The Case for Wheeled Luggage

Credit: James Tye / Getty Images

In November, a widely-reported plan to ban wheeled-luggage in Venice, Italy, had rollaboard fans on edge. News outlets cited noise and damage to the cobbled streets as popular reasons to keep luggage off the ground. It seemed like the anti-wheel sentiment could set travel in the City of Bridges back decades.

"Remember what travel used to be like before rollaboards?" asks Christopher Elliott, National Geographic book author and Washington Post travel columnist. "We hauled our stuff everywhere, but the only place you can’t use wheeled luggage these days is on stairs or through the grass. Believe me, I’ve tried."

The Venice city council later clarified they had no intention of forbidding the baggage. And despite anti-wheel sentiment — they are obnoxious in a crowd — travelers are living in a golden age of luggage, thanks in particular to the recent addition of pivoting wheels (like the front wheels on a shopping cart), called "spinners."

RELATED: Travel Tips From Anthony Bourdain

Pivoting wheels allow you to pull your bag along without ever having to worry about the dreaded tip-over-and-drag-along, says Amanda Pressner Kreuser, co-author of Lost Girls World and travel writer. 

Get the most out of this travel essential with Elliott and Pressner Kreuser's advice on buying and packing your rollaboard, as well as how and when to pull it without adding fuel to the anti-wheel fire.

Carry a Combo Pack
New designs that combine backpack straps with a wheeled frame with spinners are game changers, says Pressner Kreuser. "You have your backpack for rougher terrain and your pivoting wheels for the city streets and airports." She recommends the DoubleBack 26 from Eagle Creek. It's small enough to fit as a carry-on while still large enough to accommodate most packing needs with its seven internal chambers. 

Look for Durability
"When you're buying soft-sided luggage," says Elliot, "look for the denier and type of fabric." Denier is the measurement of a textile's fiber density and you want 400 or higher. For fabrics, Ballistic and Cordura nylon are more resilient than other polyester fabrics. 

Versatility Comes First
"You can’t have 17 bags for 17 different trips, so invest in a flexible bag that you can travel with consistently," says Pressner Kreuser. "It should fit your needs for about 65 percent of your trips." Keeping your main luggage carrier within standard carry-on size is key. And investing in a hybrid combo pack will allow you to customize one bag to almost any trip, whether that is a backpack on a trekking getaway or a rollaboard for your weekday business trip. "Carrying huge backpacks used to be a right of passage," she adds, "but 90 percent of travel is on streets and sidewalk perfect for rolling luggage."

Pack Before You Buy
"The most complex luggage may seem appealing, but having 47 zippers is just confusing," says Pressner Kreuser. "It just needs to be easy to open and easy to pack." Don’t feel weird practicing packing a bag in-store before you purchase it — you need to know that the luggage fits your needs. Open up all of the pockets and chambers of the bag and think about what you pack most. If it's gear or business items, you need a larger main chamber to compensate for oddly shaped tools of the trade like your harness and crampons, or just a laptop, and side pockets for smaller items (think chargers and water bottles). If you mostly pack clothes, then having separate compartments for tops and bottoms undergarments, and then toiletries (to stop leaks) is best. And always make sure that the bag has enough space to pack an extra pair of shoes — yes, take yours off and check. If you buy online, make sure the website has an excellent return policy. 

Know When Not to Roll
"The most frequent time wheels aren’t a good idea," says Elliott, "is when you know it's going to make lots of noise, and people are trying to sleep. Then carry it." Pressner Kreuser also recommends not rolling your luggage when there's a chance you'll damage historic property. "I will never forget being at Machu Picchu and seeing this woman chipping away at those ancient artifacts. Just be respectful."