Your carry-on is probably the last thing you think needs a tech upgrade.
Size, weight, design, and price are usually the factors I consider when buying the one piece of luggage I use until the wheels, or handle, fall off. But there’s a new generation of travel companies that are bringing this essential equipment into the 21st century with “smart luggage.”
Away is making stylish luggage with the added bonus of a built-in battery pack to handle on-the-go charging needs. This hip manufacturer provides plenty of reasons to finally upgrade your luggage, but it’s not cheap, with carry-on options starting at $225. If you’re willing to invest in your luggage, though, you’ll be very happy that you did.
I was getting ready for a 10-day trip to Santiago, Chile when I had the brilliant idea to pack everything into a single carry-on. I chose the Bigger Carry-On with Pocket ($295) from Away, figuring I could use the extra room and a place for my travel documents. At 22.7” x 14.7” x 9.6”, it should fit most airline carriers’ criteria for carry-on luggage.
The Bigger Carry-On weighs 8.5-pounds, so you’ll have over 40 pounds to work with when deciding what to pack. Other features include 360-degree Hinomoto wheels, a TSA-approved combination lock, padded interior pocket, and a small laundry bag, all within a textured polycarbonate shell. There’s also an ejectable 37-watt lithium-ion (10,000 mAh) battery that we’ll talk more about later.
The exterior pocket has space for your passport, magazines, a laptop, and any documents you may need. There are small holes that you can thread a TSA-approved cable lock through, although it’s not as clean-looking or as efficient if you’re using the pocket for easily accessible items.
This was by far the coolest piece of luggage I’ve ever owned. The rich navy shell looks sleek while the black accents around the zipper and the padded side handle are nice touches that up the class factor.
Away’s Bigger Carry-On unfolds butterfly style. There are two large interior compartments with one side featuring the compression system and the other side featuring a mesh enclosure. It’s a little awkward at first. I’m used to just one flap and a big compartment, which makes it easier to open in any environment. You’ll have to account for twice the space whenever you open an Away, so I did my fair share of awkwardly using a hotel luggage rack or placing it on the floor whenever I needed something.
However, those large compartments do come in handy. I was more strategic with how I thought about packing, but I managed to fit everything I needed—along with some extras—for the 10-day trip to Chile. I put jeans and shirts on one side and used the second compartment for everything else. I did my own interpretation of a vertical fold system. I tried to fold tightly and stack each item vertically and it worked. Sure, the jeans were sorta sticking out and the mesh enclosure was pretty snug. But, everything was in there. Away does extend slightly, so you’ll get around an inch of extra room if necessary. I lifted the well-packed compartment, zipped the Away shut, and locked it with the built-in, TSA-approved combination lock. I was ready to begin my adventure.
One note on the bonus laundry bag: It’s nice, but almost too small to be truly valuable. You can use it to put a dirty shirt away or maybe some stinky socks, but that’s about it. I kept it stowed away in it’s hidden storage pocket when I traveled.
Over any vacation, you will cross different terrain to get where you're going. Paved streets, cobblestones, inclines, declines, and dirt roads are a few examples. You may even need to scramble to avoid missing a connection, so your luggage needs to be almost as responsive as a car. The Hinomoto wheels that come standard with all Away luggage handle smoothly and react effortlessly to sudden demands.
I glided along the airport terminal and switched from wheeling it alongside me to behind me with minimal effort. I was able to pivot when needed and it never felt cumbersome. Other challenges, such as going uphill or rumbling along cobblestone, were also handled adeptly. Away was even able to keep up with a light jog to the gate. The wheels never locked into position and I never lost momentum.
Away's polycarbonate exterior looks and feel tough. You could drop something on there without fear that it, or something fragile inside, would be damaged. It also lived up to the scuff resistant claims. My Away definitely got dirty as it traveled inside an overhead bin, across a small puddle, or stowed underneath as part of the plane's cargo. I was always able to wipe off whatever dirt or smudge that the Away luggage acquired.
Away did not come back unscathed. It's definitely scuff and dirt resistant, but scratches happen. I noticed a visible scratch from Away's maiden voyage. It's on the bottom corner, near a wheel so I likely won't see it often. But, that's something to consider if you're spending over $200 on a piece of luggage. Nothing will ever go unblemished, but you're paying a premium for aesthetic with Away. I'm a little more forgiving and will remember my trip to Chile whenever I see that scratch.
The new wave of smart luggage incorporates intuitive luggage design with a battery pack for your on-the-go charging needs. Your carry-on is always next to you, so why not have a readily available way to charge your smart devices? Sure, you may have your own battery pack, but that requires an extra step.
Some may scoff at the battery pack, but I enjoyed having a decent power bank within the luggage itself. The ejectable battery is located discreetly underneath the handle. Just lift the flap and you'll find a standard USB port, a fast-charging USB port, and a micro-USB port to recharge the battery. There are indicator lights to see the charge level. I could charge my phone and a tablet at the same time. It's what you've come to expect from a battery pack and it happens to be inside your luggage. Away includes all the plug types you need for international travel. Simply connect a USB cable to the respective plug and you’ll be good to go. It’s a handy way to charge your smart device or the Away battery.
If anything, this battery serves as a moderate step toward peace of mind in what could be a stressful time. You don’t have to worry about huddling near an outlet or fumbling around with your travel battery pack.
This question will ultimately determine if Away is for you. It’s a well-designed carry-on with some really smart features. It looks great, everyone will know you’re stylish and you’re a frequent flier. I was able to pack 10-days worth of clothing in the Bigger Carry-On and it can also be a good check-in bag if you’re coming back with more souvenirs than expected.
The standard Away carry-on is $225, the Bigger Carry-On is $245, and the Bigger Carry-On with Pocket is $295. You can save $50 and opt for the standard Bigger Carry-On instead of the Pocket and not lose any sleep. You can also start small if you’re an infrequent traveler who usually goes on shorter trips or who’d rather opt to check-in the majority of their luggage.
If you're in the market for new luggage and you ballparked a $200 budget, then definitely consider an Away. It's well-constructed, stylish, and well-suited for most travel needs. There are also those nice design perks like the built-in TSA-approved combination lock, compression system, and the aforementioned battery.
There are cheaper hardshell carry-on luggage options out there. Even Amazon has a Basic version that's similar in size without a battery pack. You can also DIY a version of what you’d get with Away for under $100, or buy a suite of luggage for the same price as an Away Carry-On.
If you’re budget-conscious, or don’t travel much, investing in Away may not be worth it for you. If you want to upgrade your luggage, and are willing to pay for that lifestyle choice, then seriously consider Away. It’s at a decent price and much cheaper than higher-end luggage like Tumi.