Travel topics > Preparation > Equipment > Baggage
- This article is about bags and other containers. See equipment for things carried within the baggage.
Baggage, also called luggage, are containers used to move all of a traveler's equipment around.
Usually you want to have a variety of options, which you can use as they suit your situation:
- some big bag that can be packed away during transport (in the hold of planes and buses),
- a carry-on bag that fits in overhead racks – big enough to hold everything for an overnight trip, or some essentials for a longer trip if the big bag gets lost, and
- a little bag for items you use en route, such as a laptop or medications.
When you're not flying, the number of items is less, and comfort when carrying them is more, important. In addition to these, you might want to have bags to use when most of your luggage is at your hotel (or whatever your base). One of the former can suit the latter use.
As you choose any case or bag for travel, mind its empty weight, dimensions, ease to carry, and durability. Lighter cases allow you to pack more. But very large pieces (even lightweight) tempt packing too much; they may also violate weight or size limits.
Soft, partially-full bags or sacks may fit in smaller or nearly-full bins where fixed-shape baggage can't. However, some delicate objects are better protected from the elements in hard shell bags.
- A suitcase is used to carry large amounts of baggage; when packed, it might weigh 10 to 30 kilograms (25 to 65 pounds).
- A cabin suitcase or carry-on bag is designed with the maximum dimensions for cabin baggage aboard aircraft in mind.
- A backpack can be differently designed, from heavy-duty outdoor backpacks, to smaller fashion backpacks.
- A briefcase is the archetypal accessory of business travel.
- A cooler or cool box is used to carry perishable food around.
For some modes of transport, such as boating, canoeing or horse back riding, normal suitcases or big backpacks can be awkward or even impossible to use. If you are going to go on such journeys, check how to pack.
Suitcases are the normal luggage when you have organized transport. They are usually optimized for the restrictions on airlines (and those restrictions in turn are based on suitcases). They are less good if you actually have to carry them any significant distance, especially in places where you cannot use the wheels most of them have. Even big wheels require a smooth, hard surface, so if there are gravel roads or snow, hand-carrying can turn out to be necessary.
Experts recommend large cases with lengths around 65 cm (25–26 inches) to avoid accidental overweight charges when flying. They come in these basic types:
- Hard-shelled cases, good for protection of fragile items. They are clamped and/or locked closed.
- Hard-sided cases with zippers that can be padlocked for modest security. Some of these can be expanded.
- Soft-sided or duffel bags... wheeled if large or heavy when full.
Wheeled bags are easier to carry. Two quality wheels should track well and last the life of the bag. Four-wheeled bags are easy to roll on smooth, hard surfaces such as airport hallways; however, they must be carried more often, and they tend to use an inch or so more length than two-wheelers. Bigger wheels help on less smooth surfaces, but also take some more space.
The carry-on luggage size is particularly convenient for short trips, so sometimes these are called overnight bags or weekend bags. Many people keep one of these bags ready to grab in case of an unexpected trip. Generally, they're large enough to carry one or two full changes of clothes plus toiletries, a laptop computer, and other essentials. It may look like a small suitcase or be designed as a foldable hanging garment bag to carry a business suit. (Some airlines have different dimension rules for garment bags.)
On an airplane, the maximum exterior dimensions for carry-on luggage varies by country, airline, and whether you are flying internationally or within a single country, but it is typically around 20x40x55 centimeters (about 8x16x22 inches) for suitcases. If you fly to a wide variety of places, especially if you fly to smaller airports, then you may want to buy a bag that is one or even two sizes smaller than what you think you'll be entitled to. For example, several major US airlines limit the maximum width of the case to 35 cm (14 inches), which is narrower than some major European airlines. Not all luggage has exactly the advertised dimensions, which means that the bag may not fit in the overhead compartment even though it is supposedly the correct size. If you are measuring your own, remember to include the handle, wheels, exterior pockets, and – if it's not a hard-sided case – any amount that it might bulge out if overstuffed. US airlines tend to enforce the dimensions of the carry-on suitcases; outside the US, airlines are more likely to make you weigh your carry-on bag. The weight limits can range from just 8 kg (17 pounds) on Lufthansa to 23 kg (51 pounds) on British Airways.
Even if your bag is within the airline's official size limit, there is no guarantee that you'll get to keep the cabin bag on board. Some smaller aircraft have smaller overhead bins, and therefore have smaller baggage allowance. Especially on low-cost airlines or very full flights, there may not be enough room for everyone's bags, so some passengers might need to check theirs at the gate. Keep this in mind when you decide what to pack in your carry-on instead of in a smaller personal item. If you were only planning to take the one carry-on suitcase, and you worry that you might be forced to check it, then consider packing a small, foldable bag that you could use to carry the most essential items, including medications, travel information, and your passport or other identification documents.
If you're flying, all of your carry-on bags will have to go through airport security screening. You won't be allowed to carry on larger bottles of liquids or other prohibited items. If you are packing your carry-on bag to help you cope in case your larger suitcases get lost or delayed, then you may need to get smaller containers for toothpaste, shampoo, and other toiletries. For most destinations, you need not bother since toiletries can be bought almost anywhere. The exact restrictions vary from country to country; for example in China you cannot bring a cigarette lighter in your pocket, purse or carry-on bag, while the Philippines allows one lighter but will not let you bring an umbrella.
If you're driving or taking a bus, train, or ferry, then carry-on bags have many advantages. The smaller size means that they aren't very heavy, and are usually designed to be comfortable to carry. They are usually easy to stow in whatever space is available to you, including under the table at a restaurant while you're waiting for your connection.
Backpacks are easy to carry as they leave your hands free and distribute the weight better than suitcases (when you cannot or do not want to use the wheels), but few backpacks are optimized for airline restrictions. They are also not good at avoiding creases on your clothes. A fit man with a good heavy-duty backpack can carry about the typical airline weight allowance; a rule of thumb for trekking (with appropriate fitness level) is to carry at most one-fourth to one-third of your ideal weight.
Sizes vary from that of a big handbag to those suitable for a week-long trek in the wilderness. As the backpacks are soft (except for the frame), the space they take depends on how they are packed, but the capacity itself gives some overhead. Some are more flexible in that respect than others.
When you use a backpack for significant amounts of stuff, there are trade-offs regarding how easy it is to pack in available space (such as overhead racks on trains and buses) and how easy it is to carry. There are two main types: internal frame backpacks are more compact and usually the better choice for general use, while good external frame backpacks have some advantages on the trail. The shape of the backpack and the design of the strap system significantly affect how much you can carry, and how comfortably. Get a quality backpack from a specialist store, explaining your use case, and learn to adjust the straps. Also distributing weight right when packing is essential for balance and comfort.
Smaller backpacks often have no frame, which makes them lighter and easier to pack away, but less comfortable if heavy. They also lack the strapping to get the weight on the hips instead of the shoulders. Neither is a problem as long as the packing is light. Even with little to carry, pack so that you have no edges pointing into your back.
When carrying a backpack among people, you may have to take special measures against pickpockets. As the backpack is at your back, it is a fairly easy target; some backpacks for use in cold weather even have straps on the zipper pulls to allow easy opening with gloves on. Smaller backpacks can be worn on your front in high-risk areas. Consider getting a backpack with locking zippers, or run a large safety pin through each zipper. Generally, to deter a pickpocket, you don't need to have an impenetrable bag. You only need to avoid being the easiest and most tempting target in the crowd.
With a big or moderate backpack, do not forget your increased size. It is easy to cause a disaster in a porcelain shop, and to knock people over in the bus.
Bags might have key locks or combination locks. Many others have zippers with holes that you can fit a padlock through.
Modern suitcases have a TSA lock, used by authorities in the United States for inspection.
Luggage storage, also known as "left luggage" or "bag storage", is a service offered at many larger airports, train stations, and bus stations. For a fee, you can leave your bags in a locker or at a staffed counter and pick them up later. This is especially useful if you have a long layover in an interesting destination—leave your bags behind and explore the area unencumbered before getting them back and making your connection. Some of these services, but not all, will allow you to leave your bags overnight.
Hotels and hostels may also offer luggage storage, usually free, on the day you check in or check out, so you can enjoy the day unencumbered by luggage even when you can't leave it in your room. Not all luggage storage is (properly) guarded and not all hostels have a room or closet they can lock, so you should probably avoid leaving valuables.
You can often use a cardboard box instead of a suitcase, even on airlines.
If you want to avoid having to bring everything with you, it's possible to have things mailed to a hotel for you before you arrive. Be sure to contact the hotel first to find out how you should address the package.
It is common to check in most luggage before boarding a flight and check it out at the destination airport. Although this option is more seldom used on trains, it is sometimes available, and might be available also with other modes of transport. Long-distance buses often allow you to stow luggage in a compartment under the bus when you're about to get on.