The Best Luggage for Easy International Travel
Finding the best luggage for international travel is, at heart, basically the same as the best luggage for domestic travel. You want a well-constructed bag that fits all of your things, looks nice, and functions smoothly. The real question to ask yourself is what kind of trip you’re taking. Spending three months trekking through jungles will require a very different bag than a week-long jaunt to an urban capital.
Some companies will label some suitcases as “international carry-on,” which usually translates to smaller dimensions but isn’t a guarantee of applicability across every situation. In terms of measurements, there is no one standard international carry-on size. “The truth is that each airline makes their own rules,” said Don Chernoff, president of SkyRoll Luggage. “The most common carry-on rule in the U.S. is 22” x 14” x 9”, but some airlines have smaller limits, and some allow larger bags. Some international airlines have more strict rules, but there is only one simple rule everyone needs to follow: Check the rules of your airline before your trip.”
The more budget-focused an airline is, the stricter their carry-on requirements are likely to be. You can check out our cheat sheet if you have a specific airline you’re concerned about.
Even if you’re checking a bag, you still want to make sure you can easily maneuver it through any situation and leave some space for souvenirs. You may not always be able to find an elevator.
Best for Your First International Trip: An Affordable Carry-on or Checked Bag
eBags TLS 22" Expandable Wheeled Carry-on
“If I’m heading somewhere that involves frequent moves and train travel (where I’m hauling my bag on and off platforms and stairs across Europe), I force myself to pack lightly in a carry-on that moves easily,” said travel blogger Juliana Dever. She recommends this bag for its compact, carry-on-friendly size and “ingenious pockets, zippers and compartments.”
To buy: ebags.com, from $143
Delsey Helium Aero 26” Checked Suitcase
The Helium Aero was Wirecutter’s budget pick for best checked luggage, and the company has an excellent reputation. The hard sides, while they sometimes sacrifice long-term durability (though Delsey survived having a car dropped on it in Skyscanner’s tests, so you’ll be fine on that front), will keep your souvenirs safe, as will the lock-in zippers. Bring everything you think you might need and then some in the checked version, or opt for the expandable carry-on if you’re a lighter packer.
To buy: ebags.com, $148
Best for Flying a Budget Airline: Underseat Luggage
Cuyana Classic Overnight Bag
Hopping on a budget airline and don’t want to pay for a spot in the overhead bin? Cuyana’s overnight bag should slide easily under the seat in front of you while still holding all of your essentials for a short jaunt.
To buy: cuyana.com, $165
Samsonite Wheeled Underseat Small Suitcase
If you need a set of wheels, this small underseat option should still qualify as a personal item while holding enough clothing to keep you fresh all weekend.
To buy: ebags.com, $100
Best for International Family Travel: Luggage Set
Samsonite Luggage Sets
Want the whole family to match? Samsonite is a favorite brand of frequent travelers, and their extensive luggage line offers quality builds in a range of sizes and colors so everyone can find something that suits their personal style. Bonus: the prices won’t use up your entire travel budget.
To buy: ebags.com
Tumi Luggage Collections
If you want to really invest in your luggage, you can’t go wrong with Tumi. Multiple travelers we spoke to sung its praises, and the sleek designs are still understated enough that you won’t look too flashy in a crowd.
To buy: tumi.com
Best International Luggage for a Short Trip: Carry-on Spinners
Arlo Skye Polycarbonate Carry-on
If you’re off on a short jaunt on which you want to look stylish and won’t be rolling over too many cobblestones, Arlo Skye’s smaller carry-on should stand up to some wear and tear while the double-lock closure keeps your belongings secure. The built-in battery pack can even charge your computer, just in case you forgot your outlet converter.
To buy: arloskye.com, $495
Briggs & Riley Baseline CX International Carry-on Expandable Spinner
Ballistic nylon construction, four smooth wheels, and a lightweight hybrid fiberglass frame surround this solidly built carry-on, which also includes an expansion system that adds an extra 34% to its capacity. A fold-out suit holder will help keep your formalwear wrinkle-free and the outside zipper pockets grant easy access to your passport or book when you’re going through security or just waiting for your plane.
To buy: ebags.com, $599
Best Luggage for a Long/Multi-destination Trip: Travel Backpack
Osprey Farpoint/Fairview Backpack
If you’re going full globetrotter, you want a backpack. Nothing will navigate the maze of planes, trains, and overnight buses better. I (and many others) swear by the Osprey Farpoint (or Fairview, if you’re looking for a women’s-specific build). It opens around the front, rather than from the top, for maximum accessibility, and comes with both its own detachable daypack and a lifetime warranty. Both designs come in 40- and 70-liter versions as well, but the 40 may be too small for some travelers, and the 70 is large enough that it definitely won’t be able to go carry-on, while the 55 usually can if you don’t overpack it.
If you’re feeling square rather than cylindrical and in search of a more granular organized pocket system, the 45-liter Tortuga Outbreaker should hold everything you need for your trip and still stay carry-on-friendly. It also comes in a smaller 35-liter size if you’re on a shorter trip or aiming for extreme minimalism.
To buy: tortugabackpacks.com, $299
Best Luggage for an Adventure Expedition: A Carry-on Duffel
Patagonia Black Hole Duffel
Is your bag going to potentially be strapped to the top of a jeep or the base of a raft at some point in your journey? Go for the Patagonia Black Hole. This duffel range goes from 30 liters up to 120, with minimal organizational features to get in the way of your gear but solid exterior construction to keep it intact even when being dragged through the roughest conditions. Outside magazine called it “the only travel bag you’ll ever need.” If you aren’t feeling up to hauling it on your shoulders, some sizes even come in a wheeled duffel version.
To buy: ebags.com, from $79
The North Face Base Camp Duffel
Outdoor Gear Lab’s favorite duffel wins points for its comfortable straps, durability, and organizational pockets, if you’re looking for an equally rugged duffel that has a little bit more structure than the Black Hole.
To buy: ebags.com, from $100
Best for Bringing Home Your Souvenirs: Packable Bags
L.L.Bean Stowaway Day Pack
Wirecutter’s favorite packable daypack has all the features of a good daypack, including waist and chest straps and padded shoulders. And when you aren’t using it, it that stuffs down into its own attached packing sack to become roughly the size of a potato chip bag.
To buy: llbean.com, $50
Paravel Fold-up Bag
This packable duffel has enough style that you’d never guess it’s a fold-up. Plus Oprah likes it, and who doesn’t trust Oprah?
To buy: tourparavel.com, $65