4 Essential Types of Travel Bags + How to Choose
Choosing the right travel bag will give you the freedom to organize your things, carry them comfortably, and bring all the essentials you’ll need along the way - without worrying about the safety of your belongings.
Let’s break down each of the four main types of travel bags, who they’re best suited for, and how to find the perfect bag for your upcoming trips.
Four Essential Types of Travel Bags
Here’s what you need to know about the four main types of luggage to help you decide which one is right for you.
The Carry-On is the most versatile travel bag on our list. For many, it’s the only type of luggage you’ll need, so it’s worth investing in a quality piece. You’ll find that there are many different types of carry-ons available, from rolling suitcases to backpacks, in soft and hard-sided versions.
Most major airlines in the US require a carry-on to be 45 linear inches or less, including the handles and wheels. Opting for a carry-on without wheels means you’ll have more packing space. If the flight is full, you may be asked to check a wheeled carry-on anyway, so you’re better off starting out with a bag that’s easier to accommodate.
The ideal carry-on is a soft-sided travel backpack or carry-on travel duffel that meets most airlines' carry-on size requirements. Soft-sided bags are easy to fit in the overhead compartment since they’re more flexible, Backpacks and duffels that are designed specifically for travel have special features that make them easier to carry plus multiple compartments and pockets for organization.
Pros of Choosing a Carry-On
- A well-designed carry-on is easy to pack and organize, with specialized pockets and compartments that make it easy to find and access your personal items.
- Carry-on travel backpacks and duffels are designed with comfort in mind, including padded adjustable straps and harnesses for the perfect fit and load distribution.
- For minimalist travelers who pack strategically, a carry-on can fit everything you need for most trips. Due to its smaller size and portability, a carry-on is equally well suited for crowded urban destinations.
- Less time at the airport, since there’s no need to wait in line to check your bag or to pick up your bag at the baggage claim.
- The risk of your bag being lost or stolen is greatly reduced since it will be with you at all times.
Cons of Choosing a Carry-On
- Those with physical limitations may find it difficult to carry a travel backpack or duffel for long periods of time. In this case, a wheeled suitcase or checked bag may be a better option.
- If you’re the type of traveler who likes to bring everything you might need, just in case, a carry-on might not be large enough to suit your needs.
The Best Carry-On Travel Bag Options
If you’re considering a carry-on travel duffel, you can’t go wrong with the Pakt One. Not your typical duffel, the Pakt One features a wrap-around zipper that allows you to pack it like a suitcase.
The Pakt One has a generous 35L capacity, is carry-on approved, and features a dual-compartment design with multiple pockets for easy access to your belongings. Its adjustable, padded shoulder strap makes it a joy to carry, and the padded laptop compartment keeps your computer safe on the go.
The Pakt Travel Backpack includes 20 unique features that make it the perfect carry-on travel bag. In addition to a dual-compartment clamshell design, this backpack comes with an anti-theft pocket, exterior water bottle pocket, waterproof toiletry pocket, and more.
Perfect for everything from weekend getaways to weeks-long adventures, the Pakt Travel Backpack is designed for comfortable carry and organization. From the luggage pass-through to the padded laptop compartment, this bag has every feature you need to travel like a pro.
The Personal Travel Bag
Many airlines allow you to bring a Personal Bag, sometimes called a personal item, onboard in addition to your carry-on. It simply must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. Technically, any purse, messenger bag, tote bag, daypack, or gym duffel can work fine as a personal bag, but we urge you to consider something that’s a bit more functional.
For example, if you’ve chosen a travel backpack as your carry-on, a multipurpose duffel or sling makes the perfect personal bag. That way you can wear your backpack on your back and carry your smaller duffle or sling crossbody, keeping your hands free as you make your way through the airport.
A multifunctional, smaller duffel bag can serve several purposes, too. It’s the perfect weekend bag for shorter trips, or it can be used as your gym bag when you reach your destination. The ideal personal bag has pockets for easy access to key items and padded, adjustable straps for comfortable carry.
Pros of a Personal Bag
- A functional personal bag has enough space for a couple of days worth of clothing and essential personal items, such as toiletries and small electronics. It may be all you need for a quick weekend getaway or overnight business trip.
- Carrying a personal bag in addition to your carry-on gives you more room for important items and allows for easy access to things you might need on the way to your destination.
Cons of a Personal Bag
- A personal bag isn’t large enough to bring everything you need for trips longer than a few days, even with strategic packing. For most trips, you’ll need to bring a carry-on or checked bag in addition to your personal item.
The Best Personal Travel Bag Option
The Anywhere 25L Duffel is the perfect personal travel bag for anyone who appreciates organization in a compact package. Use it as an overnight bag, personal item for flights, family organizer, or your go-to everyday bag.
This bag is packed with features like an interior laptop sleeve, a luggage strap that secures to rolling luggage, and multiple oversized media pockets, exterior pockets, and waterproof water bottle holders. If you want easy access to your tech and snacks in-flight, this duffel is for you.
The Checked Travel Bag
Some people may prefer a checked bag for longer trips or those times when they need a special wardrobe, such as traveling to a colder climate. A full-sized, wheeled suitcase is often the first thing we think of when it comes to a checked bag, but it’s certainly not the only option.
A large backpack/duffel hybrid can do double duty as a checked bag or carry-on. This makes it an extremely versatile option for those who want the capacity of a larger bag without the clunkiness of a suitcase.
Pros of a Checked Bag
- A checked bag is large enough to accommodate your needs for longer trips or if you’re a heavy packer. A checked bag can also accommodate some larger items you might need if you’re traveling with children or bulkier clothing and gear.
- Once your bag is checked-in you won’t have to worry about carrying it through the airport or the TSA line. This can be an advantage for those with physical limitations, or those who are traveling with small children.
Cons of a Checked Bag
- Checked bags can be more difficult to maneuver in crowded areas like airports and urban destinations.
- You’ll need to spend additional time at the airport checking in your bag and waiting at the baggage claim.
- There’s a greater risk that checked luggage will get lost or stolen, which can be extremely inconvenient, especially if you’re traveling in a foreign country.
The Best Checked Travel Bag Options
The Anywhere 50L is a versatile duffel/backpack hybrid that can be packed heavy for use as a checked bag, or light for use as a carry-on. It’s big enough to meet your needs for a month-long road trip, with a wrap-around zipper for suitcase-style packing and removable dividers to accommodate bulky gear.
Whether you choose to carry it like a duffel or a backpack, the Anywhere 50L includes premium, padded adjustable straps for comfortable carrying and load distribution. It’s also made from durable, water-resistant fabric for your peace of mind.
The Gear Hauler Travel Bag
The Gear Hauler is probably the least used of the four main types of travel bags. However, it’s extremely useful if you’re into recreational activities or hobbies that require bulky gear or clothing.
For example, your gear hauler can be used to pack camping gear, boots or bulky winter clothing. On long trips, your gear hauler can also be used as a second checked bag for additional clothing, personal items, and bulky souvenirs. A gear hauler can also come in handy as a laundry bag for wet and dirty items at your destination.
Gear haulers are typically made to be lightweight on their own, but can easily accommodate the 50-pound weight limit imposed by most major US airlines. Look for one that has comfortable straps and is made of quality material, especially if you plan to pack it heavy.
The Pros of Gear Hauler Travel Bags
- Gear hauler-style travel bags are ideal for packing sporting goods, camping gear, and other hard-to-pack items.
- A thoughtfully designed gear hauler is an extremely versatile travel bag that can come in handy at your destination for use as a heavy-duty tote, laundry hamper, grocery organizer, and more.
The Cons of Gear Hauler Travel Bags
- Gear Haulers are amazing for their purpose, but they are big and bulky. If you’re not traveling with bulky gear or clothing, you probably don’t need a Gear Hauler.
The Best Gear Hauler Travel Bag Option
Pakt’s Gear Hauler can easily be converted from a generous 60L open crate to a massive 120L zippered tote. It comes with sturdy and convenient handles on all sides, plus a semi-rigid lower half and soft upper half designed to expand according to your needs.
The heavy-duty TPU-coated bottom panel is waterproof to protect everything inside the bag in any weather conditions. The Gear Hauler is perfect for travel but it can also be used to store your sporting goods so you’re ready to go at a moment’s notice. Or, leave it in the car as an organizer… the options are virtually endless.
Travel Accessories to Consider
Packing cubes are essential for organizing your belongings, no matter which type of travel bag you choose. They’re handy for separating items by type, outfit, or even clean from dirty. Our Packing Cube Set includes a variety of sizes for convenience and versatility.
A sling bag is a bag that’s designed to be carried crossbody or over your shoulder. It’s the perfect accompaniment to your carry-on and makes a great everyday carry bag at your destination. The Anywhere 5L Sling features interior pockets for organization and a tuck-away strap, allowing it to double as your toiletry bag or tech case.
Waist bags are small travel bags with multiple compartments that strap around your waist or double a sling. They’re great for keeping personal items safe when you’re sightseeing, shopping, or hiking. Pakt’s Travel Backpack comes with a detachable waist bag that’s ideal for your cell phone, keys, wallet, and other items you want to keep close at hand on your trip.
Travel totes are lightweight and extremely versatile, with lots of space in the large, main compartment. They’re ideal for use as a shopping bag, beach bag, or laundry bag at your destination. Our Packable Tote Bag can be compressed when empty, so it doesn’t take up hardly any space in your carry-on, yet comes in very handy for a variety of applications.
How to Choose the Right Type of Bag for Travel
Choosing the right type of bag for travel comes down to personal preference, the length of your trip, and your traveling style. You might be tempted to buy a bag that’s larger than you really need, but that can be a mistake on several levels.
Here are some key questions to ask when deciding which type of luggage is best for you:
How long do you typically travel?
Do you typically take long trips, short weekend getaways, or both? If you plan to travel for weeks at a time, you might want to consider a full-sized checked bag.
But if you generally go on short trips that only require a couple of changes of clothes and some toiletries, a personal bag will probably be all you need. If you want a bag that will work for most trips of any length, a travel backpack or duffel will be your best bet.
What is your traveling style?
Are you an efficient packer or do you like to bring a lot of extras, just in case? Do you plan to participate in a hobby or activity that requires bulky gear or clothing on your trip? Are you traveling with small children or do you have physical limitations that will make it hard for you to carry your bag from place to place?
If you plan on working remotely while you’re on the road, a travel bag that includes a padded laptop compartment may be a top priority. And of course, a durable bag that’s water-resistant will be essential for most travelers.
Packing light has tons of advantages, but it simply isn’t realistic for everyone. Considering your traveling style and needs carefully is an essential step in choosing the right type of bag for travel.
How do you feel about waiting in lines?
If you travel with a checked bag, be prepared to wait in line at departure to check your bag and again on arrival to receive your bag at the baggage claim. These lines can take hours, especially if you’re traveling at peak travel times.
On the other hand, when you’re traveling with only a carry-on, you can often check in online and there’s no need to wait around for your bag at your destination either. This can be especially nice if you’re traveling to a foreign country where you’ll also have to go through customs.
If waiting in line frustrates you or you’ll be on a tight schedule, choosing a carry-on as your primary luggage might be worth sacrificing some space.