Welcome to AFAR Approved: a deep dive into the travel items that we’re totally obsessed with, never leave behind, and can’t stop telling our friends about.
When a friend asked me what my go-to suitcase was recently—in pursuit of a holiday gift for a family member—I responded with a less-than-casual reply. Do you mean my favorite weekender bag? Or my favorite carry-on (soft or hard)? Or a bigger suitcase for longer trips?!?!
I’ve been testing suitcases for work since 2006—RIP my beloved soft-shell Delsey Featherweight—and have certain feelings about brands. That’s what they are: just feelings. No statistical analysis of size and weight; no price comparison. There are brands I admire from afar, like Rimowa and Tumi, but I haven’t actually bought. With upwards of 17 bags in rotation over the years, I now have a steady collection that have become my “ride-or-die” bags, the ones that go wherever I go. And just like we go to our obsessive friends for recommendations on everything from TV shows (The Crown season 4!) to vacation destinations (what’s a vacation?), I hope this list provides some guidance or inspiration.
My packing personality: I’ve always preferred to pack light (two bags max) and carry on—and then I had kids. Now my style is slightly more indestructible: hardshell suitcases in various sizes (some check, some carry-on) that I could use for a week-long trip to Europe or a weekend in a lodge in the Catskills. Cool colors are a must. I don’t use packing cubes but I do want luggage with built-in compartments so I can keep my shoes and toiletries separate from my clothes. I both roll and fold (the horror!).
My ride-or-die bags are as follows:
For day trips and beneath my seat on a plane:
Voyager Set by Wool & Oak
Buy Now: $795, woolandoak.com
I’ve been following luggage startup Wool & Oak since 2016, when it was just a team of two—New York–based Gizem and Johnathan Webster, fellow travel obsessives with luxury design and fashion backgrounds—running crowd-funded Kickstarters for their bags. Having blown their Kickstarter campaigns out of the water, they’ve since transitioned to a direct-to-consumer website, which means more of us get to marvel at the clever duffle-suitcase mashups. My go-to splurge, the Voyager Set, is technically three bags in one—a weekender duffle, an overnighter backpack, and a “Pro” commuter backpack that all zip together—but it’s the “Pro” backpack I use every single day, whether I’m commuting to work or boarding a flight (back when we did such things). I’ve had it for several years of hard use and it looks brand new.
The Pro is incredibly slim and light but surprisingly roomy (like Hermione’s magic little purse in Harry Potter) with pockets for everything: laptop, e-reader or notebook, cellphone, cords, and keys all have a home. Mine is gray canvas, but my brother has the leather version and both are so stylish they regularly prompt compliments on trips. But it’s the set’s interconnectivity, functionality, and polka-dot interior that stole my heart.
Honorable mention: All-Day Bag by Wool & Oak, $345, woolandoak.com
For a weekend getaway:
Fold-Up Bag by Paravel
Buy Now: $65, tourparavel.com
How do I love thee, Paravel fold-up bag? Let me count the ways: your pint-sized packability, folding and zipping down into something the size of a book (9.75 inches x 8 inches x 2.75 inches); your sturdy-chic canvas in safari green; your ability to hold way more weight than you should (two pairs of shoes, two toiletry bags, and three days of winter clothing). You are the Trojan horse of weekend bags—I never quite know what’s going to pop out, since I just threw so much stuff inside. Thank you for not hurting my shoulder when I carry you. Thank you for being you.
For less than a week of travel:
The Bigger Carry-On by Away
Buy Now: $245, awaytravel.com
Admittedly, I was seduced by one of Away’s many limited-edition collaborations: a 2018 pairing with one of my basketball idols, Dwyane Wade. The super traveler used to spend eight months of the year on the road in the NBA, and when he wasn’t on the court, he was on a far-flung holiday with his traveling family. It was only natural he would eventually come up with his own luggage line, and I fell hard(shell) for the Bigger Carry-On suitcase with Miami-inspired interiors (palm trees and deep blues and greens, a nod to his Miami Heat days). Then Away had a meteoric rise and fall from grace in 2019, and it made me feel kind of squeamish dragging my carry-on everywhere. And I did take it everywhere: three days via prop plane to Nantucket, five days to the Maryland coast, and in one improbable packing feat, eight days to Scotland—in the winter! The suitcase wasn’t without its faults, either; one zipper promptly came off in my hand, and the shell gets nicked pretty easily. Thank goodness for Away’s generous lifetime limited warranty—it may just send you a new bag if the problem can’t be fixed.
But like a family member who does dumb things sometimes, you can’t help but still love them. Away has cleaned up its act in 2020 and both the company and my carry-on continue to . . . well, carry on. I’m still impressed by my suitcase’s ability to hold a week’s worth of clothing, still feel light, and roll with ease, all while charging my phone. (Yup, it’s one of those bags—battery included.)
For more than a week:
The Journey by Roam
Buy Now: $550, roamluggage.com
New to the rotation in 2020, my Roam Journey bag, a medium-sized checked bag, has quickly become my family’s throw-toys-clothes-and-shoes-in-there bag. It’s a fairly simple hardshell in super-light polycarbonate (only 9.5 pounds on its own) with compression straps and pockets that allow for tidy packing even if you don’t use packing cubes. But it’s the attention to detail that makes this bag stand out: The four-height handle is that much smoother, the ball-bearing wheels are the best I’ve used, and the colors are customizable. May you never feel like you have just another black bag on the luggage carousel again.
Honorable mention: Hardside Checked Suitcase by Target Open Story, $180, target.com