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.
Suitcase Sizes: The Basics
The traditional suitcases 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 more 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!
Packing 101: Understanding What You Actually Need
I have a friend who I love dearly. But whenever we go away, she has like 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.
How Good Are Your Packing Skills?
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.
How Are You Travelling?
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 travelling 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.
What Do You Need The Suitcase For?
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 backup if your favorite suitcase gets damaged beyond repair. Plus, if you’re always travelling 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?
When Do You Travel Most Often?
Are we talking about 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 in 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.
Who Are You Travelling With?
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 travelling 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.
How Much Do You Shop?
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.
Where Are You Staying?
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 much 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.
Most Important Points
- Always go for the smallest suitcase size you feel comfortable with
- Don’t buy a giant suitcase just because you don’t have one
- Don’t pack for “what if” scenarios – if you wind up missing something, you can always buy it
- If you’re travelling with a partner or a friend, the two of you can split a really big suitcase
- If your plane ticket includes a checked bag go nuts
- If your plane ticket doesn’t include a checked bag get a carry on
- If you’re travelling alone get a small suitcase
- If you are travelling in the winter, get a bigger suitcase because boots, jackets and sweaters take up a lot more space than sundresses and shorts.
- If you have access to a washing machine, you don’t need too much clothes
I think that covers most of what I was saying earlier. Anyway, let’s check out some suitcases.
Best Suitcases For Travel
Hopefully I’ve helped you figure out which suitcase size is just right for you. Here are some great suitcases of all sizes, which we recommend:
1. American Tourister Curio
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
2. Delsey Helium Aero
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
3. Samsonite Leverage LTE
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 expandable capacity.
4. Travelpro Crew 11
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.
5. Samsonite Centric
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