For me, choosing the right carry-on bag is an important part of travel planning. The
When To Choose Your Carry-On
Do you select your bag first, or do you determine what is going inside prior to choosing it? It is the old chicken and egg adage.
In this case, the answer is, “It depends”. You need to have a general idea of the contents you plan on packing. Place your main items that you plan on putting into your bag, in a “staging area”. This helps to narrow down which piece of carry-on
There are three considerations; If you have breakables, the amount of stuff you need to fit into the bag, and determining how many bags you will have onboard.
Determine the Contents of Your Carry-On
If your carry-on items are fragile, such as a gift, souvenir, or equipment, it may limit the
Also, the shape of the bag may be specific to what you are packing. There are some standard shaped bags for the protection of certain items, such as camera lenses. If this is important to you, then your options may be narrowed.
Going 100% Carry-On
If you plan on going one hundred percent carry-on, you are usually entitled to one or two bags. The size, shape, and functionality of the
If it is a short trip, you may be able to get your inflight essentials into a relatively small carry-on bag. Pack a change of clothes, toiletries, and shoes. Or even a slightly larger bag will accommodate these items and still be able to come onboard. However, when you pack for a much longer trip, two pieces of
This is when evaluating the contents really helps in bag choice. Once you have decided on your bags, you will need to divide the contents. Your bag choice is important for organization.
If you have a second larger carry-on, you can put only your inflight essentials in your personal item. Everything else, including your medications and documents that you won’t need until arrival, can go in your larger
One of the bags should have an easily reachable area in order to access your inflight essentials. This could be in the form of outside pockets or a bag where things are packed more horizontally versus stacked.
The last thing I want are two hardshell zip around bags with no outer compartments. Then, I’m literally unpacking my suitcase in the aisle mid flight, in order to get to my medication,
In Flight Travel Essentials
The size of your carry-on
There are times when I just bring a large purse. You can easily go with a smaller size piece of carry-on
How Travel Plans Affect Your Choice of Carry-On
Length of flight
There are some things that I definitely want with me on every flight, such as hygiene items and headphones. However, if I know my flight is relatively short, the basics may be enough. In this case, I may choose a purse or smaller bag that is less hassle to have on board. Another option is to choose the bag that will be most useful at your destination, even if it is mostly empty in flight.
If I am on a long haul flight, there are usually additional “must haves” that I want on board. Sometimes I even want pajama or sweat pants so that I do not sleep in my arrival clothes. Generally, on longer flights, I pack some food, or know that I may be carrying souvenirs on the return trip. Therefore, I may choose a more spacious bag, even if it is not full.
Where You Are Seated
If you are seated in the coach class cabin, there is often insufficient space for carry-on
Often, if you are seated in the very first row of a cabin, or an emergency exit seat, there will not be a seat in front of you. In these special seats, it may be illegal to place your bag on the floor for take off and landing.
Usually there is a designated space for you if you are seated in a business or first class cabin. This is not always guaranteed, so consider this when choosing and packing your carry-on
Carry-On Versus Checked Baggage
The number of carry-ons you plan on bringing onboard will have an effect on which bags you select. The main reason to have multiple carry-ons is if you do not plan on checking any bags. Another reason is to transport many electronics or things that cannot be checked. If you pack in two carry-ons, it eliminates any fear of delayed, lost, or stolen
Having two bags inflight will affect the type of
If you are checking
Airline Carry-on Baggage Regulations
These days, each commercial airline has its own set of rules as to what is permitted for each traveler to carry-on. The carry-on rules vary based on where you are seated, the country you are departing from, if you belong to the airline’s frequent flier program or credit card, and the airline you choose to fly.
Most airlines allow one piece of
It is extremely important that you read the policy for the air carrier you plan on flying. This way, you will not be forced to check something that you are uncomfortable having out of your possession. You can plan accordingly. Note that when you purchase a bag, the tag usually indicates whether it fits in overheads or under a seat.
Type of Travel
Are You Staying Put Upon Arrival?
In order to choose the right carry-on bag, you need to consider the type of trip you have planned. Large, heavy, and cumbersome baggage may not be a problem if you go straight to your accommodation upon arrival at your destination, and stay there. However, your ability to carry your bags if you plan on moving around a great deal is an important factor.
Picture yourself waking up on day one of your journey. Will you unpack your
The size and type of carry-on bags you choose is important if your rental car has limited trunk space. Things to consider are if you will be getting on and off trains, or walking distances or stairs. Even if you are staying put, the wrong
A great example is Venice,
Will the Carry On Bag Remain Packed At Your Destination?
The type of carry-on
In this case, you may want
A backpack may be a more difficult choice in this scenario, as items are generally stacked vertically. Therefore if you want something on the bottom, you would need to pull everything out.
Are you planning on unpacking the bag and using it for another purpose during your travels? If so, then simply fitting everything, may be the most important function. Once you arrive, you will be unpacking anyway.
Does your carry-on bag need to double for another use upon arrival? For example, are you hiking? If so, a backpack may be a great carry-on choice. Will you be going to the beach? An over the shoulder tote bag may be useful. Is your carry-on also your camera bag when roaming the streets? Perhaps you need a padded bag, something where you can pull the camera out easily? A specialty carry-on could be a good choice. Will you be using this bag to transport your laptop to cafes or meetings? If so, are the straps strong and is it comfortable to carry?
These questions help to narrow down the type of carry-on
Is There A Fashion Image Requirement?
Is this a business trip? If so, you may want your carry-on to be a brief case or computer bag. Are you checking in to a Fancy Hotel? Then you may care more about designer labels and fashion forward styles. Are you attending an event? You may need to carry a garment bag for your dress or suit, in order to prevent them from wrinkling.
Jenny’s Favorite Carry-Ons (in no particular order)
While some of these bags are a bit more expensive, when it comes to
You can mitigate these issues by doing your research. Buy a bag that is well constructed, has a warranty, and good overall reviews. In my opinion if I am investing money in
1. 2-Wheeled Soft Sided Professional
This 2-Wheeled Soft Sided Professional Luggage is a relatively affordable, solid bag, and is my go to carry-on. It offers:
- Outside pockets for organization,
- Padded laptop case
- Netted inside compartment
- External USB charging port
- Battery pack pocket.
- Well fabricated ball bearing wheels that roll smoothly
- Armor, skid guards and durable wheel housings
- High density water resistant fabric (Mine has held up perfectly over time)
- Handle construction that is high quality and patented to operate smoothly
- More packing space since there are only 2 wheels
- Fits well in small spaces.
- It unzips with 3/4 space in the bottom and a flap top, allowing the suitcase to be unpacked without laying flat. (Therefore it works well on a
luggagerack and in smaller spaces)
- *Note that this bag comes in a 19″ and 21″ size. Look at your specific flight’s carry-on restrictions.
- Strap and metal j-hook that allows you to carry additional bags hands-free.
- Comes with a removable, TSA-compliant toiletry bag that stores in a dedicated exterior pocket
- Several colors to choose from
2. Hard Sided Carry-on Bag
I love that this well constructed bag is also well thought out. It is rare to find an outer pocket on a piece of Hard Sided Carry-on
- One of the only bags that has an easy access outer pocket!
- A hinged door allows you to access the pocket without opening the entire suitcase.
- Holds a laptop, a power bank, and other travel essentials.
- External USB port for charging on the go.
- Almost Indestructible and should really last you a very long time
- Has an extensive warranty.
- Lightweight construction
- Extremely resilient, high tech material
- Handle has 4 positions
- Handle made of aircraft grade aluminum that ensures functionality
- Wheels are high quality, metal ball-bearing double spinners
- Inside offers mesh organization and compression
Luggage Designed by Flight Professionals
Designed by flight professionals, this bag offers maximum organization both inside and out. Flight professionals have a ton of experience actually traveling and this reflects in the design and quality construction.
- Constructed of lightweight, water resistant nylon
- Telescoping handle
- Inline wheel
- Sleeve for your laptop computer
- RFID card slots
- Secure passport pocket
- Comes in a variety of colors
- Slides easily under your seat
4. Fashionable and Functional Bag
This fashionable bag is also extremely functional and quite popular.
- High quality material
- Lightweight, durable and resistant to cracking
- 4 spinner wheels
- TSA approved recessed lock for added security
- 2 large interior lined compartments
- Has a removable hanger
- Removable laundry and shoe bags
5. Extremely High-end Luxury
For the extremely high-end luxury bag with every feature I can imagine, try this functional carry-on.
- Built-in garment sleeve that fits one suit
- Split zipper entry to the main compartment
- Security zipper
- TSA lock
- Various interior and exterior pockets for maximum organization
- Pocket with a removable USB cable
- Hanger bracket
- Constructed of the highest quality materials
- Resilient and durable
- Aircraft grade aluminum telescopic handle
- Retractable top, side, and bottom handles
- 4 high tech, quiet, smooth, dual spinner wheels
- Exclusive tracer program to help find lost or stolen items included
More Things to Consider When Buying A Carry-On
As an avid traveler, purchasing quality
The last thing a traveler wants is to be off the beaten trail and have their backpack tear, or arriving in Paris with a broken off wheel.
Does the Bag Have A Warranty
Be sure the brand you purchase has not just a warranty, but a good one. Some household named brands offer a warranty, but when you report an issue, they are challenging. I have found with several warranties, it is difficult to get a resolution on my issue. Read the fine print and do your research. Read reviews.
Vertical Versus Horizontal Packing
This is packing terminology that I personally use to describe how I pack and visualize things in my bag. I see this as being directly related to the functionality. Horizontal refers to a bag where things are laid out side by side rather than stacked, and usually opens from the top. Vertical is a bag in which items are packed stacked, one on top of another. So, you need to take things out to get to what is below them.
Type and Quantity of Wheels
Most roller bags come with either two or four wheels. The four wheel bag is easy to pull completely upright and helps to alleviate the weight. It is also conducive to rest a second bag on top. The two wheel bag seems to allow for more packing space. It depends on your priorities.
I tend to like bags with high quality inline skate wheels. Cheap wheels tend to chip or break off.
Type of Handle And Zipper
Most pull bags have a telescopic handle. They usually come in a U or T shaped handle. Some people say the T shaped handles are easier to grip, but I personally have not found a big difference.
Again, it comes down to quality. A cheap bag may have a cheap handle. Eventually, pulling it up and down will break it. I have had a handle get stuck up in the airport, which was not fun, as you cannot bring it on the plane that way.
Check the quality of the zipper. Having your zipper fail just sucks. Look for sturdy teeth and quality material.
Weight Versus Strength
A heavy bag does not necessarily mean it is sturdier. However, a very light bag may not have the durability. A lightweight bag is nice for obvious reasons, but it is important to find a balance.
Hard Shell Verses Soft Shell
To me, the advantage of the hardshell case is wear and tear. The soft case generally offers outer pockets, while the hard likely does not. A carry-on bag does not get as beat up by the airline as checked
Do you want an expandable bag? I do like this feature. While you typically cannot expand your bag as a carry-on because it will likely not meet the airline regulation, it can still be useful. For example, I may use my bag as a carry-on when I begin my travel, but if I do accumulate purchases during my travel, I have the option to expand my bag and check it.
Carry-On Bag Features
I like a carry-on that has outer pockets. I also look for inner pockets or dividers to help me organize. Some bags offer a mesh pouch inside for laundry or a plastic pouch in case your toiletries leak. Features are personal preference.
Professional Versus Consumer Quality Bags
While there is
Types of Carry-On
Rolling and Top Loading
What I call a horizontal pack, these carry-on bags are some of my favorites. They often have many pockets both in and outside. I find these very easy to organize my belongings. A good one should have a strap in back that allows it to attach to the telescopic handle of another pull bag. For me, that is a make or break feature.
Rolling and Side Loading
This bag is, and opens like a regular suit case, around the length. The zipper goes all the way around on three sides. In order to open this bag, you need to lie it down. The two popular types differ in how they open. In one style, the zipper divides the
These bags tend to be awkward in my opinion. They serve a purpose for a business trip or special event, like a destination wedding. Garment bags keeps clothing such as dresses and suits on hangers and wrinkle free. Some are able to fold or roll. Others offer room for jewelry or dress shoes. Onboard, you often need to ask a flight attendant to hang it in their closet. If this is not an option, you can lie it in an overhead.
Handheld and Over The Shoulder Bags
Duffle bags are oval or tubular with two handles stitched around the bag that meet at the top. They usually have a zipper across the top. Duffles straps are handheld. Some have wheels, but I find them to be heavy and pointless.
A Canvas Tote is generally square or trapezoidal. It has two handles that meet in loops at the top. These can be very strong, and hold a large amount. They are handheld or sometimes can go over one shoulder. Both the duffle and tote are nice because they are foldable and packable. Because they are simple, depending on the size, they tend to be spacious. The downside is they can be quite heavy when filled. An option is placing them on your wheeled bag to alleviate the weight. Some totes do not zip closed. I only recommend a bag that securely closes because things can fall out or be stolen.
Briefcases, Computer Bags, or Purses are obviously based mostly on your preference. Remember, anything you use for travel should be strong and able to withstand a reasonable amount of wear and tear.
My absolute favorite are these purses created and owned by flight attendants who put their travel experience into the bags. I have quite a few and I use them constantly. They always seem knew. I load mine with a DSLR camera, lens, and regular purse stuff when I head out for a day of sightseeing. They are so strong and durable. I recently bought one for my close friend who is living abroad. She had not heard of them and loves hers. These purses seriously rock!
The biggest advantage to a backpack is the ability to distribute the weight and go hands free. Most back packs offer a vertical pack, so you usually need to dig through for items on the bottom as contents are stacked.
It is very important to use a quality backpack that distributes weight evenly and has adjustable straps. If not, you can injure your shoulders, neck, or back.
Backpacks vary in popular features such as bottle holders, anti theft material, and the ability to attach to bicycles. Some have multiple pockets, or lots of tabs and strings that make it convenient to strap items to the outside.
For more information, see Jenny in Wanderland article, How To Choose The Best Travel Backpack