First, your cellphone became a smartphone. Soon after, your home and television got smart, too. Now, even your luggage can be smart.
It was only a matter of time before your carry-on started taking on robotic tendencies. This trend really started picking up speed in 2015, and new smart bags hit the market consistently throughout 2016. But is this high-tech luggage a worthwhile investment? Let’s take a closer look.
No, smart bags don’t have an actual brain, but they do have capabilities beyond the norm, like the ability to self-weigh, charge your phone and track their own location. If you’ve ever been wrongly charged for overweight luggage, had to embark on a 10-hour flight with a dead phone or filled out a missing-suitcase form, you understand how these smart-bag functionalities can make a difference. Even when your airport gate has charging ports, there’s a slim chance you’ll actually squeeze yourself through the crowd of people already using them.
Some smart bags have additional features, like Bluesmart’s alerts that tell the forgetful, “You’re leaving me behind!” (whoops) or Rimowa, which features a digital check-in for your luggage to eliminate lost baggage receipts. As of now, the latter only works with the Lufthansa and Eva Air airlines, but it’s expanding.
For those of you who can’t afford one of these high-tech bags, which range from about $260 to $860, there are DIY alternatives to consider. If you’re on a budget, you could purchase a bag for under $100 and outfit it with smart accessories. Luggage scales run for less than $10 on Amazon, and gizmos like Trakdot Luggage Tracker ($49.39) and LugLoc Tracker ($69.99) track your bags. Moreover, portable charging packs with USB ports can be found for less than $10 (try the PNY T2200, which is about the size of a lipstick tube).
Basically, if you don’t mind getting crafty, smart bags may not be worth your hard-earned cash.
But it’s possible they will be soon enough.
Already, these bags are going beyond the aforementioned features. For instance, Mashable wrote about the NUA Robotics suitcase, which can “follow you around like a puppy” using a camera sensor and a Bluetooth-paired smartphone app. Additionally, the Modobag, recently covered by The Verge, is luggage you can actually ride around the airport (note, however, that with its 8-mph speed comes 19 pounds of weight). Brands like Bluesmart and Raden are also focusing on offering sleek designs with their tech pairings, so expect to see more of this in the future — after all, if your luggage is ugly, nobody really cares if it can charge your phone.
The bottom line: This choice is about what’s important to you. If you’re a tech-centric traveler or a frequent business flier who will make use of a smart bag’s amenities — and you don’t mind a higher price for your luggage — then it may be worth it. But the traveler who takes one two-week vacation per year and wants to disconnect from email and reconnect with loved ones may not see the utility. This is especially true if you don’t check your bag — you can simply place an inexpensive Chipolo Bluetooth tracker ($24.99) in your carry-on to keep track of it.
Whether you opt for smart luggage or, uh, dumb luggage, it’s important to consider what makes a great bag for you. Do you love vintage or designer suitcases, or are you more concerned with extra pockets and compartments? What if there’s no mesh lining in the top? Do you like a backpack, a hard-shell or a soft suitcase? Is an ergonomic handle, like the one featured on the smart Barracuda bag, a game-changer for you? Make a list of the features you want in your perfect suitcase, and get something that works with your lifestyle instead of the latest trends.