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We recently field tested the Tumi Alpha 2 International Expandable 4-Wheel Carry-on as my only suitcase through four four countries over 17 nights. The verdict? This thing is both an excellent and stylish performer whose expense you'll make up in reliability and the money you'll save not paying for to check your luggage. It deserves a spot on your Christmas list. Our review and tips for packing it for 17 nights are below.
The Tumi Alpha 2 International Expandable 4-Wheel Carry-on is so named because it is (1) part of Tumi's excellent Alpha 2 series of travel bags and gear, (2) at dimensions of 22x14x9 inches is sized to qualify as a carry on with most airlines Americans will fly internationally and domestically, (3) is expandable beyond those dimensions for times when you need extra space at the expense of being able to carry on, and (4) is mounted on four wheels for easy pushing and pulling through the airport or wherever your travels take you.
Material, Dimensions, and Outer Build Quality
I used the version of this suitcase that comes in the Earl Grey coated canvas, but Tumi currently offers the identical bag in black and "Baltic" blue ballistic nylon (blue is not sold on Amazon at the moment, so you'll have to go direct to Tumi). The grey features a brown leather monogram patch while the black and blue feature a black leather monogram (in case you are picky about matching your leather colors). Which holds up better, coated canvas vs ballistic nylon? After using both I am inclined to say that the nylon holds up slightly better to wear and tear, but that the coated canvas stands up better to dirt by hiding it better in its speckled grey pattern and also by being easier to clean. Unless you know that your use habits are going to favor one material over the other, I'd go with the color you like best irrespective of the material. The interiors are identical. I tend to really like grey and brown in combination.
Incidentally, if you prefer a harder shell suitcase over a fabric model, the Tumi Tegra-Lite Max International Expandable Carry-On Suitcase offers that hard shell with otherwise identical dimensions, wheel base, and interior features to the Alpha 2.
The whole thing is put together with excellent quality and precision, everything feeling smooth and high end. Though I've been highly judgmental of 4-wheel rolling suitcases in the past, I must say that rolling around with this thing was a real pleasure. The wheels are smooth enough to make you think you're rolling on a track, and the ability to roll around upright is both easier on the back and much more maneuverable (particularly down a narrow airplane aisle). Once down that aisle, I found that the suitcase easily fits into the overhead bins on Embraer 190 (so a large commuter plane), Boeing 767-300, Airbus A319, Boeing 737, and Airbus A330 airplanes. Overall it's pretty dimensionally versatile in terms carry-on size restrictions, but it does tend to feel a bit heavy particularly with everything I crammed into it, so some non-US airlines that are sticklers for carry-on weight may force you to check it.
Open the thing up to expose two equally-sized halves. One is open with a few little flap pouches one could use for smaller essentials (a tie would fit nicely in here), though I find using those pouches takes away from overall packing space. A mesh tie down keeps things in place.
The other half is designed for your suits, jackets, or dresses that you don't want to be wrinkled. While this bag is not nearly as optimized for suit carriage as the Briggs & Riley upright garment bag we reviewed earlier this year, I found that it did an admirable job keeping my tweed jacket secure even when filled to the brim with other things. Naturally the less you stuff in this compartment, the less wrinkled that which you do stuff there is likely to turn out.
There is, finally, a front pouch accessible without opening the entire suitcase. This will generally not be much use if you've really tightly packed the main compartment, but under lighter loads makes a great space for a 13 inch laptop and tablet, e.g. for quick one or two night trips when you don't want to lug an additional backpack or work bag.
Tumi really excels (and makes a lot of money) on the accessories front, and there are definitely a few that work very well to maximize the utility of this suitcase. Consider looking at:
- Tumi Alpha 2 Split Travel Kit for storage of your toiletry items in TSA-friendly clear plastic (in Grey or Black).
- Tumi Hangers (sold in sets of 2) that snap into the suit section; note that regular hangers will really not work very well here.
- Tumi Medium Flat Folding Pack for wrapping up all of your shirts (pants too, if you have room) in a compact wrinkle-resistant bundle.
- A backpack or laptop bag of your choice that slides over the suitcase's pull handle (I like the Tumi Alpha Bravo Knox Backpack or Brooks Slim Brief).
Trial and error exposed to me a very specific way to fit all of the clothes I'd need for a 17-night journey through different climates featuring 80 Fahrenheit suns and (literally) a snow storm. I am obviously gearing these tips to a man's travel needs, but Meghan did very nicely fitting all of her things into her own Tumi international. The pictures tell the story, but...
- Fold 2-3 pairs of pants into quarters and lay stacked on one side of the main compartment.
- Fold 6-8 undershirts into quarters and lay on the other side of the same compartment. Fold a light long sleeve shirt or sweatpants and place on top.
- Fill the split travel kit with your accessories, and place that on top of the pants. Secure the entire compartment with the mesh strap.
- Pack 5-7 shirts in the medium flat folding pack, and place in the bottom of the suit compartment.
- Roll up 7-8 pairs of socks and line the edge of the suit compartment. Do the same with underwear.
- Pull your sport coat or blazer inside out, hang on the Tumi hanger, and snap into the suit compartment. Wrinkle resistant fabrics are best.
- Fold the thing up and zip!
I then placed laptop, iPad, headphones, power adapters, a DSLR camera with two lenses, umbrella, sunglass case, and small pair of slippers for the long plan ride into the Knox backpack and slid it over the pull handle on the suitcase. Pack pants and shirts that work well together in different combinations (wild colors and patterns are terrible for traveling because they are not versatile matching partners), and accept that you will either (a) have to wear your shirts three times or (b) have to do laundry (Airbnb is great for laundry).