The Best Size For Your
International Carry On Bag

Choosing an international carry on bag for your overseas trip is fraught with danger - especially if it's your only bag.

Just making the decision to travel to Europe with only a small bag is daunting enough.

But now, with the airlines' tough stance on size and weight for all overseas luggage, you must be sure the bag you choose will not only serve for the length of your trip, but that it also meets or beats airline baggage restrictions for the international air carrier you fly.

Each airline publishes their own rules and requirements for the international carry on bags they allow on their flights.

This makes it easy to find the exact size and weight your luggage must conform to, if you plan to take it onboard.

The problem is, international airline baggage rules are not the same for all airlines.

Not only can travel luggage restric-tions differ between U.S. domestic and overseas flight routes, size and weight requirements differ signifi-cantly between American airline carriers and air carriers in Europe and the rest of the world.

Before you decide your choice of international carry on bag is under control, be sure to check with each international carrier you plan to fly [including any 'code-share' flights] to make sure your bag meets or exceeds the carry on bag require-ments for the most restrictive of the airlines you plan to fly.

If you’re traveling in something other than Coach Class, some airlines will give you a bump up in the amount and size of allowable luggage.

But if you’re riding in the back of the bus where most of us ride, it may make sense to choose your international air carrier, based on the severity of their travel luggage restrictions.

High View of Warwick from the Castle Mound

Will Your International Carry On Bag Fit?

Most U.S. travelers are aware that the dimensions of a properly sized intern-ational carry on bag for American air carriers should be no larger than a total dimension of 45 inches. [A few U.S. airlines have slightly different dimensions.]

For those new to the game, that breaks down to a small carry on bag that measures 22 x 14 x 9 inches, added together for a total linear dimension of 45 inches.

For U.S. domestic and overseas flights, this measurement is generally accepted as the maximum size for travel luggage taken onboard an aircraft.

However, be aware that airlines can [and will] restrict your international carry on bag, if parts of it extend beyond these measurements [e.g., protruding handles, large wheels, over-stuffed pockets], or if you’re forced to measure your bag with a sizing template, and it doesn’t easily fit through.

Even when traveling bags do meet appropriate size requirements, airlines don’t guarantee a place in the overhead bins. With planes by the dozens in mothballs - and most flights traveling full - the ability for each and every traveler to board with even a small carry on bag is at the airline's discretion.

The good news is, if your bag is small enough, and you’re unlucky enough to land in a middle seat, it’s possible your international carry on bag will fit in the floor space in front of you. [Perhaps the only good thing about a middle seat!]

But be aware: many overseas flights use this underseat space for electronic boxes to provide in-seat video entertainment, limiting the use of this former storage area for passengers.

This can also be true for aisle or window seats, where under-seat space is already significantly smaller.

So, even with the utmost care in choosing the best international carry on luggage for your trip, you still face somewhat risky odds of getting it onboard with you.

Medieval Architecture With Springtime Flowers

The weight of your overseas carry on bag should also be considered.

If you've read our article on carry on travel luggage, you learned that many global and European airlines have extremely tight onboard weight restrictions - often less than the weight of the bag itself when empty!

While U.S. domestic carriers seldom use weight as a factor for carry on bag requirements, the majority of overseas flights around the globe have severe luggage weight restrictions, which they ruthlessly enforce.

And if you happen to travel with both carry on luggage and checked luggage, their weights are combined as your total luggage weight.  This can result in you having to pay fees for excess luggage.

So what’s the best international carry on bag for your trip?

The Best International Luggage to Carry On

Unlike with checked luggage, there are no fees you can pay to take oversized carry on luggage onboard the aircraft. If airline personnel determine your bag is too large, they’ll force you to check it.

To avoid this – and to protect your personal possessions - choose a carry on bag that is sized slightly less than the maximum allowable size.

While it may seem impossible to reduce your packing space even further, the  construction, strength, and shape of your bag all play a part in its overall weight and size.

Today’s travel bags are constructed of lighter, softer, stronger materials, that protect your belongings and absorb punishment, while decreasing the overall weight of onboard luggage.

Its cool to live in the Tower of London

If you haven’t purchased overseas luggage since airlines imposed the current round of fees, rules, and restrictions on international travel bags, do yourself a favor before you plan your trip: do some research on luggage you plan to use as your carry on bag.

Beyond travel bag construction, the following parameters will help to make your international carry on bag lighter and more efficient for both your back and your wallet!

  • Partially recessed wheels and retractable handles – you give up a little space inside, but your overall bag dimension will be smaller and less cumbersome.
  • External 'slot' pockets with zipper closures – opt away from pockets that bulge outward from the bag. When filled, they quickly 'oversize' your bag.
  • Expandable capacity – a bag that expands allows you to add purchases and souvenirs along the way. If you must check your bag on your return flight, you’ll only do it one way.
  • If you prefer duffle-type bags, these are the lightest international carry on bags for travel. If you prefer a more structured bag, choose the lightest, most securely fabricated bag you can find.
  • Locks should be either TSA compliant or combination locks. If com-bination, be sure to unlock your bag before checking it, to prevent damage by the TSA, should they want to see inside.
  • Handles on both the long and short sides of the bag. This makes it easier to hoist the bag over your head like a regular suitcase. Added 'feet' on the long side allow you rest the bag, when carrying it in non-rolling situations.
  • Extras that are nice but not necessary: 2-4 additional wheels for balance, replaceable wheel kits, wheels that swivel, and 'sliders' on the back for stairs.

Your international carry on bag will be your constant travel companion. Choose it as you would a lover - the best bag you can find, for the most money you can afford.

Otherwise, it could well turn into a disappointing nag!

For more details on airline luggage weight and size restrictions for domestic and international airlines, plus allowable linear dimensions, luggage weight, and tips for packing:

Carry On Luggage – More Rules, More Restrictions to test even a savvy seasoned traveler.

Rethinking Checked Luggage: How to balance what you pack with airline baggage restrictions on overseas flights.

The Carry On Travel Luggage Dilemma: Use the correct carry on bag for freedom and flexibility on your overseas trip.

Excess Luggage – How The Airlines Take Your Money: Learn how to choose luggage that meets or beats airline luggage restrictions.

Return to International Travel Luggage

Travel Tip

Luggage has become a utilitarian tool, not a statement of fashion or person-ality. Choose your overseas luggage not by cost alone, but by construction, design, strength, weight, and versatility.

Plain, solid color international travel bags are best. They don’t stand out in a crowd. They don’t scream: 'valuables inside'!  Choose a dark color other than black, and add a personal colorful touch for easy identification.

The best international travel luggage accompanies you on your trip. Not the other way around.

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