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.
I would love using a carry-on all the time but with my international travel it’s hard.
I love the affordable Kipling carryon my kids got me for a recent birthday. It’s a light soft shell – but my laptop slides down the hard back, which is reinforced for the pull-up handle. The backpack straps tuck easily into a back pocket and the wheels are smooth.
= roller bag, backpack, carry strap on top.
I’ve taken it around the world a few times with no fraying, no visible wear and tear. Even full, it slides under the seat in front of me. Best buy ever.
The problem is to lift the bag to the overhead bin. It has been impossible for me for at least ten years; so I stand by my seat and wait for a stronger person to be kind enough to do it for me. That’s when you really feel invisible!!!
I, too cannot lift a carryon above my head, but I feel it’s an imposition on fellow travelers (not to mention busy attendants). It only reinforces the idea of “little old ladies” who need help. I find I can often gate check my carryon, but generally, I pay to have my regular bag checked.
But if a kind person does it for you, then you’re not invisible! Invisible is when no one helps you.
Yes, thank you Lisa for reminding me, I shouldn’t complain although as Maria said, it is somewhat of an imposition on other travelers. I didn’t know that one could “gate-check”. Next trip, I will! Thanks all.
This is what I have, and I love it. The carry-on wheeled backpack fits in the overhead, and the removable daypack counts as the personal bag but zips back on to the backpack when you get off (or before you get on) so you don’t have to carry the extra weight.
I used only a carry-on bag for a 10-day trip to the UK in April. It was great – felt so free and easy. I rolled all my clothing instead of folding – it really does save room. I had 10 panties, so didn’t wear the same ones twice. All my travel clothing is lightweight, quick-dry material, so I could rinse things out if they became sweaty. I bring a small tube of handwash detergent to wear the same shirt 2 or 3 times. Just 2 pairs of slacks (one I’m wearing). I attended a conference so had clothes for both work and leisure. Dress casual. It really works!