Find your perfect suitcase, carry-on or backpack based on suggestions from the most experienced travelers
by Jennifer Mitchell
As you’re preparing for your spring break travels, you might find that you’re in need of a new bag. Zeroing in on the perfect travel bag is highly dependent on your needs and style, but it’s worth noting that many of today’s most popular travel bloggers are skipping the fashionable, Instagram-ubiquitous brand options like Away, Ebby Rane, Arlo Skye, TUMI or Victorinox, in favor of more durable or practical bags from lesser known brands.
Since many of these savvy travelers spend huge portions of their time on the road, we figured they would be able to offer some advice for bags that are made for the serious traveler. We read through every blog, article and Insta post about bags that these celeb travelers love and here’s what we learned.
Jada Yuan – 2018 52 Places Traveler
Last year, the New York Times enhanced their 52 Places column by sending out one lucky traveler to visit each destination on its list throughout year. In 2018, Jada Yuan, having spent over a decade at New York Magazine, was the lucky journalist selected.
When looking for the perfect bag, Jada notes two things. The first is finding the most compact, yet spacious bag. Because she traveled the world alone, Jada needed a bag she could lift and handle herself. But she also needed a bag spacious enough to fit a substantial amount of clothing, toiletries and gear. Second, she needed a bag that could take a beating. While luggage tends to look beautiful when leaving your house, it’s going to be a little worse for the wear after being tossed around by airline workers or being dragged through the literal mud.
Jada’s backpack: the Osprey Fairview 40, which features an aluminum frame, waistband and chest strap, making it perfect for long travel days.
Jada’s suitcase: a two-wheeled Briggs & Riley Baseline International Carry-On. The soft-bodied design allows for easy packing and is durable enough to pull through any terrain. And the two-wheeled structure adds an extra layer of protection against theft.
Lee Abbamonte – Multimedia Travel Personality
The youngest person to visit every country in the world (plus the North and South Poles), Lee Abbamonte is an entrepreneur, multimedia travel personality and travel expert. Having traveled to every nook and cranny in the world, Lee insists that checked bags aren’t necessary. His goal: to pack a bag that doesn’t weigh more than 15.5 pounds (the lowest maximum weight for airline carry-ons).
Lee’s carry-on through many of his adventures: the Osprey Meridian 22’ roller, which can also convert into a backpack. The backpack has four zippered side pockets, a top pocket for easy access to small items and a rear panel for magazines or a tablet. Inside the bag, compression straps hold everything in place, so your personal items don’t get smashed or jumbled during transit. If you’re using the bag as a backpack, you can unzip the rear panel to adjust the suspension to avoid injury or fatigue. More recently, Lee has become affiliated with Travelpro luggage and has favorable early reports from his experience with their Crew Expandable Rollaboard Suiter.
Chris Guillebeau – The Original Travel Quester
Chris is a New York Times bestselling author and modern-day explorer, who has visited every country in the world and continuously works from the road. His books include, “The Art of Non-Conformity,” “The $100 Startup,” “Side Hustle,” and “The Happiness of Pursuit,” in which he discusses the concept of a travel quest—what we’re all about here at No Small Plan.
He too never checks a bag regardless of where he’s going or for how long. In a post on his website, Chris mentions trying to replace his long-time carry-on bag. After testing several other bags, he came back to the tried-and-true bag that took him to nearly 100 countries.
Chris’ carry-on: the Empire Builder bag. Chris notes that this bag has several pouches that offer quick access to tickets, phones and other important items. The bag is built to endure years of abuse with sturdy two-inch buckles and foam handles.
Brian Kelly – The Points Guy
Brian Kelly made a name for himself back in 2010 when he started a blog that helps readers maximize their travel experiences with loyalty programs, credit cards and miles. He takes over a hundred flights across dozens of airlines every year.
Brian notes that functionality is the number one thing he looks for in a bag. (That and looking cool—which we must say, he does.) Though Brian’s tastes tend to veer into the designer arena, he notes that he’s had each bag for several years which translates to hundreds of flights, so they’re worth the investment if you can swing it.
Brian’s backpack: Valentino Camo, which fits a laptop and toiletry bag and has an external pouch for quick access. It’s also one of the most stylish bags we’ve seen.
Brian’s suitcase: Rimowa Salsa Cabin Black Matte Suitcase, which is perfect for wheeling through any terrain. The lightweight, yet durable suitcase also contains a mesh divider and TSA-approved locks.
Sebastian Modak – 2019 52 Places Traveler
An editor and staff writer at Condé Nast Traveler and multimedia storyteller, Sebastian was selected to be the 2019 New York Times’ 52 Places traveler. Though his 52 Places journey just recently began, he’s no stranger to travel. His writing has taken him all over the world, and growing up, his family moved every few years, making travel a constant in his life.
Sebastian’s go-to bag: the Aerial Hardside Carry On Spinner from GeniusPack. This bag offers maximum size carry-on with a minimalist design. The light, but strong structure and 360-degree spinner wheels, make it easy to maneuver. Sebastian’s favorite feature: labeled compartments for your socks and chargers, and a secluded laundry compartment—so packing is a breeze.
There's actually a hilarious Twitter account dedicated to the adventures of Sebastian's bag as its owner travels the world: @52PlacesLuggage.
Kiersten Rich – The Blonde Abroad
A California native, Kiersten left a career in corporate wealth management to embark on a summer of travel. Through traveling the world and documenting her journey, she created The Blonde Abroad, the go-to website for solo and female travel around the world.
Though product partnerships have introduced her to a number of bags, there’s one she claims is her go-to.
Kiersten’s carry-on: the Lo & Sons’ Overnight & Gym Bag. The lightweight bag has both short handles and a cross-body strap. It also contains a padded laptop compartment and a side pocket for shoes.
Kara Walsh – No Small Plan
Kara was inspired to found No Small Plan as she pursued her travel quest to visit 50 countries. Her vision was to create a platform to spark conversation between like-minded explorers, inspiring others to be more adventurous and set their own travel-related quest. She continues to travel the world while curating new designs for travel quest–inspired apparel.
Kara’s carry-on: the Samsonite 1910 soft-side carry-on has accompanied her on trips to more than 35 countries. It's had a good ride and admittedly has seen better days. In her search for a replacement, she’s been unable to find a new bag that preserves her favorite feature: the stealthy side padded laptop compartment, which makes it easy to slip her laptop in and out without making the bag front-heavy. Because it’s practically hidden, it also lessens concerns about leaving your laptop in your hotel room when it won’t fit in the safe. If anybody has seen this feature recently in a carry-on spinner bag, please reply in the comments below (bonus points if it meets international airline size restrictions and looks gorgeous!).
Pro Tips for Finding the Best Travel Bag
Though each traveler’s bag is different, we found a few common threads through their comments and suggestions.
1. Make sure your bag meets TSA and airline regulations.
Before traveling, be sure to read the TSA rules on locks and items that can (or can’t) be packed in your carry-on or checked bag. Be mindful of the latest rules related to built-in phone chargers; yours will probably need to be ejectable even if you’re carrying the bag on the plane. You’ll also want to confirm bag size restrictions with each of the airlines in your itinerary to avoid unexpectedly having to check what you thought was going to be your carry-on (this is particularly important for flights originating outside of the U.S.) and incurring unforeseen baggage fees.
2. The bag is only as good as the packer.
Whether you’re packing a 3’ x 2’ suitcase or 14” backpack, the space is not as important as the way you use it. For tips on how to pack like a pro, visit our blog post on packing for a long trip.
3. Less is more.
This was a common note from these pro travelers. In fact, those who took longer trips, like 52 Places’ Jada Yuan, found that the longer the trip, the less you’ll need. After all, the more you pack, the more you have to stress about and the longer it takes to get ready to move from place to place.
Do you have a go-to bag that’s accompanied you on trips around the world? Let us know what you love in the comments below and share a pic of your bag on social with the hashtag #SmallBagBigPlans.
Jennifer Mitchell is a blogger, comedian, freelance copywriter and travel enthusiast.
** Please know that while the products featured are selected based entirely on travel experience, research and editorial opinion, we do participate in affiliate programs which may result in revenue from products purchased through some of our links. **