Carry-Ons: What to Pack and How to Find the Perfect Carry-On Bag for Your Next Trip

Carry-on bags are becoming increasingly popular among savvy travelers. Their compact size, sleek designs, and practical functionality are hard to beat compared to the bulk and inconvenience of checked bags.

If you’ve been lugging around your 50 lb checked bag and have finally had enough, it’s time to make the leap to easier, worry-free travel.

Curious about what carry-on bag size is permitted on your next flight? Or what you should always pack in your carry-on to have in the overhead bin? We cover everything you should consider when looking for your next travel companion, from practical uses to aesthetic designs.

It’s time to rediscover the skies with a new travel partner by your side.

Table of Contents

What’s the Big Deal about a Carry-On Bag, Anyway?

A carry-on bag has hidden depths—quite literally at times. But businessmen and women do most of their packing in a carry-on suitcase for one straightforward reason: convenience. 

A carry-on bag can hold everything you need for your trip, from essentials to outfit changes and more. All you might have to spare is that extra set of shoes you probably won’t wear anyway. (Or, you can avoid that headache entirely by investing in the right travel shoe.)

That flexibility and maneuverability might not seem like much until you’re rushing through the airport or trekking around your destination, luggage in tow. That’s when you realize the godsend that is a lighter, more compact, and more movable piece of luggage. 

If you have the right carry-on and you know how to pack, you can avoid having to check a bag altogether. And that means avoiding the hassles that come with it:

  1. Lost luggage and valuables
  2. Baggage fees 
  3. No access to your stuff
  4. Collecting checked bags at baggage claim
  5. Complicated international connections

Opting for travel with a carry-on bag means that for a little less space, you can gain a lot more freedom.

And if you travel with Next Vacay flight deals, you can add incredible savings on your next trip. 

More freedom and more savings? That sounds like a steal!

What Size Duffle Bag Can I Carry On a Plane?

Whether a duffle or hard-shelled carry-on suitcase, sizes differ by airline. Thankfully, per FAA regulations on carry-on size requirements, the standard carry-on bag size permitted by most domestic airlines is 22 x 14 x 9 inches. Meanwhile, international standards lean slightly smaller, around 21 x 13 x 9 inches.

In general, domestic carriers allow for a bigger carry-on bag size. International ones are typically smaller; however, bags measuring 21 x 13 x 9 inches will fly with most foreign airlines. For example, a bag with these dimensions would be accepted on airlines with smaller allowances, like Air France, and carriers with larger permitted sizes like ANA.

On the other hand, Korean Air has a particular set of baggage dimensions—around 21.6 x 15.7 x 7.9 inches—and may require a special carry-on bag size or a duffle that’s not overly packed.

Check the airlines you fly with regularly and purchase a bag that fits their size requirements. 

Pro-tip: For international flights, check weight limits, as these can be strict while abroad, especially on budget airlines.

Most domestic airlines don’t have a weight limit, but you’ll want to be sure you can lift your carry-on over your head and put it in the overhead bin.

Do a lot of domestic travel? You should be fine getting a carry-on suitcase matching the standard dimensions for US airlines, as they either match or go over the 22” x 14” x 9” benchmark. 

For international travel, you may want to get a slightly smaller bag you’ll be able to use for both domestic and international trips.

5 Things to Consider When You’re Looking at Carry-On Bags

If you’ve decided to go all-in on carry-on bags and travel with just a carry-on by your side, it pays to get a good travel mate. After all, carry-on luggage isn’t one-size-fits-all.

Carry-on bags come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, from utilitarian backpacks to cute tote bags and efficient rollers. 

So, before picking the travel partner of your dreams, here are a few things to consider in your hunt for the perfect carry-on bag.

1. Soft or Hard Shell Bags

Should you buy soft or hard-shell suitcases? This is a popular question for luggage considerations and will immediately help to narrow down your choice of carry-on bags. 

Soft-Shell Luggage:

Soft-shell carry-on bags have always been a favorite choice for travelers, mainly because you can more easily stuff in that last, all-important item before jetting off on your flight. 

The extra give that comes with soft-shell carry-on bags means more of that all too precious commodity: space. 

In the world of travel, having more luggage space is everything. Still, soft-shell luggage isn’t all roses, and it’s important to consider the pros and cons of this kind of bag.


  • Extra space
  • Durable 
  • Long lifespan
  • Additional pockets and other features


  • Limited aesthetics
  • Hard to clean
  • Limited security 
  • No protection for delicate items

If you’re someone who cares more about durability than aesthetics, or someone who regularly needs extra space in their luggage, a soft-shelled carry-on bag is likely the choice for you. 

Hard-Shell Luggage:

Soft-shell bags have their perks, but there’s no denying the appeal of a hard-sided bag. Aside from the ability to customize them in a range of aesthetically appealing colors and designs, their glossy finishes are nothing if not eye-catching.

But aesthetics isn’t all there is to consider. A good-looking partner can’t only be physically appealing, or you’re going to run into issues down the road. Luckily, hard-shell luggage has other features that make it an appealing choice for travel.


  • Wide range of aesthetic options
  • Water protection
  • Safely holds delicate items
  • Hard for thieves to penetrate
  • Easy to clean 


  • Heavy 
  • No additional storage/extra pockets 
  • Few expandable carry on options 

If you’re an experienced packer—or someone who needs a limit on what you can bring—and you enjoy a sleek and tidy appearance, then hard-side luggage may be for you.

2. Two Wheels or Four

Roller versus spinner is another hot debate for carry-on bags. The choice comes down to where and how you travel. Depending on your answer, you’ll find one or the other option will be easier on you in the long run.


A roller suitcase has two wheels and is dragged behind you. A key highlight of this type of carry-on suitcase is its durability. 

You can drag roller suitcases over any kind of terrain—well, almost any. But if you encounter cobblestones, bricks, or pesky rocks in your path, a roller will be able to handle those issues with minimal problems.

Additionally, the two wheels that roller suitcases do have cut into the luggage, so they take up less of the designated dimensions provided by airlines.


  • Great on uneven terrain
  • More packing space
  • Durable 


  • Little overall maneuverability 
  • Can cause wrist and back strain

If your next trip is trekking across the wild landscapes of Iceland or the cobblestone streets of Boston, you’ll find rollers to be the perfect companion.


A spinner suitcase has four wheels and will glide smoothly along beside you as you make your way down the endless airport terminal to your gate. It’s also a lot easier to maneuver in crowded situations, from tight airplane aisles to packed security checks. 

Cutting a sharp corner? Your carry-on spinner will stay glued to your side and take that tight turn with you.

Moreover, with its four wheels, the weight of your suitcase is easily distributed, allowing you to more easily move your suitcase along without added pressure or strain on your muscles or ligaments.

After all, no one wants to come home from vacation with a sprained wrist or a bad back as their only souvenirs.


  • Great stability
  • Easy to maneuver 


  • Less internal storage
  • More susceptible to broken wheels
  • More expensive price tag

Spinners are a fantastic choice if you’re an easy-going traveler. Not for rugged adventurers, a carry-on spinner will traverse smooth terrain as easy as breathing, allowing you to come and go as you please without a twinge in your wrist or a hitch in your step.

3. Pockets and Other Features

Some might say the best carry-on luggage comes with pockets.

Suitcases with pockets are a thing of beauty, but something you don’t truly appreciate until they’re gone—like pockets on women’s jeans.

A little bit of extra space never hurts, and multiple pockets on the inside and outside of your suitcase can help you keep your items organized and safely tucked away during travel.

If you work remotely, you may need your laptop with you, and a convenient compartment to store your computer or anything else you need ready access to will come in handy. 

External pockets are perfect for holding things you’re likely to use a lot while in transit. For example, front pockets are handy for storing items you’ll need during your flight, such as a book or jacket.

Consider if and how you might use pockets—from big ones for your electronics to small ones for cords, socks, and other miscellaneous items—and determine if it’ll make packing and traveling easier for you. 

Some other things that might make packing easier:

  • Expandable bags to give you more room 
  • Tie-down straps to keep your items from shifting
  • Padded straps to alleviate pressure on a carry-on backpack
  • Built-in garment bag for wrinkle-free clothes

4. Smart Bags

In an age of advancing technology, even our suitcases have gone digital. If you’re a fan of smartphones, smartwatches, and everything else that’s smart in your life, you may want to consider making your next luggage purchase “smart” as well by buying a smart bag.

These smart carry-ons offer a lot more than a spiffy appearance or handy pockets but contain deluxe features like GPS tracking, power banks for charging, TSA-approved locks, and more. 

They also come with a price tag to match, which is something to consider when doing your shopping. Also, keep in mind that airlines can be strict about certain smart bag features. For example, if your bag doesn’t have a removable battery, you may not be able to fly, so always check requirements with your favorite airlines.

Despite all of that, if you want to upgrade from the old-school way of travel and add the bells and whistles of modern tech to your bag, then you’ll definitely want to peruse your options for smart luggage.

5. “The Look”

Sometimes, you want something based solely on aesthetics, and that’s okay too. When considering your buying options, how something looks plays a factor in your decision, and it’s a great way to share something about your personality or interests.

Choosing a classic black carry-on bag with several functional pockets may convey a practical outlook on traveling. In contrast, a Star Wars-themed carry-on bag shares a bit more personality. It may even get a conversation rolling in the airport or at your destination and be a quick and painless way to meet new people.

So, whether you want to go more reserved or loud and proud about your interests, the “look” of your carry-on bag could be the final deciding factor for the best carry-on luggage for you.

What Is Allowed in a Carry-On Bag?

Many items are restricted or banned from carry-on luggage contained in the overhead bin. But the essentials still make it on with you. Liquids in travel-sized containers of 3.4-ounce cases are allowed in a carry-on suitcase, as well as some duty-free liquids if correctly sealed and packaged. 

The TSA website provides a comprehensive breakdown, with all the details on restricted and prohibited items. You can even reach out via social media if you can’t find something on their list!

If you find there are things you absolutely need to bring that aren’t allowed on the plane, you may find yourself having to travel with a checked bag. 

Relax, it’s not the end of the world. You can still travel comfortably and affordably with a checked bag in tow, and if you score a great deal with Next Vacay, you’ll be flying so high even the weight of your checked bag won’t be enough to drag you down.

8 Things You’ll Want to Be Sure to Pack in Your Carry-On Bag

Time to pack up your bags! 

With a carry-on bag, you want to be as organized and cutthroat about your packing as possible to maximize your space. 

Only traveling with a carry-on? Make sure you cover all the basics and leave room for any souvenirs you may pick up while on your travels.

Between your carry-on luggage and your personal item, these are the must-have essentials you’ll want to pack with you on the plane.

1. Travel Documents

Your travel documents should always go in your carry-on or personal item. Indeed, you can’t travel without them.

  • ID
  • Passport
  • Boarding pass 
  • Insurance cards
  • Credit cards
  • COVID-19 vaccination card

Some of these items you may be able to get a digital version of, like your boarding pass or insurance information. Still, you’ll need physical copies of your ID and passport to pass through security.

2. Change of Clothes

If you’re also traveling with a checked bag, you’ll only bring one or two outfits in your carry-on. This will help cover your bases if your luggage is lost or delayed in transit and give you clothes to wear while you either wait for your checked bags to arrive or hit up a store to find replacements.

Be sure to include clothing that’s weather-appropriate for the destination you’re headed to.

3. Water

This is an easy one to forget, but especially on a longer flight, you’ll be glad for something to drink that’s easily accessible and, more importantly, free. 

Rather than getting hit with the pricier options at the airport, be sure to pack an empty, reusable water bottle in your carry-on bag that you can fill after passing security. 

Most updated airports have bottle-filling stations in the terminals, or you can use a good old-fashioned water fountain to fill up.

4. Jacket or Sweater

Layered clothes are easy to forget, especially if headed somewhere warm. You may be caught off guard by how chilly the airplane gets, and in this case, you’ll appreciate that you had the foresight to pack an outer layer in your carry-on bag.

5. Toiletries

You can’t leave home without your toiletries, and this is one bag you’ll want to check and double-check you’ve put in your carry-on. 

  • Glasses/contacts
  • Medication
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Face wipes
  • Makeup
  • Deodorant 
  • Hand sanitizer/antibacterial wipes

After a grimy day of travel, the last thing you want to do is have to duck out for a stick of deodorant or a toothbrush if something happens to your checked luggage. 

Always confirm you’ve packed your daily essentials in your toiletry bag, and then ensure you’ve put them in your carry-on bag for easy access.

6. Entertainment

Forgetting your entertainment essentials may leave you with nothing to do but sleep or stare out the airplane window. And while we’ve certainly spent time doing both, it can get a bit boring after an hour or two. 

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Earbuds/headphones
  • Tablet
  • Computer 

Whatever will keep you occupied and help while away the hours till you touch down again should be in your carry-on bag.

7. Snacks

In-flight meals are only served on long-haul flights, and even then, you may not enjoy the food or find it fills you up. Even a short-distance flight can get uncomfortable with your stomach growling only halfway through the three-hour journey.

Nuts and granola or chips and cookies. Whatever will help sate your hunger and make your flight more comfortable, be sure to pack some away in your carry-on bag.

Don’t forget gum to help with the air pressure and mints for when you’re done snacking.

8. Neck Pillow and Blanket

For added comfort on your flight, see about slipping a neck pillow and blanket into your carry-on bag. That’ll make relaxing so much cozier, which you’ll appreciate all the more flying in economy. 

More comfort items you may find useful:

  • Eye mask
  • Earplugs/noise-canceling headphones
  • Melatonin 

Choosing the Best Carry-On Luggage for You

You can scour the web for suggestions, read luggage reviews, and research for hours, but the most important consideration for selecting the best carry-on bag is how you travel. 

Just as two completely different travelers might encounter some troubles on a trip together, a carry-on bag that doesn’t suit your travel style will only serve to complicate your plans and make your travels more difficult.

It’s much easier to choose aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-handle bags when most of your travel is simple and easy. On the other hand, if every trip is an adventure with rugged and rough terrain, you’ll want something hardy enough to take a bit of battering and bruising.

Selecting the perfect carry-on bag can be a bit of work, but it’s well worth the trouble when you’re passing through security, dashing through the airport, or trudging through foreign lands with a trusty bag that’s ready to weather the journey with you.

And whether you’re ready to go it solo with only a carry-on by your side or looking to add a bit more packing space to your next extended getaway, you can get great deals to shave off the cost of your luggage and more with Next Vacay deals delivered right to your email!

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