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My carry-on bag and I had a long-term relationship. I don’t know our anniversary, but I must’ve traveled with the same plain, green, cheap-brand rollaboard for at least 10 years. I knew how to pack it so all my clothes would fit perfectly for a weeklong trip, and I was confident that it would fit in the overhead compartment of any major airline because that bag had already racked up serious frequent flier miles. It was love.

And then, this summer, it died.

Once I got over my grief, I realized I would need a new carry-on. While my trusty suitcase had probably been a hand-me-down from my mom, I was now overwhelmed with the choice of picking out my own. At eBags.com alone, you can choose from 570 different rolling carry-on bags. From wheeled duffels to colorful hard-sided bags, spinner wheels to roll-aboards-cum-backpacks, the choices were endless. Which would make the best travel companion in the years to come?

Choosing the Right Travel Luggage

Just as I was going cross-eyed from reading too many customer reviews and considering therapy for my loss, I got an e-mail from a PR rep for Lipault of Paris, touting a new bag making its U.S. debut. The Lipault Travel Buddy was described as “light as a feather, ultra-durable and accessibly priced.” (It retails for $189.) I was attracted to its bright colors — red, orange and purple — as I hate straining to figure out which bag is mine on the carousel. And I was most intrigued by the claim that it squishes down to fit into a four-inch case for easy storage. When you live in an apartment and cruise a lot, compressible luggage is key.

lipault travel buddy

So I got a free sample from the company to test out on a recent cross-country flight — a carry-on bag blind date, if you will. While I don’t think the Travel Buddy is the new love of my travel life, here’s my review of its, ahem, performance.

What I liked:

– The bag is definitely lightweight and compressible, made of strong 210-denier nylon twill fabric (I don’t know what that means either). I expected a thinner, floppier material (a la LeSportsac bags or ultra-light camping equipment), but it’s actually pretty sturdy. I carried it onboard one way, and could easily lift and carry the bag, while simultaneously pushing a stroller and carrying a backpack. I checked it on the way back, and it came back to me with no scuffs or tears. And it truly does squeeze down into a compact storage case that would fit easily under a bed, in a closet or in the corner of a cruise ship cabin.

– It’s very stuffable. I used it as my family’s laundry suitcase on the way back from our trip and just kept cramming more dirty clothes in, and the little bag just kept taking them. Though the bag looked full, I think I could have added even more with a little extra squishing.

– The carry-on fit easily in the overhead compartment with room to spare, even in the odd space over the lip between two compartment openings.

– The bag stood out, not only for its bright purple color but because it didn’t look like the typical carry-on. I even got a comment on it from the airline rep at bag check — and you know she sees a lot of luggage every day!

lipault travel buddy

What I didn’t like:

– The bag has official dimensions of 21.6 x 14.2 x 7.9 inches (the PR rep calls it a 22-inch bag, while the Web site lists it as 20 inches). But as you can see from the photo, it appeared much smaller than my husband’s bag, the REI Tech Beast (official dimensions: 22 x 14 x 8.5 inches). As a tall person, I’m not sure I could fit a week’s worth of clothes in there (especially once you add in shoes). The next size up, the 25-inch bag, is not carry-on friendly.

– The outside pocket is in the middle of the bag, yet the pocket runs the length of the bag. It was awkward to pack, and once the inside compartment of the bag was maxed out, it was nearly impossible to squeeze anything into the exterior pocket. Also, while the bag expands to the limits of its flexible material, it does not have a zippered expansion section.

– The $189 price tag is a little high for a small-ish carry-on whose only real feature is its compressibility.

Final verdict: I enjoyed my time with the Travel Buddy, but I think we can only be friends.

11 Versatile Travel Essentials You Can’t Do Without

If you know an eligible bag good for a former frequent flier, now toting a tyke, who likes international travel, outdoor adventures, urban escapes, extra legroom seats and long walks through a terminal, let me know in the comments section below.

— written by Erica Silverstein

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9 Responses to “The Quest for the Perfect Carry-On”

  1. Krystal says:

    It is always better to carry light luggage that is easy to carry

  2. Frank II says:

    How about going wheel-less? Now, before you freak out, consider a very lightweight convertible bag. You can carry it by its handles, with a shoulder strap either on one shoulder or cross body messenger style, or on your back with the hidden backpack straps that come out of their own pocket. It will leave both hands free to deal with the tyke, is usually allowed on board even when wheeled bags aren’t, and is much easier going up and down steps and through a large airline terminal. No need to pull anything. (And if you’re traveling on international airlines with weight restrictions, the weight saved ditching the wheels and handles mean you can pack more and still be underweight.)

    If you haven’t seen them for awhile, many are now designed to look very professional. The days of hippies, the unwashed, and those staying in hostels as being the only ones who use backpacks are over. Most of the modern bags, have no frame so they conform to what they are carrying, and they hold a lot.

  3. Jacquie says:

    How about the Hideo Design Featherweight Trolley? I cannot speak personally for it, as I read about it on a blog, but it measures 20″h x 9″w x 14″l. It sounds perfect, and I’d love to see, it handle it and well, do as you did, give it a chance to prove itself before buying. Since I can’t do that, perhaps you will. Thanks.

  4. KaI says:

    I personally use 2 different carry-ons depending on where and when I’m going. I like my Red Oxx SkyTrain for winter and unconvenient terrain (eg. cobblestone streets.) It comes with a shoulder strap and / or backpack straps that can be hidden. It is heavy dernier nylon and is built military style, so it’s got some weight to it, but it doesn’t have a frame. It has got several compartments and I can stuff almost anything in it. The backpack straps are really padded, but it could use a strap at the bottom to redistrubute some of the weight. I don’t think you can kill it. If you do, they’ll replace it. I have carried around 50 lbs worth of stuff in it, while still fitting it into the carry-on space on a plane. It was handy in Europe with all the stairs. My second choice has wheels, it’s a Heys nylon soft-sider expandable. It is extremely well built. The bottom is molded material and has 4 rotating wheels. I think it’s 20 – 22″ (not sure). The 4 wheels can go in any direction, so no taxing your triceps in tilting a heavy carry-on. You can just push it without angling it and away it goes. It is much lighter than my other bag and I use this one if it’s summer and I’m going to be places where it is relatively wheel friendly. Both work great. Hope this helps!

  5. Claudia says:

    This may seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating: Before you purchase a carry-on, make sure it complies with the smallest size restrictions of all the airlines you’ll be flying.

    For example, I recently flew round-trip between O’Hare and Dublin on Aer Lingus. Their carry-on size restrictions, 22\ x 16\ x 8\, are smaller than other airlines’ (especially that 8\ depth). On my return flight, baggage rules for last-to-board (read: economy class) passengers were strictly enforced and they were not allowed to bring noncompliant carry-ons onboard.

    In other words, read the fine print.

  6. Kim says:

    Try the SuitSak. You wear it on your back like a packsack but it is carryon size and will carry a laptop, toiletries and regular clothes but most importantly suits, dresses, shirts with very little wrinkling. http://www.suitsak.com. Works great, especially to have at least one nice outfit with you for a cruise in case your luggage gets lost.

  7. Pam says:

    For carryon only hikers: We adore our Eagle Creek 22″ Sidekicks. They are wheeled with hidden backpack straps including a good waist belt. A matching day pack zips on (or we tie the straps and just loupe over the pull when between flights). We are hikers so we have a day pack when we get there. The day pack is well designed (has padded laptop compartment which can also double as a hydropack compartment, although it doesn’t have a port) and has a waist belt. We have traveled 3 weeks in Europe, a month in Hawaii (packed all our snorkel gear and trekking poles) and have never carried more than these. Day pack fits under the seat. On those long flights of stairs in Italy, we whipped out the backpack straps and walked up hands free.

  8. tm says:

    I like wheel-less but bring along a folding steel luggage carrier (like we used to use before they put wheels ON luggage). This way you can wheel the carry-on if needed or take it off, & it won’t count as weight on your carry on. When i traveled by air in Asia, all the domestic airlines enforced a 11KG carry-on weight limit! Also, personally – I HATE to carry a load on my back or arms if I can wheel it – way more fun, esp if you’ve ever suffered recurrent back pain.

  9. E Barsh says:

    This looks like a great bag to have, especially for me since I had a broken arm several months ago (lost range of motion)

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