Factors to Consider
Keep in mind the factors listed below will vary from situation to situation. Each airline has their own policies in place and those policies themselves may change from flight to flight depending on current conditions. Each country has its own quirks and nuances, so it’s best to do some in-depth research on the country or countries you plan on visiting to get an idea of what is the norm there.
The tips listed in each subject below will give you an idea of what is generally accepted along with some tips that might save you some trouble later.
Number of Suitcases Allowed
All airlines allow a carry-on bag, although it must meet specific requirements as listed in the next subheading below. Additionally, you can always have one piece of checked luggage as long as it meets the requirements of the airline. Some airlines allow you to have two, and sometimes even 3 checked bags for international flights, but you will need to check the individual airline’s policy to confirm that.
Don’t forget to check each airline that you plan on traveling with, even if it is just a connecting flight. Furthermore, depending on your ticket class, frequent flyer status, and other factors you may be able to check more than one bag, or have a higher maximum weight allowance than standard economy passengers.
Maximum Dimensions and Weight
There are two regulatory bodies that help to govern infrastructure and operations of airports, the International Air Transport Association for international travel, and the Federal Aviation Administration for the USA.
The IATA states they do not set their own baggage rules, rather this is set forth by each individual airline; however they do make a few recommendations. Bags should weigh less than 50lbs/23kg. This is the international regulation set to protect the health and safety of airport baggage handlers who move thousands of bags a day. If your bag exceeds this weight you may receive additional fees because of the extra weight.
In the EU and USA, the maximum weight is 70lbs/32kg. This is the generally accepted number; however some airlines may have lower weight limits imposed. To error on the side of caution, you may want to follow the 50lbs/23kg or less number, to avoid any potential fees.
The measurements of greatest concern are those with carry-on bags. In the US for a domestic flight, carry on bag dimensions are slightly larger. Just because you were able to fly with your carry on last week from New York to Los Angeles, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to bring that same bag with you on your trip to Europe as easily.
The dimensions for domestic and international carry-ons are only slightly different, but can burden you with extra fees if you don’t pay attention to them. Airline measurements include the handle and the wheels. The way most bags are advertised do not include the handle or wheels. Don’t’ forget to add an extra inch or two to the overall size if you are buying your luggage online.
You can see a few reviews here of carry-on luggage with their acutal measurements, not the advertised ones. The MaxLite 4 is a crowd favorite that doesn’t seem to have any problem with domestic airlines.
Some airlines also specify their measurements in linear dimensions. It may seem confusing at first, but the linear measurement is the length, width, and height all added together.
To keep things simple for domestic travel, I recommend purchasing a bag that’s within 21.5”x15.5”x10”. You shouldn’t have a problem with most airlines and unless you ended up bringing back more than you came with, your return flight should be a breeze.
For international travel, you’ll want to go with something slightly smaller just to be on the safe side. A carry-on in the range of 21”x13”x8” is usually a measurement to be around or very close to.
As for checked bags, your luggage needs to be around 62 or less linear inches. Again, add up the length, width, and height for the linear measurement. The majority of large suitcases should fit within the max measurement without a problem, and very few airlines will scrutinize the size of your checked bag, unless it looks abnormally large.
Modes of Transportation and Space Available
Paying attention to airline luggage regulations is important, but some ‘regulations’ don’t exist on the web and you only find out about them once you’re at your destination. More specifically, be aware of the other modes of transportation you’ll be taking to get to your destination and how your bag will get there.
This applies more to adventure travelers, but everyone should be aware of how people in a foreign country move. For example, if you plan on visiting an area which relies heavily on trains, subways, or buses, larger luggage may not fit as easily in some spaces.
These modes of transportation may not have the additional space for a large luggage set. In the US bigger is better and that is reflected in our culture. More trunk space, large overhead compartments, more storage; these luxuries are not always present in other countries. Forget them and you’ll have tough time transporting your belongings.
Thieves are everywhere and as mentioned in the guide on, “How Not to Lose your Luggage,” you always want to be aware of your surroundings and avoid making too much ‘noise’. In other words, bringing flashy luggage, or carrying brand names can draw a lot of attention. Sometimes, this is the wrong attention and can make your bag a target.
This is especially true when you’re in a foreign country and you already have eyes on you for being an ‘outsider’. It doesn’t take long for the locals to pick up on it, so avoid drawing any extra, unwanted attention.
Best Carry-On for International Travel Overall:
Travelpro Crew 11 20″ International Spinner Carry-on Suitcase
TravelPro is a crowd favorite for its price to value. Compared to some higher end carry-ons, TravelPro makes a great product for first time to semi-frequent travelers.
Best Carry-On for International Business Travel:
Briggs & Riley Baseline International Carry-On Expandable Wide-Body 21″ Upright
If you’re traveling often, whether for work or pleasure, you need a carry-on that will stand up to the miles. Briggs & Riley manufacturers one of the best bags in the business and offers a warranty that can’t be beat. If the bag tears, rips, or breaks at any point in time, you can count on them to repair it, free of charge.
Lightest Carry-On for International Travel:
Travelpro Maxlite 4 International Carry-On Spinner Suitcase
TravelPro makes the list again for offering the lightest carry-on on this list. If you’re not someone that’s a fan of moving heavy luggage around, this one is for you. Weighing in at around 7 pounds, this carry-on glides easily from terminal to terminal with 4 spinner wheels and plenty of space for a few days’ worth of belongings.
Most Durable International Carry-On:
Aleon 19″ International Carry-On Aluminum Hardside Luggage
I was hesitant to place this one on the list because of the higher price tag, but because of its full aluminum body and compact size, I decided to add it. Again, the body on this carry-on is made aircraft-grade aluminum, which is incredibly lightweight and strong. It measures 19.4”x 14.1” x 7.3”, which is right around our target measurement.
Eagle Creek Expanse International Carry-on Luggage
This carry-on is for someone that spends more time outdoors than in meeting rooms. The bag features external latch points which allows for you to strap it to the top of a car. Additionally, there are locking zippers to help prevent theft and treaded wheels that will help you navigate the bag over rough or uneven surfaces.
Also published on Medium.