Instagram's favorite suitcase is a surprisingly great piece of luggage

Julianne Ross, CNN Underscored
Updated Thu April 11, 2019

Story highlights

  • Founded in 2015, Away boasts high-quality suitcases at a lower markup
  • This is a sleek piece of luggage that is lightweight, thoughtfully designed, and durable

Luggage startup Away has quickly become the de facto trademark of millennial jet-setters. Founded in 2015 by two former Warby Parker execs, Away has managed to make a rather ho-hum item an object of intense Instagram lust through celebrity collaborations, limited edition designs and plenty of personalization options.

Still, $200+ is a lot to throw down on what people typically leave stashed in the closet for much of the year. So is Away worth the hype?

In short, definitely. I caved to the brand's online cachet two years ago and have never looked back. This is a sleek piece of luggage that fits a surprising amount of stuff while remaining lightweight, thoughtfully designed and durable.

What makes Away so popular?

High-quality luggage can run upward of $600, but Away keeps its costs down by selling direct to the consumer. Lifetime warranties mean these are pieces that you can feel confident about investing in, and the charger included in the company's carry-on offerings is a great introduction to the world of smart luggage.

But beyond simply making luxury suitcases more accessible, Away has built a name for itself by making luggage — something decidedly unsexy — feel genuinely fun and fashionable. Its bags come in 12 standard colors and also feature occasional designer collaborations, making them part of a full travel outfit rather than just a vessel to shove your stuff into.

Carry-on vs. checked luggage

Away suitcases come in four sizes, including a Medium ($275; awaytravel.com) and a Large ($295; awaytravel.com) version for checked baggage. With capacities of 68.8 liters (about 2.4 cubic feet) and 99.2 liters (3.5 cubic feet),

these are excellent suitcases for longer trips. Neither has a built-in charger (given that it'd be rather useless once your bag makes its way to the cargo hold), but each still features a lightweight, unbreakable polycarbonate shell and TSA-approved combination lock to keep your stuff secure.

The stars of Away's lineup, though, are its original Carry-On ($225; awaytravel.com) and Bigger Carry-On ($245; awaytravel.com), both of which also offer versions (for an additional $50) with an attached front pocket for easier access to a laptop, documents, or other small items.

Away's original Carry-On, which weighs 7.6 pounds and has a capacity of about 40 liters, adheres to nearly all airlines' specifications for carry-on baggage. The Bigger Carry-On is built to fit the luggage sizers airlines actually use, which, according to Away, are in fact larger than the stated dimensions required of carry-on items. (Sneaky!) Having noticed this loophole, Away beefed up the size of its Bigger Carry-On for those who want to squeeze in a few extra outfits.

Most of the time, neither version should present a problem at the gate. If you do a lot of short-haul travel on small or budget airlines, though, you may end up having to gate-check the Bigger Carry-On.

I went with the original size for peace of mind/in an attempt to Marie Kondo my packing habits, and it's proven just fine for my needs. I can fit about three to five days' worth of clothing plus shoes, toiletries and accessories.

Smart luggage

Of course, one of Away's major selling points is the battery that comes built into either of its carry-on options. A phone-charging suitcase might seem like overkill, but it's actually really useful; there's no need to duke it out for outlets or sit on a sticky airport carpet to recharge while waiting for a flight. The battery will charge an iPhone about five times, but you can use it on any device that charges via USB. The suitcase itself takes about eight hours to fully charge, which is why the company recommends plugging it in the night before a trip.

While you can buy the suitcase without the battery to keep things as light and spacious as possible, the difference in internal size and overall weight is pretty negligible. The included battery, meanwhile, is TSA-compliant and easily removable. (So easily removable, in fact, that I sometimes pop it out and slide it into a day pack to use as a portable charger.)

My experience with Away

Packing with Away has made it easy to stay organized. The clamshell design features two compartments. One side is meant for clothes and is covered by a compression pocket that smooshes things down surprisingly well. The other side is an open cavity with a zippered mesh closure, making it great for hard or awkwardly shaped objects; I put shoes in there, along with bras, hats, or anything else I don't want to get bent out of shape. The outer shell is sturdy yet has quite a bit of give, meaning you can stuff your suitcase to the brim without worrying about damage from less than reverent baggage handlers.

And the wheels! All four rotate a full 360 degrees without snagging. Mine have glided effortlessly through New York City's cracked and tourist-filled streets, offering such a smooth ride that I can strap my dog's carry case on top and he'll stick his head out like he's navigating a very small and slow-moving car.

It also seems that no matter how much I pack, I can always carry my bag pretty easily, which I attribute to how lightweight the suitcase itself is. I also love its side carry handle, which lets you flip the bag 90 degrees to more easily maneuver it up stairs.

Are there any downsides to an Away suitcase?

While I love my suitcase, it's not entirely perfect. The bag comes with a nylon laundry bag that tucks away into a hidden zippered compartment — a great idea, but I once sent the laundry bag itself through the wash and it frayed heavily around the zipper. The suitcase's wheels also don't lock in place, which I didn't think was an issue until my suitcase rolled down a subway car and nearly collided with a break dancer mid headspin. Finally, I got the color "sand," a light beige that looks lovely but seems to scuff a lot. Then again, I did once drop my bag down four flights of stairs, so that might have had something to do with it.

Overall, this is a suitcase built by folks who understand what travelers need and put it into a package that looks really, really good. The customer service is also impeccable: All Away suitcases come with both a lifetime warranty and a 100-day trial period, during which you can return your luggage with no questions asked.

Since launching its suitcases, Away has added lots of useful products to its inventory. These include packing cubes to keep your clothes organized ($45 for a set of 4; awaytravel.com), a dopp kit for toiletries (from $45; awaytravel.com), and garment bags ($195; awaytravel.com). The Daypack ($145; awaytravel.com) and Everywhere Bag ($195; awaytravel.com) round out the offerings and slide securely over Away's luggage handles, so you can complete your travel uniform.

If you decide to buy a set of Away suitcases, they'll stack like Russian nesting dolls for easy closet or under-bed storage. But with luggage this chic, you're going to want to book more getaways to show it off.

Other options

The Genius Pack Aerial carry-on ($178; amazon.com) is a worthy competitor to Away. Its features a similarly minimalist, though slightly shinier, design, supersmooth 360-degree spinner wheels, and a light yet strong polycarbonate outer shell. For those who struggle to keep their stuff organized, Genius Pack also has prelabeled compartments for undergarments, socks, and toiletries; a packing checklist is printed on the interior of the bag so you'll never forget your toothbrush again.