A Guide to Choosing Out Carry-On Luggage
When you go on a flight, besides a large suitcase that you check in prior to your flight, you’re entitled to a carry-on bag as well. Since you have to wait a while to retrieve your large suitcase (and there’s also the risk that it can get lost!) your carry-on should have the essential items that you want on hand at all times, such as your boarding pass, passport, wallet, laptop or tablet computer, and other valuable items that you want during the flight. The carry-on luggage should be able to fit all these things, yet be small enough to fit into the overhead compartment where you sit on the plane.
But we’ll see that you have a few options for carry-on bags. There is a standard, maximum size that you’re allowed to take with you on domestic flights. Then there are smaller bags, like a backpack, travel tote, or duffel bag, if you prefer traveling light.
We’ll go through some of the carry-on luggage options. You’ll be intrigued by all of the options. They don’t just let you keep valuables on hand. They’ll let you be organized in a way that you know where everything is, and that it’s safe and secure!
Types of Carry On Luggage
The dimensions for carry-on luggage on domestic flights within the United States are 22” L x 14” W X 9” H. (The regulations for carry-on luggage on international flights will differ from one airline to another. Many airlines allow larger bags, but some won’t allow a bag over 21.5” in length. There are websites that list the dimensions and weight limit restrictions for the different airlines.) You’ll notice that there are two main types of carry-on luggage with these dimensions:
Hardside suitcases: These have the advantage of being waterproof and durable. So, even if you’re dragging your carry-on in the rain, your belongings will stay dry inside. Also, the outer shell can take a lot of abuse without getting damaged. These typically will have an outer shell from ABS, 100% polycarbonate, or composite polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is the lightest material of the three, and the most scratch-resistant. Polycarbonate composite is cheaper than 100% polycarbonate, and ABS is not quite as strong as 100% polycarbonate. An example of a polycarbonate shell carry-on is the Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Expandable Luggage. Despite having a hard outer shell, it still has an expansion zipper inside, to let you pack more on your return trip if you happen to pick up souvenirs!
Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Expandable Luggage
Softside suitcases: These have the advantage that they can expand a bit if you want to fill up your carry-on with more stuff on the return trip. They’re usually made from ballistic nylon, coated canvas, or a polyester-nylon blend. An example is the Travelpro Platinum Elite Softside Expandable Luggage. The case measures 21” x 14” x 9”, but when full it can expand to 23.5” x 14.5” x 9”.
Travelpro Platinum Elite Softside Expandable Luggage
There are also other smaller alternatives to these large bags, which are quite adequate as a carry-on:
Backpack: These will typically be able to hold a 15” laptop computer, and have compartments for travel necessities and accessories. Some will also have a pocket for a power bank so that you can charge up your cellphone, or a place where you can insert a headphone jack. An example is the Paude 15.6” Laptop Backpack.
Paude 15.6” Laptop Backpack
Travel tote: These will typically have a shoulder strap, as well as handles. They’ll have interior pockets for stashing away valuables and important documents for easy retrieval. They can also be large enough to hold a 15” laptop, if necessary. An example is the Missnine 15.6” Laptop Tote Bag.
Missnine 15.6” Laptop Tote Bag
Duffle bag: These are typically bags that you’d take to the gym, where you can pack toiletries, a towel, and a change of clothes. But they can also be ideal as a piece of carry-on luggage, especially if you’re going on a short flight. A good example is the Vorspack Foldable Duffle Bag.
Vorspack Foldable Duffle Bag
What reviewers say
Here are some customers’ impressions about the carry-on luggage that they bought:
Some can also fit under your seat: There may also be an option for you to store your carry-on bag under your seat. One customer who bought the Briggs & Riley 22” Baseline Essential Carry-On said that they could fit the bag underneath their seat if they had a window seat or center seat, but not if they had an aisle seat. So, you might want a smaller bag, to be prepared for that possibility.
Resilient carry-on: Even inexpensive carry-ons can be surprisingly resilient. One customer said that she has been using the Amazon Basics 21-Inch Hardside Spinner for over four years and that it has been around the world without any visible scratches, fading of color, or any broken zippers, wheels, or handles! With its compression system, it had enough space to pack several pairs of shoes and five days of clothes for warm weather.
Sizer-bin tested: If you’re going on a domestic flight, there are certain standards for the size of the overhead compartment. Travelpro makes carry-on luggage that measures 23” x 14.5” x 9.5”, and a compact version that measures 22” x 14” x 9”. The compact version will probably be compatible with all overhead compartments.
Here are some tips to help you select the best carry-on bag for your needs:
Spinning wheels: Many of the carry-on suitcases that we reviewed have wheels that rotate 360°. For example, the Amazon Basics 21” Hardside Spinner Carry-On has 4 double-spinner wheels that ensure mobility in any direction. There are also suitcases with only a single pair of wheels, called “inline wheels”. But that constrains you to only go forward or backward. Those two-wheeled suitcases may have larger wheels that are more durable, especially when going over rough terrain. But, 4-wheeled spinner carry-ons are simply easier to maneuver. The Travelpro Platinum Elite Softside Expandable Luggage has magnetic, “Magnatrac” self-aligning wheels that make sure that you move smoothly!
TSA-approved locks: There is luggage with a lock that is approved by the Transportation Security Administration. They usually have a 3- or 4-digit combination. The TSA agents at the airport have universal key combinations and keys to be able to open up the lock on your luggage. If the lock is not TSA-approved, the TSA agents may be forced to use force to open your luggage, which may damage it. So, be sure that you get luggage that has a TSA-approved lock.
Telescoping handles: You’ll see many carry-on suitcases with telescoping trolley handles. They usually can be raised to at least two different heights. The handles on the Travelpro Platinum Elite Softside Expandable Luggage can be raised to 4 different heights, for even greater convenience.
USB charging: Some carry-ons also have a compartment for a power bank, as well as a USB cable to allow you to recharge a cellphone or tablet. The Travelpro Platinum Elite Hardside Expandable Spinner Wheel Luggage has both USB-A and USB-C ports to allow you to charge up your devices.
Warranty: There may be situations where you need to replace the wheels or handles on your luggage. Take note of warranty information for the luggage that you purchase. Some have worry-free warranties for as long as 5 years after purchase, as long as you can prove that the damage to the suitcase was the fault of the airline.
We went through some of the most popular brands and models of carry-on luggage. We saw that there is hard-shell and soft-shell luggage, as well as smaller bags for just the essentials. Whether you want to travel light or to take enough for 4-6 days, there is a carry-on bag that will keep your things organized and safe when traveling!