Plenty of luggage options for traveling families
However and wherever you go, family travel entails schlepping some supplies from A to B. As an adult, you can conceivably lighten your load by minimizing your must-bring list to the bare essentials. With kids in tow, it’s not that easy – you’ll never leave home without a whole kit and kaboodle of provisions, practicalities, distractions, gizmos and contingencies again.
It pays to put a little thought into the type of luggage you’re going to use to cart your belongings around as it can impact your trip. You have to factor in things like capacity, weight, durability, organization, price point and how you’re going to divide and carry the load. A lot depends on where you’re going, what climate or activities you are packing for, how many children you have and what their ages/needs are.
Here’s an overview of some considerations in cases, bags and backpacks for family travel.
A Wheely Good Idea
Travelers owe that wheel-inventing caveman a debt of gratitude. Shockingly, it took until the 1970’s for man to think about putting wheels on a suitcase and then another two decades for the design to evolve from the wobbly bag-on-a-leash model to the easy-gliding upright rollaway we see today. With porters and trolleys being endangered species, it’s no wonder that this is case of choice for many families on the go.
Looking at what the airport carousel spits out these days, it seems everyone has at least one black bag on wheels. Affix a colorful decal or tie a short ribbon to the handle to differentiate your’s from the crowd.
Rollaway suitcases come in all shapes and sizes, from kiddie carry-ons to extra large expandables. They can be soft-sided for flexible give or hard-shelled for sturdy durability.
A lightweight frame is key, as you want your belongings to be the bulk of your weight allotment, not the case itself. A comfort-grip telescopic handle should adjust and lock to fit your height hunch-free when you’re in rolling mode. You may even have room to piggyback another small bag on top.
Look for plenty of inner and outer pockets to help you organize your packing – think of your case as a portable chest of drawers. If you and your family are frequent travelers, it’s worth investing in a bag with quality zippers and inline skate wheels to ensure a burst-free trip and a smooth, maneuverable ride.
By age three or four, children can start pulling their own weight. They’ll love the independence and responsibility of having their very own mini-suitcase, and the easy-going wheels greatly increase the chance that they won’t whine for you to take over their baggage handling duties. There are some adorable animal, car and character themed bags out there, but be aware that what’s cute at age five 5 might be passé at age 7. If you don’t want to be buying a new whimsical bag every year or so, stick to a classic style.
Note: Upright rollaway suitcases are only a godsend if your travels mainly entail traversing between taxis, airport terminals and hotel lobbies. If staircases, trains and unpaved terrain are on the itinerary, you’ll just be lugging a heavy bag with useless wheels.
Carry Your Weight
Backpacks are the way to go if you anticipate having to lift and carry your belongings on and off trains, along bumpy sidewalks, up to second story lodgings and the like. They’re also handy for when your hands are already allotted to other duties like stroller-pushing, toddler hand-holding, car seat dragging and suitcase rolling – you’ve only got so many digits and limbs to work with. A small rucksack makes a good carry-on case or daypack for short excursions, and even the kids can don one (it’s a good way of teaching them the value of packing light!).
Unless you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking, trekking and camping with your family, your backpack doesn’t have to be a top of the line model designed for the great outdoors. There are plenty of lightweight travel packs that focus on comfort, durability and organization. Many come with detachable day packs and zip-away straps for airplanes (conveyor belts aren’t kind to dangling belts and buckles).
The right fit is important or your pack will be a pain in the neck, literally. Try a few on for torso size before buying. Look for wide, cushioned straps that won’t dig into your shoulders. A padded, adjustable waist belt will help support the bulk of the weight. Load-lifters and a sternum strap can help position and stabilize the pack for optimum ergonomic comfort. Make sure your model allows for some air flow and has moisture wicking material on the back panel or it’ll get uncomfortably sticky down there.
Organizer pockets are a key feature for family travelers, as rummaging around blindly for an urgent item adds unnecessary stress to your journey. Most backpacks have a large central zone with smaller zippered and elasticized compartments for odds and ends. Pouches, mesh bags, Velcro straps, clips, loops, bungee cords and carabiners can store sunglasses, cell phones, cameras, boarding passes, pens, water bottles and other items you need to keep safe and handy. Some travel packs even have a built-in port for CD/MP3 players – a big plus if you want your teenager to load up.
Check out our handy tips about shopping for baby-carrying backpacks – that’s a whole other subject.
A duffle bag makes a great family-sized stuff sack for all sorts of gear, from bulky jackets and sporting equipment to diapers and sand toys. These soft-sided cylinders are the lightweights of the luggage world – some of the nylon models can fold up pocketsize then unfurl to cart all your souvenirs or dirty laundry home. Smaller duffles make handy sling-over-your-shoulder weekenders or carryons while the larger ones are some of the highest capacity cases available. Various models are equipped with handy side pockets, pouches and zippered compartments for shoes etc., but a large, central, stuffable space is the cornerstone of the duffle bag.
One of the duffle’s drawbacks is they can be cumbersome to carry via a shoulder strap or hand grip, but there are plenty of wheeled versions on the market these days. Now you can drag your own footlocker around the world!
Duffles are not necessarily the most durable bags out there – airport carousals can wreak havoc on thin cloth material and flexible seams. However, some of the sturdier models are made of padded, tear-resistant, water proof polyester or even leather (not recommended if your kids are in the peanut butter hands stage).
There are now plenty of convertible luggage products out there that blend elements of the backpack, duffle bag and roller suitcase. This gives you the ultimate in practical versatility as you can adjust your carting method according to the circumstance. If you’re on solid ground, pop up the telescopic handle and wheel your belongings around. If you find yourself veering off the beaten path, unfurl the straps and let your back bear the weight. If you’re ready to check your bag in at the airline counter, zip up the backpack panel and, presto, you’ve got a soft-sided duffle.
Convertible luggage seems to offer the best of all worlds, however be aware that all modes are somewhat compromised. It won’t be the most comfortable, ergonomic, lightweight backpack around, but those wheels sure do come in handy. It may not be the smoothest gliding rollerbag on the concourse, but you’ll love those straps when faced with a set of stairs. You might not be able to stuff that duffle to the brim, but you’ll have some flexibility in how you lug it around. Think about what works for your family and determine if a purebred or hybrid bag is best for you.
Final Tips Before You Zip
- Consider buying a bag with a bright color or unusual pattern to differentiate it from the homogenous sea of black bags out there. Decorate it with colored tape or decals (let the kids get creative). Avoid tying scarves or ribbons on the handles if you’re flying as they can get caught somewhere in the process.
- Remove old flight tags from your cases so as not to confuse the baggage handlers.
- Make sure you have your name and address on a tag both on the inside and outside of each piece of luggage. If, for security reasons, you don’t want to advertise your vacant home address, use a business address, a phone number or email address for contact purposes.
- Secure your bag with a TSA approved luggage lock. If airport security needs to inspect your case, they can use a master key rather than simply cutting off your lock (which they are authorized to do).
- Packing cubes, compressor bags, stuff sacs, toiletry kits and ziplocks go a long way in keeping your luggage contents organized.
- Consider a luggage shipping service that will pick up and deliver your bags to your destination for you, door to door. It ain’t cheap, but it’ll be one less hassle to deal with when you’re traveling with kids. See www.luggageforward.com, www.carrymyluggage.com and www.baggagequest.com for starters.
- Suggested family friendly luggage/backpack brands: Eagle Creek , Tough Traveler, TravelPro, Columbia, Samsonite – including Sammies line of children’s luggage.