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If we’ve crossed paths in an airport, I’ve most definitely scrutinized your suitcase.
I am strangely attuned to people’s choice of luggage. Colors, brands, sizes, you name it — I’m making a mental note of it. Perhaps it stems from all the time I’ve spent in baggage claim, anxious about having to fight my way past the people who insist on standing too close to the carousel, not to mention the constant fear that my bag has been lost in transit. I’ve started treating it like sport.
But then, over the past couple of years, with the increase in popularity of certain luggage brands — cough, Away — I started noticing something else, which only enhanced my anxiety: All the suitcases started looking the same. On every flight I’ve taken since 2015, there’s been at least five medium Away suitcases in black. How do those people feel at baggage claim, with no way of knowing at first glance which bag is theirs? Do any of them ever get to their destination, go to change out of their travel clothes and realize, “Oh, shit. This isn’t mine”? It makes me sweat just thinking about it.
This is why, after the first time I went to use my check-in-size suitcase post-pandemic and the handle popped off, I knew I had to be smart when purchasing my next set. Now, don’t get me wrong — Away is great. I understand the hype, and I have every intention of fueling that hype (see below), but there’s no shortage of exceptional luggage brands on the market right now. I knew I wanted something of Away’s caliber, but something that would stand out, too.
Thus, I set out on a personal quest to find the perfect carry-on for me, based on a set of criteria with an emphasis on durability, recognizability and functionality. I’m not above saying that I wanted it to look good, too. So without any further ado, I present to you my findings.
This cult-classic Rimowa case exudes luxury and obviously warrants a spot on this list. Buying out a private island in the BVI’s sometime in the near future? Or want to feel like you are? You’re going to want this case. It’s so handsome it’s stopped me dead in my tracks on more than one occasion. The Original Rimowa suitcase, with its iconic groove design inspired by the golden age of aviation, is certainly the most recognizable of the brand’s offerings, but the polycarbonate bags — available in seasonal candy colors inspired by far-flung destinations — are, in my opinion, just as good. All of them feature TSA-approved locks, flex dividers, a multi-wheel system and a telescoping handle.You really can’t go wrong with any of the Rimowa cases.
The last time I was at the airport, I purposely scoped out the scene for this bag and was surprised when I didn’t see it literally everywhere. That’s how good it is. The Zipper Carry-On Max could feasibly be used for a five-day warm-weather trip (I brought it to Tulum). It’s got 360-degree spinner wheels, a TSA-approved combination lock and an antimicrobial interior to keep things fresh — an underrated feature for any warm-weather trip. The front pocket is extremely convenient for stowing a laptop (particularly when it comes time to go through security), and the battery is ideal for charging your phone on the go. It comes with two shoe bags, a laundry bag and is as sleek as it is sturdy. The Carry-On Max, like all of Arlo Skye’s zipper bags, comes in five colorways — Sea Sage, Garnet, Lemon, Navy and Black. I went with Sea Sage and I have zero regrets about that.
To exclude Away would be foolish and disingenuous. I am one of millions of already-established fans — along with the likes of Rashida Jones, Karlie Kloss and Dwyane Wade — and it is indisputable that Away is one of the best brands on the market. Their signature polycarbonate cases are some of the most beloved in the luggage space, but I’d like to introduce you to the Away Aluminum edition case, which features an interior compression system, a clip-in, pocketed panel for added storage, hidden laundry bag, 360-degree spinner wheels and twin closures — both of which have TSA-approved combination lock. It retains all the best of its polycarbonate counterpart, but it’s packaged in a tough aluminum shell. It’s still recognizable as Away — so people will know that you know your shit — but there won’t be quite as many of them on your flight.
July is an Aussie luggage brand effectively built on the back of thousands of reviews of other luggage brands. The takeaway was that consumers wanted “better reinforcement of corners and bends, a better business model around trials and warranty, and more considered features for travel,” among other things. July’s current product line is the fruit those reviews bear. Featuring a polycarbonate construction, the signature case is designed to hold the maximum amount that’s allowed inside the cabin with you. Plus, it has an ejectable battery that’s approved for flying across all major airlines. The best feature of all, though? They’ll personalize your bag with your pets face. 10/10.
A polycarbonate case with spinner wheels, a TSA-approved lock and pocket dividers, it’s extra noteworthy for its expandable capacity — a feature that I find is lacking (for obvious reasons) in many hard-sided suitcases. Sharp and contemporary, the Hue Medium is the perfect companion for a week long trip, even to a cool-weather destination that may require you to pack some bulkier layers. It’s also worth noting that Calpak carries a plethora of corresponding travel accessories — I’m particularly fond of the packing cubes — that fit really neatly into their various-sized cases.
Touted as the “Apple of suitcases” and inspired by the Japanese concept of mono no aware or “the profound appreciation of the beauty in fleeting moments,” Monos is best known for minimalistic polycarbonate bags, available in four sizes — carry-on, carry-on plus, check-in medium and check-in large — and in 10 different colors. With Hinomoto Lisof Silent Run 360-degree wheels, a soft, anti-microbial interior, vegan leather details and a TSA-approved combination lock, Monos is a brand that should be on your radar. A nice bonus here: When empty, the carry-on nests inside the medium check-in, which is huge for those of us with limited storage at home. I found the Check-In Medium to be the perfect sized for a weeklong trip, and I’m currently manifesting a Monos carry-on to tuck inside.
Born in the American Midwest oil fields at the hands of industrialist Erle Halliburton, Zero Halliburton has been favored by design-conscious jet-setters since 1938. Early pioneers of aluminum suitcases, the company now offers a range of products in a variety of shapes and materials, including polycarbonate, carbon fiber and soft-sided cases. Their bags have also been charged with carrying moon rocks from the Apollo 11 mission back to earth and serving as the Nuclear Football for U.S. presidents. So, uh … it’s definitely good enough for me. I recently tested a piece from the brand’s new Brilliant Collection, which is a secondary line of hard-sided travel cases in a handsome, shiny, mirror-like finish. Almost entirely customized, the cases feature Zero Halliburton’s signature double rib design, a bespoke pull handle designed for an ergonomic palm fit, patented ZH Concave Edging, performance-enhancing ball bearing wheels and matte details. I just used mine on a trip Glacier National Park and was somehow able to fit both hiking and wedding attire comfortably in a carry-on and so now I’m a fan for life.
Roam allows customers to customize their own luggage, which practically eliminates the possibility of someone having the same bag as you, unless, of course, they happen to have the exact (flawless) taste as you, in which case it’s a compliment. (Please note that my editor was less than impressed by my color choices, but to each their own). You start the process by selecting a front shell color, of which there are six options, and then a second for the back shell. Then you get to pick the colors for your zipper, binding, handle, wheels and (free!) monogram patch, for which there are between nine and eleven different options. And while I was obviously jazzed by the prospect of total customization, it’s important to note that this suitcase is hardly just a cutesy arts and crafts project. Its heavy duty but surprisingly lightweight considering its size. It’s got a telescoping handle with four height settings, an ergonomic handle grip, TSA-approved combination lock, ball bearing wheels, an interior compression system and made for the perfect companion on my most recent four day trip to the Virgin Islands.
Lojel got its start in Japan a little over thirty years ago when founder Chih Chang Chiang broke into the luggage industry at twenty-one with just a sewing machine and a few handmade leather bags. Despite those humble beginnings, Lojel is now a global brand specializing in what they’ve deemed “attainable luxury.”Available in seven colorways, the Lojel Cubo case is durable, versatile, dependable and affordable. Constructed with a textured polycarbonate, the Cubo has an expandable body, a unique compact zipper design, which reduces exposure and subsequent abrasion and enhances security, 360-degree wheels, a TSA-approved combo lock and a frontal compartment, a clutch for storing your laptop and any other travel essentials you may need in a pinch. it was designed specifically for easy access in tight spaces.
While Béis markets primarily to women, it’s undeniable that they make a solid product, and I’d be remiss not to include them in this roundup. This summer, I ordered the Béis weekender bag on a whim in anticipation of a trip to Sag Harbor, and then a month later, I caved and bought the matching cosmetic bag. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I haven’t stopped thinking about all the ways I could conceivably use the two since. All of their cases are expandable, stain-resistant and feature 360-degree smooth-rolling wheels, a handle with a cushy, silicone grip and — get this — a weight indicator so you don’t have to worry about finding out at check-in that you’ve exceeded the 50-pound weight limit. Available in just three colorways — black, grey and beige — I truly believe all of the Béis cases could pass as unisex. If you disagree, fine, but I’d encourage you keep them in mind the next time you’re in search of a gift for the jet-setting woman in your life.
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