Published on June 29, 2021

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With travel ramping back up—cab lines are longer, airports are busier, and hotel rooms are booking up—there’s no better time to get back to basics with a good suitcase. To help “unzip” all of your in-transit needs, including tips to corral the contents of your carry-on, we tapped Rana Good, travel writer and founder of online magazine Naïra NYC, and The Catch Me If You Can’s Jessica Nabongo to walk us through the top features to keep in mind when shopping for the ultimate travel companion. Whether you’re gearing up to fly cross-country or drive just a few hours upstate, get back into the swing of things with one of the nine best suitcases, below. (Spoiler alert: All of our picks have four wheels.) We’re confident they’ll make your next trip go as smoothly as your new bag rolls.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

Size and weight: According to Good, an ideal carry-on measures 22 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 9 inches tall. Depending on your destination, a few sneaky restrictions can mean the difference between sailing through security and waiting at baggage claim. If you are not flying first class or don’t have any perks, Nabongo suggests playing it safe by keeping your carry-on to 50 pounds. And even when it comes to check-in, Good refuses to go bigger than a medium-size bag. “A really large suitcase can be convenient for packing, but it has the downside that you can easily go over the [50-pound] weight limit,” she warns.

Material: Most of the suitcases on this list are polycarbonate for good reason: It’s incredibly lightweight, more flexible than polypropylene, and stronger than other materials like ABS (a fancy kind of plastic). Aluminum looks great (and is arguably the highest quality), but it’s heavy and expensive. And there’s a reason why fiberboard is still used today—vintage luggage has survived decades of travel. 

Locks: Not only are built-in locks good for keeping your belongings safe in transit, they’re ideal for those moments when your luggage is left unattended for longer periods of time, such as when you drop it off at the hotel before check-in, notes Good.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Away the Bigger Carry-On Suitcase

Whether boarding a plane or catching a train, you’re bound to bump into an Away suitcase or two. They fit in most overhead bins and hold a ton (seriously, the compression system shrinks even the bulkiest sweaters); the polycarbonate cases are also lightweight and easy to steer through busy terminals; and the brand’s trendy color range ensures you stand out in a crowd. Domino’s editors have put them to the test on our own travels, and they’ve passed, showing only small signs of wear and tear—it has us questioning whether the limited lifetime warranty is even necessary. But the best thing about an Away suitcase has to be the portable battery—no more charging your cell phone crouched next to a trash can.

Best Value: Samsonite 24-Inch Winfield 2 Fashion Spinner

Century-old luggage brand Samsonite has a reputation for reliability, and this polycarbonate case more than lives up to the hype. With 12,000-plus positive reviews on Amazon—one owner even revisited a 2016 comment to confirm that their bag is holding up well 1,000 flights later—the suitcase is a departures-gate darling because it’s built to last without costing a fortune. For less than $200, you get a little bit of everything: multidirectional spinner wheels, a side-mounted lock, and an ultralight frame in a variety of lightly brushed jewel-tone finishes designed to hide nicks and scratches for maximum use.

Best Lightweight: Tumi International Expandable Carry-On

For domestic commuter flights with particularly pressed overhead storage—or that last-minute weekend getaway where a swimsuit/caftan is the only acceptable wardrobe option—Tumi’s extending luggage is roomier than your average carry-on. The expandable zipper stretches to accommodate up to 2 additional inches of storage without setting off gate-check alarm bells. There’s also a built-in USB cord for easy charging on the go. Even on the tiniest of planes in the U.S. or overseas, Nabongo has never had an issue getting this particular bag to fit (save for a few speculative glances from unconvinced flight attendants), which is why it’s her go-to when space is tight.

Best Trunk Style: Steamline Luggage the Entrepreneur Stowaway Packing Case

Burnished gold details, tailored leather straps, and a peekaboo patterned lining make Steamline’s vintage-style suitcase a thing of beauty, but there’s more to the Entrepreneur than good looks. Incredibly sturdy and outfitted with a classic flip-lock closure that replaces the standard zipper, this fiberboard trunk ensures contents are always kept secure and in one place thanks to a matching hanging organizer tucked into the interior. It also comes with a coordinating ripstop nylon cover for extra protection in the baggage claim.

Best Storage: Bric’s Bellagio Pocket Spinner Trunk

The perfect marriage of style and function, this smart polycarbonate bag by Italian brand Bric’s features a convenient front pocket and double-deck interior complete with multiple organizational compartments to keep all your electronic devices and cords sorted and at the ready; it even includes a built-in charger with a USB connection. The light-hued interior makes it easy to spot what you’re looking for, and water-resistant zippers ensure your belongings never get caught in the rain.

Best Design: Arlo Skye x Dusen Dusen Zipper Carry-On

Weighing in at only 7 pounds, Arlo Skye’s collaboration with Brooklyn-based designer Ellen Van Dusen is a solo traveler’s dream. Outside of the bright exterior of this limited-edition lemon yellow series of two carry-ons and matching check-in, what sets it apart from other suitcases is a hard-shell front pocket that offers easy-to-reach compartmentalized storage for all your in-flight essentials. Plus the playful patterned lining that covers the interior is a sight for sore eyes after a long trip.

Best Check-In: Béis the Large Check-In Roller

For all those times when a full-size suitcase is an inevitability—because some of us haven’t quite perfected the skill of packing a capsule wardrobe in a flash—the Béis 29-inch roller is a worthy upgrade. A weight-limit indicator ensures even overpackers won’t be surprised at the check-in counter, and the retractable bag strap makes it easy to attach additional suitcases or hang a backpack without tipping over the whole thing. But we really love the interior, where separate compartments for dirty clothes, undergarments, shoes, and more help you reach maximum efficiency.

Best Sustainable: Tour Paravel Aviator Carry-On Plus

Talk about responsible travel. You can offset your worries about how flying impacts your personal carbon footprint with the Aviator, Tour Paravel’s carbon-neutral case that’s made almost entirely from recycled materials (the lining itself has repurposed about 21 plastic bottles). Roomy enough to store nearly seven days’ worth of clothing and a few pairs of shoes, it’s made for both the eco-conscious traveler and the last-minute packer, who would likely also benefit from Marie Kondo’s most recent collaboration with the brand: the KonMari x Paravel storage cubes.

Best Splurge: Rimowa Classic Cabin Suitcase

Lighter than plastic yet stronger than acrylic, Rimowa’s anodized aluminum alloy cases are everything you’d expect from a German icon: They’re highly functional and practically impervious to scratches and dents. “Rimowa is the gold standard for luggage,” says Good, who argues that the brand’s proven track record in the durability department—this is heirloom quality for the average traveler—makes it worth the staggering price tag. “Plus you have the benefit of in-store repairs and a five-year warranty,” she adds. If silver feels too sterile, you can change the color of its tag, handles, and wheels from 10 different options.

Ask Domino

What are your top packing tips for a carry-on suitcase?

The short answer: organizers. But some packing cubes are better than others. Opt for one that compresses contents and clearly divides clean clothes from dirty laundry, like Nabongo’s all-time favorite, the Flight 001 Spacepak.

What is the most durable suitcase material?

Nothing beats aluminum and polycarbonate in Good’s opinion—they’re basically impenetrable. “I was told that once I go hard-shell, I would never look back, and it’s true,” she says. “A few years ago I had a soft-shell fabric suitcase that got caught in a rainstorm while [the handlers were loading it] into the airplane, and all of my clothes were wet.”

How long should a quality suitcase last?

For the average person—someone who is taking roughly 10 flights a year at most—Nabongo recommends investing in a suitcase that will last at least a decade. “I think it’s important to go with a company that is going to give you a guarantee,” she adds, pointing to Tumi and Samsonite as prime examples.

How We Vetted These Products

Every product in a Domino guide meets these criteria:

  1. They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use.
  2. They’re expert approved. In addition to our team of editors, we tap a range of designers, makers, renovators, and all-around knowledgeable people to share their intel.
  3. They’re endorsed by people who actually own them. We pay close attention to real reviews from both our creative community and third-party websites to know that they pass the test IRL.

The products in this story are independently selected by (obsessive) editors. Things you buy through our links may earn us a commission.

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