In the past few years, air travel has become more of a dreaded headache than a much-anticipated adventure. Many savvy travelers avoid extra fees and the epic wait at the baggage claim by swapping a standard-sized suitcase for a few small carry-on bags.
Before you buy a carry-on and follow in their footsteps, keep these must-know facts in mind.
1. There is a maximum size for carry-on luggage.
Thinking about sneaking that over-sized carry-on past airline employees? Think again. Desk agents have an eagle-eye (and a measuring bin) to catch travelers with bags that exceed airline requirements.
Most airlines allow two pieces of carry-on luggage (a purse or laptop case and a small suitcase) that, according to the FAA, must not be larger than 45 linear inches. Make sure your carry-on suitcase doesn’t exceed this size at full capacity; otherwise you’ll be forced to check your bag and pay a fee.
2. Exterior pockets make accessing your suitcase easier.
At some point during your cross-country flight you may to need to get into your carry-on. No one (and yes, we are referring to the grouchy businessman in the aisle seat) wants to move out of the way while you open your entire suitcase, dig through it and then attempt to get it back in the overhead bin.
Pick a carry-on with multiple exterior pockets so you can access your toiletries, nab your tablet, or grab your glasses without opening the whole kit and caboodle.
3. Not all carry-ons have the same number of handles.
The ideal carry-on bag has two durable handles — one at the top and one on the side. These dual handles make it much easier to lift your bag into the overhead compartment or into the trunk of your car.
It’s also key to have a retractable handle that allows you to pull the bag. Look for one that extends easily and locks into place (both when it’s out and when it’s hidden). Some carry-on bags feature handles that extend with the touch of a button, or that open to a variety of lengths.
4. Some carry-ons allow flexible packing, some do not.
If this is going to be your go-to bag for a variety of trips, you may want to look for one that allows for flexible packing. What does this mean exactly? Well dear traveler, it means that the bag has the ability to extend to allow for more clothes.
Duffle carry-ons, like this gorgeous one from Bric, typically provide for packing flexibility, but that doesn’t mean you should count out suitcase style luggage. Many classic carry-ons have a zipper that allows for their body to extend a few inches wider so you can stuff in that extra pair of boots or one more sweater.
5. Waterproof is the way to go.
Rain storms happen. So do spills, unexpected puddles and the occasional bout of slush. Get waterproof luggage. Because the last thing you want is an entire suitcase full of wet clothing.
6. Some carry-ons weigh more than others.
Not flexing a major pair of biceps? Then you may want to look for a carry-on that touts itself as being lightweight, like this one from Samsonite.
In the comments below, tell us your best packing secret.