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The best bags, suitcases and accessories

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Over eight weeks, we traveled to Tokyo, Paris and the Caribbean testing bags and luggage — it’s a difficult job, but someone’s got to do it. As a result of our hard work testing over 150+ travel products, we picked our favorites — introducing our first-ever Best of Travel Awards.

We traveled across the globe to Tokyo with hardshell suitcases and packing cubes, commuting to and from our New York City office with weekenders and duffle bags and tried toiletry bags, noise-canceling headphones and more.  Below, we rounded up the best suitcases, bags and accessories.

SKIP AHEAD Travel Awards suitcases winners | Travel Awards bags winners | Travel Awards accessories winners

Best of Travel Awards 2024 suitcase winners

Best hardshell suitcases

Best overall hardshell suitcase: Away The Bigger Carry-On

Away’s The Bigger Carry-On is the best overall hardshell suitcase because it delivered when it came to all of our testing criteria. This Away suitcase, as the name implies, is a subtly larger version of the brand’s standard carry-on suitcase. The bag can fit multiple packing cubes and has ample room for clothing, toiletries and shoes. Additionally, it comes with a TSA-approved lock, which NBC Select associate reporter Bianca Alvarez found useful during her travel testing.  “I loved using this carry-on and was able to pack roughly around 10 days worth of clothes with the help of packing cubes,” she says.

Best lightweight hardshell suitcase: Quince 21” Carry-On

During our testing, we found that the Quince 21” Carry-On balances durability and maneuverability well. NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin tested the bag and loved how well it handled different terrain. “I dragged this bag through the streets of New York, on multiple flights, checked and not checked, and dragged it up flights of stairs and it looks great,” she says. While the bag is prone to some scrapes (the case with many hardshell bags), it comes with a small sponge to help wipe scuffs away.

Best budget hardshell suitcase: Bagsmart Carry-On 

The Bagsmart Carry-On can hold a surprisingly large amount given its size, according to NBC Select managing editor Leah Ginsberg, who tested the bag. “I was really impressed by this carry-on. Its dimensions are smaller than the average carry-on,” she says. “But it held a lot of things and the quality is good for the price.” It also has 360-degree wheels, an adjustable handle with four heights, TSA-approved locks on the zippers, multiple compartments for organizing clothes and an expandable zipper on the side.

Best softshell suitcases

Best overall: Thule Subterra 2 Carry-On Spinner

Thule’s Subterra 2 suitcase is the perfect softshell carry-on for your travel needs, whether you’re using it for a quick trip or taking it on a long-haul vacation. Former NBC Select editorial operations manager Shari Uyehara says that while testing the bag, it “helped make traveling a lot easier” — she loves its sleek, stylish design, and how well it’s held up after multiple trips. It’s made from a polycarbonate shell and a durable nylon/polyester blend that’s designed to be water-resistant and to withstand the impact of travel wear and tear, according to the brand.

Best lightweight: Calpak Luka Soft Sided Carry-On

Malin, who’s never used soft-shell luggage before, says that this suitcase is “ideal to use for a short trip”, because of its spacious yet lightweight design. When testing the suitcase for a weekend trip, Malin says she fit three full day outfits, three pairs of pajamas and three workout outfits inside of the suitcase’s main compartment, plus underwear, bras and socks. It’s made from Calpak’s puffy, polyester Luka material, which the brand says is designed to withstand travel.

Best of Travel Awards bags winners

The best duffel bags

Best overall: Calpak Luka Duffel

With its spacious main compartment, exterior and interior pockets, exterior shoe compartment and trolley sleeve, this bag makes for the perfect travel and daily duffel. “I love that I can use this bag for trips as well as in my everyday life as a gym bag. Zoe Malin, NBC Select associate updates editor says, “The size of this bag and how lightweight it is makes it a perfect workout bag for me. I put my sneakers, a change of clothes, weights, a towel, toiletries and a water bottle inside it to go to yoga after work.”

Best large capacity: Patagonia Black Hole Duffel

Patagonia’s Black Hole Duffel comes in four sizes — 40L, 55L, 70L and 100L — so you can choose the capacity that’s best for your travels. The duffle is made from 100% recycled fabrics, plus it has a durable and weather-resistant exterior.   On the inside, this spacious bag has interior pockets that are similar to a carry-on suitcase. It also closes and opens easily since the zippers glide easily, says Mili Godio, NBC Select updates editor.

The best backpacks

Best overall: Calpak Laptop Backpack

This Calpak backpack is great for frequent travelers looking for a large, durable bag to hold essentials of all sizes, as well as a laptop. The backpack has exterior and interior pockets, a water bottle holder and a trolley sleeve so you can slide it onto your luggage. “Calpak’s backpack has completely changed how I travel,” says Bianca Alvarez, an NBC Select associate reporter who’s a super commuter. She travels from Virginia to New York City every week for work. “I tossed my old backpacks after using this one because it makes my travel days easier,” she says.

Best for commuting: Dagne Dover Dakota Backpack

Dagne Dover’s Dakota Backpack is ideal for commuters, like NBC Select staff who brought it back and forth to the office. “I’ve been using this backpack for two months as my work bag and it’s been a major upgrade from my last situation,” says Rebecca Rodriguez, NBC Select editorial projects manager. The backpack has padded straps, making it comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and it has compartments and pockets to store whatever you’re traveling with.

Best outdoors: Orvis Trekkage LT Adventure

While the Orvis Trekkage backpack is specifically designed for outdoor adventures like hiking and camping, it has features that allow you to use it in everyday life, including a laptop pocket and a hidden security pocket for valuables. The bag is made from heavy-duty recycled, water-repellent fabric, and its main pocket is lockable making it easier to protect your items while outdoors camping or just traveling. “This bag is big without looking like it belongs on the Amazing Race,” says Rosalie Sparaco, NBC senior social media editor.

The best weekenders

Best overall: Dagne Dover Landon Carryall

The magic behind Dagne Dover’s Landon Carryall lies in its structure, says Malin: “It has shape, so it stays open while I’m packing and never flops over, yet it’s flexible and soft, so I can overstuff it without any issues.”  The bag is also expandable. “You can unsnap the sides of the bag to make it bigger, which is such a great option,” says Malin. “I expand it for longer trips, but leave it snapped for overnight trips when I don’t need a ton of space.” They’re designed with a laptop carrier, an exterior phone pocket, interior side pockets, a key leash and an attached zip-top pouch. The larger bags also come with a shoe bag and a detachable adjustable crossbody strap.

Best for a long weekend: July Carry All Weekender Plus

“I’m very impressed by how incredibly spacious this bag is,” says Ari Night, NBC Select editorial assistant. “Not only does it fit multiple outfits, but it also has segmented pockets that keep everything organized inside.” The bag’s clamshell opening allows it to lie flat making it  easier for packing, and there’s a padded pocket in the center to put delicate items like a laptop or tablet. This weekender also has a hidden internal pocket with a magnetic opening for valuables like jewelry, an exterior zip pocket and a luggage sleeve.

Best of Travel Awards accessories winners

Best over-ear headphones: Bose QuietComfort Headphones

A good pair of over-ear headphones can make any plane ride more comfortable, more relaxing and more enjoyable. These over-ear headphones from Bose do just that with their excellent automated noise canceling, light and compact design, good battery life and durable carrying case. “They are my go-to travel headphones, and that’s saying a lot because I test out a lot of different headphones,” says NBC Select reporter Harry Rabinowitz.

Best earbuds for iPhone: Apple Airpods Pro (2nd Gen, USB-C)

These are some of the best wireless earbuds for the iPhone in general, not just for travel. What makes them good for travel is their pocketable size, great noise canceling and transparency modes, and easy pairing with all your Apple devices. Multiple NBC Select staff use these headphones for travel. While they don’t deliver as much noise canceling as over-ear headphones, they are much smaller to pack, and when you are tight on space, every inch counts.

Best earbuds for Android: Sony WF-1000XM5

If you have an Android phone and want to immerse yourself in your favorite music or podcast, these Sony earbuds do just that. They have excellent audio quality, with clear, detailed instrumentation across all genres. With eight hours of battery life, they can last through most flights — if they run out, you can put them back in their charging case for up to 24 hours more on time.

Best iOS Bluetooth tracker: AirTag 4-Pack

“I use Apple AirTags for all kinds of travel: everything from international trips to commuting to work,” says Rabinowitz. He has one in his work backpack, his suitcase and his keys. You can use the Apple FindMy app to pinpoint the exact location of your AirTag if it’s within 30 feet. If it’s outside that range, the app will point to the location via maps. AirTags only work with iPhone and Apple devices, Android owners should consider another Bluetooth tracker like the Tile Pro.

Best Android Bluetooth tracker: Tile Pro 2-Pack

Android owners can attach these Bluetooth trackers to anything they want the exact location of: think keys, luggage or a bike. Using the Tile app, you can pinpoint the location of the tile from up to 400 feet away using the Tile app. You can also ping the tile, it will ring audible to help you locate it.

Best portable charger: Anker 523 PowerCore Portable Charger

This portable charger has saved Rabinowitz’s phone from dying dozens of times — without it, he would be lost somewhere on the streets of London with a dead phone and no maps app to save him. It can fully recharge a phone or tablet on the go, and has a USB-A and USB-C port, meaning it can connect to all sorts of cables and devices.

Best in-flight gadget: Twelve South AirFly SE

This little dongle is an essential travel gadget for anyone with Bluetooth earbuds or headphones — it lets you connect to a plane’s seatback TV wirelessly. It’s a must-have for NBC Select editorial projects manager Rebecca Rodriguez, who travels regularly with the wireless Apple AirPods Max. After an initial pairing process, the AirFly will recognize your wireless device whenever it is on and near it, says Rodriguez.

Best travel blanket: Rumpl Packable Travel Blanket

NBC Select production coordinator Kelsey Fredricks says the Rumpl packable blanket kept her warm during her seven-hour flight to Ireland. “Overall, I am very impressed by the design of this blanket and think it’s a must-have for anyone who gets cold on flights,” she says. You can also store the blanket back inside the carrying pouch, which is about the size of a medium-sized Nalgene bottle, so it takes up less space in your bags or suitcase.

Best jewelry case: Dagne Dover Frankie Jewelry Case

Jewelry is an essential part of travel for many, but storage has been challenging for our staff in the past. “This little case is the perfect compact size, and it doesn’t take up much room in my backpack or weekender, which is where my jewelry lives when I’m traveling,” says NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin. She loves that each side of the interior has organizational slots and loops for different sized necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets. The case is made with recycled polyester, microfiber and silicone.

Best luggage scale: Etekcity Heavy Duty Luggage Scale

We used this Etekcity Heavy Duty portable scale to test the weight of all the suitcases and bags for the Travel Awards. You can easily hook your suitcase onto the scale for a quick reading before you need to check your bag for any international flights. We found it to have an accurate sensor with a weight limit of up to 110 lbs. It’s a must have accessory for frequent travelers, thanks to its affordable price and portable design.

Best travel pillow: Ostrichpillow Go Neck Pillow

The Ostrichpillow Go was selected as a Travel Awards favorite thanks to its ergonomic design and comfort. During a recent trip, NBC Select senior social media editor Rosalie Sparaco, used the Go travel pillow and liked the memory foam core, which offered great support. “I also discovered that you could use this to double as an eye mask/pillow and lean against the side of the plane if you have a window seat,” she says.

Best toiletry bag: Bagsmart Toiletry Bag

Multiple NBC Select editors used the Bagsmart Toiletry bag during trips and found it to be useful, thanks to its spaciousness and multiple compartments, making it easier to organize makeup, skincare or any other items. “I use this bag every time I go on longer trips because it’s so spacious,” says NBC Select updates editor Mili Godio.

Best packing cubes: Quince Revive Nylon Eco Compression Cubes (6-Pack)

Packing cubes can turn into travel life savers. They can help you easily compress and organize all of your items before you start your trip. “I have used a lot of different packing cubes and these were great. Love the expandability, love the material and love that cushioning,” says NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin. We were also able to stuff multiple shirts inside the largest packing cube and compress them down to a more suitable size.

Why trust NBC Select?

Products underwent an eight-week trial before being selected as our favorite in their respective categories. We utilized our editors as shopping and trying experts. Each editor was given the same criteria during the testing period to ensure each item was held to the same standards and procedures. We looked at spaciousness, durability, comfort, zippers and much more. You can read more about our process here.

What our badge means

When a product carries the NBC Select badge, you can trust that our team of editors as shopping experts and professionals vetted the item thoroughly. First and foremost, we are journalists, so we will always do our research and reporting.

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