Lugging Luggage, The Quandary: Backpacks, Suitcases, Duffle Bags and Broken Wheels

Broken Luggage Wheel

While the question of what and how to pack comes up quite often, there’s another question that is equally significant: what to use to transport what you finally decide upon. My recent move to Copenhagen offered several fresh reminders and new insights into how to pick luggage and the risk of heavy inconvenience if you choose poorly.

While diehard backpackers are inclined to advocate vocally for (unsurprisingly) backpacks, others will only travel with duffel bags (some of which now come with built in wheels), or more conventional suitcases.  Advocates of backpacks like myself focus on their portability and their flexibility.  In a similar camp die-hard duffel-baggers swear by their wheeled or “rolling” duffel bags, often arguing that they offer the flexibility of a backpack with less weight and without the requirement that the bag always be carried.While not nearly as comfortable as a backpack, in a pinch the rolling duffel can usually be used like a make-shift backpack despite their unpadded straps.  The third class of luggage is the traditional suitcase with built in wheels.  These offer easier access to your clothing, a firmer outer shell, and of course wheels that make transporting your luggage across flat surfaces significantly less labor intensive.

Ultimately which type of bag you choose will depend on your age, your physical condition, the type of travel you prefer, and where you’re going.  A trip to New York? You’ll probably find a suitcase to be the best and easiest form of luggage.  Heading to Europe and expecting to have to walk with your luggage a bit?  A destination with a lot of sand or dirt streets? I’d suggest going with a backpack or duffel.

Broken Wheel

I was recently reminded just how important selecting the right type of luggage was.  When I moved from Scottsdale, Arizona to Copenhagen Denmark I had a lot of clothing and gear to re-locate.  I fit it into four bags.  Three were large suitcases, each with different types of wheels and the fourth was my standard travel backpack. While able to take the heavier weight, traveling with the suitcases quickly reminded me just how much I love my backpack and hate having to use conventional suitcases.

You’ll notice that this post has a series of photos of a broken suitcase wheel.  The main lesson learned was that when picking a suitcase, one of the most important things isn’t color, handle, or size. It’s actually the type of wheels it has. As strange as it is, this is something I’ve never heard discussed before.

My three suitcases had three different types of wheels.  One had 4 small spinning wheels located on the bottom of the suitcase horizontally.  The other had 4 larger spinning wheels located vertically on the bottom of the suitcase while the last had two large fixed wheels built into the bottom of the suitcase as it stood vertically.  Of these three suitcases the wheels on two of the three were partially or completely destroyed by the cobblestone streets I was pulling them across.  The combination of the small-medium size wheels and their ability to swivel actually made them less resilient and quickly led to them being bent and eventually broken as the uneven stones combined with the weight of the fully laden bags to slowly tear them apart.  In total I covered less than a mile with the bags in tow. Despite that limited distance it was enough to turn the wheels from helpful-aid, to obnoxious nightmare.

Good Luggage Wheels

The surprising winner? The large fixed wheels built into the base of the suitcase. While seemingly less mobile/versatile and resilient, by being fixed they were able to better traverse the cobblestones and survived relatively intact. They also tended to roll better (which was partially also a matter of size).

So, the takeaway?  Not all luggage is ideal for all situations.  I think it’s easy for us to slip into a set category.  I’m a “backpacker” or “suitcaser” etc. the reality is that there are ideal types of luggage for different travel styles and destinations.  In gearing up for a trip and preparing to pack our gear one question we should all ask ourselves is, “what’s the right bag for where I’m going?” and the following five questions:

  1. How much will I be walking with my luggage?
  2. What type of ground will I be covering with my luggage in tow (sand, pavement, cobblestones)?
  3. What are my luggage weight requirements?
  4. How many different destinations am I visiting (keep in mind more destinations = more flexible luggage is needed)?
  5. What type of luggage best fits my physical/health needs?

What’s your take?  Any bags you really strongly suggest? Have a luggage nightmare?  I’d love to hear your thoughts via a comment.

This post was made possibly in part due to the support of our partner – Travel Republic who are offering cheap holidays in October

International Airports and Luggage Storage (Short and Long Term)

Tempe Sunset with Landing Airplane

When I arrived in Copenhagen to begin my two year study abroad program my flight got in at 10PM, I had a backpack and three 50 pound suitcases with me.  As a lone individual it was way too much for me to get into the city on my own.  Luckily, I was able to store two of those suitcases at the airport which brings me to today’s topic: luggage storage.

There are a wealth of reasons for why you may need to store your luggage at the airport. From simple logistics (like mine) and extended layovers to more complicated reasons.  I’ve seen people who were spending time in two vastly different climates and needed two sets of clothing.  Instead of hauling extra weight and bulk which they had no hope of using, they got a locker and stored it at the airport.

If you’re like me you may be wondering A) Are luggage storage/lockers affordably priced and B) In a post 9/11 world, do they still exist?

Is Post 9/11 Storage Possible?

Surprisingly, the answer seems to be yes for most major airports.  The trick is that they’re no longer (if they ever were) a stand alone department and operation.  Which means you’ve got to be slightly creative when researching if the airport you’ll be using offers luggage storage services.  The most common place to store luggage is actually at the lost luggage counter.  They have the facilities and infrastructure in place and for a daily fee will usually keep an eye on your bags for a few days, weeks or in some cases months.

Many airports also maintain coin operated luggage lockers. However, these tend to have been isolated and reinforced for security reasons. At the Copenhagen International Airport there was one set of mixed size lockers located across from the main terminal structure along a side wall of parking garage 4.  Unlike the lost luggage counter, these lockers were completely automated and had a 72 hour usage limit.

Since arrivals and departures can occur at all hours of the day make sure to do your research.  I did not and by the time I arrived in Copenhagen the lost luggage/luggage storage office had long since closed.  If not for the outdoor luggage lockers, I’d have been left stranded until the office re-opened 6 hours later.

Keep in mind that your airport may have storage services, but those services may be located in/near another terminal. Plan accordingly.

Is Airport Luggage Storage Affordable?

This is always a subjective topic. One person’s affordable is another person’s daily budget. That said, I’m inclined to say that depending on how you intend to use the luggage storage service it is typically well worth the cost.  In reviewing pricing across several airports the standard cost per day seems to be around $6-15 USD.  Depending on your needs and the airport you’re using many of the lost luggage storage services charge on a per item basis, while the luggage lockers tend to be based on size. When I used the “large” luggage lockers in Copenhagen one cost me 60DKK a day, or about $12 and fit two full sized suitcases with room for a third.  Quick online research suggests that large lockers are available at the Barcelona airport for 5.60 Euro, and in London Heathrow  lost luggage storage is 8 GBP a day per item and items can be stored for up to three months.

While you’ll almost always be better off storing your luggage at your hotel or hostel when possible, if you find yourself in a pinch or need the added security of a monitored/longer term/on site storage service there are still great options available to travelers.

Have a favorite resource for finding up-to-date information on an Airport’s luggage storage facilities and pricing? I’d love to know about it.

Don’t forget to pick up several TSA friendly Combination Luggage Locks for use on your baggage as well as securing your hostel locker.