Buying Guide to Carry-on Luggage

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6 Things to Know Before You Buy

In the past few years, air travel has become more of a dreaded headache than a much-anticipated adventure. The savvy traveller avoids extra fees and the epic wait at the baggage claim by eschewing a standard-sized suitcase for a few small carry-on bags. Before you follow in their footsteps, keep these must know facts in mind.

Fact #1: There Is a Maximum Size for Carry-on Luggage

Thinking about sneaking that over-sized carry-on past airline employees? Desk agents have an eagle-eye (and a measuring bin) to catch travelers with bags that exceed airline requirements. Most airlines allow carry-on luggage that according to the FAA must not be larger than 45 linear inches (length + width + height). Make sure your carry-on bag doesn't exceed this size at full capacity, otherwise you'll be forced to check your bag and pay a fee. It is always advisable to check with your airline for their latest guidelines.

Fact #2: Exterior Pockets Make Accessing Your Carry-on Easier

At some point during your cross-country flight you're probably going to need to get into your carry-on. Pick a carry-on with multiple exterior pockets so you can easily access your toiletries, nab your tablet, or grab your glasses without opening the whole bag. You really will find having exterior compartments a huge convenience while traveling.

Fact #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.

For easier traveling, look for a bag with 2 or 4 smooth rolling wheels with 360 degree mobility. It's also preferable 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 extended and when it's hidden). Some carry-on bags feature handles that extend with the touch of a button or to a variety of lengths.

Fact #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, it means that the bag has the ability to expand to allow for more clothes.

Duffle carry-ons 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 expand a few inches wider so you can stuff in that extra pair of shoes or one more sweater.

Fact #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.

Fact #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.