Take a moment, dear reader, and consider the noble carry-on: an under-appreciated, often abused travel workhorse, one that literally keeps your life together on the go. We demand a lot out of these vessels, whether it's packing minimally for international travel or toting around our goods for a staycation. The right carry-on lives up to your expectations and hopefully exceeds them; anything less is a recipe for a stressful trip and a bad time.
As with many everyday goods in the last 10 years, the humble carry-on has been direct-to-consumer-ified, now offering practically as many options (in as many colors) as one could want. But as anyone who's ever shopped online like, once, knows, it can be tricky to verify the quality of a product from its perfectly manicured photos.
A suitcase is no different — it may look great online, in the perfect studio lighting and amidst all the shiny props a person could want, but if it arrives and is lackluster, your upcoming travel is going to be negatively affected.
Away vs. Monos: a Direct-to-Consumer Carry-On Face-Off
In the spirit of shining a light on which DTC suitcase is the fairest of them all, we decided to pit two top contenders against each other: Away and Monos.
The brands have quite a bit in common: the blanding associated with DTC brands, an extensive selection of colorways, add-ons and sizing, as well as a similar pricepoint — plus front pockets. However, there are a few key differences. Here's what I found — and which carry-on I would take on a trip again.
Away Carry-On (with Pocket)
My first experience with this experiment was with Away. Founded in NYC in late 2015, the brand was touted as a female-founded, DTC phenom with ample funding and potential, with the Carry-On as its signature product. By late 2020, one of the co-founders was ousted and a toxic company culture was exposed — yet the Carry-On continued to resonate with consumers and dominate the market. Today, Away manufactures and sells a whole suite of travel products, from a selection of polycarbonate luggage to backpacks, organizers to wellness items.
I decided to try the brand's original Carry-On (with Pocket); I'm a light packer and enjoy the challenge of taking just the right amount clothing with me on a trip. Plus, I appreciated features like the built-in charging capability and the light weight of the suitcase.
The Best Part About the Away Carry-On:
My favorite aspect of the Away Carry-On is the integrated lithium-ion battery (available as an add-on for $20 more), which is capable of powering your phone or tablet as you travel. Outlets are hard to come by in the airport, and if you do work from your phone like I do, having a dead battery isn't an option. Being able to take my own power source with me, without having to carry yet another accessory like a portable charger around, felt (literally and figuratively) empowering.
The Least Appealing Part About the Away Carry-On:
The most noticeable thing I didn't like about Away's case was its handle — it feels very flimsy, and at odds with the rest of the construction. When the suitcase is full, pushing it by the handle leaves you feeling as though it's about to snap off; it doesn't feel sturdy when stationary, either.
Away Carry-On (with Pocket): Key Stats
- Capacity: 38 L
- Weight: 7.7 pounds
- Materials: Polycarbonate hard shell, leather details, nylon pocket
Monos Carry-On Pro
Arguably Away's biggest competition, Vancouver-based Monos debuted on the travel scene in 2018, and sells design-forward suitcases and accessories in both the Canadian and U.S. markets. Since its launch four years ago, Monos has expanded its offering beyond luggage, and offers convenience and quality-based items including clothing and accessories. The brand leverages the name recognition of Away and claims to build upon that model with a greater focus on quality and design.
For that reason, I decided to pit the Monos Carry-On Pro against Away's counterpart.
The Best Part About the Monos Carry-On Pro:
Upon first impression, I couldn't help but agree with Monos' marketing claim: Its carry-on is lighter, smoother and feels more durable. The most immediate takeaway was the telescopic handle — using it brought a welcome feeling of security and stability after using the Away case, and made a lasting impression as I made my way through the airport. I also appreciated the interior organization. I thought it was put together in a more practical and intuitive fashion, and offered more division for my items. The Monos Carry-On Pro came with two shoe bags as well, something that the germaphobe in me celebrated.
The Least Appealing Part About the Monos Carry-On Pro:
Although my first impression of the Monos lead me to consider it the superior case, it does have some pretty significant drawbacks. The first is the front compartment. Monos markets this as the major upgrade between its Pro and standard Carry-On, but in reality it doesn't expand very well — and when I did put my laptop, sunglasses, keys and a slim book inside, it was really hard to close. I found myself using it to store soft goods that could squish down, like a t-shirt or extra socks.
The other drawback to the Monos was the scuffing. On my first trip, after I pulled it out of the overhead compartment I had two large white scuffs down the side of the case. Since then I've unintentionally added about three more, even when I try to baby the case through my trip. My carry-on is black, so maybe the lighter colorways don't have this issue, but it was annoying to see the marks after just one use.
Monos Carry-On Pro: Key Stats
- Capacity: 36 L
- Weight: 7.01 pounds
- Materials: German polycarbonate hard shell, Hinomoto Lisof Silent Run 360° wheels, 350D anti-microbial interior fabric, YKK reverse coil zippers
Conclusion: Just Get the Monos
At $275, the Monos Carry-On Pro is $50 cheaper than Away's Carry-On (with Pocket) — and although it has a couple liters less storage in the main compartments, thanks to its smart storage I was able to fit just as many of my belongings as I did in the Away. The Monos Carry-On Pro is lighter, rolls more easily, feels more durable and comes in more color options than its competitor.
Don't get me wrong: Away's suitcase works just fine. But while I did appreciate the extra storage, I couldn't get over the flimsy handle. For anyone debating between the two, here's my two cents: just get the Monos.