When traveling internationally, carry-on size restrictions can vary widely from airline to airline. So before shopping for the best carry-on luggage for Europe, you'll want to first check the size limits for the particular airline you'll be flying. While the most common size limit for U.S. airports is 22 by 14 by 9 inches, many European airlines require carry-ons to be even smaller than that — and some European airlines (especially budget airlines) are very strict when it comes to size.
Once you've figured out the size you need, think about the materials and construction. Hardshell luggage should be made with a sturdy mix of polycarbonate or ABS, while soft-shell luggage is most durable when made with tough nylon, polyester, or other ripstop fabrics.
The wheels are another important feature to consider — spinner wheels rotate a full 360-degrees, while roller wheels only move back and forth; the former offers more agility on even surfaces (like rushing through an airport), while the latter tends to be better on uneven terrain, like sidewalks. For most people, this factor is a matter of personal preference.
Lastly, look for a reliable retracting handle (aluminum construction is best) and any extra organizational elements like zippered pockets and compression straps.
Once you've found your perfect carry-on, it's a good idea to measure it when it's full (and I do mean before you leave for the airport) to make sure it still falls within the needed size limits. Also keep in mind that the measurements should include the handle and the wheels (for quick reference, check out this handy chart with international carry-on luggage regulations).
I've put together a list of the best carry-on luggage, featuring both soft-shell and hardshell options at two different price points. Read on to find the right one for your next European trip.
The Best Soft-Shell Carry-Ons
Dimensions (including wheels): 18 by 13.4 by 9 inches
Weight: 5.5 pounds
What's great about it: Between its soft-shell design and compact construction, this affordable carry-on suitcase is likely to fit even some of the most conservative airline restrictions. The smallest option on this list, the wheels are 360-degree spinners that, according to reviewers, glide effortlessly, and the tough telescoping handle gives you full control. While the exterior fabric isn't specified, the interior lining is made with durable 150-denier polyester and offers three zippered pockets for organization. Best of all, the design is expandable, giving you 25 percent more packing space when you need it (just make sure you don't exceed the airline's restrictions if you take advantage of this feature).
What fans say: "This is a terrific deal! I recently used this luggage for a ten day trip to Europe. It survived airports, trains, cobble stone roads, trunks of vans and fit nicely in the overhead bin for airplane carry-on. If your aim is light and efficient packing for travel, this is a great option."
Dimensions (including wheels): 21.75 by 13.75 by 9 inches
Weight: 5.75 pounds
What's great about it: A more rugged and long-lasting option, this Eagle Creek soft-shell luggage is made with extra tough materials that will go the distance. The exterior features a fabric called Bi-Tech Armor Lite that offers abrasion resistance without adding too much weight. While the two-directional roller wheels don't offer the same movement as spinners, they're housed in a heavy-duty casing that prevents cracking or breakage, making them perfect for navigating uneven sidewalks or cobblestone pathways. This suitcase is loaded with extra features, like easy-grab handles, a padded tablet sleeve, self-repairing zippers, and external lash points for attaching gear.
What fans say: "Terrific bag. Freakishly light, but still feels strong and durable. 2 trips so far and no problems. I have an older bag of theirs that is 6 years old and has held up very well through some tough punishment. This updated version is even lighter and better looking."
The Best Hardshell Carry-Ons
Dimensions (including wheels): 20 by 13.5 by 9 inches
Weight: 5.3 pounds
What's great about it: Built with a blend of lightweight ABS and polycarbonate, this hardshell carry-on suitcase is a fantastic combination of quality and affordability. It only costs around $60, yet it features a tough exterior, multi-directional spinner wheels, and a sturdy, retractable handle. As for the interior, it has soft textile lining with organizational compartments and tie-down straps for compression. It's the lightest option on this list, making it easy to lift into an overhead compartment. And it even has a TSA-friendly combination lock, too.
What fans say: "Very useful and convenient suitcase. I took it as carry-on baggage for Norwegian airlines, and it [was the] perfect size to fit even with wheels!"
Dimensions (including wheels): 21.5 by 14 by 9 inches
Weight: 6.2 pounds
What's great about it: If you're looking for a higher-end suitcase with a few more bells and whistles, this hardshell luggage from Genius is a great choice. Built for long-lasting use, it features a sleek, telescoping handle made from 100 percent aluminum, plus a rubberized push button for comfort and ease. The exterior is comprised of extra sturdy polycarbonate that's scratch-resistant and stain-proof, too. Inside, the suitcase boasts a laundry pouch, designated compartments for socks and underwear, compression straps, and a handy "packing checklist" sewn right onto the lining.
What fans say: "We bought 2 of these for travel to Europe. They are just what we were looking for."
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