luggage. (It does that too.) Most every competitor did one thing but not the other. I'm going to be traveling by train and plane, all over Europe, and my previous experience suggested neither of these qualities was negotiable. I love this bag. It also works as a duffel bag, or traditional luggage, with tons of compartments, and compression straps. The downside was for me to get it at the bargain basement price of $78 (almost a third off retail) I had to capitulate to this overbearing blue color instead of the purple Burberry I wanted. Expect to pay between $120-$180, not on sale- but in my opinion it's worth every penny. 

I could easily fit two-three weeks worth of clothes in this bag if I didn't have so many shoes to take. If you have a travel companion, I could easily see two of these easily replacing your current luggage set as a carry-on only, over-head bin safe alternative which might avoid baggage fees for the entirety of your future travels.

As a note, you can buy checked versions of the ATGO series, up to some very large sizes.

I do want to post some of the alternatives I considered, but ultimately decided against. 

#3 MEC 100 - It's a Canadian company, and the bag is just slightly over-sized for carry-on which would have been a problem for me. Personally I liked the more-backpacky look (and likely better quality) of the MEC, but the company recently redesigned the product removing the backpack capabilities of the luggage meaning it was only a roller. That's a no-go for me, as I will be traveling through London on foot.

Doppelduffel
#4 Doppelduffel  Adventure Bag ($239) - Despite being a fashion disaster, this military grade bag works as both a shoulder duffel bag, and guarantees against armageddon with its super tough zippers. It's masculine, ugly, and has no wheels. The only reason I even considered it was because it would have fit in an overhead bin and likely outlast a nuclear war. It's likely luggage-porn for your your boyfriend who wants to embody Rambo.

#5 Red Oxx Air Boss - I actually like the Boss. I do. It's got color, the iron-clad zippers of the military bags, and its made of quality materials. Worse yet, I as a woman, wouldn't be embarrassed to carry it. The downside is the price at $225. It also lacks the functionality that I require which I've mentioned previously. It would make a great second-carry-on bag, which could possibly confuse flight attendants into believing it's just a really big laptop bag. (You're allowed a second carry-on such as a purse or laptop bag- this is pushing the limits though.)

#6 Thule - If you're going for that European look (which I am), and want to attempt to look less like an American, and more like a Swede, then Thule makes a fabulous carry-on. It's chic, it's cool, and yes it does do roller, and back pack. However at $289, if you can afford this luggage, you likely don't need to worry about any of that anyways. It also only is about as big as a single set of clothes.

Sherpani
#7 Sherpani - Women want more than just luggage, we want it to look good. The problem with all these carry-ons, including the one I bought, is they lack the fashion most of us would prefer. It's a balance between function and form. If you're willing to sacrifice the backpack straps,(oh say you have a cute Frenchman to carry your baggage,) and you can afford the premium prices ($249), then this is definitely your bag ladies. 

And that's it. I probably looked at a hundreds different pieces including luggage which doubled as a scooter, Live Luggage's motorized suit-cases, or Tumi's stupidly expensive Mission Impossible hard cases. I've seen luggage with polka-dots, money marks, and American flags, none of which are good for anyone arriving in Europe. In the end, if I wanted the largest carry-on, with the most versatility, I ended up back, every time, looking at a simple hiking backpack. 

 For me, it's now time to get packing, and head off to get lost in flight. If only my carry-on came filled with money, and a new size 2 body, then I would truly be ready for my next trip.