Thankfully, my days of constant travel for work ended years ago. But back when I was doing it, I did what most experienced travelers do: I was all about the carry-on. I never checked my bags if I could avoid it. Even when traveling with the family, we try to pack into four smaller suitcases that can fit in the overhead compartments rather than needing to be checked.
I will also admit, however, that I didn’t give a ton of thought to my luggage. I had an old, pretty beat up Samsonite suitcase that I knew could fit what I needed (often, it was a bit too big if anything) and would fit in the overhead. I spend a lot more time and energy back then thinking about the my backpack/laptop bag than I did about my suitcase.
A few months ago, though, as we were finalizing our plans for our summer trip to Europe, GeekDad got an email asking if anyone was interested in getting a suitcase system for review. Almost any other time, I would have passed on it, but this seemed interesting, and I knew we had a big trip coming up that would give me a perfect chance to really check it out, so I agreed to give it a spin.
The Bugaboo Boxer Luggage System’s website makes the point of stating that this is a system, not a piece of luggage, and that’s an extremely accurate way of describing it. At first glance, it appears to be three pieces: a large suitcase, a smaller carry-on size suitcase, and a wheeled chassis for pulling it all around.
The big suitcase is perhaps the biggest one I’ve ever owned. It’s 30 inches tall, 19 inches wide, and 10 inches deep. It’s also a hard shell–again, a first for me. Inside, there are two woven linings, one inside the lid and another that basically seals the main compartment. Both of these worked well for toiletries and other essentials, and the main compartment proved big enough for both my wife and I to pack all of our clothes for our trip. This turned out to be a very good thing for us, but more on that in a bit.
The smaller, carry-on piece, what Bugaboo calls their “cabin case”, is slightly smaller than the normal carry-on I’ve used in the past, at 20×13.5×7.5 inches. But that’s alright, as I mentioned before that back when I traveled a lot, my normal suitcase was often a bit too big. For our European trip, I didn’t use it for clothes, but instead brought it along as my main carry-on, with an assortment of books and games and food and my laptop for the long (and, as it turned out, unexpectedly much longer) flight out there. Within the first few days, all of that came out and this case slowly filled up with our souvenirs. And here was a point where I was quite glad to have a hardshell case, since I felt much more comfortable putting fragile items in it than I would have otherwise.
So where did the stuff I brought out there go? One of the cool early discoveries I made about the system when I originally unboxed it is that there are in fact two additional semi-hidden cases. When you open the carry-on, you quickly discover that it’s entire inner lining can be easily unzipped and pulled out, to serve as an additional day pack. While we eventually consolidated things and this inner lining bag traveled back to the US inside the carry-on, throughout our trip it served as an additional piece for us, holding the books and food and whatnot. (My laptop I kept in the hardshell carry-on for safety.) This inner bag comes with a detachable shoulder strap, but also hooks on to the outside of either the carry-on or the suitcase. I did try once having all three bags hooked to each other: the suitcase to the chassis, then the carry-on hooked to the suitcase, then the inner bag hooked to the carry-on, and I quickly found that this was too top-heavy and became unstable, so I ended up just carrying the inner bag on my shoulder.
Both the carry-on and the bigger suitcase have integrated, TSA-approved locks. Us normal people can use a combination of our choosing, while the TSA can use their magic key to get in. And I can, somewhat unfortunately, also state that those work, since when I got home and opening the carry-on, there was a nice notice in it that the TSA had opened and inspected it. (It came home as an additional checked bag since once it was full of souvenirs, it exceeded Icelandair’s 10KG limit on carry-ons.)
I also have to say that I was really impressed by how much these two pieces where able to expand. I’ll admit I’ve always been a bit biased against hard-shell cases because it didn’t seem like you’d be able to squeeze as much into them. And yet, we didn’t have to pull out one of the additional collapsible cases we brought with us for souvenirs until we were doing our final packing to come home. And honestly, we probably still could have fit everything if we’d really tried.
The chassis is the thing that really makes all of this wonderful and cool. It’s a separate wheel system with a telescoping handle. It can work using either two wheels or four. I found the four wheels kind of hard to use, but then on looking at the website to start writing this today, I discovered that you’re supposed to push the thing when using four wheels, not pull it as I was. So I’ll admit I didn’t really give that a fair shake. But honestly, pulling it on two wheels worked great.
The chassis also holds the fourth bag, the thing Bugaboo refers to as “the organizer”. This is essentially an additional carry-on that snaps on to the back of the chassis. It’s quite small. My 15″ laptop is way too big for it, but I tested it with my daughter’s Chromebook, which fit nicely. (And honestly, if you aren’t in First Class, you aren’t going to be able to use anything larger than a Chromebook on a plane these days anyway.) It was a great place to keep the passports, the main book I was reading, and a few of the smaller games. And bonus: when you’re boarding the plane, it’s essentially hidden under the chassis, so the ticket agent isn’t going to see it, thus basically giving you an additional carry-on. And it fits very nicely under the seat. (Because I’m perfectly fine getting an extra carry-on, but I’m not going to be a jerk and take up overhead space with it.)
The chassis also has a bungee strap attached to it that you can pull over a smaller item like a poster tube or camera bag and then strap on to the suitcase or carry-on. Bugaboo also sells other cases, which they didn’t send me for review, that are specifically designed to attach to this strap and sit on top of the carry-on when it is on it’s chassis.
The really nice thing about the chassis isn’t the wheels at all, but rather how the whole thing fits together. Back in the day, I tried buying a separate wheeled cart thingy for travel, thinking I could hook all of my pieces of luggage together somehow and save my back, but it was always a mess, with things constantly wanting to fall off and me not always wanting to spend the time to put it all back together properly after passing through security. With this system, though, all of that is effortless. The big suitcase easily snaps on to the chassis. And the smaller carry-on then slides into the hooks on the suitcase, making the whole thing one nice, extremely stable unit. It’s also very well balanced, and didn’t really feel any heavier fully packed than it did empty.
So pulling the thing from the house to the car is simple. The carry-on pulls right off, and pushing the handle down on the chassis collapses and locks the wheels flat, so the suitcase goes easily into the trunk. When you get to the airport, you pull it out, slide the carry-on back on to the suitcase, and head over to check in. There, you can pull the carry-on back off, pull the suitcase off the chassis and check in. Snap the carry-on back on to the chassis and you’re on your way to security and the plane. Once you board, you once again collapse the wheels and slide the whole thing–carry-on and chassis–into the overhead bin. On arrival, simply reverse all of that. When we traveled, I was thinking a lot about this because it was new and I knew I was reviewing it, but it’s definitely the kind of thing that you’d very quickly get used to and not even think about anymore.
And by the way–the TSA agent at JFK thought the whole thing was really cool as well. And I figure she should know, seeing thousands of suitcases a day.
I’ll admit that there were a few times when traveling with something as big as this–when all of the bags were attached to each other–that it was a of a challenge to navigate. There were times when I had to go up the extremely small European hotel elevators by my self, since me, this luggage, and one of the kids with their bag simply wouldn’t fit.
But that said, it was also really nice when we had about a quarter of a mile walk between the London underground station and our hotel to have such an integrated, secure system to pull, and to not have to carry anything else. And, this allowed us to only take three suitcases instead of four. All of the airlines we flew gave us one bag per person for free, so it didn’t matter going out there, but coming back with an additional bag full of souvenirs, we still didn’t have to pay, since that became our fourth suitcase. But even more vital was the rental car. We didn’t really know that European cars are, for the most part, much smaller than American cars. Fitting the three suitcases we had (the kids, by the way, each had one of our older carry-on size suitcases for the trip) and the extra bags into the car was a challenge. There’s simply no way we could have fit four of our older bags, which would have meant getting a much larger car. And that would have not only dramatically increased the cost of the car, but also would have created some much more nerve-racking moments passing other cars on the not-quite-two-lane roads in some of the small villages we were in. And there was more than once that we simply couldn’t have parked a larger vehicle. So in the end, this suitcase system saved us not only money, but stress.
So at this point, I know you’re wanting me to answer the big question I’ve avoided thus far: how much is this thing. The system Bugaboo sent me: $1500. Well, $1490, to be exact. When I first got it, I’ll be honest that both my wife and I laughed at the thought of spending that kind of money on a suitcase. Or, uh, suitcase system. Whatever. I’d be willing to wager that if you added up all of the suitcases I’ve ever owned, it wouldn’t total $1500.
But then we were on the trip. And more than once, we talked about whether or not this system would in fact be worth buying. Obviously, that depends a lot on how much you travel. If this trip to Europe was a one-time thing, and these would sit in a closet for ten years until we traveled again, then obviously, the answer would be a clear “no”. On the flip side, if I was still traveling all the time for work, I’d buy the smaller carry-on case and the chassis in a heartbeat, even though those two pieces by themselves are just over $1000.
Today, though, we aren’t at either of those extremes. We certainly travel more than others, but not at the level that would raise eyebrows. Later this year, we’ll be going to a wedding in Arizona, and then to Denver for Thanksgiving. Next year, we’re taking the kids to New Zealand, and will likely do something else during the summer. So does that level of travel justify $1500 on luggage?
As I said, we talked a few times about it on the trip, and a few times since, and we keep coming to the same answer: yes. Airline baggage fees, while annoying, aren’t enough to really make up the cost alone, but every little bit does help. The big thing, though, was what we saved not having to get a bigger car in Europe (or, in a much worse case scenario, having to rent two cars), which would make up a lot of that cost. And knowing that we can get away with a bit smaller car in New Zealand will be nice.
But it’s more about the cost, really. How much is knowing that your stuff is secure with an integrated lock that can’t be cut worth? We have had things stolen out of suitcases before, so now we always lock our bags, but honestly any decent wire cutter could snap through the travel locks we get at Target that we use on the other bags. How much is knowing that your fragile souvenirs are more likely to make it home intact because they’re in a very well made hard-shell case that can’t be crushed worth? These things definitely took a beating by the airline baggage handlers, and yet none of our items, including the shot glasses we collect when we travel, were damaged. How much is saving your back by having everything on wheels worth? That’s a big one for me.
So the final verdict: the Bugaboo Boxer luggage system is pricey, but worth the cost if you travel even semi-frequently. You can purchase the system, or individual pieces of it, directly from the Bugaboo website.
Note: Bugaboo sent me the Boxer system for review, but the opinions are all my own. Well, mine and my wife’s.