Carry-on luggage is such an important investment, but with so many choices, how do you narrow it down?

We know that choosing the best carry-on luggage can definitely be a chore, so we’ve done it for you!

Leave That Checked Bag at Home!

Many families make the mistake of assuming that they can’t get out the door for any trip without checking three bags, a stroller, a playpen, and a backpack for everyone. When we started travelling, we made the mistake of over-packing as well.

The reality is much different! Learn to be more efficient, and you’ll be rewarded.

Carry-On Luggage
These two know that checking bags is a bummer!

Being organized and having a few really great pieces of carry-on luggage can make all the difference. Many hotels will provide baby gear if you ask, making it possible for you to travel without having to pack everything.

While it isn’t always possible, avoiding checked luggage saves time, relieves stress at the airport, and allows you to avoid expensive baggage fees. We love it when we don’t have to check a bag!

We’ve broken down several great choices of carry-on luggage in the table below. All vary in price, weight, and size slightly, but all of them will have your family travelling better in no time.

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Carry-On Luggage Comparison – All Great Choices

What to Look For When Shopping for Carry-On Luggage


Carry-on luggage is not standard by any means. Airlines also have their own requirements when it comes to the luggage they will allow in the overhead bins on their planes. Generally, international carriers are more strict on their size requirements than U.S. airlines. If you intend to fly internationally, make sure that you favor the smaller 19 and 20 inch models over the 21 and 22 inch ones.

These requirements can change at any time, so it’s always best that you check with the airline that you’re flying with to verify before you fly.

Can the Kids Manage It?

One of the expectations that we set for the kids is that they manage their own luggage. We do this because we want them to be responsible travelers. We’re all in this together, so everyone needs to pull his or her weight – literally. Of course, this isn’t possible with younger kids and babies, but as they get older it’s a tremendous help. When we’re in a new or foreign place, we don’t want to be hassling with the kids’ luggage while we’re trying to navigate the metro or read street signs. We make sure that the luggage works well for them too, which means lots of pockets for their stuff, and smooth-rolling wheels.

Great Carry-On Luggage
Good carry-on luggage makes a huge difference when travelling.

Is it Durable?

Everyone wants their money to go far – that’s obvious. It’s even more true when you’re making a large purchase like luggage. It has to last. The best way we’ve found to vet this out is to read reviews on places like Amazon, but also the travel forums. Many places like FlyerTalk have very active forums where travelers ask about the best types of luggage. They’re a great resource.

Hard-Sided or Soft?

Honestly, this could go both ways. I travel with a Red Oxx bag that is soft with no wheels and no frame. I love it because it’s  able to squish into small bins even if I’ve over-packed a little bit. I can pack a week’s worth of clothes in it and be fine. It also looks deceptively small and keeps eagle-eyed gate agents from trying to gate-check it on full flights. It’s actually the same as any other – 22″ x 14″.

Some travelers prefer hard-sided luggage because it offers more protection, and the rigid design makes it easier to maneuver. The internal frame and handle will take up volume in your bag meaning less room for your clothes and gear. This will be a determination that you’ll have to make on your own, but even today’s poly-carbonate will flex a bit, so it’s not a deal-breaker either way.

Are Wheels Important to You, and How Many?

Carry-on luggage in London
Have luggage – will travel.

Wheeled carry-on luggage comes in two different varieties – two-wheeled and four. The models with four wheels – or spinners – are able to stand upright on all four wheels and are extremely maneuverable. Drawbacks to this design are that the smaller wheels can be more fragile than other types, and your bag can roll away from you if you leave it on a slope or hill. Also keep in mind that the wheels will add a bit of overall length to the bag which could make it more difficult to fit into small places.

Metal Frames and Handles Add Weight!

I personally love my bag because it’s all canvas and that’s about it – no extra aluminum or wheels to add bulk or weight. While this is great for me, it’s not the best for kids or folks who don’t want a heavy bag hanging off their shoulder.

As you’re deliberating over carry-on bags, weight matters. That’s why I’ve included this stat in the table. Even though aluminum doesn’t weigh much, weight is weight. The less, the better.


I’ve put this one last for a reason. I think that it’s really important to consider what you need, and buy the best that you can afford. If that means planning ahead and saving for a few months, then I think that’s smart. If you are a serious backpacker and were going to carry your entire life on your back for days or weeks, you would want something that’s going to be comfortable, durable, and last a long time. Other types of luggage are no different. Most times, you get what you pay for, so don’t skimp.

Pin this for later!Carry-on luggage is such an important decision, but with so many choices, how do you narrow it down? Well, we've done it for you!

Best Carry-On Luggage Reviews

eBags TLS Mother Lode Mini 21″ Wheeled Duffel

This is the bag our kids use and we all love it! First of all, it’s a great size. It’s skinny enough to fit into all the overhead bins we’ve ever encountered, but it also expands to accommodate the extra souvenir or two when we come home from vacation.

Secondly, the wheels on these bags are easy to roll. They are more like wheels you would find on inline skates than cheap plastic wheels on some other luggage. They don’t get caught up, and the rubber makes them easy on any terrain.

The interior of these bags is nice and bright with lots of compartments to pack and separate items. When paired with a set of eBags packing cubes and the eBags Professional Slim Junior Laptop Backpack (that fits right over the handle), it’s an elegant and unbeatable luggage solution that every travelling family should take a look at.

Briggs & Riley Baseline International Carry-On Spinner

While we don’t own this particular bag, we own it’s bigger brother, and it’s a great bag. Make no mistake – Briggs & Riley are not cheap. They are an investment. One of the the reasons is their warranty. They are one of the few luggage manufacturers left that have an unconditional warranty.

It even covers damage by the airline.

This is the peace of mind we needed when we bought ours. We’re able to just take our bag in to any dealer, and they will take it from there. See for yourself. Awesome!

We have found that BR luggage is extremely well made, easy to roll and spin, easy to pack and unpack, and is generally smart in every way.

Red Oxx Air Boss

air-bossThe Air Boss by Red Oxx is the bag I personally carry, and I can’t say enough good things about it. I love that it’s made in the U.S.A. (Montana), is guaranteed for life, and is tough as nails. It’s made of heavy-gauge nylon, has a smart design, and is purpose-built to be efficient. At 3.9 lbs., it’s super light. Dimensions are 22 x 14. It goes with me everywhere – business trips, family vacations, and camping trips.

The Air Boss is literally a carry-on bag. It has no wheels, handles, or hardware. When fully packed, it can get quite heavy, although the strap is comfortable and doesn’t slip off your shoulder. This bag was designed in conjunction with Doug Dyment of and works great with the bundle packing method.

While this bag won’t wow you with pockets, cubbies, and fleece-lined sleeves, it delivers on simplicity, and that goes a long way in my book. With kids in tow, I need all the simplicity I can get. Red Oxx really did think of everything with this one.

Don’t forget the packing cubes!

We love packing cubes and they make our trips so much easier, especially when we get spread out at the hotel. We each get our own color, and we’re sure to pack a few extras so that we have a place to put dirty clothes and keep them separate. Compare them below, and up a few for your next trip!

While not an exhaustive list, we hope we’ve given you some ideas on what to look for in a carry-on bag.

Drop us a line if you have any questions, or let us know in the comments what carry-on bag you travel with.

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