modern carry-on suitcases

Smart Luggage Features – Game Changers or Gadgets?

The old-school, carry-on suitcase has gotten an upgrade from tech savvy entrepreneurs and established brands are racing to catch up.  Your carry-on is not just a place to store your clothes anymore; it is your one-stop travel base camp.  Is it worth investing in a new carry-on? If so, what features are useful?

I have chosen to research just the international carry-on size bags which fit in almost all airline overhead compartments. Slightly smaller than the domestic carry-on size, these bags will hold what you need for several days away. On some of the commuter jets with small ‘overheads’ you will have to check even these streamlined bags. There are trade-offs with all of these added features. They add utility, but they come with weight and may reduce packing capacity. Figure out what is important to you.

My favorite features on new techy carry-on suitcases:

++ USB charging port, with a battery.

Note: I am typing this article in an airport. I have to choose between being plugged into a power outlet sitting next to a woman who is shouting into her phone – or running down my battery. If my suitcase was a power source – I could choose a quieter spot.

++Easy Access with a TSA approved lock built into the suitcase.

Some offer a secure, fingerprint I.D. pad in addition to tumblers and a code.

I like this feature since I often use my suitcase to lock away valuables and my laptop in hotel rooms. Easy access is appealing.

++Four wheels for upright and tilted pull.

I am envious of people wheeling their bags, upright, down the aisle of the airplane.

++Light weight

‘On the road’ I will lift this bag constantly, into the overhead, into a car, and onto a luggage rack. Lighter is better

++ Payload – Capacity

All other things being equal, more capacity is better.

++ Inside configuration, easy to adapt.

The packing videos which show shoes, shirts and toiletries each in their own compartment always look appealing and organized, but various travel destinations require different gear. I like a flexible, wide open space. Then I use bags and straps to organize my packing.

++Cost – why pay more than you need to?

++Ease of carrying an additional bag on top of my wheeled carry-on.

A double handle is not a tech advance, but it is important to me. I once bought a wheeled carry-on with a single pull out handle. Big mistake. With two bars on the handle, I can rest my second carry-on bag on my wheeled bag and walk in comfort.

‘Nice to have’ features for me but not necessities. These are not worth added weight or expense – or reducing carrying capacity:

+ Locator. Ever realize that you have walked away from your carry-on and can’t remember whether it is at security, Starbucks or the newsstand? This ‘find-my-bag’ feature will locate your bag and send a signal to your phone. Nice idea, but there are independent tech solutions, like Tile, which you can move from bag to bag depending on what you take with you.

+ Waterproof – hopefully doesn’t come up very often.

+ Access to laptops, tablets. I would like to grab my iPad without opening my suitcase (think of underwear spilling out into the airport), but I usually have it in my second, more accessible bag anyway.

+ Durability. I like a sturdy bag, but unlike checked bags which need to be strong enough to be thrown and dropped, my carry-on bags lead a reasonably peaceful life.

+ Collapsible for efficient storage between trips.

+ Expandability. Nice to have room for purchases, but often the extra fabric which enables the expandability adds weight and comes at the cost of reducing carrying capacity when it is folded inside the bag.

I can’t imagine that I would want these features unless they came without added cost, weight or a reduction in capacity:

~ Built-in Bluetooth speaker. New, small, portable speakers come out all the time. I don’t need one to be built into my suitcase.

~ Built-in scale. I rarely need to know the weight of my carry-on.

~ Built-in laptop stand. It does not appeal to me to type crouched over my suitcase. My lap works fine if I can’t find a table.

The following is my comparison of some of the new techy International carry-on bags: size, weight, carrying capacity and cost – as reported on their websites.

Carry-on Suitcase Dimensions Weight Cost Capacity
Away 21.7″ x 13.7″ x 9″ 7 Lbs. $225 38 Liters
Barracuda collapsible 22″ x 14″ x 9″ 8.7 Lbs. $349 36 Liters
Briggs and Riley 21” x 14”   x 9” 6.7 Lbs. $399 38.2 Liters
Longchamps Boxford 21.25 x 13.75 x 9.25 7 Lbs. $475 30/35 Liters
Rimowa Ultralight Cabin 21.66″ x 15.75″ x 7.85″ 4.4 Lbs. $495 38 Liters
Tumi Tegra Lite 22″ x 14″ x 9″ 8.8 Lbs. $745 33 Liters


modern Away carry-on suitcases

My favorite new bag is The Away Carry-on with charger. The company was founded by two young women out of Warby Parker. It will charge my phone, is lightweight and has an open inside compartment with a clever combination of flat panel and straps to compress clothes. It is the least expensive bag in my comparison and one of the lightest. 21.7” x 13.7” x 9”. 7 lbs. Capacity is 38 Liters. $225. Away also offers two larger rolling bags.

Away has expanded its product line, including this tote – can yours stay put like this? They’re working with Serena Williams for her professional travel requirements.

carry on tote Away


Briggs and Riley Modern Carry-on Suitcase

Briggs and Riley International Carry-On. People love this bag. Four double wheels and flexible inside packing. Integrated lock. No battery or charger. 21” x 14” x 9”. Lightweight at 6.7 Lbs. Good capacity at 38.2 Liters, $579.


Rinowa modern carry-on suitcase

The Rimowa Ultralight Cabin Mulitwheel. is well reviewed and at 4.4 Lbs. it is the lightest option, but it has a single handle – so not for me. 15.75 x 7.85 x 21.66. Capacity is 38 Liters. $510.


Rimowa Salsa Deluxe Cabin Mulitwheel

The Rimowa Salsa Deluxe Cabin Mulitwheel bag has an integrated lock, a double handle (yeah!) and four wheels. 21.7” x 9.1” x 15.7”. 8.6 Lbs. The capacity is 37 liters. $700

Longchamp carryon suitcase

The Longchamps Boxford +  is a relatively low tech option from a great company. 7 Lbs. Capacity is 30/35 Liters. $560.


Tumi Tegra Lite Carry-on suitcase

The Tumi Tegra Lite 2 is a luxury bag at $895. Zipper expansion allows for up to 2” (5cm) of additional space in the main compartment, and a built-in garment sleeve accommodates one suit. his compact carry-on is equipped with a built-in USB port to keep you connected on the go. 22” x 14” x 9”.  9.4 Lbs. Capacity is 29 Liters.


T. Anthony low tech carry-on suitcase

T. Anthony has a luxury 4 Wheel International Carry On with great style, but no tech. 22” x 14” x 9”. 10 Lbs. $725.

Now that you’ve got the carry-on, here are some packing tips for your international travel.

packing tips for international travel

Top 10 Packing Tips for International Travel


*This article has been updated for accuracy and additions in February 2020.