Extra checked bag fees, crowded baggage claims, lost suitcases, and delays: now more than ever families traveling via airplane have incentive to carry their bags on the plane with them rather than checking a bag. With all the gear, clothes, diapers, wipes, and snacks required to travel with small children, it might feel easier to just pay the money and drop your suitcases off with the front desk. However, with the right piece of luggage, a little bit of planning, and participation from the whole family, you can definitely pull off flying with only carry-on suitcases.
I’ve been in the market for a new carry-on suitcase myself these days. You see, almost a decade ago, my parents gifted me with a bright red set of luggage one Christmas to help me with some of my upcoming travels. That luggage served me so well. It was always easy to find, and withstood trips to Siberia, Paris, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, London, Brazil, and too many road trips and moves to count.
Now that I’m embarking on my career as a travel writer, this luggage is beginning to fall apart, zippers are getting stuck, and I often regret not having the four-wheel spinner feature at the airport. I’ve been looking for a sleek new hard-sided carry-on-size suitcase to serve me well for the next few years.
Yes, luggage can get expensive, but I truly believe there are many affordable and quality options out there, making carry-on travel accessible to anyone. If you’re in the market for a new bag or two to allow your family to skip the baggage claim, I’ve done the research for you to find. the best carry-on suitcases on the market. All you have to do is pick a color and fly!
THE BEST CARRY-ON SUITCASES FOR FAMILIES
AWAY - THE CARRY-ON
I’ve had my eye on Away suitcases for some time now, as it seems to be a very popular brand among fellow travel bloggers. I can see why! They’re beautifully designed, very functional, and come with a lifetime guarantee.
The Carry-On suitcase is 21.7” and comes with a nylon laundry bag and a compression pad to help you fit more into the 2 compartments. This is essential for traveling families, because kids (especially babies and toddlers) always seem to have wet, messy, or dirty clothes, and the compression is great for fitting more of the necessities.
The exterior is an unbreakable polycarbonate that comes in a multitude of colors. This spinner suitcase is lightweight and easy to maneuver. Finally, there is an optional ejectable battery for charging your devices on-the-go. Seems like they thought of everything!
DELSEY LUGGAGE HELIUM AERO
This is another hard case suitcase with polycarbonate exterior, spinner wheels, and 2 inches of expandability. It measures 23.5 inches, which works as a carry-on in the United States, but does not fit the requirements for many international carriers. There seem to be mixed reviews in the comments about whether people were able to use it as a carry-on for their international flights. Delsey prides itself in design, so you know you’re getting a sleek-looking piece of luggage.
I think this would be a great piece of luggage if the majority of your travel is domestic! The extra expandability seems perfect for parents traveling with kids, because there’s always one more thing to stuff in the bag (diapers, wipes, extra outfit, muslin blanket, etc).
AMAZONBASICS HARDSIDE SPINNER LUGGAGE - 20 IN CARRY-ON
I’ve been loving that Amazon is producing its own merchandise, so I was very curious to research and read reviews about their luggage. It’s quite a bit cheaper than most other brands, but at first glance it seems to have many of the same features. It’s exterior is made of ABS, which means it’s supposed to be quite durable, it has 4 double spinner wheels for very smooth maneuvering, and fully lined interior with 3 zipper compartments.
The only cons that I read multiple times were that the handle doesn’t feel very stable, and there were multiple reports of thinks breaking on the first or second trip. (On the flip side, many many people seemed VERY happy with their purchase). There is a 3-year limited warranty, so if low price is important to you, it might be worth it to give it a try.
I guess with AmazonBasics you get what you pay for, and it seems like a good solid suitcase for infrequent travelers. For families looking to travel carry-on only, this is a great option because you can buy a suitcase for multiple family members without breaking the bank!
TRAVELPRO MAXLITE 4 EXPANDABLE 21 INCH SPINNER SUITCASE
Travelpro is known as a quality and durable brand for frequent travelers. If you like a little more flexibility for packing, this is a soft-sided suitcase made with stain-proof polyester, and it has an outside pocket. The Travelpro Maxlite 4 is 21 inches long, and should fit in most overhead bins. By most accounts, the handle and wheels are sturdy and can handle walking over cobblestone roads and up and down stairs. This suitcase has 4 spinner wheels, but can also do well on two wheels as a roller suitcase.
This looks like a great option for those who don’t like the hard shell suitcases and want a classic, dependable bag. The flexibility of a soft-sided suitcase and the durability of this brand are qualities parents look for when packing for kids.
SAMSONITE FREEFORM HARDSIDE SPINNER 21
When traveling with young kids, you really start to feel like a sherpa or a pack mule juggling babies, toddlers, car seats, strollers, suitcases, backpacks, and more. The last thing you need is a suitcase that’s already weighing you down before you even pack something in it.
The Samsonite Freeform is renowned for being extremely lightweight, but can still fit quite a lot of gear. It’s also got the smooth spinner wheels, scratch-resistant exterior, and plenty of interior compartments for organization. This seems perfect for hauling around the airport when you’re already pushing kids in a stroller.
JEN ATKIN X CALPAK CARRY-ON LUGGAGE
Not only is this Calpak carry-on GORGEOUSLY designed, smooth, and lightweight, but it comes with stickers you can use to decorate the clear coat dust cover. As a mom to 3 kids who are obsessed with stickers, I could see this being a very enjoyable activity while we wait for our plane.
Another feature I love about this suitcase is that instead of a zipper closure, it has an aluminum frame that snaps shut. Has any other parent been through the hell that is TSA with a baby? Trying to hold the baby while opening the zipper to your pack or suitcase with one hand? The worst. This seems perfect for moms traveling with a baby on their hip. WE REALLY CAN HAVE IT ALL, YOU GUYS.
MELISSA AND DOUG TRUNKI
Ok, this one’s just for the kids. Trunki is a carry-on size suitcase that kids can ride through the airport. It’s a fun way to teach children to be responsible for their own clothes or entertainment during travel without having to battle them every step of the way. The designs are super cute, and kids would be able to use it as storage or play with it at home, so it’s not something that would end up in the back of your closet between each year’s vacation.
In a few people’s reviews of the Trunki, they said that they used this suitcase in place of a stroller through the airport as a place for their little ones to sit and rest, and the kids could even be pulled through the airport.
GENIUS PACK AERIAL HARDSIDE CARRY-ON SPINNER
If there’s anything I’ve learned from traveling with kids, it’s that organization is paramount. You have to be able to reach things with one hand and know where items are at a moment’s notice. That’s where the Genius Pack Aerial Hardside comes in. it comes with a laundry compartment, a packing list printed on the inside of the suitcase, built-in compartments for socks, underwear, and chargers, and a compression strap to help you fit more in.
The outside of the suitcase is polished and minimalist. Just because you’re a mom, doesn’t mean you can’t have beautiful luggage!
EMMZOE HARDSHELL BABY KIDS GEAR
This is a really cool option for parents traveling with babies, toddlers, and little kids. The Emmzoe Hardshell Baby Kids Gear suitcase comes with a detachable insert with an insulated pouch for milk, water, or snacks, along with several cupholder-type pouches for bottles, sippy cups, water bottles, etc. There are multiple compartments to help store kids’ clothes, shoes, diapers, wipes, etc - everything you’ll need for the duration of your journey. I could see this being super helpful for parents taking little kids on a cross-country or international flight, or a journey with layovers where you’ll need to get bottles prepared and snacks out for the kids.
ACCESSORIES FOR CARRY-ON LUGGAGE
If you’ve read any of my other posts about packing, you know I think packing cubes are a game-changer for any traveler. They help you keep clothes compressed and organized, and it’s a lot easier to unpack and get settled in at your destination.
This is especially true with kid when you might be packing for multiple people in the same suitcase. We use these packing cubes, but I’ll link to a few more options to help you fit more in your carry-on suitcase!
ATTACHABLE LUGGAGE TOTE
Have you ever traveled through an airport dragging a suitcase while simultaneously pushing a stroller? Yes, me too. If you happen to have any type of personal bag besides a backpack, it will either be falling off your shoulder or off the top of the suitcase. Try an attachable luggage tote that slides over the handle of your suitcase if you’re the type that doesn’t like to use a backpack.
FLAT COSMETIC BAG
I just received one of these as a Christmas gift, and I’m so excited for it! Basically you can lay all of your makeup or jewelry on the circular piece of fabric, then cinch the top until it becomes a bag. It’s easy to keep makeup organized with all the little compartments in there, or just throw everything in at once. The beauty of it is that if packs relatively flat, and you’re able to see everything at once when you open it rather than having to dig to the bottom of your makeup bag.
LAYFLAT TOILETRY BAG
This lay flat toiletry bag is a must if you’re trying to fit more into a carry-on suitcase. it has multiple pockets for organization and will lay perfectly flat on top of your packing cubes or clothes without taking up much space at all.
If you happen to have a common suitcase color, like black, make sure you have a permanent tag on your luggage that’s brightly colored or has a funky pattern to help your suitcase stand out at a glance. Though you plan to carry it on, you may be asked to gate check it if the overhead compartments are full. Better to be prepared!
Don’t be afraid to invest a bit in a good carry-on suitcase. A one-time purchase could save you hundreds in checked bag fees, even if you only travel a few times a year. Hopefully this research helped you narrow down your choices and choose a carry-on suitcase that is perfect for your needs.
For further reading about packing and air travel with kids…