Are you looking for a carry-on bag? Are you taking a short trip and can fit everything you need into a small suitcase? Carry-ons have risen in popularity and some people travel solely with them.
Last year, for the first time, I traveled with a borrowed carry-on for a two-week international trip. I had always traveled with a checked bag, mostly filled with way more than I needed. Switching to the carry-on forced me to rethink how I pack. It was life-changing! Although, I have to mention that I was traveling in the summer when no winter clothing was needed.
I was really glad I made that decision because when I walked through the Montreal airport baggage claim I couldn’t believe my eyes. Hundreds of lost luggage sitting there lined up, piled up, with their owners in other airports and even other countries.
Thankfully, the situation has somewhat resolved, and air travel is slowly getting back to normal. But one thing is for sure, if possible, I will be traveling with a carry-on only from now on. No more waiting in line at the check-in counter (I check-in online the night before) and no more waiting at the baggage claim.
When I got back from my trip, with my friend’s borrowed carry-on, I set out to find the best carry-on I could afford for my future travels.
Here is the list from my research, my selection, and runners-up.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a carry-on bag.
Every airline carrier has its set size restrictions for carry-ons. Check on the airline’s website for the exact size that is allowed. But the usual standard (and maximum) size you will see is 22” long, 14” wide, and 9” high including the handle and the wheels.
The weight of the empty luggage should be light. Remember, you will be lifting it full of your belongings over your head and into the overhead bin.
Compartments help keep your belongings organized and items, like your shoes, away from the rest of your clothing. Also, look for expandable luggage to adapt to your needs and packing cubes to keep everything organized.
This is a personal choice, of course. Hard shells can protect your belongings better but tend to be heavier and break (crack) over time. Soft shells put your items at risk of being damaged, but are generally lighter.
Quality, which of course impacts price, is important because luggage takes a beating when traveling. They get thrown in the back of taxis, crammed into overhead bins, and rolled on sidewalks and airport floors.
The wheels are one of the most important things to look at, because when the wheels break, you’re stuck carrying your bag. That’s not something you want to do. Four-wheel spinners are easier to roll around the airport and are mostly what is on the market today.
Look for a sturdy handle that has different height levels and is made with good-quality lightweight materials.
The look of the carry-on is also to be considered. I personally like black or gray luggage, but if you have a flashy style, by all means, get a bag that reflects your personality.
Luggage is adapting to our times. We can now find charging stations and padded laptop compartments in luggage. Also, I have seen carry-ons with cup holders and electric wheels.
This was my final choice because of all the top-rated reviews it consistently gets. Also, can’t go wrong with Samsonite quality! It’s super lightweight, the handle is sturdy, and the wheels roll on a variety of surfaces with ease. It comes in various fun colors, like mint, powder blue, and dark teal for example. It has inside pockets and a divider. I always travel with packing cubes, so inside compartments aren’t really that important for me.
Another carry-on bag that makes the top lists is this 21” spinner from Away. It comes with an optional USB charger, a laundry bag, and an interior compression system. It’s a little pricier than others on this list, but the quality and detailing of the bag support the price point.
This 21” AmazonBasics hard shell spinner has over 37,000 reviews and a 78% 5-star rating. It has a protective extra-thick ABS hard shell and a scratch-resistant black finish. The interior is made of polyester and has an organizer with a divider and three zippered pockets for packing smaller items. It’s also expandable that gives up to 15% more packing space. Priced under $100 it’s the most affordable carry-on on our list.
This carry-on, from renowned luggage brand CALPAK, caught my eye for its stylish look and front pocket that includes a laptop sleeve. It comes in some cool colors like moss and pink sand.
This 21” carry-on is the one I borrowed for my two-week trip and packed everything I needed. I especially liked the two front exterior pockets where I could put my passport, boarding pass, and phone. The side handle is super useful for lifting and carrying. The top handle felt a little flimsy, but it was super easy to get around the airports.
Need a smaller bag? Read 10 WEEKEND BAGS FOR WOMEN OVER 60.
Will you be traveling with a carry-on? Which brand do you prefer? Which carry-on on our list is your favorite? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Thank you for this fabulous article! I am just in the process of buying a suitcase and now I know what to buy. Travelling with less is the way to go! I’ve learned over the years to leave my hair dryer at home as it takes up a lot of space. I also travel with less in the way of cosmetics/shampoo, etc. One great pair of walking shoes and one pair of fancy sandals for the evening. I have found by doing hand-laundry in the late afternoon at my hotel, most items are bone dry in the morning if you have a sunny place to hang your things inside your room. Trust me, I can travel for a month with one carry-on suitcase and my large, slouch purse acts as a fabulous second carry-on.
Exactly my approach. It’s so great to travel with less!
Wow, such a great article! Carry-on travel requires A LOT of discernment/thought. ( I always take notes after a trip as to what did and didn’t work). As a retired flight attendant, I’ve had a lot of practice. I now like to gate check my bag, so I don’t need to stow it in the overhead bins. If I have connecting flights, I’ll stow for the first leg, and gate check for the second.
I would love to have just a carry on but with a 3-week trip which will include my daughter’s wedding in Italy I’m wondering if I can pull it off! I’ll give it a try!
Love the away bag. It holds a lot more than we expected. It’s sturdy and attractive. Also recently purchased a Delsey bag. It’s great looking, and easy to handle. Don’t forget your air tags!
So many articles about packing light and carry ons. Do these people not sweat, or do they wear the same underwear for days? I recently returned from an eleven day trip to Spain. I tried to do a carry on; even bought one of the newest suitcases, claiming about all you could pack in there. No way. I ended up checking a bag, and bringing a small tote with my necessities, like my medication and extra underwear and a fresh top. Fortunately, my checked bag arrived on time. The weather was beautiful, 70’s and sunny. But at the end of the day, after walking for miles, and up and down many steps, there was no way I would wear that underwear again. Some of my pants I managed to get two days out of them, but after that, no way. Plus, I do not go on vacation to have to do laundry, which never dries fast enough, and hotel laundry services are extremely overpriced, and they work only on week days. If you are staying at multiple hotels, it just won’t work.I am not an excessive packer, but I like to feel fresh and presentable. I would love to see what people actually can pack in a carry on; and that includes shoes, chargers, underwear, toiletries, pill box, swim suit, cover up sunscreen, water bottle, and on and on.Just the non clothing items would take up most of a carry on’s space.
I know I like to overpack. I always want a bit left over yet not too much. Am I the only one that packs a robe to snuggle in? (It’s part of my nightly jammie/robe combo). Because I need my diffuser for my curly hair I want my own blow dryer. Medications & supplements would take up 1/2 of a carry on since they must be in original prescription bottle. I have had my suitcase called a “mobile home” due to it’s size. It rolls around as easy as a smaller one. I am allowed to check two bags for free. (I have never had an issue with my baggage except once when our plane was delayed for 6 hrs because the coffee maker was broken!!! We finally took off after they explained the situation and questioned all of the passengers to see if they were willing to fly for 1 hour without coffee!!! When we arrived to our home airport all of our luggage was locked behind Lost & Found because none of us were there to pick it up. True story & off subject – kinda). Suitcase too heavy? I’m here to tell you that you can run thru an airport with clothing flung all over your body and shoes tied together down your arms! I lived to tell the tale and still laugh when I think about it. To each his own. However those that have made comments about my piece of luggage are always the ones that need this or that come to me to have their needs met.
Now so many airlines require a lot of extra money for checked baggage, and waiting for baggage can take a long time! I’d rather pack light.
I purchase disposable underpants from Amazon. They take up very little space. Black or white cotton. They’re disposable, but it does say they can be hand washed. Love taking them off and throwing in the trash! For years, I’ve ordered “Underworks 20-Pack Womens Disposable 100% Cotton Underwear – for Travel.” 20 for $30.
I have a standard sized hard shell carry-on roller bag and a personal bag that fits under the seat in front of me. I’m able to pack 12 – 14 outfits in a packing cube in one half of my suitcase, along with 2 pairs of sandals in shoe bags stashed along the sides.
The other half of the suitcase has a lighted mirror, underwear, bathing suits, cover ups, purse, clothing steamer and misc items like Qtips, folded paper towels to dry my face, flushable wipes, clorox wipes, tide wipes for stains.
My personal item has my toiletries bag with enough for 14 days, a bar of soap, medicine, tech pouch with portable fan, chargers, ear buds, in the pockets of the bag i have deodorant, wipes for the plane, a stand for my phone use during the flight, a pouch with gum, mints, lip balm. I also add a scarf and jacket for the cold plane.
I carry Febreeze in my toiletries bag so I can refresh clothes that aren’t sweaty in case I want to rewear. If I have access to laundry facilities, I pack less clothes but so far, I’ve been able to pack an outfit for each day of my trip.
Great advice! Buy quick dry underwear and clothes, use local sources for laundry(did in Phuket Island, Thailand with toddler), Consider disposable undies, wear heaviest shoes, which are my sneakers that are waterproof hiking style.
Underpack, can always buy, or even have made in 2 days in Thailand, clothes to take home.
I would love to get details about how you pack 12-14 outfits in packing cubes? I want to do this the next time I travel and I have no idea how to do it! Thanks!