By Rena Behar
May 07, 2019
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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

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

“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:, from $143

Delsey Helium Aero 26” Checked Suitcase

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

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:, $148

Best for Flying a Budget Airline: Underseat Luggage

Cuyana Classic Overnight Bag

Credit: Courtesy of Cuyana

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:, $165

Samsonite Wheeled Underseat Small Suitcase

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

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:, $100

Best for International Family Travel: Luggage Set

Samsonite Luggage Sets

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

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:

Tumi Luggage Collections

Credit: Courtesy of Tumi

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:

Best International Luggage for a Short Trip: Carry-on Spinners

Arlo Skye Polycarbonate Carry-on

Credit: Courtesy of Arlo Skye

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:, $495

Briggs & Riley Baseline CX International Carry-on Expandable Spinner

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

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:, $599

Best Luggage for a Long/Multi-destination Trip: Travel Backpack

Osprey Farpoint/Fairview Backpack

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

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.

To buy: (men’s Farpoint 55L), $180; (women’s Fairview 55L), $180

Tortuga Outbreaker

Credit: Courtesy of Tortuga Backpacks

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:, $299

Best Luggage for an Adventure Expedition: A Carry-on Duffel

Patagonia Black Hole Duffel

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

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:, from $79

The North Face Base Camp Duffel

Credit: Courtesy of eBags

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:, from $100

Best for Bringing Home Your Souvenirs: Packable Bags

L.L.Bean Stowaway Day Pack

Credit: Courtesy of L.L. Bean

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:, $50

Paravel Fold-up Bag

Credit: Courtesy of Tour Paravel

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:, $65