It's remarkable how much the stress of travel is tied to our luggage. Who hasn't shuffled around clothes in front of everyone (or put them on in layers in front of everyone) because their carry-on was too heavy? Or been yanked around by a teetering suitcase while trying to run to the gate? While there are plenty of things about travel that we can't control—flight schedules, what other people think of us, lost luggage—our choice of bags is something we do have a say in. Here are some of our top picks, with options like built-in weight gauges, GPS tracking, and tried-and-true design, all of which extend the promise of a lot less stress.
Travelpro WalkAbout 2 21" Expandable Spinner, Macy's, $111.99
Travelpro carry-ons are the ones you're most likely to see pilots and flight attendants using, and that in itself is a pretty high recommendation. I've gone through many carry-ons and this one is my favorite, which is no wonder, because it has all the key features: four 360-degree spinner wheels that make inching along in line and rushing through the airport easier, sturdy easy-to-pull zippers, a front pocket that's big enough for a laptop (I hate the weight a laptop adds to my personal bag, but I want to be able to get it out easily for security), cushioned handles on both the long side and short side which make it so much easier to wrestle in and out of overhead bins, and a smooth-glide handle with a very comfortable hand-grip. The whole piece is lightweight with a convenient but un-fussy interior.
Space Case 1, Indiegogo, $329+
2016 is shaping up to be the year of smart luggage, with several companies due to release bags with built-in GPS tracking, charging devices, biometric locks, and more. We're most excited about the Space Case 1, which has received over one million dollars in Indiegogo backing. The first pre-order wave has sold out, but May pre-orders start at $329 for the carry-on size.
Tylt Energi+ Backpack, Tylt, $169.99
In the meantime, check out the Tylt Energi+ backpack, which serves as a portable charging station for multiple devices as well as a bag in which to carry them all. No more scrambling for an outlet at the airport and hovering over your device as you wonder if you have enough time to charge your tablet and grab something to eat.
Samsonite Lift2 29" Spinner, Samsonite, $169.99
If you're going to grandma's house across the country for three weeks with three kids like we do almost every year, you're going to need a large suitcase (even if you plan to do laundry). You need space for different kinds of clothes for various adventures, toys and gear, and empty space for all the extra stuff you'll bring back with you. I don't think you need too many bells and whistles for this piece of luggage; besides being sturdy, you just need it to be lightweight and spacious, like this basic Samsonite.
Pack-It Specter Compression Cube Set, Eagle Creek, $36.95
And you need packing cubes. They've seriously changed my traveling life. I just have these from IKEA, and I'm happy with them, except for the lack of color options. However, the ones from Eagle Creek come in several colors and are compression bags, making them even more compact.
Heirloom, SHUTTERbag, $339.95
The personal item bag you choose to bring is so individual that I hesitate to recommend any one kind here. I opt to bring a bag larger than my day-to-day purse, one that's big enough to throw my laptop and camera into if I end up having to gate check my carry-on. My husband brings his laptop bag. I have each of my children carry their own backpacks with their own headphones, coloring books, and small toys. I always pack a fold-able stuff sack to corral sweatshirts or jackets while we're on the plane. The main thing is to think of what you absolutely want with you on the plane and what else you might need to throw in your bag.