The first decision to make is whether to go hardshell or soft-shell. There are pros and cons to each. Hardshell luggage, for example, is more durable and less likely to be crushed under other suitcases. It's also water-resistant and harder to overpack due to its rigid structure. Meanwhile, soft-shell luggage is more pliable, which means it's easier to stuff it into an overhead bin or squeeze in a few more shirts. At the end of the day, it's really a matter of preference.
Once you've made that decision, think about materials. With hardshell luggage, polycarbonate will be your best bet. With soft-shell, look for tough fabrics like nylon, ripstop polyester, or Oxford. Also, think about the wheels (spinners offer 360-degree rotation but rollers are often smoother on streets and sidewalks), handles (telescoping aluminum is the sturdiest), and storage features (think zippered pockets, mesh sleeves, and compression straps).
Below, I've listed the best luggage sets for international travel, separated into hardshell and soft-shell options, and arranged from the lowest to the highest price. Keep in mind that the dimensions listed by the manufacturers sometimes don't include the wheels and handles. For international travel, carry-on length restrictions are typically 20 inches or less, including the wheels and handle. That means that even smallest suitcases on this list may need to be checked — always look up the guidelines of the airline you're flying to be sure. And if you need an even smaller, standalone carry-on suitcase, try this list of the best travel tote bags.
What's great about it: Constructed with ABS plastic, this hardshell luggage set is fairly tough and durable given its low price. Each piece is relatively lightweight and fully heat-resistant with smooth spinner wheels that rotate a full 360-degrees. The telescoping handle features a simple, push-button design, and the interior is loaded with organizational extras, like zippered compartments, a privacy curtain, and compression straps. If you're on a budget, this is a great deal for the price.
Tradeoffs: The ABS plastic isn't as strong as polycarbonate, and the wheels are less sturdy than some of the other picks on this list.
What's great about it: Built with a strong polycarbonate-ABS blend, this three-piece hardshell luggage set is going to be slightly sturdier than the previous pick. With each piece, the exterior has each gone through a grinding process to make the finish even more scratch-resistant. Reviewers noted that the 360-degree rotating spinner wheels are particularly sturdy. The luggage has a robust telescoping handle, as well as a TSA-friendly lock to keep your valuables secure. Inside, you'll find plenty of pockets and organizational compartments, and all three pieces nest into one another for efficient storage between trips.
Tradeoffs: The material's ABS blend is not going to be quite as tough as pure polycarbonate, and a few reviewers had issues with the zippers.
What's great about it: The micro-diamond texture on this quality hardshell luggage set is even more scratch-resistant than the previous selection, making it more tolerant of rough handling. Reviewers say the spinner wheels are super tough and durable, rotating a full 360-degrees and supporting a full load. Made with 100-percent polycarbonate and an aluminum telescopic handle, it's the strongest pick on this list, as well as the only hardshell with an expandable design. Lightweight and filled with pockets and compartments, each piece has a TSA-approved lock for added security.
Tradeoffs: While the handles are made with tough aluminum, they aren't indestructible. A few reviewers reported breakage, so it's best to be gentle when adjusting them.
What's great about it: Constructed with strong, 600-denier polyester, this three-piece luggage set offers an excellent combination of quality and affordability. The wheels aren't full spinners but nevertheless offer decent rolling that's smooth and quiet. The interior of each piece is fully lined and features compression straps, while the exterior has zippered pockets and easy-grab handles. Best of all, it's expandable when you need extra storage.
What's great about it: This sleek three-piece luggage set features rugged Oxford fabric on the outside and soft yet durable, 210-denier nylon on the inside. The expandable exterior features protective pieces on the corners to prevent your items from getting crushed. Each piece has a retractable push-button handle system and fully rotating spinner wheels. As a bonus, they're also built with TSA-approved combination locks.
Tradeoffs: The wheels can't withstand excessive weight, so you'll need to be careful not to overpack these suitcases.
What's great about it: Constructed with top-of-the-line ripstop polyester, this high-end luggage set is lightweight, durable, and built to last. Each suitcase boasts injection-molded polypropylene support trays, allowing it to support more weight. The tops and sides are outfitted with easy-grab handles for quick access on the turnstile, and the main handles are fully retractable with ergonomically designed grips. The spinner wheels rotate 360 degrees and the largest suitcase is expandable.
Abs Hard Shell Luggage
Tradeoffs: A few reviewers complained about not having an extra handle on the bottom of the suitcases, noting that it made it harder to lift them when packed.
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