You don’t have to be a frequent flier to know that, when traveling, there are fewer things more reliable and convenient than a piece of rolling luggage. But perhaps just as universally known is that certain rolling suitcases can make you look like a bit of a dweeb when you pull (or worse, push) them along. So finding ones that actually look good never hurts. Still, one person’s go-to suitcase could be another’s nightmare — many travelers can be obsessive and particular about their luggage — and price points for these things vary drastically. So we called upon some of the most well-traveled people we know (who also happen to be smart and stylish), and asked them about their favorite rolling luggage, from hard-shell to soft-case styles in both carry-on and checked sizes.
Best hard-shell carry-on rolling luggage
Lots of our frequent travelers named Away’s Bigger Carry-On as their best bet for trips short and long. After a three-week, seven-city business trip abroad with only her Away Bigger Carry-On, Kelly Farber, founder of KF Literary Scouting says, “I am basically a walking advertisement for it. That thing just would not quit.” Clémence Polès, founder of the style recommendations site Passerbuys was won over by the Bigger Carry-On’s durability, capacity, and streamlined style. “There is a sensibility to its design,” she says, “which is something I always seek in all the things I buy.” Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill likes the bag, too. “My suitcases get beat to hell so I don’t mind paying a bit more for one that will last,” he says. “It’s sturdy but light, and has a USB charger so I can charge my phone just enough to order an Uber. Plus, inside it has a nylon bag where I can toss in my clothes after getting caught in a sudden jungle downpour, which always seems to happen.” James Feess — a.k.a. the Savvy Backpacker, who historically travels with backpacks — is a fan of the carry-on, too, and says that he’s liked it for small trips, “especially the battery pack so we can recharge our phones and iPads,” he says. Stephanie Be from TravelBreak.net and BUENA also likes Away’s “TSA-approved lock, 360-degree wheels, tough hardware, and sleek design.”
Jacinta O’Halloran, senior editor at Fodor’s Travel, told us that while she’s a fan of Away’s luggage (“the Everywhere Bag changed my life,” she says), she tested the Arlo on a whim and ended up liking it just as much, if not a bit better. “The exterior pocket makes security a breeze; it moves like a dream with silent, smooth wheels, and it packs a lot,” she says, noting that one side of the bag has a compression strap and the other side has a zip to hold shoes and other items in place. “And, honestly, it just feels more expensive than Away,” she says. “Oh, and not to be all Arlo versus Away, but it seems to be more scuff-resistant, too.” For the Love of Travel CEO and founder Tara Cappel likes the Arlo Skye carry-on, as well. “I especially love the front pocket, which gives me quick access to computers, books, or notepads,” she says. “The fact that the pocket is still hardshell means valuables are protected throughout the journey, even in rainy weather.” The aforementioned front pocket has a built-in, TSA-approved lock for keeping valuables safe, as well as a charger for your phone that can bring you up to half-charged in under half an hour. The lining is part of the appeal for Cappel, too: “Fellow germaphobes can rejoice — the lining is antimicrobial,” she says.
For writer Robin Reetz, carry-ons were a source of stress until she tried this 20-inch spinner from AmazonBasics. “I’ve never been much of a carry-on gal. Despite traveling regularly for work and play, I’ve always preferred to check a bag rather than carry it on,” she explains. “There’s something about the stress of having to bring your luggage to the bathroom when traveling alone, then stressing over finding overhead space on the plane.” While she was first drawn to this rolling suitcase for its affordable price, “the compartments and much-better-than-expected functionality are what I can’t shut up about,” she says. “It’s really perfect for a weekend or four-five day trip. I’ve traveled recently with friends who have Away and Delsey luggage and all are now thinking about getting this bag.”
“Most luggage only comes in navy, silver, and black,” says Travel + Leisure editor-in-chief Jacqui Gifford. The brighter offerings of Roam, a relatively new company that bills itself as the “first premium, customizable luggage,” appealed to Gifford, who wanted something a bit more unique. “Roam lets you customize their lightweight hard-shell pieces in bright, eye-catching colors,” she says. “I recently purchased one with an ‘Arabian Purple’ back (it’s a subtle magenta), a ‘Pacific Blue’ front (a slightly brighter, cooler navy), and a ‘Metro Grey’ zipper.” Plus, she adds, you can have your initials monogrammed on the bag for no extra charge.
If neutrals are more your speed, Laura Ratliff, the editorial director of TripSavvy, recommends something from Béis — whose luggage, she says, “is expandable up to two inches (a rarity in hard-shell bags these days). Plus, it also has a few nice features that you didn’t even know you needed, like water-resistant zipper tape — you know, for when your bag is inevitably sitting on the tarmac in the pouring rain — and a weight indicator so you can avoid frantically repacking your stuff at the gate or the check-in counter.” The bag also features a cushioned handle with silicone grip, making it particularly comfortable to drag around.
“My favorite rolling suitcase right now is the Horizn Cabin Trolley in the chic navy-blue color,” says Pauline Egge, travel journalist and photographer behind the website Petite Passport. “There’s a charger inside of the trolley so you can charge your phone while waiting at the airport. “The wheels are really smooth and there’s an extra front pocket for my laptop, iPad, magazines, and a thin book,” which she finds convenient for easy access when going through security. Egge swears by her Horizn Studios carry-on so much that she told us she’s hoping to nab the checkable size soon.
“I first heard about the EO Hard Shell Roller when I worked as an editor at a business magazine and I put it into a gift guide,” says Kurt Soller, articles editor at T Magazine. “I then bought one myself, and it quickly became my carry-on of choice. The most genius part is the polycarbonate hard shell; you tuck your laptop into its sleeve and unzip the top of the bag. It allows you to pass the laptop through TSA machines without having to separate it into a bin. (This video explains it.) The suitcase fits more than my regulation-grade Tumi, and because only one side of the InCase has any structure — the rest is made from handsome, lightweight, wooly fabric — it remains light and easy to lift into an overhead compartment. I also love that it only has two wheels (unpopular opinion, I know) because I’d much rather drag luggage in my wake rather than walk it like a dog beside me.”
“My favorite rolling travel piece is the Calpak Ambeur carry-on,” says Caroline Maguire, fashion director at Shopbop. “I love the aesthetic of this bag: clean minimal lines, Über-chic, and easy to use.” She also calls out the compartments and center dividers for how convenient they make for packing. “It’s also functional and fashionable — and a find at $165 — so you won’t feel guilty,” she adds.
“My favorite piece of rolling luggage is without question the Rimowa Classic, and it’s accompanied me on many a journey,” says Tom Marchant, co-founder of luxury travel and lifestyle brand Black Tomato. “As travel is a constant in my life, my luggage needs durability, function, and an understated design.” He loves its timeless and elegant look and the fact that it’s waterproof — “a critical factor when traveling.” It’s also lightweight and can be stored overhead. It’s durable, too: “My Rimowa has seen quite a few things around the world, including a tumble off the roof rack of a tiny car while winding down roads in Greece (miraculously intact).” He never has to worry about items he’s collected during his travels breaking, either. “As I split my time between New York and L.A., this has become a staple of my life on the go and, I do believe, a lucky talisman of the adventures to come,” he says.
“I invested in the Rimowa Salsa Air [rebranded as Essential Lite] the year that I launched Fathom with my business partner, Pavia Rosati,” says Jeralyn Gerba, co-founder and editorial director of the travel-guide website. “It’s the best travel companion. It’s insanely lightweight and sturdy with the smoothest wheels in the game.” She’s taken it with her to 30 or so countries. “Whether I’m traveling for a weekend or six weeks, it’s the only suitcase I need. As a carry-on, it has a more slender silhouette than most — meaning you won’t get any side-eye from the flight attendants.”
For something less utilitarian and a lot fancier looking, Fathom’s Gerba and Rosati recommend Steamline Luggage “for its modern elegance.” “It’s a flexible hard suitcase that looks retro but has all the technological bells and whistles,” they explain.
Best soft-shell carry-on rolling luggage
“Travel whisperer” Wendy Perrin uses an expandable soft-shell Travelpro spinner that she says is fabulous. She likes it because the top is big enough rest her backpack on, which gives her a free hand as she uses the other to push the suitcase through an airport. The suitcase’s expandable sides are key, too, especially since different airlines have different rules on what they consider carry-on size: “I pack everything in the suitcase; put your parka, shawl, and any other stuff you want to grab quickly on top — you can take those things out and wear them on your person if you need to compress it, so you don’t need to check your bag.”
“For about five years I traveled the world as a travel writer and editor,” says David Prior, CEO and co-founder of PRIOR travel club. “This bag contained my whole life then, and I still use it now when I’m traveling for business or leisure.” Prior notes that the bag is on the heavier side, but says it’s “indestructible” and wears in beautifully. “I could take an ax to it and it would endure,” he says. The explorer look is part of the appeal, too. “I respect the hard shells but my heart is with luggage that can get a beautiful patina over years of travel,” he says. “You can create a whole set in multiple colors: navy, dark green, and tan — I have navy, which I’m very into.”
When travel/wellness blogger Olivia Christine Perez isn’t backpacking, she swears by her Skyway carry-on. She’s had it for ten years and says it remains in great condition.
Tumi makes fashion personality Joe Zee’s rolling luggage of choice. “For most of my trips, I’ll use this,” he says of the Alpha 2 (which is no longer available, but the newer Alpha 3, pictured here, is). He likes how durable the brand’s luggage is in general, saying that he used his last Tumi suitcase for over ten years, traveling for shoots with reference books in tow. Now, he can look everything up on his phone, but he still needs something with room: “I find that I still need the big bag, though, for all of my personal stuff,” he says. “I travel with a lot of tech: two laptops and the iPad. And I have chargers for everything, and portable chargers in case they run out of juice on the go. The interior of the bag is really easy too: It just has a separate compartment for dirty laundry, and there are clips for a garment bag on the interior. The only thing is that it’s such a basic color. When I was buying it, I kept being like, ‘Are there any other colors?’ Unfortunately not.”
Carpet and furniture designer Madeline Weinrib’s luggage of choice is from American heritage brand T. Anthony. “I use the T. Anthony roller in both the carry-on and checked sizes,” she says. “I’m always going to Europe or Morocco or Africa, so I generally bring a lot and usually do have to check a bag. I have found that no suitcase really takes the beating of airport baggage-handling well — even the steel one — so I appreciate that, with my T. Anthony, if the wheel falls off or the zipper breaks, the company will repair it for free.” Plus, it looks great: “My attachment to the brand is also really aesthetic. They’re elegant and chic, especially the black-with-tan-trim versions I own. The contrast makes them easy to spot on the carousel, too. My mother introduced me to the brand, so I like the tradition and history, too.”
Best hard-shell checked rolling luggage
When it comes to larger rolling luggage, Ramos is also loyal to Samsonite’s large hard-shell suitcase (which she says is basically a larger version of her Ricardo Beverly Hills carry-on). “My all-time favorite that has been the most loyal, both because it refuses to break itself or my back and arms,” she says. “The hard shell is essential because of the amount of trauma my suitcases go through, and also because it protects the random artifacts I collect.” It also lets her squeeze in all the stuff she tends to overpack, and — importantly for her — doubles as a seat. She’s also partial to Samsonite’s smaller Novaire 20-inch spinner “specifically for my camera equipment and my purse. As a frequent traveler, carrying camera equipment and a heavy purse is extremely straining on my neck, back, and arms, so I just put it all in the carry-on and roll it.”
The 85-liter capacity Rimowa Essential Check-in L suitcase is the go-to luggage for Etty Liu and Chris Schalkx of travel website Rice/Potato. “They’ve seen crowded metro stations in Tokyo and have been dragged across sandy beaches in Lamu, and they never let us down,” says Schalkx. It’s definitely pricey, but worth the investment, he adds. “Years after the initial purchase, we often tell each other that this has been one of our best travel investments we’ve made. The polycarbonate makes them lightweight and durable. And the wheels roll as smooth as a knife through butter, [no matter] the terrain they’re on. On top of that, the locks add an extra level of safety, and it’s great to know we can just hop into one of the Rimowa boutiques for assistance if anything happens with them.”
Here’s another recommendation for Rimowa’s rolling luggage, this time from Eugenia Gonzalez de Henn, a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler. “My absolute favorite bag is the Rimowa aluminum Topas [now known as Original]. I discovered the brand three years ago through my husband, a perfectionist German architect who swears by their design and practicality. I’ve been a convert ever since,” she says. “I actually don’t own my own yet; I just steal his every time I can. I love how light they are, how when they open the weight is evenly divided down the middle, and these very handy blue dividers that hold your clothing down so nothing moves, wrinkles, or unfolds when you open and close your bag. You can tighten and loosen them, so everything stays in its place. The bag also rolls so smoothly, it feels like it can walk on its own. I love the built-in lock system for security too, so you don’t need to worry about losing the key.”
“I travel pretty much monthly between the East Coast and L.A., Austin, and Seattle, or internationally to London and Paris,” says Damien Nunes, global director of men’s trend and concept at Gap. “This bag has to be checked, which is fine with me because it’s super weather-resistant, has smooth, strong wheels, and a great handle. What I love is that it’s just a huge volume of space, without lots of useless pockets and compartments. What’s also great is that it has a zipped bottom lining that I can shove stinky, dirty clothes under during a trip.”
Professional traveling couple Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger — the duo behind the blog How Far From Home — love their Big Bastard 90-liter capacity rolling luggage from Douchebag. With one large main compartment that’s lined with mesh pockets, it’s easy to pack in whatever method you prefer. “We don’t personally use packing cubes, but we do roll everything up so that it’s easy to spot an item and just pull it out and replace it with another rolled item (it’s like a real-life game of Tetris),” they told us. “We’ll place bottoms (shorts, jeans, pants, skirts) on the one side, and tops on the other, with miscellaneous items scattered on the sides.”
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