How to Choose the Right Luggage Size [Essential Guide]

By James Smith
how to choose the right luggage size
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Suitcase size really depends on what it will be used for and the duration of your travels.

I know some people can go for 5 weeks in a backpack or 2 weeks in a full size large checked luggage.

It all depends on how you want to travel and the spirit of your trip.

The length of your trip will most likely be a big determinant in how big your luggage will be.

Choosing the size of carry-on bags

Carry-on’s will be the biggest surprise for extra fee’s when you check in at the counter.

I have a carry-on that is slightly bigger than the little skeleton form thing that they ask you to put your luggage in to make sure it’s carry-on size friendly.

Some carry-on’s are easier to pass than others. Of course, it depends on the airline and the number of people checked into the flight that might determine a surprise fee or a nice, “I’ll let this one slide.”

Just to be 100% safe on your travels, a carry on with the size of, 18’’- 20’’ will always be good, but make sure you check with the airline for other specific measurements to be sure.

International flights and domestic flights will be the most diverse.

These carry-on’s might look pretty small compared to other 21’’- 22’’ carry-on’s but again it all depends on why you’re traveling and for how long.

If you plan on traveling often, it might be a good idea to get accustomed to the airlines and your travel purposes.

This way you can make sure to book through the same airlines if you are pleased with the luggage policies.

You can find some very spacious carry-on’s. Try to find one with a hard outer shell opposed to a soft one.

This way if you have to sit on your luggage to close it, it will maintain it’s shaped and still fit in with the airline’s size allowance.

The ones made from fabric will take the shape of whatever is in the luggage and might alter the shape, making it not fit in the luggage sizer by the check-in counter.

Handbag’s and backpacks size

In addition to your carry-on, you will most likely always be allowed to have a handbag or backpack.

If you are traveling with only a carry-on but need a little bit extra space I recommend switching the handbag for a decent sized backpack.

You’d be surprised at all the extra room that could be hiding in a decent sized backpack.

This system could be good if you will be moving around a lot and can’t be bothered to lug around a huge heavy suitcase. Again, check with the airlines’ policy because some have a weight restriction on carry-on’s.

Sometimes it’s only on the one carry-on piece or sometimes it’s the combined weight of your handbag/backpack and your carry-on luggage or duffle bag.

Side note, duffle bags get very heavy after a while.

I don’t recommend duffle bags because they really will weigh down your shoulders after a while.

However, these could be easier to squeeze into a luggage sizer if the airline asks you to measure it at the counter, it’s up to you on this preference.

If you are traveling around Christmas time where you will typically be traveling for a short amount of time but will be carrying a lot of things and weight in terms of gifts and things like that, you should probably go for a medium 23’’- 24’’ sized luggage.

Going with a medium size luggage

A medium suitcase will require you to check a bag, which means paying the checked bag fee.

This means to me personally, you might as well bring as much as you can.

However, if you aren’t traveling very long, or will be moving around a lot, a piece of medium luggage should suffice.

Good enough for a week or so trip. This way if you pay the extra baggage fee, you have your medium luggage, your carry-on plus a backpack/handbag.

Not too much luggage but still sufficient enough if you need to carry a lot of things.

I never had the need to purchase the cute bundle of carry-on + medium + large luggage set but I recently went home for Christmas overseas in a carry-on and backpack but ended up buying a medium sized luggage to bring some things from back home with me to where I currently live and that was a very helpful luggage size for the situation I was in.

Another side note, you can purchase luggage at TJMaxx, Marshal’s and Ross for a pretty low price.

You might/will buy many suitcases in your lifetime if you travel a lot so you’ll see what works best for you over the years.

Choosing a large luggage size

Finally, the large suitcase that is typically the main checked luggage.

These suitcases for me personally have never gotten checked in size/dimension.

However, I have seen a big difference in these large luggage sizes if you put some side to side between  23’’- 27’’ and 28’’ – 32’’.

Logically, you might think to purchase a large suitcase with as much space as you can find, but remember that you will always have a weight limit.

Make sure you check the weight restrictions for large pieces of luggage every single time.

Airline companies will always always always check the weight on a large suitcase.

With a carry-on, they might not always weigh it but with the large luggage, you will always see people opening up the bag because they didn’t weigh their luggage at home and now they’re over the weight limit and need to look for something to take out to avoid paying the extra weight fee.

You can purchase a special device to weigh your luggage almost anywhere you buy luggage like a luggage scale like this one on Amazon.

Before these existed, you had to step on the scale, weigh yourself, then weigh yourself holding the luggage, subtract the difference and there you go.

Do yourself a favor and avoid the heart attack, however, you weigh your luggage do it before getting to the airport for peace of mind.

Typical large luggage will be 23’’- 27’’, there are, however “large checked luggage” these range from 28’’ – 32’’.

These larger luggage’s are really useful for going on a trip for a long period of time but where you will need lighter bulkier items such as sweaters and clothes that are simply larger not necessarily more items at a heavier weight, just larger and needs more room.

The overall conclusion of luggage sizes

Now an overall tip is to make sure you choose lighter suitcases and suitcases that offer a double zipper.

This way if you need slightly extra room to close your luggage you always can have that extra leeway if you need. Some times you need it, sometimes you don’t, it’s always very helpful to have, you never know when you’ll need it! Light luggage is always a good idea.

I have had more trouble with the weight of luggage versus the actual dimensional size.

The problem with luggage is trying to find where empty luggage weight and dimension fit into your length of travel and necessary things to bring along with you.

My advice to you is if you have time to do so, research a bunch before you go out and buy a suitcase, you will find one with all the things you are looking for or at the very least only compromise one thing. You will find the perfect luggage for you. Your traveling needs are very specific to you, no one else.

Recommendations are great from other travelers but at the end of the day it is you who is traveling and therefore only you can know exactly what you will need in a suitcase, you can check this recommended luggage guide I made for inspiration.

If you are having trouble fitting the dimensions and what you are bringing into your luggage.

There are many ways to maximize your packing room so that you can fit everything in the restricted luggage dimensions. Packing devices such as packing cubes have helped me a lot in the past.

These are little lightweight bags in the form of squares that help you categorize and separate things so that they are easy to find but will also fit perfectly into the luggage.

The way you fold your clothes can help maximize the space as well.

Marie Kondo is the creator of an amazing method for folding clothes and packing. I switched to this method and have found it so easy to travel in a carry-on.

When you see luggage restrictions based on size and weight, don’t stress out.

Remember to take only the things you really need and take advantage of packing gadgets that can help you organize your luggage and travel smoother before getting to the check-in desk.

Always check the dimensions and weight restrictions based on your airline you will be flying with to avoid surprise fees before you get to the airport.

Be sure to take into consideration the modes of travel you will be taking and the journey to get to your destination.

If you keep in mind all these things it will set you up for a smooth trip!

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Hi, I'm James Smith, I love traveling and always looking to optimize the traveling life to make it as comfortable and stress-free as possible. I especially love to nerd out about choosing the right luggage.