There’s no doubt about it: traveling for business can be tough on your body. Whether you’re knocking your knees into the back of an airline seat or contorting your fingers to take notes on a tiny tablet during a sales meeting, working on the go will leave your body tired, sore, and perhaps even injured. But when it comes to discomfort, the type of travel bag you choose to bring with you will have more influence than just about anything else. With the wrong bag, you’ll run the risk of throwing out your back, getting a crick in your neck, and straining your wrists. With the right one, you’ll breeze through the airport like a celebrity with paparazzi on your tail.
What to look for when choosing a carry-on:
Here are a few criterion to apply as you search for your carry-on soulmate.
You don’t have to be a travel guru to intuit that your travel bag should be as light as possible. The lighter your bag, the easier it will be to cart around, the less strain you’ll put on your muscles and joints, the less likely you’ll be to injure yourself as you sprint around an airport. What’s more, a light bag will enable you to pack more without incurring the wrath of airline weight fees.
If you’re going the carry-on route (and we highly recommend you do), your bag needs to be able to fit beneath your seat or in the overhead compartments. According to the FAA, for most airlines this means 45 linear inches total for the height, width and depth of the bag. This will vary slightly from airline to airline, but if we take American Airlines’ guidelines as an example, that’s: “22″ long x 14″ wide x 9″ tall or 115cm (56 x 36 x 23 cm).”
One thing to note: some seats, such as bulkheads, won’t have any below seat storage, while others will have limited room due to modern, on-board entertainment systems. Make sure to check the storage available at your given seat before you book at SeatGuru.
Carry-on luggage can take a real beating as you drag across cobblestones and through rain wind and snow, and cram it into overhead bins. And if you have to check it planeside, there’s no telling how it will be treated when it’s out of your sight. A strong, durable suitcase is crucial for ensuring the safe transport of your items.
For some people, a versatile suitcase can be a real life saver. An extra attachment to a rollerboard suitcase, for instance, can prove to be a convenient daypack for any side trips you do while away, or just for bringing a book to the gym.
5. Ease of Transport.
Wheels vs. straps: it’s the ultimate battle. Whatever side you fall on, it’s important that your bag is easy for you to get from point A to point B quickly and comfortably.
A Few Bag Types to Give a Whirl
While there is much about this criteria that is self-evident, each suggestion can be manifested in numerous forms. In this section, we’ll take a good look at the different types of travel bags that are available and suggest a few good ones to suit your needs.
1. Roller Bags.
Roller bags are the obvious choice for carry-on. Most smaller bags are specifically designed with airline bins in mind, and of course those wheels make them ideal for pulling across a busy airport. Some argue that the 2-wheel option is the best way to go as fewer moving parts will leave you with less to break. However, many people prefer 4-wheels with 360-degree rolling casters, which will enable you to pull the bag in any direction without tilting it back. This is also ideal from an ergonomic perspective, as you won’t put any weight on your musculoskeletal system. Hard shell suitcase are obviously quite durable, especially in the event that you have to gate check your bag. However, they are also heavy and cannot expand. This can actually be a good thing in some cases, as overstuffing soft shell suitcases may result in exceeding the dimension restrictions.
There are many different options for rollerboards, from basic designs to those with more than their fair share of bells and whistles. In our research, Kirkland bags, which you can find at Costco, are reliably related the most durable for the price.
2. Travel Packs.
Travel packs can range from backpacks to duffel bags cloth briefcases. Their main benefit is that they’re made from soft, light material. They’re not weighed down by heavy wheels and frames, and they’re easier to stuff into small space. These options aren’t nearly as easy on your musculoskeletal system while you’re moving around the airport, but they will be easier to lift into overhead bins.
Backpacks are much better than duffel at distributing weight across your body, especially when you take advantage of chest and waist straps. The Osprey Farpoint 40, for instance, is as lightweight and as durable and can be, and can easily fit wherever you need it to.
However, you bags with shoulder straps aren’t entirely out of the question, just as long as you pack light. Plus with options like the Tom Binh Tri-Star, you can turn your bag from a briefcase into a duffel into a backpack again — whatever feels most comfortable for you. Coolest of all, there are compartments for just about everything, and the bag could easily pass a briefcase so you can go right from the airport to the conference.
3. Convertible Wheeled Packs.
Torn between a wheeled travel bag and one with straps? With convertible wheeled packs, you don’t have to choose. All you have to do is expand the strap and you can go from wheeling your bag across the airport to carrying it on your back through that bustling European market and into your hotel.
We particularly love the Morphus pack from Eagle Creek, which can act as two expandable daypacks (both of which work separately as carry-on) or as a single rollerbag. It’s the best of all worlds.
4. Multi-Piece Soft Shell Bags.
On a similar note, there are many soft shell rollerbags available that also offer a briefcase you can pull off and take with you. The Patagonia Transport M.L.C. is basic but it’s as lightweight as it gets, making it convenient, expandable, and perfect for both longer transport and your daily work needs.
For more in-depth reviews of individual bags and a look into the ergonomics of travel bags, we highly recommend this extensive and rigorous guide from The Wirecutter and this guide from AOTA. What travel bags do you swear by? Let us know in the comments below.