Traveling well can be one of life’s great pleasures, whether you’re alone or with friends and family. But what does it mean to travel well? Avoid hassle, pack a single bag, and bring only the necessities. “Traveling well is a fine balance between finding inspiration in the unknown while being grounded in something,” says Wirecutter founder Brian Lam. “Sometimes that is a memory of home, a family, a significant other, friends, etc. Sometimes it’s just the familiar, reliable stuff in your bag.”
The Best Carry-On Suitcases
After researching 30 bags, testing seven, and flying across the country with two of them, we think the Tortuga Outbreaker is the best carry-on travel bag for travelers determined to never check luggage again. It’s easy to pack and cleverly organized, and it’s one of the most comfortable bags we’ve ever traveled with thanks to its highly adjustable, padded shoulder straps and waist harness.
If you’d prefer something that rolls, we also researched several dozen suitcases and went hands on with the 31 most promising candidates in a variety of tests—including having active Virgin America flight attendants test bags for us in a fake plane fuselage in their training facility. After testing was completed, we determined that for most people the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 offers the best balance of features, durability, and price for most flyers who log less than 25,000 miles annually.
The Best Packing Cubes
Packing cubes could change your life. (Okay, maybe just your traveling life.) Packing cubes are basically bags to hold your clothes that you organize within your luggage. Though seemingly superfluous, they’re brilliant in action. If you imagine your suitcase as a dresser, you can think of these cubes as individual drawers. All your underwear and socks in one container, all your shirts in another, and another for workout clothes. Pull out only the cube you want. They make packing and re-packing wonderfully simple.
We think Eagle Creek’s classic Pack-It cubes are the best ones available. They’re mostly made out of tightly-woven 300-denier polyester fabric that has a hand-feel reminiscent of camping gear from the ’80s and ’90s—tough, yet soft and brightly colored. The mesh panel in the middle is also more tightly-woven than those of competing brands. It’s kind of like the difference between a window screen and a fishnet. This doesn’t offer any tangible performance increases per se, but it does feel better and provides a better view of the contents within.
The Best Toiletry Kit
We’ve researched dozens of travel toiletry bags and dopp kits over the past several years and tested nine top-rated contenders in our most recent round of tests. After packing and unpacking a week’s worth of travel-size toiletries, conducting spill tests, and living out of the top performers on the road, we think the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Wallaby (small) is a great option for carry-on travel. It’s leak-resistant, ultralight, efficiently organized, and features a huge swiveling hook that’s easy to hang from almost anywhere—even a shower rod.
The Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Wallaby packs a week’s worth of travel-size toiletries into a compact kit that easily slips into any carry-on bag, no matter how crowded. It’s made of a water-resistant ripstop siliconized nylon material that resisted leaking in both spill tests. Its 4-liter capacity split across three zippered compartments makes it the biggest out of the smaller-size kits we tested, yet it didn’t feel any bigger while packing. We liked that this extra space could accommodate extras when needed, like an electric shaver or mini flat iron.
The Best Neck Pillow
In-transit shut-eye can be elusive without the right equipment. We originally tested five top-rated pillows on a five-hour flight while sitting in an aisle seat and another four pillows this year to find a better U-shaped alternative for people who want more support. None of the pillows were truly great for the price, but the Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Neck Pillow was the least-bad offender because it offers a decent amount of support and can compress enough to at least consider justifying taking it on longer flights.
Out of the four top brands we tested, the Travelrest Ultimate Memory Foam Neck Pillow offered the best neck support when traveling on seats with and without a headrest and folded into a very compact package.
The Best Noise-Cancelling Earbuds
One of greatest luxuries you can have on any trip is silence. Whether you’re on a plane or escaping from a hotel’s noisy air conditioner, noise-cancelling headphones can offer a blissful level of quiet. After conducting subjective listening tests across 24,000 miles worth of in-flight testing against nine other models (after considering two dozen), we like the Bose QuietComfort 20 in-ear headphones best for their ability to reduce ambient noise by a remarkable 45 decibels. Important to note, Bose uses just a single model name and number (“QuietComfort 20”) but makes two different versions. One works only with Apple products, while the other works with Samsung and other Android devices.