Carry on luggage is the “new thing.” You can keep all of your belongings safely with you throughout the flight. You don’t have to worry about lost luggage or standing in a line hoping your bag is on the tarmac or luggage carousel instead of at a different airport miles away. 

There are also savings involved with a carry on suitcase. There are assorted fees when you check your luggage at the gate. While hand luggage brought onto an airplane is possibly subject to fees, it’s certainly cheaper than the alternative of checking luggage.

You will save money with carry-on luggage if you can keep it under the airline’s weight limit. It’s also nice being able to skip the insanity at the baggage terminal. Smart packers will also realize that they can fit a lot more than they thought into a carry-on bag. Carry on luggage does have its advantages. It will simplify things during travel. However, it only applies when you have the right luggage. You don’t want to be that passenger whose clothes are exploding out of a small suitcase.

Before you head off on your next trip, take a look at your luggage. Does your carry-on bag work for you, or is it a pain to pack? When it’s time to replace your luggage with something more functional, here are a few tips to consider.

Table of Contents

What is Carry On Luggage?

What to Look for Before Purchasing a Carry On Suitcase

International vs. Domestic Carry on Bag Size limit

Soft Side vs. Hardside

Spinner vs. Two Wheeled

Our Top Carry On Picks

Frequently Asked Questions

Travel Time

What is Carry on Luggage?

Carry-on luggage refers to the bags or suitcases that passengers bring with them onto an airplane and are allowed to store in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of them. These bags must meet certain size and weight restrictions set by the airline, and typically contain items that are necessary for the journey, such as clothing, toiletries, and electronics. Carrying on luggage is a convenient way to keep important items close at hand and avoid the hassle and cost of checked baggage.

What to Look for Before Purchasing a Carry On Suitcase

  • Size and weight restrictions

    Ensure the bag meets the size and weight restrictions set by the airline you will be flying with. If you plan to only a carry on, make sure not to over pack or you will pay airlines fees for being over weight limits.

  • Durability

    Look for a bag made of sturdy materials, such as hard-shell or high-quality fabric, that can withstand the wear and tear of travel.

  • Storage and organization

    Consider the number and size of compartments, pockets, and straps for storing and organizing your belongings.

  • Mobility

    Look for a bag with wheels and a retractable handle for easy mobility through the airport.

  • Security

    Consider features such as locks, zippers, and straps to keep your belongings secure during travel.

  • Comfort

    Look for a bag with comfortable handles or straps for carrying or lifting the bag, especially if it is heavy.

  • Price

    Set a budget and look for a bag that meets your needs within that price range.

International vs. Domestic Carry On Bag Sizes

The best way to avoid carry-on luggage fees is to follow the airline’s guidelines. There are size restrictions for suitcases, and it can vary depending on if you’re flying in-country or overseas. Airlines do list their weight and size restrictions for international and domestic carry on suitcases. It’s also easy to check on the airline’s website. Look under luggage information.

International flights are stricter when it comes to size limits. Try to keep your suitcase at 21-inches. It fits easily into an overhead storage bin without taking up space reserved for your seatmate. Domestic flights will give you a little more leeway if your suitcase is slightly oversized, but it’s still a good idea to stay within the size restrictions.

Fully booked flights mean less room for luggage that won’t fit under a seat or takes up most of the overhead compartment space. To avoid your carry on being sent to checked luggage, and the added fee, look for suitcases that measure 22” X 14” X 9”. You won’t have any problems getting your luggage through the boarding gate and onto the plane.

Soft Side vs. Hard Side Carry On Suitcases

There are advantages to both soft side and hard side carry on luggage. You’ll also find a few downsides. It comes down to your preferences and even what you’re packing. Soft side suitcases do weigh less, and this is always a plus. No one wants to lug a heavy suitcase around. You also get a little more room since the material has a little give.

Hard-sided suitcases are heavier, but they’re also sturdier. The hard sides also provide better protection than soft-sided luggage. You’ll also find that hard side carry-ons last longer. The bags are designed to withstand normal wear and tear.

Spinner vs. Two-Wheel Carry On Suitcases

You do get a little more packing space with a two-wheel carry-on suitcase. Extend the handle, tip the bag back a little, and you’re ready to wheel it down the concourse. You do lose a little space with a spinner suitcase. It comes with 4 wheels, instead of two. There is a bonus to the extra wheels. It makes the suitcase easier to maneuver down tight aisles and crowded thoroughfares.

Our Top Carry On Picks

Best Hardside Carry On: Briggs & Riley Sympatico Expandable 21-Inch Luggage

The sleek-looking carry-on luggage is lightweight and durable. It comes with a 3-layer polycarbonate construction that can take a beating. The bag is designed to expand 2.5 inches, so you get more packing room, and then compress back down to standard carry-on size.

Worried about wrinkled clothes? The interior compression straps keep everything neatly folded and in place. Your belongings are still organized after the trip. It’s a spinner suitcase, so getting through tight spaces is a breeze. The four rubber wheels roll smoothly and easily. You won’t be that person struggling with your suitcase in the airport.

Measuring 21” x 15” X 9”, you’re good to go in most overhead bins. It does expand to fit more gear, but you want to watch this on international flights. You also don’t have to worry about replacing your luggage. It comes with a lifetime warranty that covers damage by airlines and other non-normal wear and tear issues.

We also believe the best carry on backpack comes from Briggs Riley. If your only a carry on type of person, but prefers traveling carry on with a backpack, you should check out what Briggs Riley has to offer.

Best Softside Carry On: Travelpro Platinum Elite 21-Inch Expandable Spinner

Weighing only 7.8 lbs, before packed, you won’t strain a muscle tossing the carry-on in the overhead compartment. The Platinum Elite is designed for travelers. It even comes with a handy USB port and power bank pocket. You can keep your devices charged while you’re waiting for boarding to begin. Both meet FAA regulations, so you won’t have any problems during check-in.

You can expand the suitcase a couple of inches, just enough for that extra pair of shoes. There are two TSA approved water and stain proof pockets on the outside. Ideal for toiletries and other accessories. There’s a tie-down system inside the case that holds your clothes in place. You won’t have to find an iron to smooth out the accumulated wrinkles.

Maneuvering the carry-on doesn’t involve a struggle. The collapsible leather-wrapped handle is non-slip and comfortable to grip. The four spinner wheels are designed to roll smoothly and effortlessly. They’re all part of the precision glide system. You can manage any turn or narrow space without worrying about bumping into a fellow traveler.

Best Two-Wheel Rollaboard Carry On: Briggs & Riley Global Expandable Upright

You won’t find anything to complain about with the Briggs & Riley Global Luggage. It’s great for short, overnight trips and longer excursions overseas. A lot is going on with the suitcase’s exterior features. The soft side carry-on boasts a lightweight and durable fiberglass frame. Its flexibility helps the frame keep its shape, so your suitcase looks great no matter how many times it’s bumped and kicked.

The outer nylon fabric is dirt and moisture resistant. It also withstands most normal wear and tear. Your suitcase is designed to last for a lifetime of travel. The two wheels provide a smooth ride, and their low-profile design ensures they’ll fit in most overhead luggage bins. To give you plenty of comfortable control, the aluminum handle has three locking heights. Worried about getting the suitcase into a bin? It comes with a retractable side handle.

Along with an ID tag you can hide to protect your personal information, there are two outside pockets. One is designed for easy access. Perfect at security checkpoints. The larger zippered pocket is ideal for storing extra items you might need on the flight.
Inside the suitcase, you’ll find garment panels you can cinch in place. It will keep your clothes neat inside, along with other belongings. The suitcase is small at 19” X 14” X 9”, but it also expands up to 33%.

Most Stylish Carry On: Delsey Paris Turenne 21-Inch Spinner

When you want to protect your belongings, a hard side suitcase is best. Fabric doesn’t provide the protection you want. Constructed from polycarbonate, the suitcase can survive any bumps and knocks it gets in the airport. While the luggage does have a sturdy construction, it’s also lightweight. At 4.8lbs, and with the side handle, you can easily get it up in an overhead bin.

Navigating busy airports and crowded aisles is a breeze. With four multi-directional wheels, and a sturdy base, you’ll easily make it through a cramped situation. Recessed into the front of the carry-on is a three-digit lock. TSA approved it keeps your belongings safe from nosey fellow passengers.

For additional safety, there’s a patented outer zipper. It’s three times more resistant to tampering than standard suitcase zippers. You don’t have to worry about the zipper breaking when you’re opening the suitcase, or it splitting open during the flight.

You don’t have exterior pockets, but it doesn’t mean you’re limited in space. The lined interior has two compartments, along with zippered dividers. It keeps your items organized without shuffling around. There are also two bags for shoes, along with one for laundry. Your clothes will stay clean no matter what you pack inside.

Best Affordable Carry-On: AmazonBasics 21-Inch Spinner

You can get everything you want in a carry-on at a price that won’t blow your budget. Functionality, professional design, and durability all come with the AmazonBasics 21-Inch Spinner.

It only weighs 6.9lbs, making it one of the lighter hard case carry-on bags. Its outer casing is polycarbonate. It’s lightweight and durable. The lockable zipper meets TSA guidelines. It’s also a breeze to set the code. To open the suitcase, press “000”. Open and shut the bag, then reset the three-digit code. Slide the lock button forward, and your suitcase is locked.

It is a spinner suitcase, so great maneuverability isn’t surprising. The four rubber wheels glide smoothly over any surface. Since they’re spinners, you can easily handle tight turns and sudden weaves through airport traffic. There’s a soft-top handle for easy lifting. There’s also a hard, retractable handle for pulling the suitcase along.

When it comes to the interior room, you won’t be disappointed. You can shove up to 39L or 85.9lbs into the carry-on. The interior is lined and divided into double compartments. There’s a zippered interior pocket, and three smaller zippered ones. You can keep everything secure and organized. Whenever you need a little extra space, the suitcase expands 15%.

Best Underseat Carry-On: Travelpro Maxlite 15-inch Underseater

Overhead bin space is limited on airplanes. Chances are you’re not going to find one by your seat. If you want to keep your suitcase close by, using an under the seat carry-on is best. The Maxlite is a compact 15” bag. It’s also lightweight at 5.5lbs. You can easily fit it under your seat and carry it through the airport.

There are only two wheels, but their inline skate design ensures performance. You can tackle anything from bumps to sudden turns. The collapsible handle is ergonomically designed. You’ll have a comfortable grip and complete control when you’re winding your way to the departure gate.

Even though it’s a lightweight suitcase, it can still take a beating. The polyester fabric doesn’t rip or tear easily. The zippers are resistant to breaking, along with the pulls. You won’t have any problems opening and closing the suitcase. The fabric is also water and stain resistant, so your clothes will look the same as they went in.

t is a small carry-on, but you can fit plenty inside. There’s a large interior pocket, with several built-in ones. They’re perfect for keeping your essentials organized. There is also a removable pocket for wet items. Shampoo and other liquid items won’t leak out onto your clothes. On the outside of the bag, there’s a padded pocket for an electronic device.

Best International Carry-On: Tumi – Alpha 3 Expandable 22-Inch Spinner

International travel is stressful, especially when you’re hoping your luggage keeps up. Having a carry-on with all of the basics will keep you going when your checked baggage is temporarily lost.

The Alpha 3 expandable carry-on is a fantastic choice for international trips. It compresses to a small size that slips easily underneath seats. The suitcase also expands when you’re going on a longer trip. Weighing 10.9lbs, it also won’t break your back tossing the bag into an overhead bin. Packing enough clothes like chunky sweaters or multiple outfits should not be a problem by adding this extra weight.

The side panels are impact-resistant. There are also sturdy bumper rails. The nylon fabric is resistant to tears and rips. It’s a durable soft-sided carry-on. Even the telescoping handling is designed for durability. It’s constructed from aluminum and has three locking stages. You also have soft retractable handles on the sides and top of the suitcase.

You have plenty of room to pack more than you need. There’s a zippered compartment that expands the bag 2”. You’ll also find a garment bag, along with multiple zippered pockets. The suitcase makes it easy to keep everything organized. There’s also a mesh outer pocket. It’s designed to hold a USB cable through a USB port. There’s even a hanger bracket if you are a business frequent flier.

Perhaps one of the most ingenious functions of the Tumi, is the ‘Tumi Tracer’, a digital barcode on your luggage that can track lost or stolen luggage, and it’s complimentary with a purchase.

Best Lightweight Carry-On: Briggs & Riley Expandable 22-Inch Luggage

The weight of your luggage is important. It determines if it’s a carry-on and how easily you can maneuver it around. Weighing slightly over 9lbs, this expandable suitcase won’t overstrain you when you lift it. As a bonus, it also functions as a nesting bag with larger Briggs & Riley luggage. It makes for easier storage when you’re not using the suitcases.

You don’t have to worry about someone getting into your luggage. It comes with a double lockable zipper. The included lock is TSA approved, so you won’t have any trouble at the gate. There’s also a pocket designed to hold items TSA will want to look at. Designed for easy access, you won’t hold others up waiting to get through screening.

It measures 22-inches. It might not look like you can fit a lot in there, but you’ll be surprised. It can expand up to 25% for additional packing space. You can also compress the bag down when you’re only using it for a night or two. Inside, you get a garment carrier. Perfect for easily wrinkled items. There are also compression straps to keep the carrier in place. Your clothes will look like they were freshly pressed out of the suitcase. With plenty of room for personal items or even multiple pairs of shoes, this bigger carry on will go through your packing list with ease.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Airlines Carry-On Restrictions?

Carry-on restrictions vary by airline and can change from time to time. It’s best to look up the specific airline for detailed info. However, here are some general guidelines:

  • Size: Most airlines allow carry-on bags that are no larger than 22 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches high (including handles and wheels).

  • Weight: The weight limit for carry-on bags usually ranges from 15 to 40 pounds, depending on the airline.

  • Personal item: Most airlines allow passengers to bring one personal item, such as a purse, laptop bag, or small backpack, in addition to their carry-on bag.

  • Restricted items: Certain items, such as liquids over 3.4 ounces or sharp objects, are not allowed in carry-on bags and must be packed in checked luggage.

What if I do not Like Traveling Carry On Suitcase Only?

There are lots of options for a carry on. A personal bag can mean a tote bag, duffel bag, backpack, or even a rolling carry on. It just has to abide by weight limits and either be able to fit in the overhead storage bins, or underneath the seat in front of you. This is why it’s best to leave bulky items home, so you can pack light to use your precious space.

How do I Travel Carry-On Only With Liquids?

  • Check the TSA guidelines: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has specific guidelines for liquids in carry-on bags. Check their website to make sure you are aware of these guidelines.
  • Use travel-sized containers: Purchase travel-sized containers of your favorite liquids, such as shampoo, conditioner, and sunscreen. Buy solid deodorant instead of aerosol.
  • Use a clear plastic bag: The TSA requires that all liquids in carry-on bags be placed in a clear plastic bag. Use a quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag to store all your liquids.
  • Follow the 3-1-1 rule: The TSA’s 3-1-1 rule allows for each passenger to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids in their carry-on bag, with each container holding no more than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) of liquid.
  • Pack the bag separately: Keep your clear plastic bag of liquids in an easily accessible part of your carry-on bag. This will make it easier to remove the bag during the security screening process.
  • Consider buying at your destination: If you are traveling for a short period, consider buying liquids, such as toiletries or drinks, at your destination instead of packing them in your carry-on bag. This can help you avoid the hassle of complying with liquid restrictions.

One Bag Travel Clothing Tips

Traveling with just a carry-on bag can be a convenient and cost-effective way to travel. Here are some tips to help you pack efficiently and travel light:

  • Check airline restrictions: Before packing, check the size and weight restrictions for carry-on bags with the airline you will be flying with.
  • Plan your outfits: Plan your outfits ahead of time to avoid overpacking and only pack what you will actually wear. Choose versatile pieces that can be mixed and matched.
  • Roll your clothes: Rolling clothes instead of folding them can save space in your bag.
  • Use packing cubes or compression bags: Packing cubes are excellent organizational compartments that can help keep your belongings seperate and make it easier to find what you need without unpacking everything. Great for shorter or longer trips, avoid surprises by using one for dirty laundry or even a pair of flip flops.
  • Wear your bulkiest items: Wear your bulkiest items, such as jackets or boots, on the plane to save space in your bag.
  • Minimize toiletries: Use travel-sized toiletries or buy them when you arrive at your destination to save space in your bag.
  • Consider doing laundry: If you will be traveling for an extended period, consider doing laundry during your trip instead of packing more clothes.
  • Keep important items with you: Keep important items, such as medication, travel documents, and electronics, in a small bag or pouch that you can keep with you at all times.
  • Leave space for souvenirs: Leave some extra space in your bag for souvenirs or items you may purchase during your trip.
  • Be mindful of security: Be aware of TSA regulations and pack your bag in a way that makes it easy to go through security checkpoints. Whether you pay more for a high quality bag with a tsa approved lock, or a more affordable option for those shorter trips, TSA will always be the same process, and at any time they have the right to search your belongings.

Travel Time

Choosing the proper carry-on bag matters for flying because it can affect your comfort, convenience, and even your budget. The right luggage piece or backpack can make it easier to navigate the airport, comply with airline restrictions, and ensure your belongings are safe and secure during travel.

By considering factors such as size, durability, organization, mobility, security, comfort, and price, you can choose a carry-on bag that meets your needs and makes your travel experience more enjoyable.