You want to buy a new suitcase but you are not sure which size to get? I’m here to help! In this post, I will tell you everything you need to consider, in order to get the perfect suitcase size.
I will also show you some good luggage options at the very end. Be sure to check those out, if you’re not sure which suitcases are worth buying.
The traditional suitcase sizes range from 18” to 32”.
Suitcases that are up to 22” are usually considered carry-ons, while all larger bags are considered checked luggage. But this is not always the case – some airlines allow bigger bags inside the cabin, and will accept a 23” suitcase as a carry-on.
With most luggage collections, you will see either three or four different sizes for one suitcase. That’s usually 21”, 25”, 28”, and sometimes 31”. Obviously, this is not a rule – with some brands you’ll see smaller suitcases, and with others, you’ll struggle to find anything under 25”.
The right size for you depends on a lot of different factors, and I will do my best to cover them all in this post. And hopefully, by the end of this post, you’ll be 100% sure which size is just perfect for you!
I have a friend who I love dearly. But whenever we go away, she has three pieces of luggage. And guess what – she winds up actually using only about 40% of the items she packed.
Don’t pack for “what if” scenarios. I used to make these mistakes when I was a lot younger, and boy did I learn from them. The thing that sobered me up was when I had to carry an over-packed 30” suitcase with a broken wheel on a ferry and a train. And I had another bag that held my 70-lb laptop, and everything that did not fit in the suitcase.
I had sore arms for the next three or four days. And all of that because of the “what if” packing – turns out that the chances you will need a proper jacket and rain boots in a seaside town in the middle of July are non-existent.
You need to understand what you actually need, and what you don’t. You don’t need the third pair of jeans or the fifteenth pair of socks, or even your compression socks. And you certainly don’t need that shirt you haven’t worn since your graduation.
Once you have a really good understanding of what you actually need, you will be able to pack for long trips in small suitcases. Especially if you know some really cool packing hacks.
Over the years I’ve learned to pack for two weeks in a small carry on. And you can too – it takes some time, practice, and a Marie-Kondo understanding of the things you actually need.
There are lots of useful tips and tricks you can learn that will tremendously reduce the amount of space you actually need in a suitcase. One of the best tricks I learned was to roll my clothes – if you haven’t tried this already, you’re missing out! The next time you go pack your suitcase, try rolling your clothes instead of folding them. Not only will it save you a lot of space in your luggage, but it also keeps the clothes from wrinkling.
Another incredibly useful trick I learned was to put my underwear and socks into plastic bags and then stuff those inside my shoes. I also realized that this doesn’t work with all kinds of shoes, like soft Converse sneakers or espadrilles. But it works like a charm with bulkier footwear, and it really helps you utilize your suitcase to the max.
I don’t know about you, but before I learned this trick I used to pack my socks and underwear in the mesh zippered pockets on the cover of a softshell, or on the divider of a hardshell suitcase. Now I use that space for cosmetics, towels, or swimsuits, depending on what I’m packing for.
When you get really good at packing, you will realize that you don’t actually need a 32” suitcase for a two-week holiday.
Are you flying somewhere, or are you taking a train/driving?
And if you are flying, does your ticket allow for a checked bag? I find it easier to justify packing a big suitcase to myself if I’ve bought a ticket that includes a checked suitcase. But that’s not always the case, especially with short flights and budget airlines.
In this case, I’d say that the size of your suitcase depends mostly on your ticket. If you already paid for a checked bag, then by all means bring a 28” suitcase ; and pack everything you want inside it. But if your ticket doesn’t allow for checked luggage, you will save time and money if you opt for a carry-on. Especially if you’re going on a shorter trip, and you don’t need to bring too much stuff in the first place.
But if you are traveling by train or bus, then you’re better off getting a smaller suitcase. Think about it –you’ll have to drag that thing to the train station, then all the way to the hotel. Maybe you’re even switching between trains, or getting on a ferry at one point? The lighter your luggage is, the easier it is for you to move around. You won’t be stressed out and you won’t be in pain if you’re not carrying a 40-lb suitcase.
If you’re driving somewhere, think about the trunk space. Sure, there’s plenty of room for your luggage if it’s just you and your partner, but if you’re going away with a group of people… One time I went on a holiday with 4 friends, in one car. None of us were allowed to bring a big suitcase because there simply wasn’t enough room in the trunk. Talk about being squashed like sardines.
This is something you need to think about – if you are getting in a car with three or four more people, you really need to pack light. The trunk will fill up really quickly, and there will be very little (if any) space in the back seat. And trust me, you don’t want to ride for 5 hours with your bags under your seat.
Do you need a suitcase for a specific trip, or are you just looking to expand your luggage collection?
If you are buying a suitcase for one particular trip, then it makes sense to get a size that is just right for that trip. If you’re going away for a really long time, then you need a large bag. But if your trip is two weeks or under, you can manage with a 25” suitcase.
If you are buying a suitcase because you want to add another one to your existing luggage collection, make sure you get something you will use. Don’t get a 32” suitcase just because you don’t own one – if you’ve got this far without it, chances are you won’t use it too often. And if you are not using it often, then you are not getting your money’s worth.
Instead, consider which size you’re currently using most frequently. And then get another one – it’s good to have a backup if your favorite suitcase gets damaged beyond repair. Plus, if you’re always traveling with a 21” carry-on, then you will definitely get your money’s worth if you buy another one of those.
It’s kind of like buying perfume online – would you rather buy another bottle of your favorite perfume, or order something you’ve never smelled before and risk not liking it?
Are we talking about the summer or winter holidays? Because the difference is huge.
Summer clothes are lightweight, thin, and take up very little space. But winter clothes are bulkier and heavier – one down jacket will take up as much space as a pair of jeans, a couple of tops, and a beach towel.
Therefore, it makes perfect sense to buy a larger suitcase if you’re going away to the mountains. Especially if you want to go skiing or snowboarding, and you need all the additional equipment. This is actually one of the few scenarios where I will tell you that it’s better to buy a really big suitcase.
For most other scenarios, you will rarely need something larger than 28” max. Especially in the spring and summer, when you’re packing thin and lightweight clothes, and you can wear that one jacket you want to bring.
Do you travel alone? With friends? With a spouse?
If you travel alone, it makes more sense to get a small suitcase. You don’t really have people that can carry it for you, and it’s a lot easier to go places with small and lightweight luggage.
But if you’re traveling with a partner or just one other person, then your best bet is splitting a suitcase with them. I always recommend this to couples and they always thank me – why would you bring two small suitcases, when you can fit clothes for both of you in one large bag? You can alternate who carries the suitcase so neither of you gets too tired, and both of you can also have a backpack or a smaller duffel for any additional stuff you need.
This is a very useful trick for air travel – you don’t have to pay for two big suitcases. Instead you can have one checked bag and two carry-ons. And that can hold enough things for about a month.
Do you only buy a couple of souvenirs, or do you go cray-cray if you see a hot sale?
If you plan to do a lot of shopping on your trip, then definitely go for a larger suitcase, preferably one with expandable capacity.
But don’t go too big – go for one or two sizes larger. And don’t pack it fully. Leave some room inside, so that you can fit all the things that you buy on your trip.
Even if you don’t normally shop too much on your trips, you will benefit from having an expandable suitcase. You never know – maybe you’ll find that one pair of sneakers you’ve been eyeing for months but are sold out everywhere else.
Are you staying in a hotel or AirBnB? Maybe you’re even visiting a friend or family?
Here’s why I’m asking – if you’re staying someplace where you have a washer, you don’t need to bring too many clothes. Instead of packing 7 shirts for 7 days, you can just bring 4 and then wash them and wear them again.
So, if you have access to a washing machine, you can pack less stuff in a smaller suitcase. But if you’re staying in a hotel, then you don’t have that luxury. In that case, you will probably need a larger suitcase, which can fit all of your clothes.
I think that covers most of what I was saying earlier. Anyway, let’s check out some suitcases.
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This is one of my favorite budget options. It’s a hardside suitcase, and it is available in three sizes – 20”, 25” and 29”. All of the suitcases are made from polypropylene, and they are really lightweight. The only downside to these is that they don’t have expandable capacity, and you will need to make the best of what you get.
At the moment, all three Curio suitcases are discounted and are under $100.
SEE ALSO: American Tourister Curio Detailed Review
Delsey’s Helium Aero luggage is a great durable option. The suitcases are made from Polycarbonate, which is the sturdiest material for luggage. It bends upon impact – you can literally dent the shell and then pop it back in place. These suitcases are available in four different sizes, and they all feature expandable capacity.
Overall, a great choice for air travel.
SEE ALSO: Delsey Helium Aero Full Review
This is definitely one of the best and most durable softside suitcases you can get. It’s made from nylon, which is a very popular material for sturdy luggage. Nylon has excellent tear resistance, and it is also water-resistant, which is why it’s so popular.
The Leverage LTE suitcases are available in three sizes, they feature spinner wheels and all of them have the expandable capacity.
Travelpro is a brand that manufactures luggage for airline employees. If it’s good enough for them, then it’s good enough for you, right?
The Crew 11 suitcases are a very popular option. They are softshells with spinner wheels and multiple compartments and pockets. The suitcases are made from ballistic nylon, and they are very durable.
You can get these in a lot of different sizes, but the four I featured are the most popular options.
SEE ALSO: Travelpro Crew 11 Review (Softsides & Hardsides)
The Centric is a very popular suitcase. It’s a Samsonite that you can get for less than $100 – I think that’s what appeals most to people.
These are hardside suitcases, with a rather unusual shell design. But thanks to their exterior, they are very scratch-resistant. All three Centric suitcases feature spinner wheels, double packing compartments and expandable capacity.
If you’re looking for a high-quality suitcase at an affordable price, the Centric is the way to go.
SEE ALSO: Samsonite Centric Full Review
In this section I’ll cover some of the most frequently asked questions about luggage sizes regarding both carry-ons and checked bags.
No, suitcases are usually not measured diagonally. Instead, if airline personnel think your bag is too big for a carry-on, they will ask you to put it in a sizer that restricts height and depth of luggage. In practice, this means that you can get away with luggage that is an inch or two wider than it should be.
Also, suitcases are measured with wheels, handles, and other protrusions, so when you are shopping for a suitcase, be sure to look for external dimensions and not case dimensions.
Case dimensions only account for the size of the packing compartment – they don’t account for the wheels and handles. In general, the wheels and handles add about 1.5” to the bag, and that’s your difference between a carry-on and checked luggage.
Additionally, some airlines will restrict luggage based on linear size. Instead of measuring the diagonal, liner size is just adding up all the different dimensions. For example, most airlines will restrict checked baggage to 62” linear – this could be a 27” x 21” x 14” suitcase, or a 26” x 20” x 16” one. For carry-ons, the usual restriction is 45” linear.
The biggest suitcase size is 32”. These are extra-large checked suitcases that often measure 31-32” with the wheel and handle, and they are rare. Most brands will have a 28” suitcase as their biggest option – these bags often have a capacity of 90-100 liters, which is more than enough for the average person.
Why doesn’t everyone make extra-large checked because? Because they’re not very popular. A 28” suitcase is still big enough to get you through a 20-day trip, but it’s significantly lighter and easier to maneuver than a 32” one. Also, the bigger and heavier your luggage is, the more likely you are to go over the weight limit for checked bags and incur a penalty fee.
The actual biggest suitcase in the world was built in 1999, and it measures 13.33 x 8.75 x 4.16ft. It’s obviously not for sale and it was built just for the purposes of getting a Guinness World Record, but hey – now you know a useless fun fact!
The maximum allowed size for a carry-on suitcase is determined by the airline, but in most cases it is 45” linear. For most airlines, the maximum height of a carry-on suitcase is 22”, including the wheels and handles. However, and I can’t stress this enough, it is very important that you always check what the policy of the airline you are flying with.
Some will allow only bags up to 21”, others won’t let you carry on anything wider than 15”, and some (like Southwest) will let you carry on bags up to 24”. It varies from airline to airline, but a 21” suitcase is generally considered a carry-on almost everywhere.
The smallest suitcase size is 18” for proper suitcases. These are mini carry-ons that work best for overnight trips because they have a very small capacity. Also, this is the standard size of suitcases for children. You can go even smaller, but then we’re not really talking about proper suitcases.
Instead, we’re talking about underseat bags. Some brands will put as much effort into these as they put into their other luggage, so you can buy a proper underseat suitcase with a multi-stage handle, spinner wheels, and two packing compartments. These mini suitcases are usually 16” or smaller.
If your carry-on suitcase is too big and you’re not allowed to bring it inside the cabin, you will be forced to check your bag. If your ticket allows for a checked bag and you don’t have one, you don’t need to pay an extra fee. But if your ticket doesn’t include checked luggage, you will need to pay for it.
Make a point of checking the carry-on restrictions of any airline you travel with, and you will avoid nasty surprises. It’s especially important to this if you’re flying with a local airline that uses smaller aircrafts. Smaller planes have smaller overhead bins and even standard carry-ons won’t always fit inside them.
It’s worth noting that slightly oversized carry-ons make it inside the cabin all the time. It depends on how strict the airline is with enforcing the rule, but also who’s working that particular day, and whether they’re in a good mood. As long as your carry-on is not visibly oversized (bulging, extended, etc.), you can easily sneak it onto the plane.
If your carry-on suitcase is too heavy, you will most likely be forced to check it at the gate. This will also incur a checked baggage fee, and depending on the weight of the carry-on, you might also get an overweight baggage fee. But the latter will happen only if your carry-on exceeds the maximum weight for checked bags, which is usually 50 lbs. Considering that carry-ons have a significantly smaller capacity than checked luggage, it’s almost impossible to make them weigh more than 50 lbs.
Most airlines have a weight limit of 20 lbs for carry-on bags but be sure to double-check if this is the case with the airline you are traveling with. Some airlines don’t have any weight restrictions for carry-ons, and you could get away with a suitcase that’s entirely packed with bricks. It generally depends on the size of the aircraft – if you’re flying in a small plane, an overweight carry-on is trouble.
You can avoid all of this by simply weighing your carry-on at home and taking out any items that are making it overweight. Additionally, a few ounces or even a pound extra shouldn’t really matter – most airlines don’t even weigh carry-on luggage, unless it’s obvious that it is too heavy.