How To Choose Carry On Luggage

Get tips from season travel bloggers on how to choose the perfect carry on luggage.

When it comes to traveling, one of the hardest decisions you have to make is what bag to use. It’s no secret that I don’t like checking bags and I use all the tricks in the book to ensure my stuff is packed as efficiently as possible.  Many people struggle to find a carry on suitcase that works for them, which is why I’ve collaborated with five other travel bloggers to bring to you our favorite carry on luggage.

Choosing carry on luggage doesn’t need to be a stressful experience, you just need to know what you’re looking for.

Tips On Choosing Your Carry On Luggage

The first thing you need to do when choosing what carry on luggage you’d like is decide whether you want a rolling back or a backpack or over the shoulder bag. This will come down to personal preference and both have their pros and cons. Many people will tell you a backpack or soft-sided bag is the way to go for your carry on luggage because it’s easy to squish into the overhead bins of smaller aircraft. However, that’s not to say rolling bags are bad. The thing with rolling bags and many brands tend to sell bags that are too large for many airlines.

This is particularly a problem in the US where bag sizes are sold much larger than their European or Asian counterparts. Here you can get the low-down on international travel sizes.

So you’ve decided which type of bag you like; excellent! Next you need to figure out what your price point is going to be. There are lots of affordable carry on luggage options out there, but you’ll pay more the lighter a bag is and for higher-quality. The obvious reason for this is that the lighter a bag is, the more stuff you can cram into it and still be under the weight limit.

You should always see and try a bag in person rather than just ordering it online. While that may be a great option for lots of things, you really need to see it in person to get an idea for how well it’s made and to get a feel for it’s size and weight. If you can’t find a luggage-specific store, most department stores will have a luggage section. However, most malls have at least one luggage store where you’re bound to find something.

Checklist For Buying Carry On Luggage

  1. Is it the type of bag you want?
  2. Is it an adequate size for the type of travel you’ll be doing?
  3. Are there more pros than cons?
  4. Is it durable?
  5. Does it get good reviews?
  6. If it’s a backpack, is it comfortable to wear? If it’s a rolling bag, does it roll smoothly and easily?
  7. Is the weight acceptable and not too heavy?
  8. Does it have the organization features you’re looking for?

If the answer to all of those questions is yes then great! You’ve found your carry on luggage. If you need some guidance on what kind of carry on luggage us seasoned travel bloggers use, read on.

Additional Information

When looking for a bag, make sure there are no features that are going to drive you crazy. For me, the fact my bag only has one small organizational pocket inside doesn’t bother me because I keep everything I would need during the flight in a separate, smaller item (the personal item that you’re allowed on most airlines). However, if you like keeping your boarding pass, lip balm, passport, iPad or anything else in a handy pocket, make sure the suitcase has it.

Don’t forget you’ll be looking at this bag a lot, so don’t get something ugly or something you don’t like. I see people all the time buying bags that they think are hideous because they were cheap. Buying a cheap bag can be fine, but it probably won’t be great quality and so its durability will suffer. And if you don’t like it on top of that, what’s the point? Your carry on luggage is an investment. You should treat it that way.

What Do I Use?

The carry on luggage I have been using for the past several years is the Longchamp Le Pliage Travel Bag. At $255, it isn’t cheap, but it’s served me very well for a variety of reasons. These bags are beyond durable, which makes them excellent for all kinds of travel. The fact that they’re an over the shoulder, soft-sided bag means they’re very easy to squish into the overhead bins of really small regional jets.

The other reason I love this bag so much is because of the extension. You can unzip the middle of the bag to double its size. While this may not seem overly useful on the face of it, it’s great for versatility. If you’re traveling somewhere where you think you might come back with more than you went, it gives you the option of having a large bag to check if you need it. I used this over Christmas when I went with a carry on but then needed to extend it to check in on my way home due to gifts.

The final reason I love this bag as carry on luggage is because it’s so easy to store. Like all of Longchamp’s Le Pliage line, the bags fold up into nice, flat bags that are super easy to store when you’re not traveling. My apartment is limited on storage space, so being able to fold this bag up and stick it under the bed or at the bottom of the wardrobe is unbelievably useful.

Amy from Two Drifters

My suitcase is the 28″ Samsonite Winfield 2 in silver. I purchased the case this summer before embarking on our long-term travels. We planned to spend at least 6 months in Europe and then perhaps head elsewhere, so I needed something to suit “indefinite travels.” I’m happy to say this suitcase has done me proud.

While it has only been a few months, I’ve dragged this case over enough European cobblestones to last a lifetime, and it is going strong with minimal wear & tear. The size is perfect, though I’ve had to get rid of a few things and add some new pieces to my wardrobe as the seasons have changed. I prefer lugging this around as opposed to a backpack, which makes me feel exhausted. Of course, stairs are an obstacle, but it’s a fine trade off.

The best part of the case is that it opens in the center into two equal halves. You can zip up the cover of the top side, so you can easily access your most useful items without having to let the case’s entire contents spill out. It’s a smart way to be more organized. While the 28″ Samsonite is too big for a carry on, I honestly could never live out of a carryon for long-term travel. So this, plus a sizeable handbag, is the perfect accompaniment for a long term traveler—particularly in Europe.

If you’re interested in this bag, but want it in a carry on size, there’s an option for that too

Rohan from Travels of a Bookpacker

After moving to Europe it became very obvious that, to make the most of budget travel, I was going to need some decent hand luggage. I wanted something that allowed me to carry as much as possible whilst still being small enough for budget airlines and comfortable enough to carry around. After a lot of reading up I settled for the Osprey Farpoint 40.

Some key features that won me over were:

  • It’s compact and comfortable to wear as a backpack.
  • It opens out like a suitcase giving easy access to all my belongings without having to rummage blindly.
  • The straps fold away for when I check it in or it has an over the shoulder strap if I’m carrying a daypack as well.
  • A padded computer pocket in the front.
  • Lockable zips
  • Maximum amount of space for European hand luggage.

I have used it for the past two years and love it so much I convinced my boyfriend to buy the same one. The only downfall is the price tag but as we plan to use them for our upcoming indefinite world trip we decided it was worth the investment. 

Julianna from The Discoveries Of

I bought my Lowe Alpine Cholatse Backpack before going away on a big trip a few years ago and have never regretted it. 

There are pros and cons to whether you decide to take a suitcase or a backpack on a trip. I prefer backpacks in general as they’re easier to get around with – particularly if you are doing something a little off the beaten track like hiking. Realistically, the Cholatse is better suited to those who are either backpacking or travelling longer term. It wouldn’t make sense for a weekend getaway to New York. 

The Cholatse’s best feature is that it’s really lightweight but sturdy. I’m the queen of over-packing and having a lightweight backpack to start with is a definite must. 

Other pros include several entryways to the pack – hopefully saving you the drama of having to take everything out in order to find that one tiny thing at the bottom. It’s got attachments for hiking poles, and a handy bungee cord front that is really useful too. 

The only con that I can think of is that it’s black (as are a lot of backpacks out there) so finding it on the baggage carousel could be a challenge. That said – it does have neon orange and grey accents so it does stand out. 

Overall my Cholatse II is my handy companion and I hope it stays with me for many more trips to come! 

Sara from In Africa And Beyond

I started using American Tourister bags when they gifted me with a set of two Bon Air suitcases – big enough for my family travels – and I’ve been using them on my travels since then. American Tourister is owned by Samsonite and its vibrant, colourful style is aimed at younger travelers. What I like about them, is that they have a hard shell and are extremely strong yet quite lightweight. The four wheels at the bottom make it easy to pull them along at airports and in hotels without porters.

They also have lots of compartments and pockets which is something I always look for in all my baggage. The suitcases come with a built-in TSA combination lock – which I love – because I’m usually always hunting for locks before I travel. My husband says that they fit much better in our car trunk than our previous bags. The bags come with a two-year warranty. The only problem I have is that I have a tendency to overstuff my bags because I travel with my family – and I don’t think that the American Tourister lends itself too well to that. Read my full post here. Although the bags were sponsored, the opinions are my own.

Jen and Ryan from Passions and Places

Mystery Ranch is a small backpack company based in Bozeman, Montana. They’re mainly known for their hunting, firefighting, and military packs, but there’s also a smaller selection of “mountain” packs, which we’ve found are great for travel. Prior to getting our Mystery Ranch packs (older versions of the Ravine), we’d both traveled extensively with the typical top-loading backpacks that seem to be the most common – and we hated having to constantly unpack everything just to get to that one item on the bottom.

What sets most of Mystery Ranch’s mountain backpacks apart is the Y-shaped zipper on the front, which isn’t used by any other company we know of. It’s so much easier to stay organized and find things when you can open up your backpack from the front, instead of having to reach blindly into the top every time you need something.

The biggest downsides to Mystery Ranch’s backpacks are the weight and the price: the Ravine pack weighs almost 5 pounds and costs $279. They’re also a little bit complicated to adjust, though they tend to fit great once you get them adjusted. Otherwise, we recommend them for backpacking travelers, as well as for trekking and camping.

Katherine from Two Traveling Texans

I prefer to travel with minimal luggage. I may forgo having a unique outfit every day, but I gain the opportunity to see so much more. Longchamp’s Le Pliage totes are my go-to luggage for this type of travel. These stylish bags come in a variety of sizes and colors, are incredibly lightweight, zip close, and can travel compactly when not in use. I have traveled for a weekend with the small tote bag – on that trip, my first stop was a San Francisco Giants game and there were strict requirements as to what types of bags could be brought into the stadium and my Longchamps bag worked well!

On a recent weeklong trip to Europe (mainly staying in Hungary), I had layovers in both London and Dublin. I also packed the extra-large travel bag (all nicely folded and tucked into my tote bag). By packing with only shoulder bags, I was able to go to a beautiful church service in Westminster Abbey and explore the pubs in Dublin. Had I brought more luggage, this freedom to explore would not have been possible. While packing lightly takes some advance planning and you have to make some concessions, I have found that it is truly a freeing experience and I would strongly suggest that you give it a try!

Choosing the carry on luggage you want to use for your travels can be a daunting process, but the most important things to remember are to keep size at the forefront of your mind, to see it in person and go with your gut. How did you guys choose the bags you take with you on your travels?

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  • These all look amazing!

  • Sarah Jean

    I have the CUTEST rolling carryon bag, but I always feel like everyone is waiting for me as I try to drag it through the aisles, whacking each chair as I go. Probably not the best pick for me! haha

    • Haha, I know the feeling, Sarah! It can be hard to resist the larger bags because of course they can fit more stuff!

  • Katie

    Thank you for this! Super helpful.

  • Jewels Rhode

    This is so helpful. During a recent trip to Europe, I noticed how incredibly smaller their carry-on were. I’ve never seen anything like that in the states

    • Yes, that’s so true! And now when I see bags being sold in the US as carry ons and they’re massive I can’t help but think why!

  • I like over the shoulder bags and backpacks but some tend to hurt my back after a while of carrying it around. That’s why roller bags are nice sometimes, but I guess it depends on how much I am carrying. I will check out some of these options.

    • That’s exactly my problem, Marette. I’ve actually just bought an awesome Samsonite, which I may add to this list, that’s saved my back tons of pain!

  • Leslie Nichole

    I love your bags! I also like over the shoulder bags, they are more comfortable for me. Hah, i can never decide what to pack though.

    • It’s the same for me, Leslie. I now have a rolling bag and an over the shoulder and depending on what I’m bringing I’ll choose one or the other. I like having the option!

  • Sophia

    Durability is important the last thing you want is a bag that is falling apart while you travel.

  • Those blue bags are ADORABLE! I need new luggage and I am checking them out ASAP.

    • I’m so glad you liked them! I just bought a blue Samsonite bag you may like as well 🙂 It’s in the B-Lite range! It’s excellent.

  • Rimsha

    I’m bookmarking this post for the next time i’m in the market for some new luggage! Thanks so much for sharing this, it’s super helpful 🙂

    • I’m so glad you found it helpful, Rimsha. Choosing luggage is such a hard decision!

  • Jennifer Ambrose

    Thanks for including us – and our favorite packs! Will definitely keep the Bon Air in mind next time we’re in the market for a roller. 🙂

    • So glad you like how it turned out, Jennifer!

  • Coralia Varga

    Such great post, because we are always on the lookout for a good hand luggage. Once you realise the amount of money you can save by travelling with hand luggage only, you figure how much you need to invest in a good quality, spacious and versatile bag!

    • Oh totally! It’s so not worth paying for a checked bag on an airline unless you really have to since more often than not it’s half the cost of the ticket itself!