Travel season is here, so you better have your holiday packing down to a fine art! Whether you're hitting the beach or indulging in a fancy city break, a carry-on bag is one of the most essential items you'll need for a vacation.
Ideally, you want a durable, lightweight bag with enough room to fit all your travel essentials and a capsule wardrobe for looking stylish on the road.
Best Carry-Ons for Overseas Travel
Frustratingly, different airlines have different policies regarding hand luggage sizes – Ryanair’s free allowance is 22 in x 16 in x 8 in, while EasyJet's is 17.7 in x 14.2 in x 7.9 in. This can make finding a suitable carry-on for air travel challenging.
Some airlines, like British Airways and KLM, will allow you to bring one carry-on bag and “one personal item” on board. A personal item is typically considered a handbag, laptop bag, small backpack, or camera case.
Personal items should always be small enough to fit underneath the seat in front of you.
Airline Baggage Policies
Carry-on bags, sometimes known as hand luggage or cabin baggage, are luggage items taken into the plane's cabin. They are not checked in before your flight and are usually stored in the overhead storage compartment above your seat.
Individual airlines tend to have strict policies about the height or weight of carry-on baggage, so you'll need to carefully check the airlines' size and weight rules.
Keeping up to date with your airline's current baggage restrictions is also vital to avoid surprise charges at the gate if your bag is too big or heavy.
How To Avoid Airline Baggage Charges
After last summer's lost luggage fiasco at Heathrow airport – which saw bags piling up at Heathrow's baggage claim after a technical glitch – traveling with just a carry-on seems the smart thing to do this year.
“The best tip for those looking to travel hand luggage only is to embrace the freedom of traveling light and save yourself money on baggage fees,” says Creative Director of Cabin Max, Sean Gresty.
Speaking on the Travel Goals Podcast, Gresty explains the benefits of traveling light.
“Look at a smaller luggage allowance as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. Traveling lighter can be incredibly freeing and much less stressful than carting a large suitcase all over the globe.”
Best Carry-Ons for Vacation
What are the best carry-ons to take abroad? What features and specs should you look out for? We've compiled a list of the best carry-on bags, from bargain to bougie, to help you travel smarter.
Memphis 30L Backpack (Cabin Max)
- Best for: Clothes compression and tech pockets
Carefully designed to comply with the new ‘free' under-seat carry-on rules of airlines like EasyJet and Wizz Air, the Memphis is super stylish and saves you money by avoiding carry-on charges.
Compact yet surprisingly roomy, this swish backpack has a large internal capacity with a built-in packing compression zone system for smartly squashing clothes down without getting too many wrinkles.
Packing pros will love the selection of pockets for storing tech, travel essentials, water bottles, and chargers. There's even a discrete rear ‘secret' pocket to stash passports and documents to reduce travel stress safely. It can feel a little bulky initially, but luckily comfortable straps allow for easy movement when racing around the airport.
The Carry On (The Portable Porter)
- Best for: Style
Coming in various colors, these retro carry-ons are a fun choice for adventure seekers who are happy to travel light and breezy. Opt for the mustard yellow if you want recognizable luggage in the arrival hall.
This bold case features a Makrolon exterior shell and Hinimoto 360 spinner wheels for effortless movement. It also has some notable eco-credentials, including an interior lined with 15 recycled plastic bottles.
You'll find a few unique features on the exterior – a compression mat with straps on one side and a zippered compartment on the other. Extra thoughtful touches like a leather luggage tag and a water-resistant laundry bag make this case stand out among the competition.
Gomatic Travel Pack 20L (Gomatic)
- Best for: Durability
This sturdy, showerproof backpack is made from long-lasting, face-coated nylon and polyester and is perfect for the adventurous explorer. It's expertly designed to carry clothes and tech neatly and is cabin-friendly for most Airlines, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Easy Jet, and Jet2.
The functional design includes a 50% expander to carry more on your weekend break, which is handy if you tend to overpack.
Multiple compartments and hidden pockets are strategically placed throughout the bag, allowing for easy organization of your travel essentials. The magnetic water bottle holder is a particularly nifty feature. Straps are thick and adjustable but could do with a tad more padding for comfort while traveling around.
Narwey Duffel Bag (Narwey)
- Best for: Budget Travelers
Budget travelers will love this low-price, compact travel duffel, which fits snugly under airline seats. The Narwey bag went viral on TikTok as a recent video that racked up 6 million views demonstrated how it fits perfectly into the Ryanair bag sizer and avoids bag charges.
These budget bags have surprisingly thick lining and durable zips and come in a range of greys and soft pastels. A full-length inner zip pocket and two mesh pockets provide separate storage space to keep you organized in the airport and on the road.
Briggs & Riley Carry-on Expandable Spinner (Briggs & Riley)
- Best for: Weekend city breaks
One of the main sells of the incredibly sleek Briggs & Riley Carry-on is the lifetime guarantee that ensures any damage to your case is fixed – perfect if you're a travel klutz. With innovative CX™ compression-expansion technology that minimizes wrinkles and keeps clothing flat, this luxurious case is perfect for a swanky weekend city break or a swift business trip traveling with a carry-on.
Double-spinner wheels and an ergonomic telescoping handle make traveling long distances and narrow spaces effortless as you glide around the city looking fabulous. Be warned; the outer shell scuffs easily, so you must carry it carefully to keep your posh bag looking pristine.
Safety-wise, the built-in TSA-friendly combination lock also secures your bag's contents and allows agents safely access your bag, with no more cut cable locks and tears in arrivals!
Antler Clifton Cabin With Pocket (Antler)
- Best for: Work trips
Pack smarter for your work trips with this chic and practical carry-on from the British brand Antler. Innovative design features include a twist-grip handle, double TSA-combination lock, and double-spinner wheels. Antler's generous 10-year warranty offers peace of mind for frequent travelers who require a stylish case that lasts.
Inside you'll find an organized interior with a D-zip pocket and handy mesh pockets to keep valuables and essentials neatly stowed away. Despite its small dimensions, you can fit quite a bit inside and even more in the exterior pocket. Perfect if you need a selection of outfits!
The interior works best for neatly folded clothes rather than bulky items, so wear any thick sweaters or boots to the airports. Working on the road? The spacious and lockable front pocket is where you can store a 15.6-inch laptop, tablet, and passport to keep them secure and within easy reach for security.
Manhattan 20L Backpack (Cabin Max)
- Best for: Short trips
Are you traveling on a basic airfare ticket? Cabin Max's compact carry-on can help you beat carry-on charges and can be used as a personal item on most budget European airlines.
The Manhattan 20L is a no fills backpack for lightweight travelers who need the essentials on a short break. Featuring a squishy UV-coated Twill, you can store it under an airline seat, and it's also ‘Flight Approved’ to avoid extra baggage charges on Ryanair.
Despite its small size, you can use packing cubes to fit a decent amount of clothes inside the main compartment. Other handy features include a padded rear device pocket, lockable zips & front quick-stash ticket pocket.
Farino The Getaway (Farino)
- Best for: International trips
As seen on BBC's investment show, Dragon's Den, this stylish bag impressed the hard-to-please dragons, who proclaimed it “brilliant” and “a great product.” Made by British-based company Farino, it's built from weatherproof neoprene and features four 360° rollerblade spinner wheels – engineered to take the weight of a human.
Suitable as a carry-on on most international airlines, the Getaway has a large interior compartment for making the most out of your luggage allowance. It also features a secure laptop pocket, outside pockets, and a TSA-approved combination lock to keep your valuables safe.
Organization-wise, it could be better, but the sheer volume of clothes it can carry more than makes up for that.
The Travel Hack Hybrid (Cabin Max)
- Best for: Switching from backpack to rolling bag
The Travel Hack Hybrid has been designed with frequent travelers in mind and features many handy features for pro packers. Suitable for most major airlines, it's perfectly sized to avoid EasyJet's new hand luggage charges for carry-on bags – so you can save money on travel! It's a stylish black bag with rose gold zips that switches effortlessly between a rolling bag and backpack for a seamless travel experience.
Despite its compact appearance, the hybrid has an impressive 30-litre capacity and a suitcase-style opening for easy packing. The main compartment is where you can fit a selection of outfits and also utilize the netted pockets to organize your essentials.
ANTA Travel Bag (ANTA)
- Best for: Casual weekend breaks
With sustainable Scottish design, this hip ANTA travel bag is made from two-ply British wool woven in Scotland – making it long-lasting and practical. ANTA creates a range of carpet bags, textiles, and furnishings inspired by the Scottish landscape and seasons using ethical production methods in the Scottish Highlands.
The ANTA travel bag is perfect for the more casual packer. It includes a sturdy zip, ensuring the contents stay secure, and a large inside pocket for essential travel items requiring easy access. The main sell here is that the Anta can be squished to fit under the airline seat in front of you, meaning you won't have to pay expensive bag fees. More money for poolside cocktails!