Carry-On Luggage Buyer’s Guide 2023

Where to begin? Flights booked, room confirmed, itinerary printed. Yet even if you’ve finished all of the hard (and expensive) work of planning a getaway (or your assistant did this for a business trip), you need to resolve your luggage situation. You might already have a bag, you might need one. If you have one, do you have the right one? Is it durable? Does it cooperate when you sprint towards Gate 34C 10 seconds before boarding begins?

If you don’t have a bag, where do you start? What features do you need to look out for? How do you decide between a larger unit and a smaller one? Breathe. We’ve got you covered.

First and foremost, look for carry-on size and durability when considering a travel bag. Nowadays, there are “smart” carry-on bags that claim to significantly enhance the travel experience. However, if you focus too much on the pictures and less on the details, you might end up paying too much for an overpriced phone charger.

Read this comprehensive guide to truly understand the benefits and considerations of the modern-day luggage universe. Your luggage is only as smart as you are.

The Problems

Traveling often will inspire you to travel light. This means one of the biggest challenges is finding the ideal bag that makes travel efficient and stress-free. Overgrown suitcases, luggage sets and obese backpacks aren’t the style for light travelers (they aren’t economic either).

Nowadays, airlines charge you for everything from carry-ons to oxygen. When airlines weigh your bags, a significant portion of the total weight ends up coming from the bag itself. Plus, unless you’re looking forward to spending more time with your chiropractor, lugging around a colossal bag won’t do your health any favors. If you manage to make it to the plane, you can’t put larger (or even medium-sized bags nowadays) in bins or under seats.


Don’t ruin your vacation before it begins. Research has shown the following traits are important to travelers when choosing a bag. Which one is most important to you?

  • Mobility – If I’m 100-meter dashing to the terminal, will my bag keep up?
  • Durability – Will my bag become a fatigued, scarred memory in 1 year?
  • Strength – Will it hold all these cute outfits for my two-weeker the same way my stomach rises to the challenge on pizza night?
  • Look and Appearance – Will I look like a professional jet setting to a getaway or an amateur escaping the country?
  • Security – Will somebody get to my valuables before the TSA does?

The ideal bag addresses all of these problems. It should be lightweight and durable. Inside the bag, documents, clothes, and electronics are safe, including mobile & laptop chargers, and tabs. Lucky for you, there are carry-on bags built just for you.

Making the Right Choice

Whether it’s business or pleasure, you need the correct bag (if you’re smart, it can be the same one). Ask yourself these questions during the purchase process.

What is the mode of transportation for the trip?

Are you renting a car? If so, you can probably opt for a larger bag. However, you’ll need one that can withstand bumps, jumps and swerves. After all, who wants to arrive at the room, open up and realize they need to head to the nearest Apple store (which might be across an ocean) for a keyboard replacement? Depending on the mode of transport, gauge the durability of your bag.

What is the infrastructure of your destination?

If your destination is damp and rainy then you should consider carrying a waterproof bag that will protect your clothes, electronics and documents. Understand the conditions of the roads and hotels before starting your journey. A duffle bag or a backpack can be a good choice, but they’ll offer protection as long as they’re enough to withstand the climatic challenges. You should go for bags that will have air vents which will allow the clothes to breathe so you don’t end up smelling like you’ve exercised in your jeans.

Once you arrive, are you staying put or moving around?

If you are staying in one place for most of the time, mobility may not be as important.

However, if you’re channeling Magellan and exploring, you’ll need a bag that’s easy to steer and causes minimal exhaustion. You need a lightweight bag with excellent mobility because how in the world will you enjoy your vacation if you’re too tired to take selfies or lack the motivation to travel long distances because your bag is too much effort?

Have you been robbed before?

Backpacks and duffel bags are comfortable companions. However, when it comes to security, they can’t put up much of a fight – one can easily cut them open. The exterior of your bag should be sturdy enough to withstand major damages. At the very least, it should look tough so a potential thief swipes left and refocus his or her attention on a weaker opponent.

Carry-on Luggage: All the space, none of the bulk

Carry-ons should last for many years even if you travel often. They should be able to store enough clothes for a one week trip (at least), but at the same time, not look bulky. You need a stylish, modern and compact carry-on that won’t raise issues at the airport.

On the plane, there shouldn’t be any need to check the luggage – it should easily slide into the overhead compartment (or under your seat like underseat luggage) like a USB stick. No need to visit the baggage pick-up after you land – just head straight to the Taxi stand. Ideal carry-on luggage is little less than twenty-one inches in height and has wheels.

Your carry-on should be a sturdy workhorse. It should look handsome, perform well under pressure and last long. More importantly, it’ll have a handful of the following features.

Carry-On Luggage Features

360-degree rotational wheels mount

This feature makes a large difference. If the bag’s wheels cannot rotate three-sixty degrees, and instead, lock into a single angle, the bag will keep tipping over every time you change direction. Save yourself an embarrassing viral video at the airport by opting for a bag with four swivel wheels.

A Long Telescoping Handle

Your bag’s handle should at least reach waist-height. Lower handles will lead to back pain (and overall angst).

Dual-Carrying Handles

There should be two handles: one placed on the bag’s head, opposite to the wheels & one on the long sides of the bag that would help you carry it suitcase-style. This helps you maneuver the bag into tricky storage areas if needed.

Cushioned Handles

Ideally, all the handles should be padded with extra wrapping and a nice extra strap of the ballistic nylon (vs. a single strap). This increases the comfort factor and makes carrying easier.

Shoe Pouches

This has become a common feature of newer carry-ons. These pouches are simply loose & long flaps located inside that keep the heels flat against the back wall. In case you decide not to carry extra shoes, the pouch will remain as an unobtrusive, soft cloth. Feel free to use it to hold other items.

Removable or Detachable Laundry Bag

The laundry bags in carry-on bags are zippered and can be detached entirely (a necessity for the clean traveler).

Inbuilt Shaving Kit

Many bags may have a built-in kit that snaps into place (must-have for our male and female travelers who groom-on-the-go).

Clear and Transparent Document Window

The clear document window is a very useful feature that is just perfect for the travel contacts, destination lists and other important information (especially if you don’t know your WiFi situation once you land).

Benefits of Having Carry-on Luggage

Unless you need proper, heavy-duty luggage, a carry-on is a way to go. Modern carry-ons offer all of the efficiency benefits of larger units without the bulk or extra transportation costs. Here are some additional benefits you might not know about:

Pouch for Water Bottle

Some bags have a bottle pouch on the side, which is wide enough to hold at least a 1-liter bottle of water.

Reading Pouch

Going on a business trip? Need to finish The Hunger Games before you watch it on the plane? Your carry-on or luggage for business travel should come with a document pouch. These are usually thin, flat and velcroed (or zippered) so they can withstand the swerving and turn en route to the terminal.

Padded Pouch for Electronics

Similar to the reading pouch, bags should also have a zippered compartment for devices. No more sprawling power cords or USB cables on top of your rompers. The pouches are padded so that the electronics don’t get damaged while the bag gets jostled.

Travel Umbrella Pouch or Clip

Traveling to the rainforest? Super paranoid about monsoon season? Look out for enhancements in today’s carry-on luggage that allow for travel umbrella storage.

Inbuilt Charger/Battery

Recent carry-on models come with a small, rechargeable battery & a USB port. Long layover? Whether it’s 15 hours or minutes, you’ll be able to charge your phone. Be wary of these – there can be issues with the TSA and terminal access; be absolutely sure you’ll need this before you buy a carry-on with this feature.

Hidden Compartments

A proper location for cash and passports. They’re also useful for keeping confidential documents.

Air Vents

These are small holes or mesh panels with hardened edges that allow the bag to breathe. If you’re on a long flight with multiple outfits, this feature is a must (unless you want your clothes to smell like you’ve marinated them in a swamp).

The Challenges of Carry-On Luggage

Here’s how carry-on luggage downright solves many of the key challenges that travelers face nowadays.


Weight and Size

Today’s airlines want you to travel heavy because bulky baggage fattens their wallets. For those that are able to charter a private jet, you don’t have to worry about this!

Even if we travel light, the bag itself could be heavy. Sadly, many bags are marketed as “lightweight” while the product itself is brick-heavy. You will have to ensure that you find a bag that is actually lightweight and has a compact design.

An ideal carry-on bag should weigh less than ten pounds. They’re soft and designed specifically to fit into airplanes’ overhead compartments. If you travel with items that can be damaged easily or fragile, then you opt for carry-on bags with a bold exterior that can withstand bumps and drops.


Once you acquire the perfect bag, how do you move it? Backpacks seem like an easy option, but using one as your go-to option for frequent travel may only be a good thing for your chiropractor’s income statement.

The best carry-on bags that have wheels. More specifically, opt for carry-on bags with four wheels vs. “trolley” style bags that have only two. The wheels on carry-on bags can rotate three hundred and sixty degrees which ensures that the bag doesn’t tip over every time you turn around. Plus, carry-ons with four wheels will end up being easier on your wrists, which you can use for selfies.

Durability and Construction

The design of your specimen will determine its longevity. An ideal bag has a superior quality of fabric and frame. Find a bag that comes with one inner frame and fiberglass that offers elevated strength – these qualities will guarantee the protection of your belongings and the shelf life of your unit.

Waterproofing is another important feature that ensures protection. The latest models of carry-on bags come with a hard and waterproof exterior – keep an eye out of this.

Stand-Out Style

Your bag is a representation of you. People will draw conclusions about you based on your bag. Whether that’s right or wrong is a different story – much like your style, haircut and shoes, the design and look of your traveling bag should (and will) say something about your personality. There are a few bags on the market that come off as sleek and modern while maintaining professionalism.

Brands & Warranties

We’ll keep this one quick – check the warranty on your unit. Many brands offer “lifetime” warranties – this will be important if your bag cracks or malfunctions.

The Ultimate Verdict on Carry-on Luggage

The carry-on bag is the no-brainer must-have for a broad spectrum of travelers: casual, frequent, personal and business. They’re diverse – they have multiple features and you’ll need to decide which enhancements are important to you. Above all else, carry-on luggage should be simple. Prioritize units that include compartments for various aspects of your trip (electronics, laundry, grooming, shoes, etc.) – stay organized, stay sane.

If you opt for “smart” features, make sure you actually need them. Batteries and USB ports make bags look more attractive but come at an equally handsome price and may cause issues at the security gate if you’re flying. Use this guide to understand which features embrace and enable your travel style. Ultimately, have fun – your luggage should represent you, unequivocally. Keep it simple, make it essential.