Whether you’re crossing state lines or country borders, having the best carry-on luggage for your trip can help you enjoy the journey before the destination. The trick is to find a suitcase that’s big enough to stash your essentials, portable enough to walk (run?) through the airport and compact enough to stow on the plane. Our choice for the “Best Carry-On Luggage Overall” is the Calpak Ambeur because it’s expandable, lightweight, easy to maneuver, equipped with a TSA-approved lock and looks good, to boot. (And yet, there are several other suitcases that made the cut for this list too.)
The fact is, quality luggage can be pricey but a carry-on you can depend on is worth the investment. You also want to consider size and maneuverability plus other features like interior pockets, TSA-approved locks and built-in portable chargers if you want to top off your travel-worthy tech. You probably want something that’s attractive, too; after all, it’s important to have a bag that’s easy to spot (and worthy of an appearance on the ‘gram).
Based on research, Vetted team recommendations and insights from Amy Brueckner, COO of the travel planning company CIRE Travel, we compiled a list of the best carry-on luggage for any trip. Bon voyage!
Best Carry-On Luggage Overall
A Chic, Lightweight Bag That Expands For More Room
Best Carry-On Luggage For International Travel
A Durable Aluminum Exterior Makes It Worth The Splurge
Best Carry-On Backpack
A Polished Leather Backpack With Convenient Pockets
Best Carry-On Luggage For Business Trips
A Thoughtfully-Design Suitcase That’s Travel Expert-Approved
Best Expandable Carry-On Luggage
A Sleek, Affordable Option From A Top Name In Travel
Best Customizable Carry-On Luggage
Monogram Your Carry-On And Add A USB Charger
Best Value Carry-On Luggage
Score Steep Discounts On Select Colors
Best Statement-Making Carry-On Luggage
A Bold Collaboration That Stands Out From The Crowd
Best Carry-On With A Laptop Compartment
A Tough-As-Nails Option To Keep Your Computer Safe
How We Chose The Best Carry-On Luggage
To compile this list, we researched trendy brands, dug up bargains and asked Vetted team members which carry-on suitcases they use for their own travels. We also tapped Amy Brueckner, COO of travel planning company CIRE Travel, for her expert advice on finding the right suitcase for any kind of trip. She also gave us the scoop on her all-time favorite carry-on bag: the Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential 2-Wheel Carry-On, featured above.
What To Consider When Buying Carry-On Luggage
The best carry-on luggage for you depends on your trip and travel style. Here are some things to consider, along with expert insights from travel pro Amy Brueckner.
It’s crucial to make sure the size of the luggage you buy is compliant with airline rules. If you’re looking for an investment piece, check out the guidelines of whichever airline you usually fly. If it varies, it may be smarter to go with a smaller option that’s likely to work across the board.
Brueckner adds to be especially diligent if you’re flying internationally. “Some airlines have different size rules for domestic versus international,” she points out.
Brueckner prefers expandable bags that qualify as carry-ons when they’re compact. Often, she’ll only pack a carry-on during an outbound flight, and if she acquires souvenirs during her trip, she’ll expand it, stuff it full and check it on the way home.
If you’re an avid traveler and/or plan on investing in expensive luggage, make sure it comes with a good warranty. “I travel A LOT so I want my luggage to be durable. My current bag [the Briggs & Riley Baseline Essential 2-Wheel Carry-On] wasn’t cheap but it has a lifetime guarantee.” Further, if you plan on purchasing from a third-party retailer like Amazon, double-check with the brand directly to make sure the warranty still applies.
For extra security, look for a carry-on with a built-in TSA-approved lock. These are usually combination locks that TSA agents can open with a master key so they don’t have to damage your luggage if it must be inspected.
While a bright color will make your bag pop, keep in mind that lighter shades are more likely to show scuffs and spots. Shares Brueckner, “I’m a big fan of black because it doesn’t show dirt or dings. But everyone has a black bag, so make sure to add some flair with a brightly colored ribbon or luggage tag so you know it’s yours!”
If black feels too generic, opt for another dark shade—the Away Carry-On comes in several deep hues. That said, sleek all-black styles like the Samsonite Freeform in Blackout can still stand out from a crowd.
While wheeled suitcases dominate this list, backpacks like the Parker Clay Atlast Backpack are a great choice if you want to be completely hands-free. This is especially true if you plan on checking a bag because your carry-on can be packed lightly. Duffle or crossbody bags can work but may not be the best option if you have a lot of walking to do between terminals, as they can feel cumbersome and cause shoulder and neck strain if they’re too heavy.
If the possibility of your tech dying is cause for concern, consider suitcases that have built-in USB chargers, like the Arlo Skye X Dusen Dusen Zipper Carry-On Max or the Away The Carry-On, which offers this feature as an optional upgrade.
Frequently Asked Questions About Carry-On Luggage
What type of luggage is best for a carry-on?
In short, any luggage that fits most airlines’ size requirements should make for a suitable carry-on. After size, you’re going to want something that’s already light when empty since you’ll be lifting it above your head when it’s full, and then it’s helpful if the bag has the compartments you need for your stuff. It should also suit you and your travel style, which might mean a bag on 360-degree rotating wheels, one with a protective laptop sleeve or maybe one that’s going to charge your tech.
What size luggage is approved for a carry-on?
There’s no one standard size for carry-on luggage that’s approved for all airlines across the board (a traveler can dream). But it’s a safe bet to choose something that cites the requirements of airlines next to its own dimensions. All of our bags here fit the bill, and the general—but not all-encompassing—rule is that a bag should be no bigger than 22 x 14 x 9 inches and that all three of these measurements shouldn’t exceed 45 inches when added together. We recommend always checking your preferred airline’s size restrictions online before heading to the airport as these rules are subject to change.
Should I get a hard side or soft side carry-on?
Some might assume that this is a question of personal preference, but the correct answer here is a hard-sided case. On over-packed flights, there is always the possibility that the airline you’re flying might request—or require—you to check a bag, which means you won’t be the only one handling it. If this happens, there’s a solid chance your bag could take a tumble, putting your belongings at risk. Hard side carry-on bags also hold their shape in overhead bins next to your fellow passengers’ bags and can stay strong against the unceremonious shoving they might endure up there. Plus, if you get caught in the rain with your bag, a hard sided suitcase won’t turn into a soaked-through mess.