In the days of paid checked bags, people are more and more trying to bring everything in their carry-on luggage for air travel. However, it seems that airlines have made that more difficult too! So how do you go about finding the best carry-on luggage for your trips? Can you fit everything you need for your trip in the bag? Find out about making the most shopping for the right carry-on luggage.
People always ask me what is the perfect carry-on bag? Looks there is no perfect bag. I tend to have a few different bags that I use for carry-ons when I need them depending on the length of my trip or the terrain I’ll be going through. Sometimes wheeled suitcases are the best for me and sometimes a travel backpack.
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The majority of airlines follow a fairly standard carry-on size of about 21 – 22inches x 13-15 inches. However, a lot of low-cost carriers have far more restrictive requirements even below 17 inches. This is where the issue comes in for many flyers…which size bag do I buy? Do I buy multiple bags?
When looking at size, though don’t just look at the outside measurements of the bag. Be sure that the bag has enough internal storage to fit all of your items. You can find volume in a huge diversity that this is really important. Also, note that some bags taper off the ends which can reduce valuable real estate. Also, things like straps, hooks, and wheels can be placed in areas that it reduces the overall size or shape of the internal structure of the bag.
First, figure out which airlines you most often fly. What are the restrictions of the most restrictive option? If the options are very far apart, can you afford to have different bags for different airlines? This to me is always the most tricky. What I generally do since I travel often is that I buy a “standard carry-on” size usually about 21inches and then also have a few bags that I may use if I end up on a more restrictive carrier. Or possibly just put extra stuff in my day bag and check in the rest.
The lower the weight the better when it comes to carry-on bags. You don’t want your bag to be the majority of the allowed weight for in cabin bags. Several airlines I fly, particularly the low-budget options are adamant about weighing your bag prior to boarding. Sure you might get a nice or busy agent who might let you slide a few kilos here or there but overall reducing the weight of the bag is paramount.
Some of the wheeled backpacks have an attachable daypack that can often add to the complexity and weight of the bags. Although you can possibly use those as two different items (backpack/purse and carry-on bag).
Another great thing that I tend to carry with me these days is a Travel Scale. This is really important for checked bags but I often find myself using this for my carry-on bags when I travel on low-cost airlines with restrictive policies.
Of the three different factors to me, this tends to be of lesser importance than Size or Weight. For Carry-ons given that they are generally with you they don’t get subjected to the same treatment that other checked bags would go through. However having sturdy wheels and a good rip-stop material is important. Given that you’ll likely be dragging this bag often over paved roads and hallways you want the frame to hold up to general wear over the years.
Also, I found that occasionally I get stuck having to check in my carry-on bag and it needs to be able to survive those trips too. But a bit of sacrifice here in terms of heavy duty-ness will go a long way in bringing down the weight.
Design in some cases is very important in carry-on bags. Do you want just one really large cavity for storing all your goods or do you want lots of various pockets for organization? Also, some bags tend to have a lot of space taken up by wheels and handle mechanics that you might lose internal space that you need for packing. Additionally, fancy tapering can look nice but also take up valuable storage space. Some bags also have hooks on the end that can be useful for latching on jackets, shoes, rain gear that might be good when moving around a lot with the bags.
For me, I tend to like one large cavity for my clothes and most items and then a few pockets on the outside for various small items that I need quick access too.
Personally, that is my recommendation. Having a few pockets on the outside are really helpful for documents that you need easy access to (flight documents, passports, visas, etc.). Also having your liquids or laptop/tablet in an outside pocket is very useful for quick access during security screening.
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These tend to be the standard that most people think of when looking for carry-on bags. Wheeled suitcases are fairly standard and most airlines also size for these bags. Finding a wheeled carry-on is generally easier as there are so many options.
For business travel, this tends to be my favorite type of suitcase to bring. The Rigidness of the bag also helps with keeping my clothes from getting too wrinkled or other goods from getting smashed.
Also, the boxy nature of the suitcases tend to lend towards getting more usage from the internals. However sometimes the internal mechanics for the handles and such might take up a lot of the storage space.
My current carry-on is this 21” Samsonite which has been good for durability and size for business travel.
- Good mix of durability and size
- Keeps it’s shape even when empty. Better for fragile goods
- Easy to maneuver and good if you have back issues.
- Can be tricky on uneven ground or up and down stairs
- Tend to be heavier than some other options
- Expansion is limited due to the rigidness of the baggage.
For travel to Asia, Africa or even for quick weekend trips where I’ll be doing a lot of movement travel backpacks can often be one of the best options for carry-on luggage. I find that often in out of the way areas dragging a suitcase is problematic or incredibly difficult. Having it on the back is easier than trying to carry it in your arms over these types of places.
When shopping for backpacks pay particular attention to the straps and backing for the bag. Also, find ones that have a decent waist strap to help with offsetting from your shoulders. Consider looking for backs with good waterproofing as well. Some bags come with rain covers although you can also source good 3rd party rain covers. I love the ones from Sea to Summit.
Some of the backpacks have straps that can be secured inside of a pocket within the back of the backpack. This is great for frequent travel on long distance public transportation such as Trains or Buses as the straps can be a problem or get damaged. However! These types of straps tend to be less comfortable than traditional straps and the strap pocket can sometimes take away from area you could use for travel storage.
Advice Note: Sometimes when I’m traveling with a lot of other gear (camera, laptop, etc.) I end up having a daypack anyway and having another backpack can often be a bit more of a frustration than a benefit.
- Easy for getting around in places with difficult terrain or stairs
- Sizes tend to be easier to manage with difficult carry-on restrictions
- Generally lighter weight than other traditional carry-on luggage
- All the weight is on your back and shoulders.
- Can be a bit of a pain on the back if you are moving around a lot
- Maybe a problem to carry if you have another backpack or should bag
Lightweight and easy these tend to be really great for those weekend trips you might take for vacation, business, or family visits. Weekend bags come in various shapes and sizes but tend to be arm or shoulder carry bags that lack wheels, backpack straps, and other unnecessary features that can restrict weight and size. Overall though many of these are great for a few sets of clothes and toiletries for a quick stop somewhere for a few days or if weight to packing ratio really important for some of those very restrictive airlines.
I tend to go with a nice canvas weekend bag myself. I have a few versions I use although I’ve also used some medium sized duffle bags as well. For more of these, I find that personal style tends to dictate what people like the best.
- Small and generally easy to manage with limited overhead space (particularly with smaller regional aircraft)
- Rarely have issues with airlines for size/weight
- Generally lower cost than traditional bags (barring designer labels)
- Doesn’t wheel or carry on back so you’ll have to carry this bag everywhere
- Generally only good for very short trips
Wheeled Duffle Bags
These generally tend to be bigger than carry-on bags but they are a few options that work very well as carry-ons. I tend to really like the wheeled “Load Warrior 22” by Eagle Creek. I tend to put this in the wheeled duffle category given that it has almost no structure for the top part of the bag.
One of the things I don’t like about these types of bags is that the lack of internal structure beyond the base. If you are carrying fragile glass or other goods you might have some concern about them getting smashed if something falls on the bag. Regular wheeled suitcases would be better suited for those types of travel.
- Very light weight
- Good mix of Weight and Convenience
- Tend to be tapered which takes away from valuable internal space
- Lack of structure makes it less safe for fragile goods.
Are these the best of both worlds or the worst of both worlds? I have friends who swear by these and I do often see some of the benefits of using these. Having the ability to go from your back to a wheeled suitcase has its advantages in a lot of different situations. Perhaps this is the bag for those who cannot afford to have both a wheeled suitcase and a travel backpack or may be going to places where having each is necessary.
However, nothing is perfect and wheeled backpacks have a lot of disadvantages too. Perhaps a bit of a “Jack of all trades, Master of None” type bag. Generally speaking, they tend to have smaller internals for the size given they require having both straps and wheels.
Also, the straps on these tend to be a worse than the ones on regular travel bags and the wheels can sometimes make the whole contraption a bit awkward.
- Go anywhere type of bags
- Easy to go from road to stairs if your doing a lot of travel on both
- Can be a bit awkward size/shape in backpack mode
- Can have smaller internal storage space or heavier
- Straps tend to be less comfortable than regular backpacks
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So what is your favorite carry-on luggage? Do you have ones that you just absolutely love? Do you have ones you are curious how they work on travel? Contact Me, would love to hear from you and perhaps test out new bags for recommendations.
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