There are two kinds of packers in this world: carry-on packers and checked bag packers. I believe there is an objectively correct way to travel, but with this quick “pros and cons” list, I’ll let you decide for yourself! Do you travel light or check a bag every time?
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Pros of Packing Carry-on Only
1. You Always Know Where Your Luggage Is Located
If you’re carrying-on, you’re not checking your luggage, meaning it’s always with you! Supposedly only less than 1% of luggage gets lost each year, which sounds super low (and it is). Unless, of course, your luggage is in that 1%, then it seems awful! My sweet husband has told me from experience that losing luggage is definitely a frustrating experience!
Where does lost luggage go?
Check out my post all about the Unclaimed Baggage Store!
2. It’s Harder to Overpack
Don’t get me wrong; it’s always possible to overpack, but it far less likely if you know you’ll have to be carrying your own luggage with you the whole time you’re traveling. You’ll find out quickly that in fact you don’t need four pairs of shoes per outfit!
Keep Reading: What Minimalist Packers Leave Behind
3. No Waiting at Baggage Claim
I don’t know why it takes so long for the luggage to get from the airplane to the baggage claim area, but I have definitely wasted too much precious travel time waiting for my luggage to come out! Sometimes checking a bag is unavoidable, and in those instances, I always dread waiting at baggage claim the most. It quite literally a waste of your precious travel time!
More Here: How to Pack the Perfect Carry-on
4. No Checked Bag Fees
Unless you’re flying Southwest or have upper-tier airline status, you’ll have to pay to check your bags. Depending on what and how heavy and what shape your luggage happens to be, you could pay $25 or you could pay $1000. It’s true! But going carry-on only means you’ll be saving big bucks by paying no fees to or from your destination!
Want FREE checked bags? Check out the Benefits of Airline Loyalty!
Cons of Packing Carry-on Only
1. Limited Liquids
It’s a fact: you can pack as many full-size liquids in your checked luggage as you want. Going carry-on only means you can only pack as many 3-ounce or less bottles of liquids as will fit in a quart-size ziplock bag. But do you really need your full-size shampoo for your trip?
Say No to Liquids: Your Ultimate Guide to Solid Toiletries
2. You Can’t Bring as Much with You
There’s only so much that will fit in carry-on size luggage. So you’ve got to be a little smarter about what and how you pack. Maybe you can’t bring a different outfit for every day; you have to mix-and-match! Maybe you need to really evaluate which shoes or pants or ball gowns need to go with you and which ones need to stay behind. Think about it: for your last trip, how many items did you return home with that you didn’t wear at all? Did you need to take them? Of course not!
What do you actually need to pack?
Check out What All Women Should Pack for Every Trip!
3. You May Have to Gate Check Anyway
Going on a tiny plane? The overhead bins space might be an actual joke. Even though your luggage is a standard carry-on size, even though you packed meticulously, even though you’ve weighed and re-weighed your bag to make sure its under the maximum weight, even though you got through TSA security screenings unscathed… you still might have to gate-check it.
What does that mean? Gate checking means that you bring your bag all the way to the departure gate, but the gate agent or flights attendant tells you it won’t fit and will have to go under the plane. The benefit of this is that gate checked bags come out first, and you only have to wait for them right outside the plane at your destination. You do not have to wait at baggage claim!
Read on: My Top 10 Pro Packing Hacks
What is a Carry-on?
Let’s get our terms correct: A carry-on is the luggage you bring with you onto an airplane. It’s large enough for smart, light packing, yet small enough to fit into a standard over-head bin. Carry-on size luggage comes in roll aboard, duffle, and backpack styles. Here are options for each style:
This is my and my husband’s preferred luggage style. It leaves our hands free to juggle coffee, phones, boarding passes, passports, etc., and it is more ergonomic than a duffle or roll aboard.
These are great for the last-minute packer! Just throw it all in and go.
These are ideal for the traveler unable to lift or carry their luggage long distances, such as through the airport or walking from a train station to their accommodation.
Want to go vintage? How completely adorable are these?!
Don’t Forget Your Personal Item!
Most major airlines will allow you to bring onboard a carry-on and a personal item. A personal item is a smaller item such as a purse, handbag, briefcase, school-style backpack, etc. This should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. Dimensions may vary by airline, so just Google “personal item size *airline name*” and find the specifics for you! Here are some great personal item options:
Packable bags are perfect for easy storage when not in-flight.
These are perfect for carrying laptops and other gear for business travel, hiking, etc.
These are good both for flights and being out and about on your travels.Always choose a bag that fully zips; never travel with an open “bucket” style purse.
What is the Alternative?
If you choose not to travel carry-on only, you are choosing to check your luggage. If your luggage is too large for the overhead bins, you will be required to check your bag. I always recommend hard-sided luggage for checked items. Baggage handlers are strong and not always as delicate with your things as you might like! Here are some large and in-charge options:
Hard-side Luggage Sets
Need more packing strategies, tips, and lists? Check out my Packing Page for everything you never knew you needed to know about packing well!
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