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Best Carry-on Luggage for Europe

Apologies if this has already been answered on another thread:

Assuming that we can take our trip to Italy this summer (boo, Coronoavirus!), my husband and i want to try travelling with carry-on luggage only. We have old carry-ons that have only two wheels; can anyone tell me the advantages to switching to a 4 or 8 wheel design, or any recommendations for carry-ons that have good interior organization? Genius Pack and Away are cost prohibitive for us, so I'm hoping that someone else has a recommendation for similar type bags at a reasonable price (i.e. under $175). I'm specifically wanting to know if a 4 or 8 wheel design will be at a risk for breaking on stairs or cobblestones; or should be just stick with what we have? The last thing we want to do is have to buy new luggage in Europe if something goes wrong! If it helps, we will be in Milan, Lake Como and Cinque Terre for 3 weeks in the summer, so we will be packing light! Answers are appreciated.

Thanks! Melissa

Posted by
6387 posts

Why buy a new bag? Stick with what you have that has worked as long as it meets the airline size rules for carry ons.

Posted by
671 posts

I prefer two wheels because they usually are tucked up inside the suitcase, so you don't lose length due to the wheels. I know the suitcase is a bit wobblier, but I appreciate more suitcase space. I've searched all over to find the two-wheeled models, which are harder to find. Note that many online measurements seem to measure the INSIDE of the suitcase, and not include the wheels.
IMHO, the only reason I would get rid of your old two-wheeled suitcases would be that they are heavy [6+ lbs.]
In either case, have a great trip and safe- and healthy- travels!

Posted by
2275 posts

If what you have works, stick with it. No need to spend extra.

Many people say that the 4 wheel "spinner" style isn't good in Europe. I recently bought one and...it's fine. Yes, it's less than ideal on cobblestone, but most of my walking is on regular sidewalk/streets, or inside airports/train stations. The hassle on cobblestone is worth it for the ease eveywhere else...plus the bags just seem to be easier to organize for me. Mine is a hardside from Target, looks kinda like an imitation Away. All such bags I've seen have two big compartments, one I use for shoes/misc stuff and one for clothes. It just seems easier to me. One issue is that there is no exterior pocket. This makes getting out my toiletries bag/electronics at security a bit more annoying than in my other bag - a Rick Steves rolling carry on with exterior pockets where I'd keep those things.

The key will to make sure your bag can be lifted up stairs and carried if the rolling conditions are difficult. That's mainly a function of how heavy your bag is. A lighter bag to start with is helpful, but what you put in it matters more.

Posted by
448 posts

The 4/8 wheel spinners work best on smooth flat pavement - sidewalks, airport floors, ramps, etc. They're fast, easy to maneuver compared to a 2 wheeler bag in those circumstances. On stairs or cobblestone streets you're better off with 2 wheels.

Not sure of the luggage brands you mention but they seem to have organization built in. I much prefer using packing cubes since my packing plan tends to change from trip to trip. I like Amazon Basics because of the choices of sizes, colors and reasonable price. You can also find decent choices at places like Target. If you've never used packing cubes watch some YouTube videos to get some ideas.

$175? - my last two checked bags didn't cost that much in total. One from Costco (Ricardo - ok brand but Air France broke off one of the wheels which they paid to repair) and Tuesday Morning (Travelpro - so far so good). One thing I like on the TravelPro is the way the corners have protection from scuffing which was showing on the Ricardo.

Posted by
18 posts

All good answers! Our current bags are 10-12 years old and weigh at least 8 pounds! I like the thought of the ease of having the multi-wheeled bags on regular sidewalk/train stations/airports, which is the thing that will be most common for us!

Posted by
671 posts

Oh, 8 lbs is TOO heavy. Most carry-on weight limits are 8kg, which is about 17.5 lbs. After much planning and organizing, the best I can do is 18.5 lbs, but I've never been declined by the airlines for this weight. I usually have a small backpack, and no purse.

The challenge is that European dimensions are just different, and it's hard to find those exact dimensions, so we end up buying smaller. Length and depth [fatness?] are similar, but it's the width- the measurement across the top of the suitcase [where the handle is. I sure hope I explained that clearly.] If you really search, you can find the European dimensions here.

Good luck!

Posted by
20569 posts

I think you missed the point about smooth surfaces. Smooth surfaces, especially sidewalks and streets, in Europe are rare. We much prefer two wheel bags in Europe because of the cobblestone streets, broken sidewalks, etc., And general the wheels on two wheel bags are much large and travel over rough areas easier because of their size. The tiny wheels on 4 wheel bags get caught in every crack because you have to drag a 4 wheel bag in the same manner as a two wheel. 4 wheel bags only have an advantage going down the aisle of an airplane. However, if your bags are that heavy then you might consider lighter bags. I actually prefer a bag that is an empty rectangle with no dividers or compartments. That way, I can use my own bags - generall zip lock bags to organize everything. And finally, you can get good bags well under $175. My most recent bag was than $50 bought a Ross. An expensive bag can get damage just as easily as a cheap bag but you will not feel as bad with a cheap bag.

Posted by
16608 posts

It's quite likely that the old bags don't meet the carry-on limits of a lot of (maybe all?) European airlines, so the first thing to do is measure the bags, including the wheels and and handle, and see whether the total external measurements are OK. Check the website of every airline you might use, and keep in mind that--even if it doesn't happen this year--you may at some point want to take an intra-European flight.

Right now is a great time to buy new suitcases--as long as you want 4 wheels or 8 wheels; there are very few 2-wheeled bags out there. TJMaxx and Marshalls are awash in bags. I suspect a bag with 8 wheels is a bit less prone to failure than a bag with 4 wheels, but of course the basic quality of the wheels is a significant factor. It stands to reason that some manufacturers (tending to be the more expensive ones) use better wheels than others. I think most airlines specifically absolve themselves of all responsibility for wheels and handles.

TravelPro generally gets good reviews, but the company has different lines with different prices and weights--and I assume different quality.

My travel mate last year had a brand new 4-wheeled Ricardo bag. One of the wheels self-destructed the second or third time she changed hotels. She hadn't rolled the bag through gravel or anything like that. So I'd be very leery of that brand in particular--though she could have just been extremely unlucky.

The "It" brand of luggage is very light. I'm sure the construction isn't as sturdy as what you'd find on something like the better TravelPro models, but those weigh quite a bit more. It is a trade-off.

Someone on the forum pointed out a potentially significant disadvantage to the hard-shell bags, which are rapidly taking over the luggage display space in retail stores. Since the opening normally runs right around the middle of the bag (like a clamshell) and have your clothing in packed in the top, you need to open it all the way so it lies flat if you want to retrieve something. That's not as easy to do in tiny European hotel rooms as it is in the US. I have seen a very few hard shells with off-set openings, but none made like a typical soft bag with the zipper running around the upper edge.

Posted by
5239 posts

LOVED pushing my spinner through the airports and train stations, down train aisles ... but every time I had to go up or down a curb the little wheels drove me crazy. When I saw a 2-wheeler TravelPro at the thrift store I grabbed it and enjoyed using it on my last trip.

Posted by
20569 posts

Your are right Laura -- experience is a great teacher. My attitude exactly.

Posted by
16608 posts

I, too, have used both and vastly prefer bags with two wheels. But it appears the market has spoken. When I found two suitable 2-wheeled bags at TJMaxx a couple of weeks ago, I bought them both. I've been back to the store since then but saw no more.

Look up eagle creek luggage. Also, Patagonia or Eddie Bauer. These are all good brands. Stay with two wheels. Look up your airlines size requirements first if you are doing carry-on only. If you are doing checked luggage - you can use a larger case. Maximum dimensions for me would be 22x14x9.
40-45 liter size. Again - check your airline's size requirements. A bag around 5 - 6.5 lb.s is reasonable.

Posted by
2300 posts

You need to pay close attention to sizes for the airlines you're flying-if it's a European one, the size will be smaller and they limit the weight and do weigh the bags. The size must include the wheels. For AirFrance, I bought the smaller Travel Pro carryon from Amazon, approx $100. I like it.

Posted by
6540 posts

I've noticed many world travelers using TravelPro luggage. We bought ours at TJ Maxx very reasonably, and it's also available on Amazon. We got the ultra light 21" swivel wheel bag, and it's easier to roll down the aisles of airplanes. We also have a 22" 2 wheel carry on TravelPro, but we like the lighter version better.

Posted by
915 posts

Hi Melissa, as you see, everyone has a favorite brand so choose what you like. But I do encourage you to buy a lighter weight 2-wheel suitcase. Both my SIL and I used RS Rolling Carry On Suitcase when we went to Italy last year. Packed, mine weighted 22 lbs. outbound. Coming home, I expanded it and checked the bag.

We flew Delta and had no problems with luggage size. Some of the low cost carriers have smaller size restrictions so, as mentioned above, check with your airline. This Airline luggage size website may help you.

Packing cubes are very helpful (I think). They will be a hot topic, just like suitcases. There are many threads pro and con on the forum.

Edited to add: I thought I liked the RS packing cubes, light weight and sized right. But after putting my finger through the mess too many times then sewing the rip, I gave up. I found Sharper Image packing cubes at TJMaxx that work good. I also have Eagle Creek slim compression cube and regular narrow cubes but seldom use them.

Yes Horsewoofie! Packing Cubes! I like ebags.com - ebags brand -classic - value set with slimline cubes included. Bright colors - so, easy to see.

Posted by
8504 posts

As someone who has worked with bags and reviewed them let me chime in. You are getting a lot of personal opinions and prejudices.

The first thing you want to do is look at budget. There are some decent bags in the $175 range.

Next you have to decide what type of bag you want to use: two or four wheel. Both have their pros and cons. And what people use is what they prefer over the other.

I have used all types of bags including both two and four wheels. I am currently using a spinner. It's true that over rough surfaces you sometimes have to drag it like two wheeled bags but on smoother pavement--both inside and out--it rolls fine on four wheels. And since I've seen many smooth Europepan sidewalks, as well as rough ones, I'm sticking with the spinner.

The key is to make sure you get good wheels. Look at the type that are on bags like Away or even the Rick Steves Spinner. They are connected directly through the wheel into the bag itself. Get only those types of wheels. They are also easier to roll. The cheaper one, the ones that look like little balls connected to a plate that is then screwed into the bag are much more prone to breakage and handling problems.

I found with two wheel bags, my shoulder would start to ache from pulling it. Others may not have this problem.

My suggestion is simple. Try one of these two things.

1) Ask all of your friends or co-workers and see if any have a spinner you could borrow for a day. Then fill it with 15-20 pounds of stuff. (A weighted down spinner will act differently than an empty one.). Then go for a walk and see how you like it.

2) If none of your friends have one, some luggage companies will let you try their luggage for 100 days and if you don't like it, return it at no cost to you. Get one and try it out. You can always return it.

It really is personal preference. Neither way is right or wrong. It's just what is right for you.

As for where to buy them, many of the stores listed above are good--Marshalls, TJMaxx, etc. Just bring a tape measure with you because some manufacturers only includ the dimensions of the bag on their tags and do not include the handle and wheels.

Posted by
447 posts

I just want to add one other consideration after an experience with a ebag carry-on. Check the width of the bag. This particular 2 wheel bag was a real pain getting it down the aisle of the plane as it was a couple of inches too wide to drag it and a two-wheel doesn't go sideways. It did not make another international trip. I like my eagle creek 21-inch tarmac but it was expensive and sometimes I feel it is really a little too small. (I have come to the conclusion that I will check my bags on a European budget airline and buy luggage for the American carry on size). I also like my 4 wheel travel pro - that is probably my favorite piece of luggage. It is much easier for the aisle of the plane, airport, pavements, etc and just easier to deal with. It is also cheaper than the Eagle creek.
Margaret

Posted by
645 posts

Carry what you like. If you like what you have don't change.

I'm an Osprey fan. Over cobblestones, nothing beats a good backpack and Osprey's travel packs open wide like real luggage and zip the straps away to present a clean looking duffel. And they are lightweight and strong. For this next trip I splurged and bought a convertible with wheels because it looks like I'll have more sidewalk and less cobbles to deal with. I'm keeping the old backpack though. I see cobbles in my future.

Posted by
5450 posts

If you are buying new carry-on size bags make sure that they meet the more restrictive European air carrier sizes. And make sure that the dimensions are outside out-to-out dimensions, not inside. And that includes wheels and handles. See Consumer Union article:
https://www.consumerreports.org/luggage/When-carry-on-luggage-isnt-carry-on-size/

Also note that some airlines have weight limit. For example Lufthansa has an 8 kg (17.6#) maximum weight limit. if your bag is 8# empty, that allows you less than 10# of stuff.

My preference is zero wheels and a 2# empty bag but that is just me.

Posted by
5311 posts

Count me as another person with a preference for (unfashionable) two-wheeled bags. A spinner to me is just so much work on most city surfaces. I always think it takes a lot more of my energy to push one along than it does to drag a two-wheeler. Frank makes an excellent point about filling one and trying it out in order to get a feel for how they handle.

Posted by
28 posts

Check the E Bags TLS mother lode mini 21 wheeled carry on .
On sale from $ 209.99 for 109.99 ,semi annual travel sale this week .
Free shipping on order over $49.00 . Is a great bag available in different colors.
eBags.com

Posted by
13 posts

The Eddie Bauer medium Exposition bag (carry on size) is fantastic!!! We used it last year on the Village Italy tour and beyond and it rolled fantastically over many cobblestones, gravel, etc for almost three weeks with out a single hiccup .

Two wheels and they are large, very smooth, in-line skate wheels which are positioned in a way that allows the bag to NEVER tip over. Highly recommend.... great organization, light weight, airline compliant and decent price (usually available on Eddie Bauer website for 40% off if you wait for sale).

Posted by
16608 posts

You can't trust manufacturers' "lightweight" descriptions. Seek out the actual weight. There's a very wide range of bags out there emblazoned with the word "lightweight". I once had a 3-1/2 lb. bag. It was heaven until a (cheap) spinner wheel died on Day 91. A 6-1/2 lb. bag doesn't feel lightweight to me.

Posted by
433 posts

A price range of $175? If you look at amazon's luggage marketplace, there are literally hundreds of suitable pieces that you can buy in the $50-125 range. I suggest you give your local merchants a chance to get your money, though. Many pieces of nice luggage are always on deep discount at department stores, luggage shops, and outdoor stores; you just need to be there when the prices are lowest. That takes time. Many of us don't need to invest that kind of effort and can spend whatever it takes. Just make an informed decision. After watching this forum for two years, it seems you can buy any of the Rick Steves rolling bags with confidence, $150-200, but you just missed a 20% sale. Rolling bags that are carry-on legal sizes have reduced internal capacity to make room for the frame and transmission. You may be unpleasantly surprised at how much less space there really is. My opinion, of course, but I think internal organization features are over-rated. Many of us use packing cubes so we tend to look for bags that are mostly just big open spaces.

Anecdotally, I have a friend who would never think of traveling without her 30" spinner and matching lash-on aux bag. Built like tanks and stupid expensive, the set weighs at least twenty pounds, maybe more. Luckily, she can still physically manage her own bags although she complains about how the wheels handle rough terrain. My wife has two, 2-wheelers: North Face Rolling Thunder 22"/40L and REI Tourwinder 22"/40L. We acquired both of those bags at insanely deep discounts at the local REI's garage sales. They both have soft, large diameter wheels that easily roll over obstructions.

Personally, I no longer have patience with wheeled luggage--I'm strictly a backpack guy and, after decades of backpacking and bicycle touring, I can pack very lightly and efficiently. Depending on the trip, I use either Patagonia MLC45 or Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30L. Backpack vs wheeled vs convertible is a discussion you can research on your own. The Packing Forum goes back a long time and there is a tremendous amount of experience and passion.

Try to have fun shopping!

Posted by
848 posts

I'm also staying with 2 wheel bags.
I've seen people struggle a bit with 4 wheelers on curbs and uneven surfaces in Europe, plus, knowing me, I am sure to have one get away from me on a slanted surface.

Posted by
2282 posts

As you see, there are as many opinions as suitcases. My decision was made for me. After multiple herniated lumbar discs, one surgery, a bad shoulder, I found the two wheel bags creating much pain when I pulled them. Switched to spinners with no pain. And yes, some disadvantages on rough ground, high curbs. But the advantages greatly outweighed the disadvantages. We have Travel Pro Crew line, not as light as the Max Lite, a bit heavier, more expensive. Our one Travel Pro Maxlite had a short life as they are, in my opinion, not built well, which is why they are light. A cheap spinner will get you a broken wheel when you can least afford to have that happen. For international travel we invested in Briggs&Riley. Expensive, very well built. Our old two wheelers are that brand and we are handing them down to our kids. Many years old, heavy use, cosmetically impaired but running like the day we bought them. And still guaranteed for life.

Posted by
408 posts

On my last 4 trips to Europe I was able to take everything I had on the plane. I took two pieces. I took one to two changes of clothes packed into zippered 24 inch long duffle bag. It has no wheels. It may have cost under $40 + tax. I packed it about half full. Especially when not filled up too much, this kind of bag stuffs easily into tight spaces in overhead bins where the more common rigid wheeled carry-on luggage would not fit.

I carried everything else in a backpack, the kind kids may take to school. It may have cost under $80 + tax. It has a good amount of padding, a leather bottom, side compartments, and a separate padded slot meant for a tablet laptop computer. The hand carrying handle is not padded like on the more expensive school backpacks. Perhaps in the future I will switch to a non-wheeled suitcase that resembles duffle bag but has shoulder straps so it can be carried on my back. I figure that if I my luggage is too heavy, I need to carry less. Yeah I can sort of understand needing wheeled luggage if you are much older than me and can’t carry luggage well due to health problems. Although I highly recommend taking only one change of clothes and washing them in the sink of your hotels. Last time I traveled my luggage weighed under 27 pounds. I would rather keep my hands free instead of occupying at least one hand dragging a wheeled suitcase.

Posted by
255 posts

I concur with lots of comments made above. Mine is a 2-wheeler, but these are harder to find now. If you don't want to deal with check-in bags, then invest well in a good carry-on that will last for decades, if not a lifetime. The brand my husband and I like a lot is Lojel from Japan. They are very well made, lightweight, and well-designed.

Lojel Cubo Small Carry-on

Their products are not cheap. However, you'll get more than what you pay for. Unlike 99% of hardside carry-on bags, Cubo Small does not open in the 50:50 (also called the "book") way. So, you'll get the best of both hardsided and softsided cases: you get the hardsideds' protection and the softsideds' easy packing.

BTW, if you consider Eagle Creek, do NOT trust the dimensions listed in EG's website. They are often off--I got burned once. I bought their international carry-on which was one inch wider than stated. At check-in in Greece, I was asked to place the bag into the sizer. Oh no! I was made to check my bag in and to pay for the extra luggage fee (80 euros). What a lesson.

I always think that good luggage is an investment. Bon voyage!

Posted by
17619 posts

I always think that good luggage is an investment.

But what do we mean by "good" luggage. IMO, luggage that is heavy is not necessarily good luggage. Even if it is made of heavier, durable material, it's not good luggage. Too many people confuse heavy with quality (or high price with quality). If it is light and durable, that is good luggage. It is flimsy and light, that's not necessarily good, but I'd rather have flimsy and light than heavy and durable. Part of the idea of carry-on is handling my luggage myself and making sure it doesn't get damaged. I try to buy luggage that is light weight, and in 20 years of carry-on, I have not had luggage damaged.

Durable and too heavy might be important for checked luggage, but carry-on is a different animal.

People look at certain zippers as a sign of quality, but I think that the reason most zippers fail is that they are over-stressed because the bag is stuffed. Again, I don't pay much attention to the brand of zippers, and I have never had a zipper fail, but I have more problem with my bag being under-filled and floppy.

Posted by
20569 posts

I kind of Lee's camp. Don't consider any luggage as an investment. Years ago and I mean years ago -- maybe 50 I was given an Hartmann bag. Very expensive, very well make, very functions and then I worried losing it, getting damaged, etc. I now use $50 luggage if the bag is lost or stolen or damage I not out that much. I prefer function over everything else.

Posted by
8504 posts

Durable does not have to be heavy. Quality materials can be found in lighter weights. Samsonite makes a two and four wheel bag that weigh under 4 lbs. That is monstrously heavy for the utltra light packers but light for a wheeled bag. I dragged it across Europe without a problem. And it was only $125.

Zippers don't only fail because the bag is stuffed too much. Poor quality workmanship can cause the zipper to not slide smoothly and get caught. It won't happen on all bags but it has a better chance of happening on poorer quality material.

When choosing a bag, find one that is right for you. If you want wheels, get wheels. If you don't want wheels, dont. Remember, you are the one who has to lug/carry the bag, not the person who tries to convince you to do things their way.

Even Rick Steves, who still uses a non-wheeled bag, admits most of the people in his office now use wheels.

By the way, the Samsonite bag is not, sadly, available in the U.S. It's lightweight for a wheeled bag and it's dimensions fit most European sizers. When I asked Samsonite why they don't sell it in the US, they said most Americans want a full size carry-on 22 x 14 x 9 and won't buy anything smaller. (Remember, not all of these people are going to Europe. They are traveling domestically.)

However, you can ocassionally get it from Amazon or Amazon UK. The Samsonite Uplite 35. There is both a two wheel and four wheel version.