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Don't get weighed down by luggage shopping worries

| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Luggage is an essential part of any trip, whether by plane, train or automobile, and the right bag can make the journey easier, while the wrong bag can make it hellish.

There's no one right bag for everyone, says Jeff Izenson, owner of Specialty Luggage at Waterworks in Pittsburgh. Much depends on the type of transportation and individual needs, he says.

That said, there are a few basic tips travelers can use to narrow down their choices. Lightweight bags are good to have no matter how a traveler gets from point A to point B, but weight is becoming more important for plane trips as airlines are becoming sticklers for charging passengers for weight.

Many travelers may automatically gravitate to fabric bags, thinking those might be lighter weight than hard-sided luggage, but Izenson and Michael Connelly, blog editor for travel website, say new hard-sided luggage is much lighter than it used to be.

Most of the new hard-sided luggage is made of lightweight polycarbonate, Izenson says.

Cindy Richards, editor of online family travel magazine Traveling Mom, says another benefit of the newer hard-sided luggage is many are hybrids, meaning they allow 1 to 2 inches of expansion, which is a little more forgiving when trying to stuff in all those souvenirs. The expanded areas are usually a tough nylon.

Fabric bags using tough nylon are also a good choice, Connelly says.

Certain high-end luggage manufacturers will weave extra-durable material like Teflon or use something like a ballistic weave to strengthen the fabric, Izenson says. Other fabrics like polyester are available but are less durable, he says.

Izenson says size is important, too. Most checked luggage should be no more than 62 linear inches, which is length plus width plus depth.

“Most suitcases now are 26, 27 inches long, maybe 18 to 19 wide. But there's no uniformity,” he says.

Most bags have their dimensions labeled, Izenson says, and a luggage store should have a tape measure to confirm sizes, but Connelly and Richards say it doesn't hurt to take one along.

All three say wheels are a must, preferably four “spinner” wheels that can turn 360 degrees. This makes pushing or pulling a bag much easier than the older bags that may have only two wheels.

Connelly recommends carry-on bags with wheels, too, which give travelers an option to pull the bag, rather than having to carry it. For those who opt out of wheels, make sure the bag has a comfortable strap.

Izenson and Connelly say United, American and Delta airlines revised their carry-on baggage size restrictions this spring, limiting carry-on bags to 22 inches long, 14 inches wide and 9 inches tall. That means carry-on luggage that used to fit might now need to be checked, they say, as some older carry-on bags are 15 or 16 inches wide.

When shopping for new luggage, go to a luggage store and try out the bags rather than buying online, Connelly and Richards advise. Look for lots of pockets, inside and out. Test zippers, lift the bag, test the trolley handles, look at the compartments.

Any problems a bag has in a store will be worse once it's filled with items, they point out.

“Don't buy online. You want to try it out, try the handle, measure it, pull it, shake it. You may find it's too short or too long and not comfortable,” Richards says.

Izenson says zippers and wheels are the most common items on luggage that break. As far as zippers go, he says some manufacturers are starting to make the handle easier to break — on purpose. “Those are usually weak and break off ... (but) you can get those replaced easier. If you have a handle that is durable, it may break the slider (which joins the teeth together) and that's an expensive fix,” he says.

Richards says while manufacturers may make smaller luggage for kids, it's not worth it to buy kid-specific luggage. “Any kid that's 4 years old or older can pull any suitcase that has four wheels. The suitcases with the spinner wheels are very lightweight — a kid can pull or even push them,” she says.

Richards says to inspect older bags before leaving to make sure they are sturdy enough for travel, and replace them ahead of time if necessary.

“There's nothing worse than taking a bag on a trip and it breaks,” she says. “It can really ruin your trip. I had a bag ... break in the airport and had to buy a new one. I had to unpack my underwear in front of everyone.”

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