I'm a Travel Writer, and This Is the Under-$60 Carry-on My Kids Take on Every Trip

You can get the durable, practical 20-inch suitcase in 32 colors at Amazon. 

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Rockland Kids Carry-on
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon

As a travel writer mom of twins, I've tried various luggage strategies to streamline the family travel experience along the way. When my kids were toddlers, my approach was to check one enormous bag for the whole family: This allowed us to pay just one bag fee and, even more importantly, the single bag necessitated only one hand. Between my husband and me, this left free three remaining grownup hands, which we put to use wrangling kids, handing over passports, and steering little hands as kids' eyes fixed hungrily on gift shops.

One notable drawback to my single-checked-bag philosophy? It was invariably overweight, which frequently resulted in me frantically repacking on the airport floor, while my husband gave me side-eye and muttered, "I told you so." So, when my 5-year-old kids started kindergarten, I concluded they were fully capable of handling their own luggage when we traveled. After all, they were dutifully — even excitedly — carrying their own backpacks to school daily. This is where the Rockland Melbourne Hardside Carry-On came into play.

Rockland Kids Carry-on
Courtesy of Amazon

To buy: amazon.com, $59

I started searching for their own rolling bags, and this is when I recognized the problem with the kids' luggage market. Any search for that phrase will turn up an array of impractically small and gimmicky options — mainly licensed character prints in sizes and shapes that offer little functionality. If my kid's luggage holds little more than a sweater and a stuffy, it's far greater a liability in the real world than any utility it provides. The family gets the burden of an additional piece of luggage, without the value of meaningful storage. What's the point?

So I opted out of the ornamental luggage in the dedicated "kids' luggage" category from the get-go. Instead I went right for functional roller bags that my kids could handle — and that could handle all their own stuff for a trip, too. When they are school age, most little kids can handle a 20-inch spinner, which both holds a substantial load (especially when the clothes are kid sized) and also qualifies as a carry-on.

A search for top-reviewed products on Amazon led me to Rockland Melbourne Hardside Expandable Spinner Wheel Luggage. This bag is made of a hard, durable plastic material called ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), which is especially lightweight — a boon for kids' littler bodies and an opportunity to pack more before you hit any carry-on weight ceilings, too. Despite its lightweight design, the hard-sized luggage feels truly substantial, which is a vast improvement over soft-sided character-driven bags, in my opinion. We've taken them around the world for a full year and they are holding up great.

Rockland Kids Carry-on
Courtesy of Amazon

To buy: amazon.com, $64

The spinner wheels are multidirectional, rotating a full 360 degrees, so this bag is easy even for kids to maneuver through airport crowds and snaking security lines. An aluminum telescoping handle, operated with a push button, feels sturdy and ergonomic. If the fully extended length is too big right now, you can easily click it into place at a shorter setting until your kid grows into it.

The practical product comes with 32 color options, so it was easy to select two different hues that were both kid-friendly and easily differentiable in a crowd and on a luggage belt at the airport. (I chose the mint for my daughter and the purple for my son.) I love that the solid color options grow with your kid, too. No gimmicky bag loudly emblazoned with a TV show character or Disney princess they're obsessed with now, but will be completely over by next summer's family trip.

Rockland Kids Carry-on
Courtesy of Amazon

To buy: amazon.com, $72

Inside, it's fully lined with an interior mesh zip pocket for keeping things tidy and organized. And there's ample room for about a week's worth of kid stuff for a warm-weather vacation. (Your mileage will vary if you're packing bulky coats and boots.) And this luggage does have a zipper expansion option to increase the capacity further; just be warned that it may not fit into the overhead bin if expanded.

Further, I'll say this luggage pulls its weight with an even bigger, if intangible, benefit: Being responsible for their own functional bags (and the gear within) contributes to a sense of personal responsibility that I want for my kids, laying groundwork for both greater independence and an ingrained love of travel. And the fact that it holds all the swimsuits and flip-flops we need for making indelible memories on tropical beaches? Well, that's just icing.

This affordable luggage solution has been a game changer for our real-world family travel situations. It's practical, durable, and the wide range of colors make it plenty cute, too. But, you'll need to act fast as many shades are selling out. Shop my kids' travel bag must-have starting at $59 at Amazon right now.

Rockland Kids Carry-on
Courtesy of Amazon

To buy: amazon.com, $67

Rockland Kids Carry-on
Courtesy of Amazon

To buy: amazon.com, $76

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