What to Look For in a Travel Bag

There are many styles of suitcases on the market. It can be difficult to know which one will work for your travel style and typical destinations. I’ve tried so many different suitcases over the years! I still try new ones if a feature catches my eye, even though I have finally found my perfect travel bag (read to the end to find out what that is…). In this post, I’ll go through the most common bag options for travelers, plus a few unusual choices. Learn the pros and cons of each style and some key features to look for when making your choice.

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To Carry-On Or Not to Carry-On

That is the question! Most airlines charge for checked bags nowadays. You can save yourself some money by packing only what will fit in a carry-on size suitcase. (I’m an expert at this! Check out this post for all my tips.) 

Standard carry-on maximum size is 9 in x 14 in x 22 in (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels.

It’s becoming more common for airlines to also put weight restrictions on carry-on luggage. This can be as low as 10 kg (22 lbs).

If you can limit your stuff to fit within these restrictions, carry-on is for you and you should look for a lightweight bag under the max size. Or even go small enough to fit under the seat in front of you so you never have to worry about overhead bin space! If you’re not a minimalist packer, you will need to check a bag. In that case, you don’t need to worry about size or weight except to be sure you can handle moving it!

Some of my favorite carry-on friendly bags include:

Amazon Basics Underseat Luggage

13.3 x 9.4 x 14.1 inches, 4.7 pounds

Designed to fit either in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you on a plane.

TravelPro Max Lite Underseat Bag

17.5×14.5×8.5 inches, 5.5 pounds

Slightly bigger, this still fits under the seat in front of you on flights.

Removable water-resistant pocket & padded laptop/tablet pocket.

For larger checked bags, check out this monster:

Perry Ellis Extra-Large Rolling Duffle

35 x 17.75 x 17 inches, 8 pounds

Duffle style with handles & wheels.

Classic Rolling Bags v. Spinners

For most travel, I would recommend a suitcase that rolls. This just makes it so much easier to lug around with you. It literally takes the weight off your shoulders! There are two main styles of rolling bags: your classic two-wheeler and the four-wheel “spinner” style.

Standard two-wheel rolling bag (left) vs. four-wheel spinner bag (right).

With the classic two-wheelers, you tip your bag to one side and drag it behind you. Spinner bags have a wheel in each corner and so roll along smoothly beside you. This is great for flat surfaces, such as airport floors. It’s not so great, however, if there are any bumps in the road… The classic style is so much easier to handle over rough terrains, such as dirt roads and cobblestones. If your destination is likely to have these obstacles, be sure the wheels on your bag are nice and sturdy, too.

Here are some great classic rolling bags:

TravelPro Lightweight Expandable Rollaboard Luggage

Comes in 21-inch to carry-on or 26-inch to check; 5.4 pounds

Water-repellant, expandable.

U.S. Traveler Rio Carry-on Lightweight Expandable Rolling Luggage Suitcase Set

21 x 13.5 x 7.5 inches, 6.6 pounds

Expandable, comes with 14 x 10 x 6-inch matching travel tote.

I like these spinner options:

Amazon Basics Hardside Spinner

Comes in 21, 26, or 30-inch heights; 7.34, 9.37, 11.77 pounds, respectively

3 zippered pockets, expandable.

American Tourister 4 Kix Rolling Tote

23, 27.4, 34-inch heights available, including wheels; 7.1, 7.9, 9.5 pounds, respectively

360* rolling, 10-year limited warranty.

The Goldilocks Conundrum: Hard, Soft, or In-Between?

Suitcases come not only in all kinds of shapes and sizes but in all kinds of fabrics and materials as well. You can get a hard case that never changes shape and may help prevent delicate items from being squished in transit. These often provide a bit of waterproofing/weather protection as well, but cannot be pressed down or manipulated to fit them into an overhead bin or tight space in your car.

Hard-case (left), In-Between (middle), Soft-side (right)

Soft bags, on the other hand, are totally flexible and will conform to their contents and the space they are stored. They are also more likely to be lighter weight but don’t provide the rigid protection of hard case bags. In between, you will find many suitcases with softer fabric sides but some sort of plastic structure to help them keep their shape. This helps them remain somewhat flexible and not super heavy while also providing some rigid protection.

With hard bags, you can find more fun prints and designs like this:

Betsy Johnson Designer Expandable Hardside Luggage

21.8 X 14 X 9 inches, 5.8 pounds

Many pattern options!

Great for kids, too!

American Tourister Disney Kids Hardside Upright Luggage

19. 48 X 13. 18 X 7. 87 inches, 4.5 pounds

Designs for Disney lovers of all genders and ages 🙂

Here are a couple of lightweight, soft fabric options I love:

Bago Duffel

60-liter capacity, 1.3 pounds

Foldable, packable, water-resistant, separate shoe compartment.

Hanke Expandable Suitcase

17.72 x 10.24 x 4.7 to 31.49 inches, 5.38 pounds

Fold this bag completely flat, or open 1, 2, or 3 zippers for various sizes!

Wheels, handles, & shoulder strap.

For the best of both worlds, opt for an in-between style like this:

Amazon Basics Heathered Belltown Softside Spinner

21, 25, or 30 inches high; 5.73, 6.88, or 7.91 pounds, respectively

Shouldering On: Backpacks & Duffels

If you’re not too concerned about being about to roll your suitcase, a backpack or duffle might be more your style. These usually forget about the handle and wheels that add weight and take up space. Plus, they are often flexible fabric to fit wherever you carry or store them. They’re also great for destinations and activities where wheeling a suitcase around is not convenient, like hiking, camping, rural destinations, and hilly or cobblestoned cities.

Backpacks spread the weight out between your shoulders. If you’ll be carrying it for any length of time, look for one with a waist strap and upper chest strap to help take a lot of the burden off your shoulders. Duffels can have handles and/or a long single-shoulder strap for multiple carrying options. I would recommend making sure at least an optional shoulder strap is included for ease of carrying and when you need your hands free.

These backpacks are lightweight and have all the bells and whistles for comfort:

Loowoko 50L Backpack

25.6 x 13.8 x 9.8 inches, 2.6 pounds

Padded waist strap, rain cover included.

Osprey Fairview

40, 55, or 70-liter capacity

Waist & chest straps, laptop/tablet pocket, detachable daypack.

Try one of these duffels:

Bago Duffel

60-liter capacity, 1.3 pounds

Foldable, packable, water-resistant, separate shoe compartment.

Bago 100L Rolling Duffel

12x17x29 inches, 2 pounds

Waterproof, shoe compartment, foldable.

Wheels, handles, shoulder strap.

The Other Type of Rolling Bag

I’ve already covered what most people think of when they hear “rolling bag” (see above), but there is another kind of rolling bag: the kind you literally roll up! Usually with a shoulder strap for carrying, these can take the form of garment bags or multi-pocket hanging bags. Garment bags are great to help prevent wrinkles. Both types can easily be “unpacked” by simply unrolling them and hanging them in a closet. You can also use them to organize within your larger suitcase.

Here’s a classic garment bag:

Simplehouswear Heavy Duty Garment Bag

26 x 60 x 5 inches, less than 1 pound

Clear window to see contents.

Get a bit fancier with a rolling garment bag:

London Fog Buckingham Wheeled Garment Bag

23 x 4 x 22 (closed)/ 44 (open) inches, 10 pounds

Multiple interior pockets (including shoe pocket!), metal bracket to secure hangers.

Or check out this cool convertible option:

Modoker Garment Duffel

Garment Bag Dimension: 37.5”L x 20.8”W, 45L; Duffel Bag Dimension: 22.8”L x 11”W x 11.8”H; 2.5 pounds

Water-resistant, detachable shoulder strap.

Another style of “roll” bag has multiple organizational pockets:

Rolo Adventures Portable Roll-Up Travel Bag

17 x 6 x 2, 1 pound

Waterproof, detachable shoulder strap.

Odd Ducks 

I’ve already gone through the more standard styles of suitcases above, but I also want to mention some more unusual bags that might just be perfect for certain travelers.

Take your standard rolling suitcase on wheels and let it carry you as well your stuff! Scooter suitcases come with fold-down stomp pads to stand on and kick your way easily to your destination. Or take all the work out of it and get a battery-powered one you can sit on!

If you don’t need to move around a lot, an old-school trunk can be a glamorous, nostalgic choice. They have plenty of space, come with or without wheels, and can double as storage at home, coffee tables, seats, and mini-closets!

For a backpack with functions you never thought of, try the Scrubba Stealth Pack. It’s a waterproof dry-bag backpack with a flexible interior washboard to easily do laundry on the road. Or for campers, fill it with warm water, hang it up high, and open the valve for an easy camping shower!


Throughout all of these bag styles, there are some key features to keep in mind. 


Is there a dedicated place for your laptop, small electronics, pens, etc? Are there lots of little pockets to organize clothes and gear? Are these organization solutions actually functional and easy to get to when you need your stuff?


If you are going to be outside a lot or headed for a water-focused destination, some level of waterproofing is a good idea. This can take several forms. Any hard case rolling bag is probably pretty waterproof and some soft case material can be at least water-resistant. For absolute waterproofing, a dry bag will do the job. Or pack in zip lock bags for a cheaper solution 🙂

100% Waterproof Dry Bag Duffel – Check Current Price on Amazon

Detachable Daypack

This is one of my all-time favorite bag features. My go-to travel bag is a carry-on size rolling suitcase with a detachable day pack. You can zip them together into one larger bag to roll through the airport with nothing on your shoulders. Then remove the daypack to explore your destination while leaving the actual suitcase part at your accommodation.

This is my overall favorite travel bag ever:

Hypath 2-in-1 Convertible Travel Rolling Backpack

Main pack: 22 x 14 x 9 inches, 6.3 pounds; Daypack: 18″ x 12″ x 7″, 1.35 pounds; Together: 22 x 14 x 16 inches, 7.65 pounds

Water-resistant, zip-off daypack, can be carried in 8 different ways/combinations.

If you don’t need wheels, try this backpack/daypack option:

Osprey Fairview

40, 55, or 70-liter capacity

Waist & chest straps, laptop/tablet pocket, detachable daypack.


The safety of your belongings can be a concern for many people. The ability to lock your suitcase, therefore, may be a key feature. Some come with built-in locks, while others have overlapping zippers you can add your own lock to. Be sure any locks are TSA friendly, however, if you want them to remain intact on any checked luggage! Or skip the lock for the flight and just secure it once you arrive. There are also specifically designed anti-theft bags (though this is more common for a daypack style), with hidden pockets and slash-resistant straps to thwart pickpockets.

Amazon Basics Lightweight Softside Spinner

12.2 x 18.7 x 32.4 inches, including wheels, 8.05 pounds

TSA-friendly recessed lock.

Whichever bag you choose, I hope this guide has given you a better idea of what to look for in a suitcase to make your travels as smooth as possible!

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