We know the original "Keep Calm and Carry On" slogan wasn't initially intended to have anything to do with luggage, but we really do believe in skipping a checked bag whenever possible. With all of your belongings on board, you can take comfort in knowing everything you'll need upon landing is with you — not headed to a different destination because it didn't make the connection or lying alone on a tarmac somewhere, probably in the rain, which is how we tend to visualize our luggage when we're feeling particularly anxious watching dozens of not-your-bags roll out onto the baggage claim carousel.
Related: 15 Surprisingly Roomy Pieces of Underseat Luggage
And less stress isn't the only pro of going carry-on-only. A carry-on bag is also much easier to handle. Have you ever had to schlep a 50-lb. bag up four sets of broken escalators to catch a train that's about to depart? Trust us, the extra three pairs of shoes won't be worth it again. Though, if you're a very clever packer and can squeeze quite a lot into a small space, you generally won't have to worry about weight limits like you do with a checked bag. As long as you can compress that thing back to its original size dimensions and lift it above your head without throwing your back out, you can fill a carry-on with bricks and no one will call you out. Except maybe the TSA's Instagram account.
Here are a few more helpful points to consider when choosing your new carry-on luggage.
Domestic v. International Carry-on Bag Sizes
While there are generally only a few inches of difference between carry-on luggage dimensions, you'll want to pay attention to the carry-on size restrictions of the airlines you fly most often. A good rule of thumb for domestic U.S. flights is to adhere to suitcases sized 22" x 14" x 9". If you're often flying internationally, you may want to opt for a bag that stands at 21 inches instead, just to be sure you won't run into any issues when boarding. I've found that international carry-on luggage rules tend to be a bit more strict, especially if you're flying with a budget carrier.
Softside v. Hardside Carry-on Bags
If you always seem to be forced to gate check, you may want to opt for a soft-sided bag. They generally hold up best to wear and tear, though hard-shell bags are adopting more aesthetically durable materials as their popularity grows. Hardside luggage is generally a little more protective of what's inside, while softside bags may allow you to squeeze in an extra bit of baggage for the way home because the fabric has that added give.
Two-wheel v. Spinner Carry-on Luggage
Spinner luggage has four wheels, usually multidirectional, that will allow you full control of the bag. This is helpful if you feel more comfortable wheeling your bag beside you when walking instead of hauling it behind you, and if navigating the bag down tight airplane aisles always seems to be a struggle. Do keep in mind, however, that two-wheeled suitcases don't have to lend as many inches dimension-wise to the wheels — so you may be sacrificing already precious packing space if you opt for a spinner.
Related: The Best Lightweight Luggage for Traveling
How to Make Sure Your Carry-on Works for You
Once you receive your bag, test it out before your trip. Did you just like the look of it or is it really functionally the best suitcase for how you travel? Stuff it full and wheel it around to see how it handles. Pick it up and lift it over your head to mimic putting it in the overhead bin. Familiarize yourself with all of the pockets and features. Even if you've read tons of luggage reviews and bought a bag from one of the best luggage brands, you'll want to evaluate the quality before traveling with it, because if there's one true law of luggage it's that if your luggage is going to break, it will absolutely find the most inconvenient time during your trip to do so.
Check out our list of this year's best luggage choices in every category and keep reading for even more details on each.
Best Softside Carry-on: Travelpro Platinum Elite 21-inch Expandable Spinner
Grey and black softside carry-on suitcase Credit: Courtesy of Amazon
Travelpro has been an industry leader since its founder, pilot Bob Plath, first added wheels to a suitcase to create the Original Rollaboard back in 1987. And the company's commitment to advancing technology is still super evident in its new Platinum Elite line. This spinner incorporates a contoured, comfortable handle, wheels that are aligned by built-in magnets for effortless rolling, damage-resistant zippers, a fold-out suiter, and tons more organizational components into a sleek, leather-trimmed package. And all of that's offered at a reasonable price point.
To buy: amazon.com, $218 (originally $300)
Best Hardside Carry-on: Briggs & Riley Sympatico Expandable 21-inch International Spinner
Navy hardside carry on suitcase Credit: Courtesy of Briggs & Riley
This glistening suitcase really is the full package. The Sympatico carry-on is one of Briggs and Riley's top sellers. It's equipped with double swivel wheels, an impact-resistant polycarbonate shell, and a pretty incredible compression system that you can simply snap back down to regulation size after packing 22 percent more inside. With the lifetime warranty — the best in the business — to boot, it's absolutely worth the investment.
To buy: briggs-riley.com, $569
Best Carry-on Spinner: Samsonite Voltage DLX Carry-on
Teal hardside spinner suitcase Credit: Courtesy of Samsonite
Samsonite is a household luggage name for a reason; it's been crafting quality travel bags for more than a century. The new Voltage DLX Carry-on, however, is decidedly modern. Its four multidirectional spinner wheels allow for 360 degrees of easy wheeling, meaning no struggles as you navigate your way down narrow plane aisles. Inside, there are built-in packing compartments and and zippered pockets to make sure everything is securely packed and organized. And outside, the textured polycarbonate shell makes it resistant to scratches.
To buy: samsonite.com, $125 (originally $350)
Best Lightweight Carry-on: Samsonite Lite-box Carry-on Spinner
Navy hardside suitcase carry on Credit: Courtesy of Samsonite
At just 4.85 pounds, this Samsonite suitcase is impressively lightweight, allowing for easy transport, no matter where you're headed. It's made from durable Hardside Woven Polypropylene, and features a TSA lock and multi-directional spinner wheels. On the inside, you'll find two zippered compartments and tie-down straps, making packing light a breeze.
To buy: samsonite.com, $330 (originally $550)
Best Large Carry-on: Roam The Jaunt XL Wheeled Carry-on Hard Case
Grey Hardside Carry-on Suitcase Credit: Courtesy of Roam Luggage
Roam Luggage is completely customizable, so you can design your suitcase exactly the way you want it. From zipper pulls to stitching, you can make a Roam suitcase entirely your own. Plus, the innovative brand was founded by two former Tumi executives, so you know that quality is key. The hardside suitcases are made from 100% virgin polycarbonate that's designed to hide scratches. The brand offers four different sizes of luggage, including two carry-ons, including the Jaunt XL (measuring 22'' x 15.75'' x 9''), which is accepted as a carry-on on almost all domestic flights in the US.
To buy: roamluggage.com, $525
Best International Carry-on: Briggs & Riley Baseline CX International Carry-on Spinner
Best International Carry-on: Briggs & Riley Baseline CX International Carry-on Spinner Credit: Courtesy of eBags
If you want to be able to comply with international carry-on luggage requirements, this is your bag. Another excellent pick from Briggs & Riley, this Baseline model also incorporates the brand's revolutionary zipperless CX compression-expansion tech. The ballistic nylon fabric is designed to resist abrasion, wear, moisture, and dirt, so it'll stay this sharp-looking over years of travel. Plus, there's a quick-access pocket between the handle bars on the back which, if you ask us, is the perfect place to store your passport and boarding pass while you're between security and boarding.
To buy: amazon.com, $599
Best Underseat Carry-on: Travelpro Maxlite 5 Rolling Underseat Carry-on Bag
Best Underseat Carry-on: Travelpro Maxlite 5 Rolling Underseat Carry-on Bag Credit: Courtesy of eBags
Though it be but little, this bag is mighty. The polyester exterior is both water-repellent and stain-resistant while its high-performance inline skate wheels make for effortless navigation. At just 15.25" x 13" x 8", it's sized to fit snugly beneath all standard airline seats. And it even comes with a matching hanging toiletry organizer to stow all of your 3.4-or-less-ounce liquids.
To buy: bloomingdales.com, $169 (originally $260)
Best Affordable Carry-on: AmazonBasics 20-inch Hardside Spinner Luggage
Best Affordable Carry-on: AmazonBasics 20-inch Hardside Spinner Luggage Credit: Courtesy of Amazon
If you only travel a few times a year, it's definitely worth considering a more affordable suitcase. More than 3,500 five-star reviews suggest the online retailer giant's own line is certainly on to something in the luggage category. As the name suggests, this little polycarbonate spinner packs in all the basics: TSA locks, expansion, zippered pockets, and an internal compression system to keep belongings secure and as wrinkle-free as possible.
To buy: amazon.com, $62
Best Zipperless Carry-on: Arlo Skye Polycarbonate Carry-on Max
Navy Hardside Carry-on Suitcase Credit: Courtesy of Arlo Skye
You may never realize how much time you're wasting with zippers until you try out a suitcase that clasps shut. This carry-on from luggage startup Arlo Skye — which was founded by Tumi and Louis Vuitton alums — checks all the boxes of today's busy traveler. It's got a durable shell, a removable charger, Japanese Silent Run wheels, and an elegant yet simple design.
To buy: arloskye.com, $475
Best Leather Carry-on: Hook & Albert Men’s Leather Garment Weekender Bag
Black leather garment bag Credit: Courtesy of Hook & Albert
We're slightly obsessed with this clever weekender bag, which essentially functions like the origami of packing. Rendered in gorgeous top-grain pebbled leather, the bag zips open so that it's totally flat and can store a suit and additional clothing around the outside structure. Then, zipping it back together will give you room inside for shoes, accessories, and more.
To buy: hookandalbert.com, $640
Best Luxury Carry-on: Rimowa Original Cabin Spinner Luggage
Best Luxury Carry-on: Rimowa Topas Titanium Cabin Multiwheel IATA Credit: Courtesy of Bergdorf Goodman
Rimowa's grooved suitcases are nothing short of iconic; it's no wonder the brand has built a following of loyal A-list clientele. Not only are its cases made to look good, they're made to be used — really used. They're water-resistant, secure, and so very strong for how lightweight they are. And all of the dents, scars, and stickers you may pick up will only add character, telling micro-stories of the places you've been.
To buy: bloomingdales.com, $1,080
Most Durable Carry-on: Tumi Latitude International Carry-on
Most Durable Carry-on: Tumi Latitude International Carry-on Credit: Courtesy of Tumi
This carry-on by Tumi is the perfect example that a suitcase doesn't need tosacrifice style for durability. Part of the brand's lightweight Latitude collection, it's built to stand up to hundreds of trips, with a new, reinforced wheel system, bumpers to guard common impact zones, a sturdy telescoping handle made of aircraft-grade aluminum, and a specially woven material that's designed to flex and bend on contact, protecting whatever's inside.
To buy: tumi.com, $750
Best Wheeled Duffel Carry-on: eBags TLS Mother Lode Mini 21-inch Wheeled Carry-on Duffel
Best Wheeled Duffel Carry-on: eBags TLS Mother Lode Mini 21 Credit: Courtesy of eBags
Almost 5,000 reviewers have given this best-selling wheeled duffel a 4.6-star rating on eBags' site — safe to say it's a crowd favorite. It's super compartmentalized — much more so than your average one-compartment duffel — with two main packing sections, a divider, and plenty of auxiliary pockets, too. The two wheels are quiet and smooth to roll. The four external compression straps will make sure your contents stay secure. And it's available in nine colorways, so there's sure to be one for every traveler's style.
To buy: ebags.com, from $99
Best Carry-on Backpack: Tortuga Setout Backpack
tortuga carry on backpack Credit: Courtesy of Tortuga
This popular backpack has the capacity of a suitcase, but can be worn for hours of exploring without discomfort or the annoyance of having to rake your rollaboard across cobblestoned sidewalks. It also packs like a suitcase, with a front-zip panel instead of the traditional top-loading style most "backpacking" packs tend to have. It's got a water-repellent coating, lots of smart organizational components for your tech, padded straps and a removable hip belt, lockable YKK zippers, and many more features you'll be thankful for on the go. If you're bringing a week's worth of clothes on board with you, might we recommend also investing in the brand's packing cubes?
To buy: (men's) tortugabackpacks.com, from $179; (women's) tortugabackpacks.com, from $179
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