I’m a destroyer of carry-on bags (5 in 5 years!). These are tips to keep in mind when buying a carry-on bag based on my mistakes and more about the best carry-on backpack for budget airlines. Includes a review of the Cabinzero Classic 44L Ultralight Carry-On Bag.
DISCLOSURE: I received this bag for free in exchange for a review and a share on social media. I did not send the review to CabinZero prior to publication. Please click for my disclosure policy. This post contains affiliate links, but not for CabinZero.
Six month update (October 2017):
The top handle of my CabinZero bag ripped off while traveling in Romania and within 1 week, I received a brand new CabinZero bag sent to me in Paris with free expedited shipping under their 25 year warranty terms after sending two photos.
My previous experiences with carry-on luggage and the tips for finding the perfect carry-on only bag.
It’s been seven years since I got my first passport and went on my first trip solo. I’m finally on my second passport and my sixth carry-on bag. Most trips that I’ve taken have been carry-on only. Since then, I’ve learned a lot in terms of things to look for in a good travel backpack, packing more effectively, and whether it’s worth it to invest in high quality hand luggage.
Carry-on bag #1: Cheap carry on luggage from Amazon
When I bought a small travel duffel-bag, I got what I paid for: a cheap duffel bag that actually hurt my shoulder due to the thin plastic strap that did not distribute the weight equally. Definitely not the best carry on duffel bag for Europe to carry around for over a month.
Lesson 1: A good thick strap that distributes the weight equally and/or backpack straps with cushioning are important, otherwise your back/shoulders will hurt! Invest in a good bag that will last and that you don’t mind carrying with you. Cheap bags break.
Carry-on bag #2: A weekend tote bag (Grand Tote) from Vera Bradley
A friend gave me a large Vera Bradley weekend bag
to use as a lightweight carry-on bag. Although it was a great carry on tote bag for car trips with friends, the inability to close the bag drove me crazy as my clothes/electronics would spill out at the worst times and I’d lose things in what seemed like a never-ending bucket.
Lesson 2: Zippers are important. Obvious, but important.
Lesson 3: Packing cubes are a lifesaver in terms of packing neatly and not losing your stuff in a larger carry-on bag! Packing cubes are a way of separating your items from each other, so you can set aside clothes that you’ll need for one day (in its entirety) without needing to dig through your bag! Perfect for not needing to unpack over and over.
Carry-on bag #3: A conventional rolling carry-on suitcase
Don’t get rolling carry-on luggage if you’re planning on backpacking through small Italian towns in Tuscany/Umbria…or simply anywhere in Europe that has cobblestone streets. Almost a month of “backpacking” through Italy and Hungary with dragging my rolling suitcase around killed my suitcase. I also ended up paying extra baggage fees after as my carry-on would not fit the size requirements for Ryanair.
Lesson 4: Rolling carry-on bags don’t work well with cobblestones. Small travel backpacks work better for European cities.
Lesson 5: Avoid baggage fees on budget airlines by getting a carry-on bag that fits size requirements from the most restrictive airlines.
Carry-on bag #4: Army backpack
My husband swears by Army bags. It attracts unwanted attention as people assume that we’re American soldiers and/or really broke backpackers. When I attended a work conference in Prague, I brought this backpack, but I was the only one in a suit with an non-professional backpack and a couple people made negative comments about it. My laptop kept moving around as there was no padded pocket.
Lesson 6: If you travel for work, a professional looking backpack can go a long way and a padded laptop sleeve is useful for protecting your belongings.
Carry-on bag #5: CabinZero Classic 44L Ultra-Light Cabin Bag.
As a young professional who routinely travels on budget airlines, I felt it was time to invest in a high quality bag that had good reviews, looked professional, included a good warranty, and was comfortable. I ended up reading about CabinZero’s bags and wanted to see how it measured up.
I’ve been hesitant in the past about investing in a good travel backpack and I’ve paid the price in refusing to buy a good backpack: back pain, needing to carry a rolling suitcase around, and replacing my carry-on an almost yearly basis as it didn’t fit my needs anymore. After my disastrous trip to Romania and taking it with me on city weekend trips around the Netherlands, my husband has requested it to borrow for his work trips.
No extra cabin fees, even on restrictive budget airlines.
Hiking and climbing in Romania
I brought my CabinZero bag to Romania where I road tripped, went climbing, and had the worst luck that I’ve ever had during traveling, including getting denied boarding for a flight. After hours of stress, I managed to buy two separate budget flights on Europe’s most restrictive budget airlines in terms of carry-on size limits on the following morning in order to get home.
I didn’t end up paying ANY baggage fees thanks to my CabinZero bag! (My aunt who had a standard carry-on luggage that was okay for a different airline had to pay an extra baggage fees.) If you’re planning a carry-on Eurotrip where you’re looking for the best travel carry-on for budget airlines, this is it. If you plan on doing a backpacking trip in Europe or taking flights with budget airlines, this means that you’ll save a lot on luggage fees and there’s no need to wait for your luggage, which makes it the best travel backpack for Europe that I’ve had. If you’re not sure about the price (70 euros), think how much you’ll save on not paying extra baggage fees when you’re forced to check your bag!
Soft and Squishable
It’s squishable (and fits on Ryanair!), so when the flight attendant asks you if it will fit in the bin; it will. This makes it a great backpack for air travel.
Spacious with lots of pockets and perfect with packing cubes!
I easily fit a week’s worth of clothes for a trip that required a lot of specialized clothing/gear as we were rock climbing. For weekend trips, my husband and I share the bag. I find the cubes help keep the bag organized as it is a lot bigger than you realize.
What I fit inside my CabinZero bag for a 7 day trip. I used 3 CabinZero packing cubes and still had a lot of space.
- Travel Adapter.
- Camera Charger.
- Sneakers and a pair of flats.
- 2 Pairs of Jeans.
- Rock climbing helmet (clipped to exterior)
- Water bottle (clipped to exterior)
- Climbing Harness.
- DSLR Camera.
- Fleece jacket.
- Hair straightener.
- 1 Workout Outfit (Shirt/Sweatpants).
- 5 shirts.
25 Year Warranty.
It comes with a 10 year warranty (25 year warranty if you like them on Facebook). In case you lose your bag, there’s a built-in tracker from Okoban that you can register online (it took me about 5 minutes) that allows someone who finds the backpack to easily get in touch with you. The Okoban tracker is already used by thousands of airports, so if you leave your bag at the airport or on a plane, it will be very easy to get your bag back.
I had to use my warranty as the bag broke after six months of usage and it was easy enough to replace.
The padded laptop sleeve inside the bag and minimalistic does not give away that you’re carrying your valuables inside the bag. I appreciate that as someone who travels a lot.
Other Things to Know
Colors of the CabinZero bags: The CabinZero Classic 44L comes in over 18 colors, so if you’re not fond of the original grey CabinZero as shown above, you can buy a CabinZero bag in pink, red, green, or black! There are different styles, including a Military style 44L, a vintage style 44L, and an urban style 42L meant for commuters.
Weight: 760 grams
Dimensions: Fits 55 x 40 x 20 cm [Same size as Ryanair’s maximum carry-on size!]
Composition, Outer: Waterproof polyester, Lining: Polyester
What I didn’t like about the CabinZero bag
It lacked a strap across the chest for trekking. We took our CabinZero bag on a rock climbing and hiking adventure in Turda Gorge (Romania). It was a bit difficult as it moved as there wasn’t a hip-strap to keep the bag in place. It did hold our gear at least, but I tend to use an army backpack/day pack for hiking/climbing as it wasn’t ideal. I only use this bag for city day trips as it’s not intended for hiking.
Have you traveled carry-on only?
Thank you to CabinZero for sending me one bag and packing cubes to test out. This opinion is 100% my own and updated.