After 5 years of full-time travel, it was time for a suitcase upgrade. After an exhaustive search with specific criteria, we both chose the same model (which is a first!). Following is our Travelpro Maxlite Spinner review.
Because we are permanent nomads, reliable suitcases are a requirement for us. Continuous transit from place to place warrants luggage that is both durable and easy to maneuver. For the past five years we’ve each traveled with a 2-wheeled 22-inch suitcase. They’ve been great, and are still perfectly functional, but pulling them along was starting to wear on our middle-aged shoulders.
Michael’s old suitcase was a Travelpro, so upgrading to the same brand was a logical transition for him. I had been using a suitcase by Eagle Creek, and wanted to look at this brand as well as a few others before making a final decision. But, regardless of brand, we went through a pretty thorough analysis before making a decision. After all, suitcases are a vital component of our lifestyle.
Travelpro Maxlite Spinner review:
The logical choice of suitcase style was 4-wheeled suitcases, also known as “spinners.” Spinners allow you glide the bags along on all four wheels, requiring less effort than the “tilt and pull” motion used with 2-wheeled models. Although spinners have been around for some time, when we last purchased luggage five years ago they were new and still not sturdy. Back then the specialty luggage shops we consulted didn’t recommend spinners for frequent travelers.
The technology has advanced quite a bit in the past few years, so we had plenty of spinner options this time around. But we still wanted the durability and features of our tried-and-true 2-wheelers. Regardless of brand, we knew there were several must-have features, so we created a list of specific criteria for our new suitcases:
- 21-or 22-inch size: We wanted something small enough to fit into overhead bins on most aircraft, yet large enough to handle the rigors of the baggage carousel if we checked our bags.
- Ultra lightweight: Even wheeled suitcases have to be lifted now and then. There’s no sense starting with a heavy suitcase, then adding more weight to it upon packing.
- A sheltered wheel well: Many spinner suitcases have wheels attached directly to the bottom of the suitcase “box.” This works fine, however it makes the height of the bag taller, sacrificing storage space, since the body of the suitcase is elevated a few inches off the ground. Dimensions are critical for carry-ons, where every millimeter counts; you don’t want empty wheel clearance counting toward your space requirements. Well-designed spinners have the wheels counter-sunk into the main body of the case, making them lower to the ground. It keeps the outer dimensions smaller while preserving interior storage space, and also provides some protection to the wheels.
This bag has more storage space than other suitcases of similar exterior dimension, thanks to counter-sinking the wheels into the body of the bag.
- “Convertible” wheels: Spinners glide easily along flat surfaces, but on bumpy surfaces (like cobblestoned streets) it’s still necessary to pull them along like two-wheeled suitcases. Rickety spinners don’t make this transition well and the result is dragging a reluctant suitcase that behaves like a rusty shopping cart, with wheels twisting awkwardly. Well-crafted spinners swivel into 2-wheeled mode with ease.
Well-designed spinners make a smooth transition from 4-wheel to 2-wheel mode, for traveling on bumpy surfaces.
- Outside front pocket: This comes in handy for stowing items we want easy access to when passing through security, such as liquids or a tablet computer.
- Soft-sided, with sturdy rip-stop fabric: Soft-sided luggage has a bit more “give” than hard-shell cases, which allows us to squeeze in that extra shirt or (in Michael’s case) dress. Hard-shell cases also don’t come with outside pockets (see above). Rip-stop fabric resists accidental tears and stains. If it does get torn or punctured, rip-stop will prevent the tear from blooming into a huge slash across your suitcase.
- Large open interior compartment: We’ve learned from experience that this provides the greatest packing versatility, allowing us to fit more inside than bags divided into multiple “organizer” compartments.
- Deep suitcase with a shallow lid: We find it easier to pack more into a deeper suitcase box. This configuration is also best suited to hotel luggage racks, where you can place the open suitcase with the lid up against the wall. “Half and half” suitcases, which basically split in the middle when opened, don’t work on a luggage rack. They must be splayed out on the floor, taking up valuable hotel room real estate.
A large, open interior with a shallow interior lid pocket is the packing configuration we find the most versatile and efficient.
- Durable telescoping handle, with dual posts: Telescoping handles have multiple stop points, making them sturdier than the slender tube handle with a single stop point found on cheap suitcases. Adjusting the handle height can also make the bag more easy to maneuver when switching from 2- to 4-wheeled mode. We don’t like bags that have a single-post handle, even if it does telescope (surprisingly a feature on several good brands). It’s difficult to secure a carry-on bag with a trolley strap to a single-post handle; the carry-on ends up flopping around to the back of the suitcase, which is a tripping hazard and a general nuisance. (For more about the trolley sleeve, see our post about The Perfect Wheeling Tote Bag.)
- Inside lid pocket that opens on the long side of the case: Although we don’t like interior organizers, a single pocket along the shallow lid does come in handy for separating dirty clothes, lingerie, or toiletries. The zipper of the pocket should run along the long outside spine of the suitcase–meaning access to the pocket will be at the top when the open suitcase is sitting on a luggage rack with the top leaning against the wall. We’re amazed at the number of manufacturers who put the zipper either at the top end near the handle, or on the inside spine, either of which makes whatever is housed inside slither out upon unzipping the pocket. We also avoid pockets where the zipper splits it into two separate pockets.
An interior lid pocket that opens along the outer spine provides easy access to contents when the bag is sitting on a luggage rack. Pockets that open at the end or the inner spine cause clothes to slip out when the pockets are unzipped.
- Moderately priced: We set a budget of $250 per suitcase. We believe in paying for quality, but we weren’t interested in getting anything too expensive or flashy. Cheap bags typically do not stand up to the rigors of travel; the zippers split, fabric is prone to tearing, and the wheels wobble or fall off. Designer brands scream “this is an expensive suitcase, and there are valuable items inside,” a beacon to thieves in airports and train stations. We’d rather be a little less obvious and slip under would-be crooks’ radar. (Plus our underwear and socks aren’t that valuable anyway.)
The winner: Travelpro Maxlite 21″ Spinner
As we reviewed our criteria, the Travelpro Maxlite 21-inch spinner kept coming out on top. We love the super-light weight (less than 6 pounds!) and easy maneuverability. And the clever counter-sunk wheels give the bag more interior storage than other bags of similar overall dimensions. As an added bonus, the bag has an expansion panel in front if we choose to really go hog-wild and pack a down parka or something.
Michael got his first; he liked the fact that it was slightly smaller than our old 22-inch 2-wheelers. I wasn’t quite sold: I have a pretty limited wardrobe as it is, and I wasn’t keen on eliminating any clothing items. I was worried that all my clothes (well okay, my shoes) wouldn’t fit into the reduced dimensions. I used Michael’s new bag for my wardrobe packing test. To my surprise and delight, I was able to pack everything from my old suitcase into this new, slightly smaller bag . . . and I didn’t even need to use the expansion panel. We had a winner!
Our “his-n-hers” TravelPro 21″ Maxlite Spinners, don’t they make a cute couple? (Michael’s is “he-man” black, I opted for a more feminine blue.)
The bag has an MSRP of $280, but I purchased it on Amazon for about $120–well within my budget. They come in a few different colors, so we didn’t have to get the exact same bag (which makes things easier when packing).
After 4 months of traveling with these bags through Europe we can report they’re performing well. They’ve fit into overhead bins, and handled being chucked in the luggage hold with no problems. Wheeling them through airports and train stations has been a dream–and a welcome relief to our aging shoulders! We’re looking forward to several years–and many more interesting destinations–with these suitcases.
If you like what you’ve read, click the following link to purchase the Travelpro Maxlite on Amazon.
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Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.