A high-quality piece of carry-on luggage from a trustworthy luggage brand is one of the best investments you can make as a traveler. Whether you’re flying domestically or taking your first long-haul flight to Asia, your carry-on will always be with you — so choosing a piece that’s stylish, practical, and easy to lift and maneuver is a must.
There are many factors to consider when shopping for a new piece of luggage, including size, brand, cost, and functionality. Is it expandable? Does it roll well? What colorways does it come in?
Consider which factor is most important to you, and use that to narrow your search. For example, I sometimes travel with delicate photography equipment, so buying luggage with a hard shell is necessary to give me peace of mind that my equipment is protected.
The best suitcase for you will depend on your own personal travel habits and preferences. Consider what matters most to you when traveling, and make your purchase based on those factors.
- Best Overall: Away The Carry-On
- Best Rollaboard: TravelPro Platinum Elite 22” Expandable Carry-On
- Best Splurge: Rimowa Essential Cabin Case
- Most Stylish: ROAM The Large Carry-On
- Best for Small Luggage Size: Tecovas Weekender
- Best Personal Item for Flights: Osprey Fairview 40
Pro Tip: If you’re investing in hard-shell luggage, packing a Magic Eraser and being prepared to put in a little elbow grease is an absolute must for managing scuffs along the way.
1. Best Overall: Away The Carry-OnBuy Now
Speaking of hard-sided carry-on luggage, my all-time favorite carry-on piece is the hard shell Away Carry-On. This spinner suitcase has a protective polycarbonate shell, essential for keeping my delicate camera equipment safe, and it comes in nine different colors.
It also boasts sturdy YKK zippers, a built-in USB charger, and 360-degree spinner wheels, which I personally love — there’s nothing quite like having to walk through an airport terminal pushing a suitcase with sticky or jammed wheels.
With the Away Carry-On, I feel a sense of confidence in my luggage that helps make the stress of the airport a bit more bearable. Its telescopic handle and built-in luggage tag make traveling a breeze.
Like every Away suitcase, the Away Carry-On is backed by a lifetime warranty. The warranty combined with the relatively low cost is what really sealed the deal on this bag for me — it’s high-quality but not pretentious. If I had to choose one piece of carry-on luggage forever, it would be this one.
2. Best Rollaboard: TravelPro Platinum Elite 22 inch Expandable Carry-On RollaboardBuy Now
If you prefer rollaboard luggage to spinner suitcases, it doesn’t get much better than the TravelPro Platinum Elite. At 22 by 13.5 by 9 inches, this suitcase is definitely pushing the maximum size for a carry-on but will still fit in the overhead bin, unless you find yourself on a smaller two-seat-per-side plane. In that case, you might be pushing the size limitations.
It’s also an expandable spinner and boasts a bit more extra space than the standard spinner version. So if you tend to be an over-packer or are going on a longer trip, this is a great carry-on option for you.
I love TravelPro luggage because the quality speaks for itself. The TravelPro Elite comes with a detachable toiletry bag and garment bag, a built-in USB port, and details like leather handles that make this piece of luggage feel like a luxury product. While I find rollaboard pieces a bit more tricky to maneuver through a busy airport, there is a spinner version of this same bag that I might try someday soon.
3. Best Splurge: Rimowa Essential Cabin CaseBuy Now
Rimowa products are pretty far out of what my usual budget would be for a luggage set. But in this case, the price tag is absolutely worth it.
Something about the quality of the wheels and the storage capability practically feels like magic: How does it glide so well, even after years of being tossed into overhead bins? How does a hard shell carry-on fit so many clothes?
I’m not a Rimowa engineer, so I don’t have the answers. But if you’re looking for the highest-quality carry-on bag on the market and don’t mind a splurge, there is no better option than the Rimowa Essential Cabin Case.
The lightweight polycarbonate shell, removable flex-dividers, and built-in TSA-approved combination lock are bonuses on top of the sheer maneuverability of this bag, which is by far the best feature.
4. Most Stylish: ROAM The Large Hardside Carry-On SpinnerBuy Now
This ROAM hardside spinner is another pricey piece definitely worth the investment, especially if you like your luggage more on the luxurious end. The bag’s shell is made of 100 percent U.S. virgin polycarbonate, which means you can buff away the scuffs and scratches that inevitably accumulate on a hard shell. (If you’re a neat freak like me, the polish-ability of that finish is a huge selling point!)
ROAM suitcases are also completely customizable, from the colors and the stitching to the zipper pulls. If you aren’t picky about the stylishness of your bag, it might not be compelling enough to get past the high price point.
But if luxury is a big priority in your traveling style, this might be the bag for you. Your carry-on is with you during your whole travel journey from the airport to hotel check-in, so it makes sense to get a piece you feel excited to bring with you everywhere you go.
TravelAwaits’ managing editor Linsey Stevens recently traveled with her first piece of ROAM luggage, The Carry-On, and was “blown away” by how much she was able to pack thanks to ROAM’s innovative compression board system (think everything from a vintage quilt and silicone sand toy set for her 1-year-old to multiple packing cubes worth of clothing, two portable fans for staying cool at the beach, and even an IKEA zipper bag to check on the way back home).
She also says the suitcase is the smoothest she’s ever rolled through an airport (thanks to ROAM’s ball-bearing wheels). The only hiccup: unknowingly testing the limits of the expandable zipper option. She found herself thanking her lucky stars that a very capable Southwest flight attendant was able to zip her luggage down after it initially failed to fit in the overhead compartment. Packing lesson learned!
5. Best Duffel Bag: Tecovas WeekenderBuy Now
If you’re in the market for a smaller tote-sized carry-on, your best option is the Tecovas Weekender. The high-quality, waxed-canvas bag is lighter than I expected. Clocking in at just 5 pounds, it’s one of the roomier duffel bag options on the market.
It was designed to hold a pair of Tecovas cowboy boots, so assuming you leave those at home, you’ll have plenty of space to pack enough outfits and toiletries for a weekend trip.
It also comes with a padded removable shoulder strap, which is an absolute must for any tote or duffel-style carry-on. At this stage in life, I want my airport experience to be as comfortable as possible.
We all know there’s nothing less comfortable than waiting on the jet bridge with the full weight of a carry-on digging into your shoulder via a thin, low-quality shoulder strap. The added quality of little details like the padded shoulder strap adds up to make the Tecovas Weekender my favorite option for a tote-style carry-on.
6. Best Backpack: Osprey Fairview 40Buy Now
I purchased this style of bag when I was in college, broke, and wanted to travel without paying for a checked bag. It hasn’t failed me since.
The Osprey Fairview is a much more inexpensive and low-frills option than the previous bags. If you’re looking for a backpack carry-on, it doesn’t get much better. Osprey has been around for over 40 years, and they certainly have perfected their art.
I love this bag because of all the design details that make it so versatile. It has two front pouches, including a laptop compartment, so I can easily reach all of my in-flight essentials. It unzips clamshell-style so that you can pack and unpack it the way you would a suitcase.
With hideaway zippers and compression straps that clip across the front of the bag, it feels more secure than a normal backpack — I’ve worn it in cities across the world and never felt at risk of being pickpocketed.
Osprey: Travel Bags For Women
This was the first time I purchased a travel bag specifically designed for women, and it made me wish more brands included the same type of thoughtful details. The shoulder straps curve in to suit a narrower frame.
Plus, the padded hip belt is designed to sit comfortably above your hips, taking the strain off your back and shoulders. The dimensions are perfectly suited for a woman of average build, although all of the straps are adjustable.
But the best part of the Fairview is that it easily converts into a duffel bag. A compartment on the bottom of the bag hides material that can be unfurled and zipped around both the shoulder straps and hip belt.
The bag comes with a removable shoulder strap that clips onto loops at the top and bottom. Once converted, the bag looks like it was originally designed to be a duffel — the cover perfectly matches the rest of the backpack and neatly hides away all the straps.
While not nearly as luxurious as the Tecovas Weekender, this backpack is a superb option for those on a budget or looking for something a little more versatile.
Spinners Vs. Rollaboards
One of the first decisions you must make when purchasing a new carry-on is to decide if you want a spinner suitcase or a rollaboard. Spinners have four wheels on the bottom and are pushed alongside or in front of you as you walk; rollaboards have two wheels and are designed to be pulled. Rollaboards also typically tend to have a little more room than spinners.
The best suitcase option for you depends on your own personal preferences and travel style. For instance, if you typically find yourself walking a lot between destinations with your suitcase, a rollaboard will be easier to maneuver on uneven city streets and pavements than a spinner carry-on luggage suitcase.
On the other hand, if the first thing you do when your flight lands is call a taxi to take you to your hotel, that might not be a concern.
Picture the suitcase you have now, and if you tend to find yourself pulling it or pushing it through the airport. What feels the most comfortable to you? The answer to that can inform whether a spinner suitcase or rollaboard is the better option for you.
Hard Shell Vs. Softside Luggage
Choosing between hard shell and softside luggage is another important decision to make when selecting a carry-on suitcase. The benefit of a hard shell is protection for any delicate belongings inside, as well as a firm limitation on how big that bag can get.
With softside luggage, you can squish in your belongings until the bag nearly exceeds carry-on size limitations. If you think you run the risk of stuffing your suitcase until it’s too big for the overhead bin, perhaps a hard shell is a better idea.
Travel With Confidence
It’s 2022, and carry-on suitcases have never been so thoughtfully or creatively designed. You can’t go wrong with any of these best sellers, but before you commit to a bag, spend some time thinking about what qualities are most important to you in a suitcase.
After all, your carry-on will be along your side for your entire travel journey, including hurrying through the airport to make that connection (although hopefully, this is a less frequent occurrence).
Choose a bag that will meet your personal needs and make your life easier, not harder. You deserve it.
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