Hitting the road and not quite sure what is the best suitcase to take on a road trip? There are many options to choose from, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. But whatever road trip luggage you choose you’ll want to think about what you need, where you’re going, and how you like to travel before buying something new.
Different road trips have different luggage needs. A month-long journey on Route 66 might require a large softcase while for a weekend getaway you might just need to tote along a tote bag worth of things. On a solo road trip you won’t have to worry as much about size but on a family vacation, where trunk space is more precious, you’ll have to adjust your suitcase size to accommodate everyone’s stuff.
In general, one of the perks of choosing road trip luggage is that you don’t have to worry as much about size or weight. There are no TSA size restrictions and you don’t have to worry about fitting a carryon suitcase in the overhead bin. And you’ll only really handle it on the short distance between your car and hotel room.
That said, you don’t want to bring too much, too little, or worry about having to buy new luggage every time you take a vacation.
What to look for in road trip luggage
While your luggage will spend most of its time in the trunk of your car, wheels are a must-have feature for smoothly transporting your goods from your car to your hotel room with ease. Look for an option with spinner wheels for even better control!
When packing for a road trip you aren’t confined in the same way you are when taking a flight. There are no TSA guidelines, weight or size restrictions, or carry-on fees. Pick a size that works for you. A larger trip might require a larger suitcase. A short trip, a smaller one. And a solo trip where you have the whole trunk to yourself might allow for bigger luggage than on a family trip where trunk space is at a higher premium.
Compartments & Pockets
When it comes to road trip luggage, the more compartments, the better. It helps to have a deep inside to keep what you’re planning to wear, a separate area for shoes and other travel essentials, a pocket for your toiletry bag, and another for the bathing suit you might take out when you reach the beach. Compartments help keep you organized.
Weight doesn’t matter as much when choosing a suitcase for a road trip versus a plane trip, but you should still keep weight in mind. Sure, you don’t have to battle with check in restrictions, but you do have to battle with hotel hallways and awkward trunk angles. So pay attention to how much extra weight your suitcase carries and how much you can/want to handle.
Chances are you aren’t just buying luggage to take on a single road trip. If you’re investing in a good-quality suitcase you’ll want to make sure it fits for all your travel needs. Are you a frequent road tripper? Do you take a log of flights and prefer to check your bag? Do carry on only? Even if your suitcase is a little too small or a little too big for your trip, it’s always better to buy something that will support every trip and not just one.
Types of road trip luggage
Hardside luggage is always a solid choice. The tough exterior makes it durable when transporting your things in and out of your trunk and the plastic coating keeps everything safe and dry. Of course, there are also some cons. Hard luggage often comes with extra weight from the exterior materials (look for a suitcase made from polycarbonate to help reduce the weight) and the ridged design offers little flexibility when trying to “Tetris” together multiple bags, coolers, and equipment in your trunk (and when trying to fit in one last pair of shorts).
- Added Weight
- Not flexible
- Scratches easily
Softside luggage is a great pick for car trips. They offer more flexibility than their hardsided alternatives, allowing you a better chance to pack in just one more thing or squeeze it into an already full trunk. They also often come with multiple compartments, extra pockets, and expanding sections to create a more organized bag.
- More flexible
- Many compartments
- Lighter weight
- Rigid design
Duffel bags are one of my favorite ways to pack for a road trip. They come in a variety of sizes to accommodate a week-long adventure or a weekend excursion, are soft all around to make packing stuff in and stuffing it in the car easier, and often have lots of compartments that make organizing a breeze. For ultimate flexibility, look for a rolling duffel with wheels.
- Multiple uses
- Variety of ways to carry
- Multiple compartments
- Not as sturdy
- Most don’t have wheels
For overnight trips and weekend getaways, you might not need to pack much more than what fits in a travel tote. Travel totes are small and easy to pack making them the perfect option if you just need a change of clothes and a toothbrush. Even if you think you’ll need more room, a travel tote is a great investment to use as a second bag for road trips or any vacation travel.
- Easy to carry
- Can double as a second bag
If you love camping or hiking on a road trip (or backpacking Europe or South America when you’re not) and backpacking backpack is a great choice. They are roomy and durable, and can be easily carried on your back. This is a great option for campers who might walk through a forest instead of a carpeted hotel, but also for any road tripper who appreciates a little adventure.
- Easy to carry
- Good for camping/hiking trips
- Can feel heavy
- Awkward designs
- Harder to get things in and out