A Quest for a Carry-On Bag Under $100 for a European Budget Trip
August 31, 2018 •10 min read
I have an old Samsonite two-wheeled carry on that has been my trusty companion in my domestic and international travels for over ten years. It's a heavy, sturdy thing that can take any abuse and keep going strong. But with increasingly tightening restrictions on size and weight, especially on budget airlines, it's time for me to shop around for another bag for my upcoming trip to Italy.
I will be flying Norwegin Air, Vueling, and easyJet. The smallest allowed carry-on on these carriers is 21.7" x 15.7" x 7.9" with Vueling from London Gatwick to Rome.
I am most concerned about the flight from Venice to London Gatwick with easyJet, as we have a short two hour layover and can't afford to spend time dealing with checked luggage. The easyJet carry on dimensions are 22" x 17.7" x 9.8", or 19.7" x 15.7" x 7.9" for the cabin bag guarantee in case the overhead storage fills up. EasyJet also allows only one carry on item, and no personal item. So packing with this in mind, the personal item I take will need to be able to pack within the carry on full of essentials and travel documents. My husband will be carrying a full size duffel (approximately 22" x 14" x 10"), so me trying to fit the cabin bag guarantee won't help much as we'll be together and if he has to put his bag in hold, we'll both have to wait at the luggage carousel anyway.
For Norwegian Air, the carry on dimensions are 21.7" x 15.7" x 9".
Given the above range of dimensions and my particular concern with possibly having to check a bag for easyJet but not necessarily for Vueling, my search focused on fitting the Norwegian Air dimensions (21.7" x 15.7" x 9"), since it would accommodate both Norwegian Air and easyJet. That way, I should only have to check a bag for Vueling if they ask to me to use the bag sizer, which is my London to Rome leg. Fingers crossed they don't lose the bag at the start of my trip! I will definitely be placing essentials and maybe even a change of clothes in my personal item.
During my search, I discovered that manufacturers and sites selling these bags are pretty inaccurate in displaying the actual exterior dimensions including wheels and handles, which is what airlines use to determine whether a bag must be checked. This is very deceptive and can be quite a problem if the airlines ask you to put the bag in the sizer! Hey, maybe there's a business idea - disrupt the luggage space by being honest!
I have tried to find the more accurate dimensions for the bags listed here, where they are available somewhere on the web, which sometimes meant reading through some comments. This issue eliminated some bags that appeared to be perfect with their small size claims, but ended up being too large in reality. When searching on your own, beware of this, and even with this list, verify the dimensions yourself as best you can!
I also looked for bags with either neutral colors (black, gray), or a color I am partial to like red (darker is better), pink, teal, some darker blues, or florals. There may be other bags out there in colors I dislike that would be perfect for you.
I also favored lighter bags during this search due to weight restrictions on these airlines. The lighter the bag, the more I can stuff into it without getting in trouble with weight.
I don't like backpacks as they are too touristy for me, so I eliminated them from my search. Otherwise, they are great for uneven streets and changing modes of transportation, and are easier to carry than duffel bags, though I personally dislike carrying backpacks as they get in the way and rudely bump people.
Soft sided suitcases
Soft sided cases are easy to overstuff, but if they are not stuffed they can also be compressed a bit (I wouldn't bet on much more than 1/2") if they need to be fit into a carry on sizer. If a case's dimensions are too large, ensure that the depth (third number) is the dimension that is too large, as that can be compressed a bit rather than height and width. It's important to use compression bags with soft sided cases to help with overstuffing, as there is no hard case to keep everything compressed. Soft sided cases are more likely to come with exterior pockets which can be helpful for storing items that need to be accessed easily during the trip.
Travelpro Maxlite 3 International Expandable Carry-On Spinner ($93)
Dimensions: 22" x 14" x 9"
Weight: 6.5 lbs
This international soft side carry on comes in four colors and fits within most carry on sizers, including the wheels.
Travelers Club 18" Carry-On Spinner Luggage ($39-$50)
Dimensions: 20.8" x 13" x 9" (one comment reported 10.2" for the depth)
Weight: 7 lbs
This spinner carry on comes in four colors. It fits nicely for Norwegian Air and easyJet, and is expandable, which would make it too large for carry on size when expanded.
Hard sided suitcases
I like hard sided cases because they tend to be able to handle abuse better than their soft sided counterparts if they have to be checked, and they compress the content inside when closed, preventing them from becoming oversized if stuffed. However, you have to be careful about getting the dimensions right as there is no wiggle room that you get with soft sided cases when squeezing them into an airline sizer. Hard sided cases typically have no exterior pockets, so any items you need to access easily during the trip will need to be kept in a personal item.
Travelcross Philadelphia 20" Carry On Lightweight Hardshell Spinner Luggage ($55)
Dimensions: 21.5" x 12" x 8.5"
Weight: 5.6 lbs.
This carry on fits within IATA carry on restrictions for international flights, including wheels. It also has a TSA-approved built-in keyless lock, spinner wheels, and comes in five colors. Unfortunately, it does not have a side handle, which could pose a problem on uneven Italian cobblestone streets where it may need to be carried rather than rolled.
Kenneth Cole Reaction Out of Bounds 20" 4 Wheel Upright ($60)
Dimensions: 21.8" x 14.5" x 8.5"
Weight: 6.25 lbs.
This spinner carry on comes in twelve colors. It has a side handle but no built-in lock. It is slightly too wide for domestic flights at 14.5" (some comments mention it may be even a bit wider with the handle), so if you're looking for a bag that works for both international and domestic flights, this won't work too well.
Duffel (duffle) bags are excellent for handling uneven streets, and hopping on and off buses and trains. Like soft sided cases, overstuffing can cause them to become oversized, so using compression bags are useful. However, understuffing allows them to be flexible and to fit into airline sizers easier. They also tend to be lighter because of the lack of wheels, which means being able to pack more weight before it needs to be checked. Duffel bags are also more multi-purpose than dedicated carry-on suitcases. They can be used as gym bags, overnight bags, car trip bags, hospital bags - you name it, the duffel bag is flexible enough for many uses.
My main concern with duffel bags is having to carry the weight on my shoulder throughout the trip. Taking walks through the airport on a long layover could get old fast. I have lower back pain, so carrying weight myself is not terribly appealing. I also think carrying both a duffel bag and a purse or tote would be awkward.
Jadyn B 22" Women's Weekender Duffel Bag with Shoe Pocket ($40)
Dimensions: 22" x 12" x 12"
Weight: 1 lb. 11 oz.
This duffel is three inches too high for a carry on (four inches for Vueling), but as long as it is not filled too much it should be able to squeeze into a baggage sizer.
ban.do Getaway Duffel Bag - Paradiso ($58)
Dimensions: 21.5" x 12.5" x 12.5"
Weight: Not Listed
This bag sports a beautiful floral design. Like the Jadyn, it's quite a bit larger than airline restrictions, but the soft side may allow it to squeeze to size if not full.
Oflamn 21" Large Duffle Bag Canvas Leather Weekender Overnight Travel Carry On Bag ($40)
Dimensions: 21" x 12.9" x 7.4"
Weight: 2.2 lbs.
This bag comes in five different colors and fits nicely within airline regulations, including Vueling. It also comes with a free toiletry bag. Some reviews indicate that it is a lower quality bag that does not hold up with use.
bebe Mandy Weekend Travel Bag ($65)
Dimensions: 21" x 12" x 10"
Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz
This bag has a cool quilted texture with faux leather accents. Again, it's a little too tall but can probably be squished, and the linear length fits Vueling.
bebe Ellisa Weekend Travel Bag ($65)
Dimensions: 21" x 12" x 10"
Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz
Another cute bag from bebe with faux leather exterior and croc texture. It is the same size as its sister above.
bebe Adrienne Vittadini 22" Quilted Nylon Duffel ($65)
Dimensions: 22" x 12" x 11"
Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz
This bag is a full 2" too tall, so be very careful not to stuff so it can squeeze down to the right size. It's a good looking bag with an interesting quilted texture, and is 100% vegan, which is always a plus.
Sole Society Lacie Oversized Vegan Weekender ($85)
Dimensions: 19.5" x 15" x 7"
Weight: Not Listed
This bag is one of the few that would fit Vueling's requirements, as well as the other airlines, when full. It's a good looking bag made of vegan faux leather. Some reviews indicate that it is a lower quality bag that does not hold up with use.
That's it for now. I will be posting an update after I decide on a bag and travel with it for a more in-depth review. Until then, ciao!
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