Fashion & Beauty

The Carry-On Advantage


I’M HEADING to Europe for two weeks this summer on a vacation that will be part beach, part city. Recent trips have convinced me that the Orvis carry-on I bought 10 years ago, though still quite serviceable, will be too unwieldy to lug for this jaunt, which will require more getting into and out of planes, trains and automobiles than previous journeys.

So, last week I spent an hour and change in a branch of a specialty store looking for the ideal way (the least amount of pain and suffering) to haul my belongings across the ocean. Luckily, a patient saleswoman advised me about the pros and cons of the new options in luggage and opened suitcase after suitcase for me to explore, weigh and wheel. Although I’m the kind of person who thinks if she may need something, she packs it, I realized my best bet was going to be a carry-on.

By the way, if you haven’t bought luggage in say, the last 10 to 20 years, things have changed – for several reasons, among them: September 11, airlines’ restrictions on baggage weight and dimensions and fees for checked luggage. Lightweight bags are the gold standard as are wheels.

According to Travel & Leisure, the first wheeled carry-on debuted about 25 years ago, and today’s most cutting-edge luggage, says Travel Goods Association president Michele Marini Pittenger, “reflects its continuing evolution with more functional, lighter bags and improved-upon, game-changing options.”

A significant moment in that evolution came in 2000, when Rimowa introduced the first suitcase made of polycarbonate, which was lighter than aluminum and very durable. Other luggage manufacturers soon followed suit. Then, four years later, Samsonite re-invented the wheel with a four-wheeled suitcase that could be pushed, pulled and spun in any direction.

New bags on the market incorporate bells and whistles like compression systems and a mechanism for separating laundry. One new model has a portable battery that you can pop out to power your phone without having to cozy up to an outlet.

Unfortunately, you can’t have all the features you’d like in one carry-on, at least I can’t. For example, what you gain in mobility from four wheels you lose in overall packing area, so while my Orvis two-wheeler has more overall space than a prospective new carry-on, it weighs 10.4 pounds. Sigh. To make decisions more complicated, foreign and domestic airlines have different size requirements ( the latter is slightly more generous).

I finally chose the 21 inch-by 14-inch-by-8.5-inch Tumi Super Leger International Carry On, which weighed in at 7.5 pounds. Although I found the looks of the hard-sided models very appealing, I couldn’t get past the fact that there were no outside pockets where I could stuff things into that I needed quick access to. Rimowa does offer a hard-side bag with the outside pockets of a soft bag, but it was a couple of hundred dollars more than I wanted to spend.

If you, too, have an upcoming trip or two, here are some more carry-on bags that captured our attention. As for how I’m possibly going to pack the bag I chose, well, that’s another story.

—Janet Kelly

Rimowa’s Salsa Air Ultralight Cabin Multiwheel, made of polycarbonate, comes in ice blue, violet, red and black. It’s the lightest of our choices, at 4.2 pounds. A telescoping handle locks into any height position. $495 at department stores and specialty luggage stores.

Tumi’s Super Leger International Carry On, at 7.5 pounds, won me over with its nylon, compact wheeled case with leather trim, adjustable-height telescoping handle, four smooth-rolling wheels and an easy-access front zip pocket. $407.99, bloomingdales.

Victorinox’s Spectra 2.0 Expandable Global Carryon ($389.99, zappost), made of polycarbonate, weighs 6.8 pounds. A zippered expansion system gives you more capacity while staying compliant with most airline regulations. Maneuverable, dual-sided wheels on each of the base’s four corners.

From luggage maker Genius, a bag that comes with a packing checklist, labeled compartments for devices, a portable battery pack for recharging and a compartment for storing your laundry, which compresses into the bag’s wall and then zips out. $266,

Brics’ Firenze 21-inch carry-on rolling duffle bag ($725, bricstore) weighs 7.9 pounds. It only has two wheels, so the interior has more capacity. Made of durable, easy-to- clean PVC with tan leather trim.

Lipault’s Dazzling Plume Spinner ($200,, made of strong, lightweight (6.6 pounds) polycarbonate, features a zippered compartment to add 2 inches to the interior of the suitcase.


Louis Vuitton trunks are legendary; its more modern rolling luggage is sturdily built, lightweight (5.7 pounds) and comes with four wheels. For buyers with deep pockets, $3,700, Interested? It’s currently out of stock online.

The Delsey Chatelet Carry-On Spinner gets points for good looks. Made from polycarbonate, it weighs 9.3 pounds and features a braking system that locks the two front wheels to prevent runaway baggage. $249.99,


Briggs & Riley’s Expandable Spinner ($549, briggs-riley), made of ballistic nylon, is compact and relatively lightweight (8.4 pounds) with four spinner wheels. An expandable main compartment with interior pockets for organization. Other features: a TSA lock, cushioned top handle and a large U-zip front pocket.

Away’s four-wheeled, 7.3-pound, hard-sided, 22-inch carry-on has zippered and compression dividers to stay organized inside, TSA-approved locks and an unbreakable exterior. Also, a built-in USB charger, removable to comply with airlines’ new battery regulations., $225.


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8 thoughts on “The Carry-On Advantage

  1. Phyllis says:

    Janet, it was a pleasure to work with you and Jim. I’m glad that we were able to find the bags that were right for each of you. If you need any help with packing in your carry on, we’re here to help. Our goal is always to make your trip as pleasant and easy a possible. Our mission is create long time loyal customers.
    Thank you again
    Specialty Luggage

  2. Patsy Rogers says:

    Janet, make sure YOU do the measuring! We discovered that most of the bags touting the 21 inch length limit for European travel were actually an inch more. We went to five or six different places ( tape measure in hand) and finally found a tidy, little canvas-covered bag at AAA that did the trick( even though it sure won’t win any beauty prizes!)

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      Thanks, Patsy. Good advice for anyone planning European travel!

  3. Carol says:

    A girl by own heart! I want to have anything I THINK I may want, comes from when I was younger and was only allowed a few things for vacation
    Also I like the idea of the “hard” carryons but also need those outside pockets more for that last minute item that I forgot to pack
    Had no idea about how light those are
    Good to know

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      I think weight counts when you’re lugging it around a lot!

      1. Nancy McKeon says:

        okay, cranky naysayer here! i HATE roll-on, wheel-on, drag-on luggage! my preferred method: pack whichever suitcase you want to, then check it, go on board with nothing to roll or drag or carry except your passport and a handbag, maybe a tiny tote with your iPad for reading and a couple of magazines. if i’m going away for a couple of weeks and simply cannot wait 20 extra minutes for my luggage to appear from the belly of the plane, perhaps i should rethink my schedule! and yes, luggage does get “lost” or delayed. that’s even better: several times i’ve had my suitcase delivered to my hotel or home. walking out of the airport lugging NOTHING is sheer freedom. (i guess there’s that twinge of anxiety–what if they never find it?–but that’s little more than a shopping opportunity, right? okay, i’ll put some underwear in that little tote bag.) my theory is that the world would be a more orderly place if airlines charged for carry-on and let the checked bags ride for free. just sayin’.

        1. Janet Kelly says:

          Personally, I like to have traveled. And if it were entirely my choice, I’d take everything I think I’ll need. A former editor of mine used to say, “If I think I’ll need a desk, I take it.” But this particular trip involves lots of comings and goings, which makes a heavy suitcase impractical. Despite my druthers, I see the wisdom of less is more — in a carry-on. BTW, what tiny tote is going to hold an iPad and a couple of magazines?

          1. Nancy McKeon says:

            ah, i have an iPad Mini, great for travel and reading in bed!

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