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Whether you’re heading on a business trip or on vacation, you already know to pack a reliable bag. But the costs of checking in a bag just don’t seem worth it these days. To save money, headaches and to maximize your time — and your ticket — it’s time to swap your checked bag for a carry-on.
The latest TSA regulations classify a carry-on bag as anything under 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (note: the dimensions include handles and wheels). As the term suggests, carry-on bags are bags that you can physically carry onboard the plane, rather than checking into the cargo hold. These “bags” can include everything from duffel bags to large backpacks to suitcases that fall under the TSA-approved dimensions. Most carry-on bags are stored in the overhead compartments of the plane cabin, though we’ve found an option that could fit under the seat too.
The best carry-on bags should get you enough space for a weekend’s worth of stuff – think clothing, toiletries and accessories. Look for bags with multiple pockets, for easy organization and to keep your valuables separate from your everyday items (and from prying hands). Some new carry-on bags come with built-in dividers or sleeves for your tech too, letting you slide in a laptop or tablet in one pocket and stash your chargers and wires in another. This eliminates the need for a separate bag or computer case, thus streamlining your baggage.
When searching for a carry-on bag, consider where you’ll be going, what you’re packing, and how much stuff you’re packing. You’ll also want to decide between a duffel bag versus a suitcase. Duffel bags are easy to pack and convenient to carry, with flexible materials that can stretch a bit to fit all your stuff. They’ll also be more lightweight than a suitcase. Trekking through a rural area or rugged terrain? Duffel bags can be slung over the shoulder and kept off the ground. If your duffel gets dirty though, you’ll typically have to hand wash to get any stains out.
If you’re traveling to a city, it’s worth buying a wheeled suitcase (or “spinner” suitcase). The best carry-on suitcases have four, 360-degree wheels, that let you push, pull or “spin” your bag through the streets easily and smoothly. A suitcase will eliminate stress on your arms or shoulders too, as you don’t have to physically pick up the bag unless you’re loading or unloading. There are a ton of benefits to using a suitcase as well: the hard exterior does a better job of protecting the contents inside, while interior dividers keep your shoes and laundry separate from your clothing and accessories. You can also wipe down a suitcase quickly whenever it gets dirty. The newest carry-on suitcases can be expanded as well to add a few extra inches of space. Keep in mind though that the hard shell of a suitcase won’t have as much give as say, a canvas bag.
These days, there are a number of affordable carry-on bags that deliver a ton of value when it comes to storage capacity, versatility and plain good looks. Here’s what to get.
1. AmazonBasics Hardside Carry-On Spinner Luggage
Carry-on bags used to be limited to dorm room duffel bags and casual weekenders, but a number of companies are making sleek hard-sided suitcases that you can carry on the plane these days too. For quality and value, you can’t beat this 21-inch spinner suitcase from AmazonBasics.
What we like: It’s made from an extra-thick and durable ABS material that holds up to accidental bumps without cracking or collapsing. The protective outer shell also has a scratch-resistant finish.
Inside, find a fully-lined interior with a divider and three zippered pockets for easy organization.
2. Toupons Canvas Overnight Weekend Bag
If you want a traditional carry-on bag, you’ll want to consider this handsome duffel from Toupons. It’s made from a 16 oz. canvas that’s thick and durable while still being lightweight.
But why you’ll really want to pick up this bag (no pun intended) is because of all the storage and carrying options it provides. The bag has nine different pockets, including a main zipper pocket that can fit up to a 15-inch laptop, plus a ton of other zipped pockets for things like your chargers, tablets, socks, accessories and more.
Carry the bag using its top handle or over the shoulder with the included adjustable shoulder strap (the strap is removable too).
What we like: the bag’s expandable design — unzip the side pockets to add a few extra inches of space, accordian-style.
The bag measures 20.8” (L) x 11.8” (H) x 9.8” (W).
3. Foldable Travel Duffel
This versatile duffel measures 18″ x 13″ x 6.3,” which makes it small enough to even tuck under your seat (no more fighting for overhead space). Made from a durable and water-resistant nylon material, the bag is super lightweight, weighing just 11.6 oz.
It has one large main compartment and an exterior pocket, great for quick access to things like your wallet, chargers, ID and more. The exterior pocket doubles as a storage pouch for the bag; when you’re not using the bag, just fold it down into the pouch and pack it away easily.
What we like: the reinforced straps can bear up to 30 pounds of weight. The bag also comes with an adjustable and removable shoulder strap.
Unlike other bags, which require closet space for storage, this bag folds down into a flat pouch.