The best carry on luggage for traveling requires light weight, durability, and style. These carry on suitcases top the list.
It goes without saying that carry-on luggage is one of the most important tools in my job. I’ve traveled through over well over 30 countries, driven over a million miles, and flown thousands of legs. And almost everywhere I go, I’m taking along what I feel is the best carry-on luggage at the time.
Carry-on suitcases can be pricy. And with hundreds of models available, and let’s face it, most of them looking pretty much the same, how do you know which ones are the best carry-on suitcases, and which ones aren’t up to the job?
That’s where I come in.
Whether you’re looking for carry-on luggage for international travel, or your sticking to cabin baggage for domestic travel, we have tested and reviewed countless products to help you choose something that is going to last you for many adventures without breaking the bank.
So if you’re planning some international family travel and are searching for family travel gear this is for you. I’ve put in the research to help you narrow down your choices for the best carry-on baggage for traveling this year.
And if you need more help planning incredible travel experiences, head over to our family travel resource page where you’ll find everything from packing lists to travel tips.
Tips For Choosing The Best Carry-On Luggage
My family tends to travel in countless different styles. Everything from road trips to flights, weekend getaways, and more. So when I choose the best hand-luggage for travel, I look for practicality, durability, and the best value for the money.
While there can be many considerations for choosing a great luggage brand, it’s also easy to narrow those down to the most important factors to consider when choosing a suitcase for travel.
- Weight: The less your carry-on bag weighs, the more you can put in it without going over airplane load limits.
- Shell: Is the cabin baggage hard shell or soft shell? This can make a difference in both durability and packing amounts.
- Wheels: Two wheels or four wheels can make a difference in both capacity and ease of use.
- Style: We all want our luggage to look great, but even more importantly, we don’t want it to look like everyone else’s so it gets picked up by the wrong person at the luggage carousel.
- Price: A great travel suitcase shouldn’t break the bank. But it also shouldn’t be so cheap that you wonder if it’s going to survive the journey.
If you’re a fashionista who opts for Louis Vuitton or Dolce and Gabbana suitcases, you’ve probably stumbled onto the wrong article. And if you’re looking for the cheapest carry-on luggage for travel, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place.
But, if you’re looking for an excellent quality carry-on for travel that will last you many trips, look great, and still allow you to afford that over-water bungalow in the Maldives, you’re in the right place!
The Best Carry-On Luggage For Traveling
You can read a little further down for all of the ranking info that we put into choosing the best carry-on luggage. But for those of you who just want to know which are the best suitcases to buy, here is our breakdown.
We’ll start with this table to give you the outline of the products we chose and below that you’ll find why we chose them as our best travel suitcases this year.
Here is my shortlist of the 10 best suitcases for international travel (or domestic) and the best suitcase brands.
Offering one of the lightest hardshell carry-on luggage designs on the market, the Delsey Helium Shadow 3.0 is a quality cabin bag at a great price.
You’ll find this one in our family travel packing list as well as many other resources thanks to its great design, fun, bright colors, and durable build.
- 100% Polycarbonate
- The telescoping handle has been designed to fit in the palm of the hand, offering maximum comfort. Silent-running double spinner wheels
- Features a large front pocket with a built-in padded sleeve for up to a 15.6-inch laptop
- The main compartment expands, maximizing space and packing flexibility.
- Recessed TSA-accepted combination lock provides secure travel and allows TSA agents to open and inspect your bag without damaging the lock
- Worldwide limited 10-year warranty
One look at the Samsonite Winfield Fashion Spinner and it will be pretty clear why I love this cabin bag. The stylish looks combined with Samsonite quality make this one of the best carry-on luggage choices for frequent travelers.
Samsonite is a tried and tested brand that continually delivers quality luggage that offers great affordability with the excellent build quality. It’s a tad heavier than some, but not enough to make me concerned.
- Attractive looks in square full-capacity design featuring 10 oversized zippers and interior divider with organization pockets
- Lightweight locking telescopic handle
- Four multi-directional spinner wheels for effortless mobility, re-engineered lightweight
- Full-zip interior divider and cross straps for increased packing organization
- Unified brushed pattern design on front and back shells hide any potential scratches or scuffs from your journey
- Side-mounted TSA locks act to deter theft, ensuring that only you or a TSA agent have easy access to your belongings when traveling
- Dimensions: 23.0″ x 14.5″ x 9.5″, BODY Dimensions: 20.0″ x 13.5″ x 9.5″, Weight: 6.7 lbs
- Worldwide limited 10-year warranty
Although I’ve found that hard shell carry-on bags tend to make the best suitcases for travel, the TravelPro Maxlite 5 offers some exciting design choices that earned its position on this list.
The honeycomb frame design offers tremendous strength at an exceptionally lightweight and the expandability of the soft-sided material mean that this luggage is flexible enough to meet most packing needs.
- A half-pound lighter than the Maxlite 4.
- 4-wheel spinners rotate 360 degrees for a smooth roll in any direction.
- Lightweight yet sturdy PowerScope Lite handle with stops at 38″ and 42.5″.
- Expands up to 2″ to maximize packing capacity with tapered shape to prevent tipping.
- Limited Lifetime Coverage plus trusted companion promise, which covers the cost of repair for damage from airline or another common carrier for 1 year.
- Case Dimensions: 21x14x9, Overall Dimensions: 23×14.5×9, Weight: 5.4 lbs ; Volume: 46 L
Victorinox has been a staple of the travel luggage scene for what seems like forever. And, like Samsonite, they know how to deliver. Their new Spectra 2.0 line takes what they learned from the Victorinox Spectra series and improves on it substantially.
The interior pockets are well laid out with higher quality zips and compartments. And the entire luggage is lighter and more manoeverable than the first iteration.
The bag has a unique design laid out closer to a square than most rectangular carry on suitcases but still meets IATA carry-on rules.
- Meets IATA carry-on regulations
- Covered by the global 10-year limited warranty
- 16.3-inch weight x 21.7-inch h x 7.9-inch depth
- 7.9 lbs
The Osprey Ozone might seem like a strange fit in this lineup, but hear me out before you judge. Osprey makes our favorite hiking day packs and they also make one of the best child carriers on the market. They know how to make a great bag, and they stand behind them with one of the best warranty’s available.
The Osprey Ozone is laid out closer to a wheeled-backpack giving it an incredible light-weight design. It’s soft shell build makes it flexible, yet it’s tough enough to handle the toils of travel.
- Meets carry-on size restrictions for most domestic airlines (21.7H X 14.2W X 9.1D inches).
- Durable 14″ HighRoad LT Chassis provides high-rolling clearance and a smooth ride.
- Large, quick, easy to access liquids pocket at top of the pack.
- A large panel zip opening with lockable zippers provides easy access to the main compartment.
- The rear panel zippered pocket offers bonus space for dirty or wet clothes.
Choosing The Right Travel Carry-On For The Right Situations
Every travel scenario has its own unique packing needs. And choosing the best cabin bag that can cover the widest possible scenarios will help you choose the perfect suitcase for your needs.
Choosing A Suitcase for plane travel
- Know the weight limits of the airlines you fly with
- Know the size limits
- Be sure you can comfortably lift it in and out of your vehicle or taxi for commutes
Choosing A Carry-On For Road Trips
Using a piece of small luggage for road trips is a great way to help maximize space in your vehicle. The blocky-design tends to stack well and help you make the most of the space you have.
- Make sure your luggage fits comfortable in your trunk/boot
- Ensure you can lift and manage the luggage safely
- Consider a hard shell for the best stacking
Choosing a Suitcase for Cruise Ships
Cruising tends to offer the most flexible luggage needs as there is rarely weight limits associated with it (so long as you aren’t flying to the port city).
- Choose hard shell luggage that can handle the weight when stacked in the boat
- Choose luggage that can fit comfortably in the ship’s cabin knowing that these spaces are usually quite compact.
Choosing The Right Size For Travel Carry-On
When it comes to choosing the best cabin baggage for travel, size is a key component. And the size of luggage you choose will depend upon a lot of factors. In truth, going big isn’t always the best option. In fact, going too big can mean that your luggage get’s placed in the hold rather than in the cabin.
How To Properly Measure A Suitcase
Most domestic airlines have restrictions for the size of carry-on luggage. Knowing these limits can save you time, frustration, and money when checking in.
Although these limits can vary by airline, most follow this rule:
22 inches (22″x14″x9″) with an outside size that must not exceed 45 linear inches. This means that combining the length + width + height (including handles and wheels) would be 22″ + 14″ + 9″ = 45 linear inches.
And remember, just because your bag fits the size limit, doesn’t mean it also fits the weight limit. This can vary by packing.
Checked-in luggage rarely has a size limit. Although, bags larger than 30″ tend to be declared “oversized luggage”. This might cost extra on some airlines, and for most, it means waiting longer to get your bag after you’ve landed.
What Features To Look For On A Carry-On Luggage
After deciding on the best carry-on bag size for your travels, it’s time to look at the features you’ll want in order to make your travel experience as comfortable and convenient as possible.
Wheels: Two Or Four
The days of carrying a heavy luggage through long airport terminals is, thankfully, long behind us. Nearly all luggage these days includes wheels. And in recent years, the rise of luggage with 4 wheels (or spinners) has made our lives even easier.
Dual Wheel Carry-Ons (Rolling Luggage)
Dual wheel suitcases generally have wheels that are recessed into the luggage. These tend to be stronger and shorter than spinners allowing for more internal luggage space. However, the wheels only spin in one directly, which means you have to support the weight of the luggage while pulling them.
Four Wheel Cabin Bags(Spinners)
Spinners are suitcases with four wheels that each rotate independently of each other. This means that you can have the suitcase resting upright which removes the need for you to support the weight. They tend to be ergonomic and easy to manoever as well.
Spinners, while convenient, also run the risk of breaking as the wheels are far more exposed. The bags also have a tendency to roll away if they’re placed on an incline such as a ramp or a driveway.
Hard Shell vs Soft Shell Cabin Bags
There are a lot of great pros and some cons for both hard and soft shell carry-ons. And choosing the right one for your needs can mean the difference between a long-lasting product, and one you have to replace every few years.
Soft Shell Carry-On
Soft shell carry-on bags are usually lighter and more versatile than hard shell luggage. The malleable outer body means you can squeeze and shape them if you need to push them into tight places and allow them to bulge if you packed a bit tight.
However, they are not as sturdy as hard shells and don’t protect the content inside. This is very important if you have breakables within your lugage. They are also not as weatherproof and are prone to rips and tears.
Hard shell Suitcase
Hard shell cabin bags tend to be my go-to for most luggage situations. They are stronger and better-able to protect their contents. They can be sat upon, and they stack easily on top of each other.
However, hardshell suitcases aren’t as flexible, so if you are someone who overpacks, hard shell carry-on will not be as forgiving. They also don’t have outside pockets, so if you like to keep things in your luggage with easy access, you’re probably out of luck.
Handles are one of the most important, but also the most overlooked feature on cabin baggage. Most purchasers tend to take them for granted as “all being the same” But in truth, a good handle can make or break luggage.
I recommend choosing a carry-on that has a handle long enough for you to pull it comfortably. I’m 6’3 and my wife is 5’0, so we like to choose a bag that has a long, telescoping handle with multiple position points.
I also use my handles to hold my laptop bag when traveling, so choosing a luggage that has a narrow-enough handle that you can slip things over-top of it is also very useful. A two-post handle also adds to stability and the least likely chance that items hung on it will “swing-around” and dangle behind the suitcase.
As airlines add more and more restrictions to travel, choosing the lightest carry-on luggage for traveling is more important than ever. But light luggage does more than just help you pack more, it can also reduce the strain on your body during those, often-strenuous, commutes.
When we choose the best carry-on bags for travel, weight is always at the top of our mind. I recommend choosing a wheeled carry-on that weighs no more than 5 lbs.
The best luggage brands usually back up their product with an excellent warranty. If a company stands behind its product, it’s usually something that can be trusted.
Suitcases take a lot of abuse. That abuse doesn’t just come from the luggage hold. If you’ve seen the maze of contraptions that your bag goes through from check-in to plane, you’ll know it’s the stuff of nightmares.
The best carry-on brands have excellent warranties or guarantees. And they’ll replace your luggage if you have issues.
If you’ve ever been waiting at a luggage carousel and had a hard time telling your bag apart from every other one there, I feel you. I like to choose brightly-colored luggage that stands out from the crowd so there is no doubt about which one I’m picking up.
If you choose a generic black suitcase, my heart goes out to you. And please, don’t choose a white suitcase. One flight, and it will be a grey suitcase. They look great in the store, but not so much after a little traveling.
I’ve had a softshell suitcase sit in hurricane-level rain for 45-minutes on the tarmac in the Philippines. You can guarantee that everything inside it was soaked to the core. I’ve also had a suitcase that was beneath someone else’s. Their wine bottle broke and soaked and stained my suitcase and my clothes.
I highly recommend choosing a suitcase that can handle the elements.
Along with weatherproofing, it’s good if your luggage is up to the challenge of airports and travel. A well-built and durable suitcase can mean the difference between catching a flight and missing one.
I’ve seen it all. Handles that broke, wheels that snap off, luggage torn open on sharp posts. It’s frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive to replace. Choose a good-quality luggage that stands behind its brand.
I’m sure you’ve had the same thoughts as me when looking up luggage. “Those prices are bonkers!”. Luggage has some very strange price points. But, if you look carefully, you can find that perfect balance between price and quality.
The best suitcases don’t need to cost a thousand dollars. But, they shouldn’t be so cheap that you are second-guessing the material that they’re made of. Choosing a luxury brand is great for fashion. But it also makes you a target for thieves.
In my opinion, a piece of luggage is a tool. A suitcase is something that needs to fit your needs. I love style as much as anyone, but when it comes to the best suitcase for travel, I want something that is going to do the job and do it well.
For this article, we’ve chosen suitcases that fall between $100 and $400, which is the sweet spot where quality meets style.
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