Lifestyle Magazine

Carry-On Vs. Checked Luggage: Which Is Right For You?

By Unefemme @DejaPseu

vintage luggage

I’m occasionally asked why I bother with light packing and traveling with carry-on only luggage. I recognize that this isn’t necessarily the best choice for everyone, and even though it’s my preference, definitely has its tradeoffs.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that when we began traveling to Europe, we over-packed horrendously the first couple of trips. I soon realized that I frequently wore the same few items over and over, and most of my “just in case” pieces never left the hotel room. Another wake-up call was when le Monsieur’s primary checked bag never showed up on the conveyor belt at our destination and was only delivered to our hotel two days later. Had we not been staying in the same location for several days, this could have been more than an inconvenience.

Since then, I researched how others manage it and have traveled “carry-on” for most of our trips over the last six years. I’m not as hard-core as some; I don’t invest in a separate travel wardrobe, I stick to clothing styles I’d feel comfortable in at home, I use a “spinner” wheeled carry-on bag to save my neck, back and shoulders, and if we’ve purchased liquids along the way (wines, olive oils, skincare, some of those lovely mustards from the Maille boutique in Paris) I’ll check a bag on the way home and cross my fingers.

Being able to easily navigate up and down stairs, through turnstiles and on and off trains and buses unassisted has been one of the biggest payoffs of packing this way. Traveling light allows for greater mobility, and the ability to change plans when flights or trains get cancelled or delayed. And in small hotel rooms, carry-on sized bags occupy less of that precious space.

Carry-on only travel might make sense for you if:

  • You are traveling to multiple destinations, and relying at least in part on trains, buses or other public transportation. (Another note, on many trains there is limited room for luggage, and the racks that can accommodate large bags may not be near your seats.)
  • You like to change travel plans on the fly, or be able to adjust for flight or other transportation interruptions.
  • You hate the idea of paying checked baggage fees. (Though be sure and check with your airline; some discount and other carriers have begun charging for bags carried on as well.)
  • The thought of your luggage going missing makes you break out in a cold sweat.
  • You like to avoid complication whenever possible.
  • You don’t mind either doing some hand washing of clothing or visiting a laundromat or paying to have laundry done if necessary.

However, some people prefer to have more options, don’t want to have to worry about laundry, or have special wardrobe requirements.

Checking your luggage may be a better option if:

  • You are traveling to a single destination or will have access to a car in between destinations.
  • Your travel plans include activities that require special equipment (e.g. skiing, rock climbing, music retreats) or have one or more “special occasion” events on the agenda (e.g. destination weddings, formal dinners, costume parties).
  • You either don’t mind the baggage fees or are part of an airline loyalty program that waives them once you hit a certain status.
  • The thought of not having a lot of variety in your wardrobe makes you break out in a cold sweat.
  • Hey, lost luggage is a great excuse to go shopping!

Either way, you want your luggage and what you bring to be a help, not a hindrance. And even if you check a bag, packing light and smart is always a good idea. You never know when you may have to lug it up a flight of stairs.

Briggs & Riley spinner carry on

For carry-on travel, I’ve been using the Briggs & Riley “Transcend” wide body carry-on spinner for a couple of years now. This bag holds a lot for its size and is relatively light for a spinner bag. It does not expand. This is a sturdy little bag that’s stable and rolls easily on most surfaces. Mine’s black. I’ve never had an issue with the size of this bag not meeting an airline’s requirements BUT you should always double-check with your airline, as size requirements vary between airlines and cabin classes.

lightweight spinner luggage

We’ve taken a couple of trips recently where it made more sense for me to bring a larger, checked bag. I purchased this Briggs & Riley “Sympatico” medium spinner and have been quite pleased with it. As with many hard shell cases, it does get a bit scratched up from baggage handling, but I can live with that. It’s also quite lightweight, rolls and spins easily, and has a good capacity for the size. Packing in the clamshell configuration vs. the single open compartment of the “Transcend” was an adjustment, but both bags accommodate packing cubes nicely. The blue color is pretty and easy to spot on the carousel.

EMME toiletries travel bag

And for toiletries, I’m still a huge fan of the EMME bag. I use the Original size for most of our longer trips, and the Petite for weekend getaways. Use code UNEFEMME for 20% off.

Are you a carry-on traveler, or do you prefer to check bags?

Travel is fatal to bigotry...

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