There’s something about traveling with only a carry-on bag that makes me feel invincible.
Everything’s right next to me during the flight. All I have to do is get off the plane and head straight out of the airport or to immigration.
It’s easy to hop onto public transportation and to travel from place to place without lugging around a huge suitcase.
Once I’ve selected what I want to take with me, it’s easy to pack. And really easy to unpack! I basically arrive at my new destination, move a few things around and—bam!— feel right at home.
However, choosing the best carry-on backpack is no piece of cake. There are numerous brands, models, specifications, sizes and materials that influence the durability, comfort and price of your new travel companion.
Whether you’re going on a week-long trip or changing your whole lifestyle to travel the world indefinitely, your backpack will become your best friend. So it’s vital to choose the perfect backpack for you.
Time to find the best carry-on backpack for international travel. Let’s do this!
What Makes a Carry-on Backpack Perfect
There are several features I always take into consideration before buying a travel backpack.
While you might not have the same preferences as I do, these are still vital things to think about!
I didn’t realize how important a front-loading travel backpack was until after I’d already started traveling.
Many backpacks have a zipper on the top, making it easy to grab stuff from above. These are called “top-loading backpacks.”
However, if you want to maximize the space of your backpack and keep everything organized, focus on front-loading backpacks. With these, your zipper is on the front of your backpack, not the top.
With a top-loading backpack, if you need something on the bottom of your pack, you have to take everything out of your bag to get it.
When you have a front-loading backpack, you just lay it down, open it completely and get whatever you need. It’s basically how regular suitcases work. And your backpack can be like that, too!
Also, pay attention to the other compartments of your backpack. I love small pockets all over my bag because I can store my passport, makeup items, headphones, earplugs, medicine, pens and notebook in an accessible and organized way. They’re always easy to reach.
I’m not the biggest fan of hip belts, but many travelers swear by them. The belt distributes the weight of your backpack around your whole body, making it more comfortable to wear your backpack for long periods of time.
A hip belt is pretty much mandatory if you’re carrying a huge, backpacker-style backpack. But it’s not absolutely necessary for smaller, carry-on sized backpacks.
That’s why some of the backpacks on this list have a completely detachable hip belt. Try it on! If it doesn’t work for you, just remove the belt. It’s as simple as that.
As a full-time traveler working remotely, my laptop has a special place in my heart—and in my backpack!
A laptop is usually stored close to your back, with a heavier cushion to make it absolutely safe. I also use those padded compartments to store my Kindle and any other papers I want to keep flat.
I never gave my backpack’s rain protection any thought until I was waiting for a bus in Serbia and it started raining cats and dogs.
My backpack was filled with my travel journal, laptop, passport and basically all my valuable belongings. I tried to hide it all under my jacket to keep it dry. After that day, I value nothing more than good rain protection for a backpack.
When choosing a travel backpack, you need to look at more than just the material to know if it’s protected. Look at the zippers, too!
Make sure the zippers can seal the bag tightly enough so the water doesn’t come inside. If your backpack doesn’t have great protection, you can also buy a separate rain cover for it. But then that’s just one more thing to carry around.
Airline Size Restrictions
Many travelers have a favorite airline they prefer to use for all their big trips. If that’s the case, research that airline’s size restrictions for carry-on luggage before making a purchase! All airlines have different rules.
Most airlines allow bags up to 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches. If your backpack is slightly over on the length, width or depth, but has a soft material that can adapt to its surroundings, you’ll most likely be fine.
If you struggle to fit all your things in a carry-on backpack, reconsider your packing list. Pick pieces of clothing that can mix and match with other articles to make a small capsule wardrobe for your trip.
Remember… You can always wash clothes on the road! Doing so makes life way easier while traveling.
The Best Carry-on Backpacks for International Travel: From Urban to Adventure Bags
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Wish you could take all the features from a large, backpacker-style pack and put them in a small, stylish backpack? Then the Travel Pack from Aevor is perfect for you.
This bag has a breathable back panel, removable hip-belt and front-loading options.
Inside the bag, you have an extra zipper to store sneakers, jeans and whatever you might not need immediate access to while you travel. The bag also has a unique zipper to store dirty clothes and shoes. This way, nothing dirty touches the rest of your belongings!
The bag provides 38 liters of storage. Most of the backpacks from Aevor have a feature that can help the bag expand a little bit. The Travel Pack is no different! Thanks to the roll top feature and the fold-out side wings, you can gain an extra seven liters if you run out of storage.
My favorite thing about the Tortuga Setout? It’s basically a suitcase without wheels. Which means no more hassle walking over the cobblestone streets of Paris or trying to squeeze into the New York subway.
Tortuga is focused on urban travel. This is a 45-liter pack, has a great hip belt, opens like a regular suitcase (love you, front-loading!) and you can store your computer safely using the laptop compartment.
Another cool thing about the Tortuga brand is that it’s created by travelers, for travelers. The founders went on a trip around Eastern Europe and had a lot of problems with their own backpacks, so they decided to create their own.
Personally, I love it when I can relate to a product’s story.
No matter what country you’re in, you’ll find fellow travelers in your hostel who love the Osprey Farpoint! These are nomads who, like you, wanted a light and budget-friendly carry-on backpack for their international trip. And at 40 liters of capacity, it’s the ideal size.
Hip belt, front-loading access, laptop and organizer compartments, it’s all there.
Even though this model comes in a variety of colors, the Farpoint probably isn’t the most beautiful backpack on this list. But in my opinion, the price and comfort are worth the trade-off of a dull exterior.
You may need to buy some bag organizers to feel more structured while using the bag.
If you’re looking for an ultra-budget-friendly option, this backpack is flexible and lightweight, making it super easy for you to travel with it.
This backpack has several pockets for organizing your stuff, back cushioning, waist straps (and also a few other straps to make it easier for you to carry the backpack), a laptop compartment and expandable storage. It’s a simple backpack that covers all the basics. It’s an easy decision if you’re focused on getting a good backpack on a tight budget.
Some reviews say the backpack isn’t sturdy enough to last for a super long time. So this bag is good if you’re not planning to live out of a carry-on backpack for a long time.
The dimensions are most similar to those of a 40-liter bag.
If you’re an adventure traveler looking for a backpack for all types of trips, this is the perfect backpack for you.
Kelty Redwing has lots of pockets to organize your belongings, a laptop sleeve, a removable waist belt and many other features focused on all types of trips, from hiking to touring a city.
This backpack caught my attention because even though it’s focused on the adventure traveler, the looks are still quite minimalistic. So it can easily look and feel like a bag for a city explorer. And as a 40-liter bag, it can be used on a hike or on a city walking tour.
Is your head spinning with all these choices?
If you’re struggling to narrow down your options from these five awesome backpacks, here’s a little tip: Order all the ones that interest you and try them on at home. Backpacks have all sorts of features and adjustments that might be perfect for your body… or they might not.
Then just return whichever ones you don’t use!
Because buying a travel backpack is a lot like booking an international trip. It takes careful consideration and planning. Choose your best carry-on backpack for international travel and have a comfortable trip!
And One More Thing…
If you’re looking forward to your big trip abroad, you’ll love using FluentU. FluentU makes it possible to learn languages from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks. If you think traveling with just a carry-on makes a trip easy, you have no idea how easy things can be if you’re conversational in the local language!
With FluentU, you learn real languages—the same way that natives speak them. FluentU has a wide variety of videos like movie trailers, funny commercials and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn’t catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s “quiz mode.” Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that vocab to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.
Debbie Corrano is a digital strategist and writer. She works remotely while traveling the world full-time with her two dogs. Over the past few years, Debbie has lived in more than 10 countries, learned a few languages and worked with dozens of agencies and brands.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.