The 8 Best Suitcases for the Constant Traveler

By the time I left college at 22 years old, I was still using the same ratty old carry-on my mom had bought me when I was 16, for my first summer college visits.
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Kathleen Braine
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By the time I left college at 22 years old, I was still using the same ratty old carry-on my mom had bought me when I was 16, for my first summer college visits.

I never thought that much about luggage until my very first business trip. Growing up, I used whatever suitcases my mom bought at TJ Maxx. She must have chosen well, because when I graduated college, I was still using the same carry-on she had bought for me when I was 16 years old. 

When I was told I had to travel for business, I realized that, although my old carry-on was still moderately functional (that may be a generous descriptor), the peeling edges, chipped paint on the zipper, and patched rips on the side were not a good look. After trolling around for an appropriate Gilt sale for a week or so, I finally snagged a small royal blue hard-side spinner carry-on for $75, the brand of which shall remain nameless for reasons that will become apparent shortly. 

As I began to travel more frequently for my job, I started to develop specific strategies to travel intelligently. Because I was a real-ass business traveler, I did not travel with my Pillow Pet anymore, but I still liked that my blue bag was pretty cute and looked slightly like R2-D2. I packed effectively, and I invested in products that helped me organize my stuff with minimal stress for my already-too-stressful two night trips across the country and back. My suitcase, however cheap it had been originally, did all right for about 10 months. It wasn't the perfect bag (I always had trouble getting it to close, and there was no internal organization method built into its interior), but it was doing just fine. That is, until a fateful Thanksgiving trip back home one year. 

I was walking through the Atlanta airport on my layover when suddenly, without warning, the back wheel broke completely off my trusty blue carry-on. I was immediately flustered and rushed to sit down at a nearby boarding gate to asses the damage. The wheel turned out to be totally detached from my bag, so there was just absolutely no way that I was going to get it to work again in the 15 minutes I had before I needed to board my next flight. I'm not going to lie to you: I started crying. Luckily, Google informed me there were two stores in the airport that carried luggage: Tumi and Brookstone.

Don't get me wrong, Tumi is an amazing luggage brand, but at that point in my career I didn't (and absolutely still do not) have the cash flow to drop $700 on a suitcase. I ran into Brookstone, verklempt, and asked, without shame, for "the cheapest carry-on they had." Their response was that I should go with the Brookstone Dash 4-Wheeled Expandable Carry-On for $99, so I grabbed a purple one, repacked in a frenzy, and quickly ran to board my plane. 

Photo credit: Away Instagram.

Photo credit: Away Instagram.

Over the next few years, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my harried Brookstone purchase was actually an awesome game-time decision. That little bag served me very well, always accommodating whatever I needed to stuff into it, and never once breaking suddenly while I was traveling. I've recently upgraded to a new bag (more on that below), but in the process of deciding to upgrade I did a lot of research on the best types of suitcases for all situations. What can I say? I tend to get very into researching bags.

Brookstone Dash 4-Wheeled Expandable Carry-On 

This recommendation might be obvious, given my above story of panic and then redemption, but this little suitcase really does rock. It's only $99, which is pretty unbeatable in today's market, and even though I recently got a new suitcase, my Brookstone Dash is still more than completely functional after four years, and I keep it under my bed as a backup because I love it so much and it is adorable. It is a hard-side bag, so it is made to take a lot of mishandling, and it is also a spinner, which is my preferred form of carry-on. If you're going through security with only a carry-on, it can be a little annoying, as there is no external pocket for personal items, but as someone who carries a purse, I've never minded.


 Away The Carry-On 

The reason that I replaced my Brookstone Dash was the inherent persuasiveness of this suitcase. I was casually researching new bag options for months, but the Away's The Carry-On was the first bag to really sway me. Mine has an internal compression system to make packing easier, a built-in laundry bag for dirty clothes, a lock, and in a game-changing move, it also has a USB phone charger built in behind the handle. Of course, I thought the charger was awesome right away, but I didn't know how much I would actually end up using it. Turns out, I use it a heck of a lot. It's something that you don't necessarily NEED on your bag, but the first time that it saves your butt while you're on a conference call rushing through a crowded airport, you'll be a convert. 

I was gifted my Away Carry-On, but it normally retails for $225. It is a hard-side spinner bag, and like the Dash, it also comes in multiple colors. (Mine is forest green, and it is sexy but also distinguishable from all of the black suitcases at baggage claim. Win-win.)

Briggs & Riley Explore Expandable Commuter Upright

At $300, the Briggs & Riley Explore Expandable Commuter Upright is a little more expensive than the other bags in this roundup, but it is also one of the lightest larger carry-ons you can buy. It weighs in at just under seven pounds. It's also equipped with exterior pockets that make it perfect for international travel or business travelers that don't carry a purse. It looks a little less sleek than some of the hard-side options above, but its durability and practicality are almost unmatched with any other comparably priced carry-on.

F1 Avionette 4W Carry-On

I'm not going to lie, I was initially skeptical of this bag. Its soft nylon sides seemed less durable than my preferred hard-side bags. However, when one of my friends brought hers on a group trip this summer, I was totally sold on the Avionette 4W's lightness and mutability when it comes to packing. The nylon exterior allows for a ton of internal pockets and packing options, and though it might not protect breakable valuables, the exterior is water-resistant and extremely tough. At $195, the price is not bad either. 

Raden A22 Carry 

At $295, Raden's A22 is slightly more expensive than Away's The Carry-On, but it boasts two additional features: bag tracking and self-weighing (via GPS and monitors, plus an app you can download on your phone). It also comes in crazy pastels like pink and purple, if you're into that (which I am).

I tested one out and was thoroughly impressed by its sleek look and its amazingly durable hard-side shell. However, when compared to Away's The Carry-On, it weighs about a pound more and lacks the internal compression packing system that makes Away's bag so perfect for me (I tend to overpack). However, if you do a lot of international traveling (or are always losing your suitcase), the Raden tracking and weighing app could be a total godsend.

F1 DSH-1 Carry-On 

When my boss showed me this bag, I almost went out and bought it right then and there. This bag is hard-side, a spinner, and features my favorite thing ever — internal organizational pockets. It is on the pricier side at $295, and it only comes in two colors, but it is incredibly sleek and beautiful, and as my boss proved when he proudly opened up his suitcase in the office to show off all of the internal organizational capabilities; it will make you a fast luggage enthusiast. 

Incase EO Hardshell Roller 

Before I found out about this bag, I thought Incase only created phone and laptop cases. I was completely wrong. This bag, although it looks a little different than the average carry-on, is ingeniously designed with an exterior laptop case and a butterfly design for hyper-effective packing and organization. 

It is hard-shell with cloth padding, so it is also durable and sturdy. At $230, it comes in at the higher end, but if you're looking for a carry-on designed with tech enthusiasts in mind, you've found the perfect one.

Lojel Lucid Spinner (Small) 

This is the bag I almost bought before I ultimately went with the Away. It is just so effing cute, I can't even handle it. The Lojel Lucid Spinner is on the smaller side, and not quite as expandable as the other bags on this list, but it has an exterior pocket for your laptop and personal items, and it is the lightest carry-on on this list (only six pounds). 

Also, as mentioned previously, it is super cute and comes in many fun bright and classy dark colors. It is also more expensive, at $299, but if you're making an investment in a great business trip carry-on, this would be an awesome one.