What’s the magical check-in luggage size for travel?

Once, I was standing on front of a luggage store, thinking what should be the size of luggage I should purchase for my trip in Europe. The next question was, two or four wheels? These questions were tricky.

Following my “gut feel”, I went into the store, picked a large luggage (thinking that I could pack more in), with 4 wheels (thinking I would expend less energy pulling it along).

I was so wrong. Off I went to my trip in Europe, and it’s from that trip, that I realised and learnt, the importance of choosing the right luggage. It’s not about the size of the luggage. It’s about the place that you will be going to. I bought something around 32″, and while it indeed store quite a bit of the cold wear that I brought, it created a slew of challenges for me.

First, was the checking in of the luggage. It was huge and heavy. Lifting it up unto the belt for weighing was a struggle, and was a risk for me, since yours sincerely had a pre-existing back condition. Flying over to Europe, I realised that the place I am staying had a long stretch of cobbled street. The four tiny wheels, which was a wonderful solution at the smooth, shiny floored airport, had become a pain in the neck. It was near impossible to move those four wheels along. Each attempt to pull the wheels out of a small crevice was met with another just a foot away. In the end, I had to lift up the luggage, and pulled it along, risking damage to the tiny wheels.

Taking a bus from one town to the other was an embarrassment. I had paid for the price of one to travel from a town in one country, to another place about 2-3 hours away. There was no luggage compartment. Imagine the situation when a large luggage was lugged up the 3 stairs leading to the seats, only to realise that I had to pay for two persons’ seat, in order to store away the luggage – on the seat, horizontally. It’s was so strange to sit next to a huge luggage by my side. Thankfully, I got over this strange arrangement (yes, I got some astonished stares) and ordeal.

After the trip, I was convinced that the right-sized luggage was reduce the stress of travelling. Did some measurement, and here are the sizes I felt would be good for travelling – large enough to store and maximise the space, yet ‘convenient’ enough to go into the leg rest area of seats, largely unnoticed by people around, and not requiring an additional seat.  I will not belabor over the size of hand carry luggage, since they are restricted by the regulation for air travel.  But if you are curious, IATA specifies that hand carry luggage should be no larger than  the maximum length of 22 inches (56 cm), width of 18 inches (45 cm) and depth of 10 in (25 cm). These dimensions include wheels, handles, side pockets, etc.


So, what’s the magic number that worked for me when I travel for more than 5 days? It’s the 26-28 inches luggage. Yes 26-28 inches. It is probably one of the most popular size of luggage. Being relatively large means it’s ideal for trips of 5 to 7 days, or longer, depending on how you pack. There is a large capacity for multiple outfits, shoes, and toiletries. Typically, the suiter area (a fold out or removable garment sleeve), if available,  can hold two thick wool suits and up to four dresses. Most importantly, it won’t break my back trying to move it.

Did I mention the 2-wheeled luggage? It’s most ideal, when you are not sure if the surfaces that you are going to walk on are going to be smooth and straight. When in doubt, opt for the two-wheeled luggage. If you are sure the places you will go have smooth floor surfaces, then the 4-wheeled version will be a breeze. But I wouldn’t count on that. I would rather assume there will be stretches of road where the undulation is significant enough to cause trouble.

So there you are, a 25-26 incher with 2 wheels. My perfect choice for any travel.  And anything near the dimension of (excluding wheels and handles etc):

WIDTH: 16″/41cm

HEIGHT: 25″ / 64cm

THICKNESS: 9″ /23cm
(for main compartment only)
11″ /28cm
(with expandable fronts – preferred)

– looks like a good starting point for choosing a good-size luggage for spaces in cars, trains and buses.

And for good measure, ensure that the material of the luggage is light and strong. Personally, I have used the hard case and the soft case, and I prefer the soft case as it provides more flexibility/possibility when it comes to squeezing them into tight spaces on buses, trains and your own rented vehicle. Then again, I would say, choose any material that you are comfortable with. One thing about weight though – you wouldn’t want to check-in a luggage weighing 5kg (empty) when your check-in limit is only a measly 20-23kg. That’s a lot of wasted weight that could be better used for packing in that magnificent outfit you saw in that shop window. 🙂

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