|My carry-on from a few years ago: I wore this one out.|
Since I started flying with my kids, I bring two carry-ons: a backpack to hold the general supplies, and a small pouch that I never take off my person (no, not even in the bathroom!) that holds the absolute essentials like credit cards, passports, and my cell-phone.
Here are the features I look for when I pick my regular-sized carry-on:
1. Backpack or wheels
I personally prefer a backpack since it frees up my hands to help the kids with their carry-ons, and whatever else they need help with. If you're not into backpacks, I recommend a wheeled carry-on, to make it easier to lug everything around.
Zippers are good. Bags with just a flap that closes over the opening just won't cut it for me. Zippered compartments keep things inside your bag even if you accidentally turn it upside down when stuffing it into the on-board, overhead compartment (yes, I did that...).
3. Outside pockets
It's nice to have at least a couple of easy-to-access pockets on the outside of your carry-on where you can put things like a water-bottle, snacks, some antibacterial wipes, or whatever else you might need frequently.
4. Cell-phone holder
Most bags, whether they are purses or carry-ons, do have a special cell-phone holder these days, and it really is handy. Just knowing that your phone is in that one place, rather than rattling around "somewhere" inside the bag gives me some peace of mind. And carrying it in a pocket in your clothing isn't always a great idea since you have to take it out whenever you go through airport security.
5. Several compartments
When you're carrying supplies not just for yourself, but for a baby, toddler, or young child, it is nice to have several compartments so you can organize things a little easier. One big "hold-all" just makes things too messy. I'd say 3 medium to large compartments is preferable, at least for how I organize my hand-luggage.
6. A laptop or tablet compartment
This is becoming more and more common in regular backpacks and travel bags of all kinds. My current backpack/hand-luggage has a "checkpoint friendly" compartment for a laptop. I've still had to take the laptop out at all checkpoints, but the dedicated compartment does hold the laptop very safely and securely.
My carry-on endures quite a lot on our trips: I pack it pretty full, it does get rather heavy, and I stuff it under seats, jam it into overhead compartments, and generally mistreat it as much as I can. Pick a carry-on with durable seams, good quality wheels or straps, and strong zippers. Having a bag break while you're traveling is never any fun.
For the smaller pouch that I carry on my person during our trips, I also look for some particular features:
- A comfortable strap - since I'll be wearing it standing and sitting.
- Small and light-weight - so it's not in the way.
- A well-organized interior - to hold credit cards, passports and my cell-phone safely and within easy reach.
- Good looks - since I'm wearing it, it should at least kind of fit with my look (and that would be the "harried-traveling-mom" look!)