Review: Around the World With the Monos Carry-On Suitcase in 100 Days

Technically, it’s been more than 100 days. (One hundred days is the length of time Monos offers customers to try out the suitcase with a no-hassle refund policy if you’re not happy.)

The days of traveling may seem like they are in a distant past, but there’s also no better decade to ring in a new era of travel—I know where I’m going next. I have Marie Kondo’ed my travel gear, my home, my friends, and my life not just once, but multiple times. The travel gear is going through a culling, and I know what is going to make it and what isn’t going to make it into 2021.

Last year, the Monos suitcase, priced at $225, is one of those pieces of gear that landed in our laps, like countless other bullshit things in our life. At first glance, it looks just like one of those countless millennial-inspired suitcases almost indistinguishable from others (especially online).

However, if it’s anything we’ve learned, the best things are often deceptively simple and unassuming, because they focus on doing one thing well. “Simple” doesn’t mean bad.   

Based in Vancouver, this boutique suitcase manufacturer is also the epitome of “small business,” and truth be telling, that is how we like it these days. I’m also glad that we held out for the best.

(I’m not quite sure why we’re always on the hunt for the perfect suitcase. There’s something distinctly functional and gratifying about the search – I want to make sure I invest in the best possible BOX for transporting my goods from A to B, that will last me not just hundreds, but thousands of miles, several trips around the Earth and the moon being preferable).

Let’s dive deep straight into how it fared across multiple continents, spread out among 42,677 miles, which is the only true telling. (Spoiler alert! Result: 💯)

Constructed with thoughtful details and touches

From a construction part of view, it’s made with an aerospace-grade German polycarbonate (to make sure you always feel like you’re flying and on the road, even when you’re not).

I like hard shells. Hard shells can be wiped down.

Perhaps I can only admit this in this day and age, but in the past decade of traveling, every time I have come home, I have religiously left the suitcase by the door. I would either open up the bag there and transfer my items back into their proper places, and then wipe it down by the door, or do the reverse. Hard shells are easy to sanitize, and I only found out this the hard way [enter whisper voice] by once picking bed bugs up in a hotel room [end whisper voice].

The Monos Carry-On suitcase obviously is a great fit in this regard.

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Ace wheels.

It is also equipped with Hinomoto Lisof silent-run 360° wheels to ensure a smooth experience because there is nothing worse than janking a bag around, or having it run into your feet consistently. These things should be designed to keep you mobile, and this suitcase is.

This became particularly evident on one international trip to Asia, where aside from being hauled through multiple airports and city, it finally endured a few ferries to the Balinese island of Nusa Lembongan where it was dragged up a tiny little dirt road. I mean, worth it.

From there on out, the interior is outfitted with a soft, 350D anti-microbial interior fabric (no bacteria, please) that seems to rival the interior fabric lined inside the ROAM suitcase. The latter is also double the price of the Monos suitcase and is the brainchild of the TUMI founder, so it’s astounding that an independent Canadian company has managed to replicate this same quality at half the price. Color us impressed.

This same anti-microbial material is also used to comprise the included laundry bag, and two additional shoe bags, the latter being the best touch of “a bonus” that we’ve seen in a while. (I still can’t tell you how much time I spend hunting around the house for a suitable shoe bag while packing.)

In particular, the organizational layout is perhaps the most optimal interior we’ve seen out of all the suitcase brands that we own. Though the Monos inside is not too different from its closest competitor, the Away bag, there is an added interior zip pocket to the zipped compartment, lending additional storage.

(These interior zip pockets are also our favorite things about the Muji suitcase, however, the Muji does not have a open compression system.)

There’s also a built-in compression pad, though that’s pretty much on par for the course these days from other suitcase manufacturers. 

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Laundry bag lies along the inner divider between the two compartments.

Notably, the location of the laundry pocket sits on the divider between the two clamshells, instead of the foot and base of the suitcase, another popular spot for manufacturers to place storage for dirty garments. In our experience, the location of the laundry pocket is generally negligible; however, this particular location does allow the traveler a bigger footprint—and therefore slightly more capacity—for soiled clothing.

Most of the brand’s leather accents, and its accompanying luggage tag, are vegan, which is a nice and thoughtful touch for conscientious travelers. In fact, most of 2020 has left us a lot of time to ponder the carbon and environmental footprint travel generally leaves upon the rest of the world (and industry track record has not been good).

This is accompanied by YKK reverse zippers, and a TSA-approved combination lock, both of which are now a more standard offering that manufacturers have begun to include over the past few years.

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Standard TSA lock included.

Hanging out on a tropical island 🏝️

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Terrazzo on terrazzo.

Monos offers a wide array of colors like many brands. Thus, we were able to take a good look at the suitcase in Ocean Blue, and two limited edition colors, the Terrazo, inspired by European marbling, and the Terracota, our newest favorite.

Notably, the Terrazo is inspiring its own right, stepping outside the millennial monolithic trend of matte colors. It drew compliments from fellow travelers in our rendezvous with it, and stood out distinctly in its travels. It’s also more than fitting for hanging out in the schmancy, Indo-Pacific Ocean (and I think it’s more than time to go back).

For this, we sent it off with Yasmin Fahr, who aside from being an accomplished cook and food author, spent four years inspecting restaurants and hotels for the Forbes Travel Guide. This is a job that typically requires… wait for it… jetsetting around the world… with what, travel gear? No wai.

Fahr took along the bag with her to a multi-stop Asia getaway that involved several stops in Hong Kong and Indonesia before settling into a luxurious, Balinese vacation, traversing approximately 21,000 miles along the way.

In particular, she notes that, from clearing immigration to rolling it “literally down dirt roads and small alleys,” the suitcase handled all of the ground surfaces that she threw at it particularly well. Hong Kong and Asia can be full of uneven terrain, if anyone has any endured those cobblestones in those parts of the world.

(Interestingly enough, the suitcase can feel slightly rickety unpacked rolling down the side of the street, though when it is packed, this problem pretty much disappears on its own. It should be noted that suitcases often perform differently when they are empty and when they are packed.

Of course, all that matters is how they perform when they are stuffed, otherwise why the hell are you rolling around an empty suitcase for?!)

The Terrazo’s (and Monos’) distinctive look was also a boon in transit, especially in situations where it was stacked up side by side with other suitcases (such as crossing waters on the ferry and loading it onto a bus), since it was easily distinguished from more popular brands, cough, and more typical colors.

Perhaps the one issue she observed was that the case itself  did tend to scuff easily, though Monos is unique in the fact that it includes a magic eraser with its suitcases, in case customers aren’t interested in purchasing a separate, clear luggage cover at $40.1

Unfortunately, we did not have time to send Fahr off with the luggage cover in time for her trip. It is easily attachable, and the best part is that there is no need to maneuver the suitcase in an awkward positions to slip it on (simply slide it on from the top and join the Velcro at the bottom of the bag).

For a luggage cover, there are rarely attractive options even when it is such an option. I think we would be just as tempted to use it for -any- of our other suitcases!

For what it’s worth, here’s Fahr’s opinion in her own words:

This would be worth it because it’s durable, reliable and convenient. And I feel like their packaging is looking for that kind of consumer who wants to look good, but not looking to spend a ton of money, but that sort of thing… And that’s my impression of it.

But, obviously, that’s the only place we didn’t go with it. Our opinions didn’t further deviate for an ensuing trip to Mumbai, India and the bag survived three additional Kansas City roundtrips with flying colors. 🌈

Generally, for road testing purposes, things get put pedal to the medal… for the requisite amount of time necessary, and if they pass muster, then we keep on using it.

There are often so many options that we don’t need to settle on one bag if we don’t like it. Life is too short for that. Life is too short for many things.

Comparing it against its competitors

Perhaps, it is now time to compare it against the elephant in the room.

In a perfect world, products (and people) are evaluated independently, but if you’ve got a case of FOMO going on, let’s look at a few other brands on the market. That shouldn’t be too hard, because I am *still* trying to find ways to get rid of stuff in my apartment.

At least, we’d like to save you some time—if you’re going to go clicking around the interwebs anyways—because we are great like that.

Here is a quick comparison against the most well-known suitcase, the Away Carry-On:

Height22 inches21.7 inches
Width14 inches13.7 inches
Height9 inches9 inches
Interior20 x 13.520 x 13.5
Weight7.01 pounds7.1 pounds
Capacity39.9 L39.8 L

(For an in-depth review of the Away bag, check out this article.)

From an exterior perspective, the Away Carry-On suitcase checked in at slightly smaller (approximately 1.4% smaller), but for all intents and purposes, the sizing of the interior cavity of both suitcases is virtually the same.

In fact, the Monos suitcase is the lighter of the two and carries more volume than the Away suitcase despite this. Monos surmises the carry-on is perfect for 2-5 days, but I think that’s for a pretty inefficient packer, considering that we have certainly packed more in a similar-sized suitcase.

Perhaps the main, and most important, thing between the suitcases were the quality control issues. There were far more quality issues with the Away suitcase even moving it around—not even traveling!

In our initial test flight, and sometimes we handle these suitcases a bit more delicately than we should, the Away’s hubcaps fell off and the suitcase had picked up some residual pigmentation from another surface in transit.

By comparison, the Monos survived international multiple trips with ease, from Bali to Bombay, and then going on a few domestic sprees even in the midst of a pandemic (though, that was really home to home, and involved a move from New York City to Kansas City).

In terms of pricing, the Monos and Away are priced virtually the same (after a Monos sale, the brand does offer significant savings up to 30% sometimes, so watch for those!), so in the end, our decision rests with the suitcase that performed the best.

The included presence of multiple garment bags, a magic eraser, and leather luggage tag is really icing on the cake, since all those additional components can definitely kick the price up. Now, all we have to do is get ready to hit the road again.

Check out the Monos suitcase.

1 footnote
  1. The brand does offer a 15% discount if the accessory is bought with the suitcase, lowering the price to $34.
Review: Around the World With the Monos Carry-On Suitcase in 100 Days via @maphappy
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