The Best Carry on Bag for a Woman

Need help finding the best carry on bag for a woman? Or the best lightweight luggage for international travel? Then this guide for the best luggage 2021 might be exactly what you’re looking for.

With so many choices in size, color and price, you may find it challenging to choose the best carry on bag for a woman. I understand how you feel—many planning travel have felt the same way. That’s why many people ask me what is the best carry on luggage for women. They rely on my decades of travel experience, and then found that my advice for choosing the best lightweight luggage for international travel helped a lot!

Table of Contents

fshionista in pink leather motorcycle jacket pulls hot pink best carry on for a woman on white tile floor. best lightweight luggage for international traveling

Best Carry On Luggage for Women

Woman in pink leather motorcycle jacket pulls pink carry on bag that rolls on white airport floor - Best Carry On Luggage for Women
Carry on luggage for women that fit her style | Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Factors to consider for choosing the best carry on bag for a woman:

  • Spinner, telescopic handle
  • Outer pockets, inner pockets, computer sleeve
  • Size and weight (international) for luggage allowance (overhead or under the seat)
  • Features: safety, charging port, expandable, side and top handles, zippers
  • Durable, price, waterproof/water resistant
  • Fashionable/colorful

As a frequent flyer for both work and play, I am very particular about my best carry on luggage for women for both domestic and international travel. I choose from my personal collection of top rated carry on luggage based on what I need to pack for the particular trip.

What can you fit into the best carry on bag for a woman?

What do I usually pack in what I’ve chosen as the best lightweight carry on luggage? Clothes for at least three days, shoes, laptop, jacket, books, toiletries, hat, non-perishable food and souvenirs from my hometown to bring to family, friends and colleagues at my destinations. Fitting all those items in the best rolling carry on luggage (only 21-inches wide!) takes skills and experience learned over years of traveling. When it comes to the best carry on luggage for business travel, I make sure it looks smart, has a protective laptop section and keeps my packed clothes looking crisp. But more on that later.

Size matters for the best travel carry on bag

When choosing the best carry on luggage or the best carry on for business travel, make sure to note your airline’s size restrictions for carry on bags. Does your ticket allow you to stow your carry on in the overhead compartment? If not, you’ll need a smaller bag to fit under the seat ahead of you.

Carry on luggage in the overhead compartment

It is particularly important to keep in mind your luggage allowance when choosing the best travel carry on bag. The maximum size restriction by most US airlines for carry-on bags is 22 × 14 × 9 inches, so the best carry on luggage must be this size or smaller to fit in the overhead compartments.

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey rolls a small computer bag into MSP airport wearing jacket with lots of pockets.
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey wears pocket jacket stuffed full since her ticket allows underseat bag only

Underseat small carry on luggage with wheels

If your plane ticket is without overhead carry on allowance, you may want to invest in an underseat small carry on luggage with wheels. I use such a small carry on luggage with wheels when I fly United Airlines from Flagstaff to Minneapolis to visit my family. (See the photo above.)

I can save $70 by packing light and using my best carry on roller bag that fits neatly under the seat in front of me. Since it’s a short flight, I don’t mind giving up the legroom. I don’t recommend this for flights longer than two hours, BTW. Other fliers prefer small compressible duffel bags or the best backpack for air travel that can fit under the seat ahead of them. We’ll reveal how to choose the best backpack for air travel a bit later. Underseat bags need to be 16.5 × 13.75 × 9 inches or less.

Function over fashion: best rated carry on luggage

I am a fan of functional interior compartments to organize and access my stuff easily. I like adjustable hold-down straps to keep contents snug. Exterior pockets in my best travel carry on bag keep my hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, snacks, beverage and other small items stowable and reachable while waiting at the gate or inflight. Recent designs of the best carry on luggage spinner and incredibly best suitcases for business travel feature convenient multi-functional compartments and integrated charging ports for easy access to personal portable chargers.

My friend, Regina Salas, who flies comfortably on multiple international and domestic flights each year, recommends her choice for functional, best rated carry on luggage, the Travelpro Maxlite 5 Spinner Wheel Carry-On. “My ever-reliable, water-resistant, carry on luggage is the best lightweight luggage for international travel,” says the globetrotter. The best carry on luggage spinner is an ultra-lightweight, 21-inch soft side that spins 360° with a telescopic handle for effortless mobility and maneuverability. Travelpro, one of the best carry on luggage brands, offers a variety of colors to choose from, such as the Travelpro Maxlite 5-Softside Expandable Spinner Wheel Luggage, Imperial Purple, Carry-On 21-Inch.

However, if you are a fashionista and can’t live without the hot pink carry on bag shown above, I found one for you: the Kenneth Cole Reaction Out Of Bounds 20-Inch Carry-On Lightweight Durable Hardshell 4-Wheel Spinner Cabin Size Luggage. In fact, this model comes in about every color making it a best carry on bag for a woman.

A note on weight for best lightweight carry on luggage

Most US domestic flights do not impose weight restrictions for carry-on if you can lift it above your head into the storage bin. So, keep it at 22 pounds/ 9.97 kilos. International flights have stricter weight restrictions. It is always helpful to double check with your airlines for weight and size restrictions when you choose your best international carry on luggage. The Travelpro Platinum Elite – Softside Expandable Spinner Wheel Luggage, Bordeaux, Carry-On 21-Inch weighs in at only 7.7 pounds, and that includes the detachable suiter.

When I am trying to decide between two different bags for the best suitcase for international travel, after function, weight always wins. We’ll discuss more about the best lightweight luggage for international travel later on.

For now, let’s take a look at the best backpacks for air travel… I use carry on backpacks as my only luggage when flying abroad for long-distance hiking.

Best Backpack for Air Travel - Carry on

still life with black backpack, black boots laid out on map with compass shows Best Backpack for Air Travel
The Best Backpack for Air Travel has travel-specific features | Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash

Important features of the best backpack for air travel:

  • Compartment for organization
  • Durability and safety
  • Lightweight
  • Waterproof
  • Zippers

If I can only bring one best travel carry on bag for air travel, my go-to is my best backpack for air travel for both work and leisure. There are so many choices for backpacks, it’s hard to determine the best carry on bag for a woman. You could choose a wheeled backpack; a pack that converts into a carryall duffel, a cross body messenger or a hobo. For me, I have one or two of each that I can choose from depending on the purpose of my trip.

Best backpack for air travel AND long-distance hiking

After a lot of research, I just replaced my Camino backpack with an ultralight The North Face Women’s 40L backpack. It is similar to the The North Face Women’s Terra, High Rise Grey/Mid Grey, XSS. NOTE: select XXS for the 40L. It’s my pick for best backpack for air travel as well as for long-distance hiking.

Had the The North Face Women’s Terra, High Rise Grey/Mid Grey, XSS been available at the time, I would have bought it because of the full J-zip opening, which allows for quick access to the inner compartment, similar to the Osprey backpack below.

Packing a carry on backpack

I usually pack clothes, shoes, a laptop, my travel jacket, a book, toiletry bag, a packable hat, snacks and a water bottle in my backpack. For easy organization and access, I prefer compartments with protective sleeves for electronics.  I also look for durable, lightweight, and waterproof material with quality zippers. (Yes, I have been through a few cheap backpacks with flimsy material and zippers that I had to stitch up and mend with duct tape to make it last the trip).

Business backpack for carry on

One of Regina’s favorite backpacks of the best carry on luggage brands is the Samsonite Tectonic Lifestyle Sweetwater Business Backpack, Iron Grey, One Size.

“With a business backpack style, it comes in iron grey color, durable 100% polyester with nylon lining, dedicated, padded laptop compartment fits most laptops up to 17-inch and USB port for on the go charging,” says Regina. (Personal cable and battery are not included, BTW). Interior main compartment folders can be used for document organization or compressed and used for additional packing space.

“Lately, I found another top rated carry on luggage – the Osprey Fairview 40 Women’s Travel Backpack,” reports Regina. Read on to learn what she discovered.

Outdoor backpack with travel specific features – best carry on bag for a woman

Suitable for the outdoors, the Osprey Fairview 40 Women’s Travel Backpack, designed for air travel features a large, lockable U-zip duffel-style access to main compartment. This feature, a favorite of UNSTOPPABLE Stacey, makes it one of the best rated carry on luggage. The backpack meets carry-on size restrictions for most airlines (21.3 × 13.8 × 9 inches) with lockable zipper access to padded laptop and tablet sleeve that fits up to most 15” laptops as best luggage for air travel.

“I particularly like the stowaway back panel, shoulder straps and hip belt with zippered rear flap for protection,” says Regina. “This is the best travel carry on luggage, I love the two front mesh water bottle pockets and scratch-free pocket for sunglasses or devices.”

Next, we move away from carry on bags as Regina and I unveil our findings for larger checked bags and the best luggage sets for international travel…

Best Lightweight Luggage for International Travel Reviews

photo from above shows close up of safety locks on navy suitcase - one of the best lightweight luggage for international traveling - the manicured toes of the traveler show on her white flipflops
Security features are important when selecting the best lightweight luggage for international travel reviews | Photo by Rui Silvestre on Unsplash

What do women look for when picking lightweight luggage for international travel? Here are some factors to consider when reading “Best Lightweight Luggage for International Travel Reviews:”

  • Size and Weight
  • Durability
  • Mobility and Maneuverability
  • Organization and Expandability
  • Water-resistant
  • Security features
  • Soft side or hard shell?

When choosing the best luggage for international travel, it is helpful to note the typical weight limit for checked luggage is 50 pounds/22.67 kilos and standard size is around 27 × 21 × 14 inches. Spare yourself from the stress and hassle of opening and repacking luggage at the check-in counter with a long line of people impatiently waiting. I experienced that as I checked into an international flight many years ago.

Depending on your international destination and airfare, your airline may allow you one or two free checked bags. Regina’s travels with two young kids to and from Asia and Europe allowed her to check in two 29” suitcases. So before selecting the best lightweight luggage for international travel for you, check your ticket for the number of free checked bags and pack accordingly. Your choice for the best luggage for air travel will be lightweight.

Best Lightweight Luggage for International Travel Reviews: Regina Salas

Reviewer Regina is a solo traveler in recent years now that her boys are grown. She switched to what she discovered was the best checked luggage for international travel as a solo woman traveler. “The best large suitcase for international travel is a 29” or a 25” ultra-lightweight hardcase shell with spinner wheels,” reports the petite traveler who appreciates the spinner’s easy mobility and maneuverability. “I prefer the best luggage for travel abroad that is durable, water-resistant, lightweight and made of 100% polycarbonate material to protect fragile items.” The hardside Samsonite sheds dirt and resists curb scratches.
Regina’s choice for best suitcase for international travel is the Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside Expandable Luggage with Spinner Wheels, Rose Gold, Checked-Medium 24-Inch.

“This top rated hardshell luggage with its four-wheel spinner is lightweight on your arm and easy to move and maneuver. Its squared full-capacity packing design with full zip divider including organizational pockets and matching custom design on the front and back shells makes packing a jiffy,” says the international traveler. “The side-mounted TSA lock is particularly important to me to keep checked in items safe and secure. I love the rose gold color that is available in three sizes: 20”, 24” and 28.” You can buy them as a set, too, which makes it one of the best luggage sets for international travel.

“Softside best rolling bags are also popular and and can be the best luggage for the price. Military veterans in my family prefer to travel with rolling duffel bags,” concludes Regina.

Best Lightweight Luggage for International Travel Reviews: UNSTOPPABLE Stacey

My choice for best lightweight luggage for international travel is the Samsonite Englewood 25” Hardside Checked Spinner. The size and spinning wheels were deciding factors for my business trip to Sicily for TBEX2020. However the travel bloggers conference was canceled in March 2020, and I have yet to use this gorgeous piece of luggage. When I go to these conventions, I meet with destinations from all over the world and get their SWAG and brochures. So I needed top rated hard shell luggage that would contain all that I received from my partners in Catania, Sicily. I chose this best checked luggage for international travel because

  • it’s expandable,
  • is made by one of the best carry on luggage brands (I’ve traveled with Samsonite since my first trip to France in the 1970s) and
  • for it’s value for price.

My choice: Samsonite Englewood 25 Inch Expandable Hardside Checked Spinner Luggage

Best luggage 2021

I purchased the Caribbean Blue, that goes with my UNSTOPPABLE brand colors of turquoise and coral. One of the reasons that I made the switch to a hardside bag was so I could attach my collection of travel stickers that I’ve been accumulating at travel writer conventions over the years. I know it sounds nerdy, but I do believe suitcase stickers are coming back in style for best luggage 2021, as Instagrammers capture their sticker-studded luggage in IG images.

Next, Regina and I reveal our picks for the best luggage sets for international travel and domestic trips..

Best Luggage Sets for International Travel

six suitcases - the best lightweight luggage for international travel - shown against green background with dramatic shadowsing
Best luggage sets for international travel | Photo courtesy of Italic, seller of some of the best luggage brands for international travel

I prefer to avoid checking any bags by using only carrying on luggage. Yes, that is possible—I’ve carried on for 2-6-week-long trips to China, Thailand, Spain and France with the best carry on bag for a woman. I have to admit that I pack a lot lighter than I did when I first began traveling internationally.

But sometimes you have to take more – especially if traveling with children or are bringing supplies to needy partners the third-world like I did on trips to India, Peru and Tanzania. So for those occasions, it’s time to consider the best checked luggage for international travel. I’ve purchased and used some of the best luggage sets for international travel and I’m happy to share my findings in the recommendations in the comparison chart above.

The luggage that I bring and what I pack determines the success or failure of my trip

I’ve been gone for up to eight weeks, sometimes combining business and long-distance hiking (try packing for THAT!), other times exploring exotic locations or serving on short-term mission trips, like I mentioned previously. The luggage that I bring and what I pack into it can determine the success or failure of my trip.

I have found that the best luggage sets for international travel include functional pieces that fit the needs of my trip. Such as a suit bag, a compartmentalized carry on and checked pieces that hold just what I need – and not more. Until my latest purchase of the hardside Samsonite suitcase, most of my best luggage sets for international travel have been softside Samsonite. Yet on the other hand, Regina prefers the hardside version.

Because I love color coordination, I am picky

“For the last twenty years, I have always relied on my top rated hardshell luggage Samsonite hardshell set, like best luggage brands for international travel,” says Regina. According to the travel diva, the best large suitcase for international travel, best suitcase for international travel, and best lightweight suitcase for international travel are all found in the Samsonite Winfield 2 Hardside Expandable Luggage with Spinner Wheels, Orange, 3-Piece Set (20/24/28) with color options such as orange, purple, rose gold and deep blue.

“Because I love color coordination and everything matches in my wardrobe, I am picky when it comes to determining the best luggage sets for international travel, as well as the best checked luggage for international travel,” admits Regina.

Flight attendants prefer

“Some folks, like my sister who is a flight attendant, prefer softside luggage set for their best bag for international travel, best luggage for overseas travel, best travel bags for international travel, and best luggage for travel abroad,” reveals Regina.

During my international travels, I see flight attendants toting Travelpro® luggage sets. Usually they’ve opted for black bags, but since, like Regina, I love color I’d go fo the Travelpro Maxlite 5 Set of 21″|25″|29″ Spinners Azure Blue. The luggage set is also available in black,  dusty rose and slate green. That green is the color of my Samsonite 4-piece luggage set that I bought to fly to Italy in 2005. Although that luggage set is still in working order, it’s no longer available, alas! I did find a similar piece – in the color “Grape Wine,” perfect for my fellow wine writers or you wine enthusiasts. Check it out here:

Samsonite Mightlight 2 Softside Luggage with Spinner Wheels, Grape Wine, Checked-Large 30-Inch.

Regina suggests that something to consider is the SWISSGEAR 6283 Amazon Exclusive Premium 3pc Spinner Luggage Set with Dopp Kit Bundle – Black.

“Luggage mobility features locking telescopic handle with 360° spinner maneuverability to get through a crowded airport or down narrow airplane aisles,” says the globetrotter. “I like to maximize packing efficiency with multiple interior mesh storage pockets, a removable zippered wet pouch, and adjustable tie down straps to help keep everything in place.  To organize travel essentials required while traveling as well as last-minute add-in items, it has two exterior front zip compartments.”  A big plus are the reinforced handles located on the top, side and bottom of the luggage for easy lifting and carrying.  Set includes:

  • 21” carry on spinner,
  • 25” checked spinner, and a
  • 29” checked spinner and a toiletry bag.

Hardside or softside for best luggage sets for international travel

Although Regina and I have our own preferences for hardside or softside for best luggage sets for international travels, both of us agree that Samsonite is one of the best luggage brands for international travel.

Now what about best luggage for dollar spent? Let’s look at that next:

Best Luggage for the Price

silouetted of woman traveler with best carry on for a woman as she looks at huge airplane at airport. best lightweight luggage for international traveling
Get the best luggage for the price, and have more money for travel | Photo by L.Filipe C.Sousa on Unsplash

With a plethora of buying options, what is the best luggage for the price? What is the best luggage to buy?

I am a smart and frugal shopper like a lot of women. The luggage choices, which I recommend here are the best luggage for the money. My friend Regina, as a working mom is also constantly looking for deals, discounts and promotions to get the most value for the money.

“I bought my best luggage brands for international travel, the Samsonite best luggage set for international travel years ago with a huge discount. It was the best luggage for the price,” discloses Regina. “It’s really the best luggage for the money. As online shopping grows and expands, there’s a plethora of options to choose from where you can find the best suitcase for travel.” So make sure to check out the Samsonite luggage in the buying guide above.

Use this luggage buying guide to shop online, and yes, you will save money

Online you can find the best luggage in the world and then determine what’s the best luggage to buy for your needs. Regina, the thrifty mom recommends the AmazonBasics 3 Piece Softside Carry-On Spinner Luggage Suitcase Set – Black or the Travelpro Platinum Elite – Softside Expandable Spinner Wheel Luggage, Bordeaux, Carry-On 21-Inch.

I recommend staying with the trusted brands like Samsonite or Travelpro for both your best carry on bag for a woman or luggage sets. Each of the recommendations in the buying guide above are a good value for your money. Remember, if you invest in quality – the best luggage for the money – your travel bags will last a long time. The bag that I just flew to Minneapolis with has been to China, St Louis and Mexico in the past ten years that I’ve owed it. So paying a little more for best quality has paid back over time.

Regina sums it up this way: “I am a frequent flyer with at least one long-haul international flight and six domestic flights every year. I want the best suitcase for international travel, best carry on for business travel as well as the best carry on luggage brands. One thing I have learned from over 30 years of international and domestic travel, I will not compromise, quality and durability for money.” 

Our research saves you time and money: best luggage for the price

Take it from us, luggage that fits your needs will make you an UNSTOPPABLE traveler, too. We’ve spent hours shopping for the best luggage for the price. By using this luggage buying guide, we can save you time and money. Check out our recommendations and then let us know how they worked out for you in the comment section below.

This blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, Stacey earns a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the costs of keeping this travel blog active. 

Further, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for reading.

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