Review: I traded my carry-on roller for a duffel bag for one year

Here's what I learned after trading my carry-on roller for a duffel bag.

I’ve carried the same black carry-on roller for more than a decade. But for the last year it’s been in the back of my closet because I decided to trade it for a duffel bag. Here’s what I learned.

I never got sick of my carry-on roller. It’s really been a workhorse for me. But after being told I would have to gate-check the bag on a regional flight that had run out of carry-on space, I started considering what my other options could be.

Enter the medium-sized duffel, also known by some as a  “weekender” bag. I purchased it for the similar size to my roller, and the special compartment for shoes on one side.

The Pros

Here’s what I like about it. The bag holds everything I could stuff in my roller, and a little more. Being able to separate an extra pair of shoes from the rest of your clothes in the bag is a plus for me.

Carry-on roller out, duffel bag in!
Here’s a look at the duffel bag I purchased to travel with. Image courtesy of Herschel.

Since the bag doesn’t have a rigid frame, it can fit in non-uniform and unusual places inside overhead bins when flying (especially regional flights), and that was certainly a win for me.

I’ve experienced when gate agents size up my carry-on roller and make the decision to have me part with it for the flight (gate check it). I understand what they’re going for, but I’m not really a fan of it.

So when I switched to the duffel, the absence of sizing up my bag was noticeably absent. I certainly wasn’t complaining! But it wasn’t just that the bag looked smaller. It actually did fit better in the overhead bins on planes. Even on small regional flights, which I fly a bit more often, the bag (even when mostly full) fits nicely up above.

A view from the top. I traded my carry-on roller for this!
A view from the top of my duffel bag.

If you aren’t in the first couple of groups to board a fully-booked plane, you may experience the result of “too many bags, not enough room” for your carry-on items. This is where having a bag that can fit into smaller, non-uniform places can be a life-saver from an otherwise gate-checked bag situation.

A view of the shoe compartment. I traded my carry-on roller for this!
A view of the shoe compartment. Image courtesy of Herschel.

And finally, if you happen to be flying a low-cost air carrier, especially strict ones like Air Asia, having a bag that’s overall lightweight when empty will afford better chances if subjected to gate agent concerns. I’m not saying you’ll always keep it below posted weight limits, but having a bag that weighs less on its own will give you a better starting point.

As a note, I recommend weighing your carry-on bag before your flight to be sure of where you are when it comes to complying with a given airline’s rules.

The Cons

Here are the areas that switching to a duffel bag for a year meant changes that were harder to get used to.

Overall, the majority of medium-sized duffel bags don’t have wheels, and neither does this one. That means walking any sort of distance with a mostly-full bag may be cumbersome.

The bag has two hand loops that allow you to hold the bag at your side, and one large shoulder strap for moving the weight to your upper body. This was sometimes an issue for me when walking long distances in places like New York or Thailand.

The shoulder strap the bag is supplied with is a pretty basic nylon setup with a modest shoulder pad. That means after a while of walking with a full load, the weight of the bag can really start digging into your shoulder. To combat this, you can simply switch the side of your body the bag is hanging from, or hang the bag on your shoulder and across your body to distribute the weight differently.

It wasn’t really a deal-breaker for me, but it’s something worth considering when you have a bag like this. Of course, if you’re running across a terminal to catch your flight, you may not notice the weight as much as other needs become a priority.

Conclusion

After a year with this bag, I will continue to use it going forward. In addition I may choose to invest in a new carry-on roller for specific trips. Another thing I liked about carrying the duffel was not having the immediate “look” of a traveler. I don’t really have a formed idea of why I don’t want the look, but it’s something I noticed about myself.

I think that’s an important aspect about trying things – you learn about them, but you also learn about yourself. I’m okay with that.

Do you have a carry-on bag preference? Share your experience in the comments.

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