We’re all a bit rusty as far as jet-setting goes. But there’s one thing we know you’ll almost always need for a trip — a reliable piece of rolling luggage. Still, one person’s go-to suitcase could be another’s nightmare. 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-side styles in both carry-on and checked sizes.
Best hard-shell carry-on rolling luggage
Away’s Bigger Carry-On is a favorite among our frequent travelers — four of them name-checked it as their best bet for trips both 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.”
This pick comes courtesy of two sources: travel writers Nneya Richards and Leila Najafi. This slightly smaller version of the above Away suitcase fits in almost all overhead compartments, while the “Bigger” is meant to fit in most, according to the brand. Otherwise, the two are almost identical. Richards was decidedly a soft-shell luggage person for years. Once she felt airlines were starting to nickel and dime over weight, Richards decided she needed something much more sturdy — but still fashionable and light. She was lured to this Away Carry-On by its USB charger (like Najafi) and that it fits on a “small island-hopper overheads or inter-European airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair.”
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.
This is another larger-than-usual carry-on luggage that is still designed to fit in the overhead compartments of most airlines. “It looks modern, stylish, and minimal,” says travel blogger Jessica Ufuomo. “At the airport, it’s normal to dress down but this luggage makes it look like you’re making an effort and elevates every look.” She likes that the details (like the handle and luggage tag) are all in vegan leather, and that it comes with a laundry bag, two shoe bags, and built-in TSA approved lock. She has it in the olive green color, and while the look of the bag drew her to it she’s also happy with the way it operates, especially how much it can hold. You might think a carry-on will only suffice for weekend trips, but Ufuoma says it’s great for a week-long stay. “I was able to fit in eight dresses, three tops, and some shoes, as well as some of my jewelry and skin care,” she adds. It’s also durable. This was one of the bags she took on a two-week trip to India and says “it did really well with very few scuffs.” Even if your luggage experiences more wear and tear Monos will take care of it. If you’re not happy with it in the first 100 days you can return it and after the 100 days if any part breaks they will repair or replace it.
For writer Robin Reetz, carry-ons were a source of stress until she tried this 20-inch spinner from Amazon Basics. “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.
“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 functional and fashionable,” she says.
“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. Rimowa’s cabin luggage line is a favorite of Jaclyn Sienna India, the founder of luxury lifestyle service Sienna Charles, who says the brand’s cabin suitcases are ideal for short business trips, since they fit easily in a plane’s overhead compartment.
“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.
[Editor’s note: This suitcase is currently only available for preorder, with delivery expected in two to three weeks.]
Christine Wang, the founder of TheSkiGirl, is generally a fan of soft-side luggage. But she tried this carry-on after falling for July’s weekender bag — and because her old suitcase was badly beaten up. It has a solid construction that seems built to last yet offers a lightweight design (especially for being hard-shell) that she appreciates. This suitcase has a built-in battery that’s ejectable and a snap-on laptop sleeve to make going through TSA much easier.
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 to 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.” Our own Louis Cheslaw, who joined us from Condé Nast Traveler, is also a self-proclaimed “Travelpro evangelist.” He, too, likes that the soft-shell provides “a little more room for stuffing,” and finds that the ergonomic leather handles make it easy to carry, and the ultra-sturdy wheels make it easy to roll. It’s not the most stylish piece of luggage on this list but, that’s also something Cheslaw admires: “I love that it isn’t trying to be fashionable — good suitcases are expensive, and you want one that you can always use no matter what the trends are.”