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

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.
  • You may not able to lift your luggage into the overhead bin.
  • 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...

It’s a good time to shop for luggage. I’ve been seeing some good sales.

Let’s Travel…

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67 Comments

  1. Patricia
    January 31, 2017 / 4:09 am

    We always have a connecting flight (or two) when we travel since we don’t live in or near a major hub. So the idea of dragging a heavy carry-on through the airport as we dash to catch our connection is unappealing to me. And, although I can get by with a small amount of clothing, I can’t seem to whittle down my toiletries, make-up, and hair utensils…and I’m not a high-maintenance gal! I’d love to read more about how to do this!

    That said…we have a small bus tour of Ireland coming up, and it would be great to have only one small, manageable bag and a light backpack. I’m anxious to see what your other readers have to say on this topic.

  2. Ariss
    January 31, 2017 / 4:15 am

    Checked bags. Not just to save my back and shoulders but I have allergies which means I can’t wear the same outfit over and over so it’s doing laundry or bringing extra clothes.

  3. Joanne
    January 31, 2017 / 4:16 am

    Something else to consider, if you are traveling alone, how easy is it for you, and safe for your fellow passengers to get the carry-on bag in and out of an overhead bin in a plane with crowded aisles. I find as I age that issue is the reason I prefer to check my bag although philosophically I am more of a carry-on sort.

    • Ann Sutherland
      February 1, 2017 / 10:39 am

      The only case I’ve been using for over twelve years is a Rick Steves carry-on case (six overseas trips and multiple domestic trips). The case weighs 6.25 lbs which is much lighter that most. I bought another, slightly updated RS case for a four-week trip to Tasmania next month solely because the old case lost the rubber “tire” on one of its wheels (it survived many cobblestone streets and banging up and down stairs). The new case is slightly smaller to conform to international standards but even better in design. It has a very useful strap near the handle to attach the North Face daypack I carry for all the bits and pieces like toiletries and electronics,and it leaves my hands free to deal with other things. It balances nicely on the case – a must when wheeling the case long distances. I always seem to find a nice man to help me put the carry-on in the overhead bin – at 74 this is really appreciated. I tried a spinner once but found it toppled over too often and the wheels stick out too much. Finally, I’ve got my travel wardrobe down to just what I need – a combination of black, white, grey with 2-3 more colorful scarves.
      Packing cubes are fabulous. I roll my T-shirts and sweaters, and put my pants and ONE white shirt in the full-length space in the lid. I like to have a nice handbag, so in order to avoid more than two pieces of luggage on the plane, I put the empty bag in the case with one of the packing cubes inside it.

  4. ginger
    January 31, 2017 / 4:55 am

    I have loved becoming a carry-on only girl. I started looking for posts about wardrobe “capsules”–yours was one of the first I saw which lead me to many others–for a trip to NYC about six years ago. I did a wardrobe capsule for each of the six members of my family, and we all carried on, and it was great! We did check one bag holding all of our big winter coats and special occasion clothes. Now I’m completely hooked. I did end up buying separate pieces in some cases, but I find those pieces working their way into my regular at-home clothes because they are so comfortable and sleek and stain-repellant. What makes sense for travel makes sense for home too, is what I’m finding. Looking forward to a departure from my black/grey NYC capsule for a trip to the West Coast in May. Going to explore white/khaki/grey instead! Enjoy your blog so much!

  5. Meg
    January 31, 2017 / 5:10 am

    I will even check a carry on if I have a long trip. I put my needed items in a small shoulder tote bag, like books, chapstick, wipes, itinerary.. check that rolly bag. I guess I am lucky, but I have never had lost luggage.
    We had a river cruise a few years ago in Europe and even splurged on having the luggage shipped to the boat. It was waiting for us onboard when we arrived and that was wonderful.
    My biggest complaint about dragging a piece of luggage thru the airport? Bringing it into a tiny bathroom stall, along with a purse, tote, coat, etc.

  6. January 31, 2017 / 5:12 am

    I favor checking my bag because it means I don’t have to rush to board nd compete for space in the overhead bins. I also don’t like dragging a bag on and off the plane, I pay them to do that, although it is waived as part of the Delta loyalty program. Why go through that hassle when I can check for free? I admire your ability to be successful with carry-on traveling though!

  7. Margie in Toronto
    January 31, 2017 / 5:29 am

    I pack light and my largest case is the size of your “Carry On” – although it does expand. I cannot imagine dragging it down the aisle of a plane, nor could I lift it into the overhead bin – this is my checked bag size. I have a smaller – weekender case – on wheels – that I would consider using as a Carry-On – but if I brought this onboard I would only add an actual purse – not a purse and a third tote bag or bag for electronics!.
    I travel most with one friend who uses her carry on for all her camera equipment & electronics so she has to check the bag with her clothing – since I’m waiting for her I might as well wait for my own case. 🙂
    I have been lucky with no lost luggage however, I do carry a change of undies, shirt, sox and nightwear in my onboard tote bag just in case.

    I guess I figure if I’ve paid so much money already for a flight – why quibble about an extra $25 or so.

    I also have an issue with the amount of items that many people now bring onboard as “carry on” and really hope that the airlines start cracking down – I think it’s gotten to be ridiculous. – and my experience in Europe is that they are cracking down so I’d be prepared for some surprises. My usual travel companion and I are scrupulous about the ONE tote bag and ONE purse (and I mean purse – not another tote bag that won’t fit under the seats) rule but frequently run into issues with others overflowing – or trying to – into our assigned bins. Luckily, since I have mobility issues I get to board first so I make sure that the overhead bin by our seats is kept for my tote and coat and her’s – although I’ve had to stand my ground on more than one occasion as others with 3 or 4 items try to overflow into our assigned space and not the space they have paid for! As I mentioned, my friend’s tote carries her expensive cameras and electronics and she does not want them stored 20 seats back somewhere because others have taken up more space than actually allowed.

    People talk about packing light but then they arrive at the boarding gate with a suitcase – and I consider anything over 17″ a suitcase – a large tote bag and a huge purse – I think it’s ridiculous. Don’t mean for this to be a knock on anyone, just my pet peeve at the moment I’m afraid.

    • Mary Herrin
      January 31, 2017 / 8:22 am

      Margie, I am with you. I really dislike the struggle to find a place for carry on bags, especially when so many people carry on more than allowed and no one stops them. I also do not want to need help from someone not traveling with me. If the plane has filled with bags, the last boarders will sometimes have to turn their bag over to be sent somewhere else…..with no check stub.

      • Joanna
        January 31, 2017 / 10:47 am

        It also slows down boarding, as everyone is trying to stuff bags and coats into the overhead. I carry a small, leather backpack with necessities but the last time
        I travelled there was not room for my bag anywhere near me. Very frustrating! I also don’t want to be watching a bag as I change flights.
        I have managed to scale back so even my checked in bag is a small suitcase. I put my makeup bag and a nightie & a pair of panties in my backpack in case of delayed luggage.

      • February 2, 2017 / 1:32 pm

        Really? They are so scrupulous leaving Melbourne about size, quantity and weight of carry-on luggage (you have the small carry-on case and that’s it, plus the normal allowance of a handbag and coat). Given the limited overhead storage space, I do think that it’s crucial to enforce this. If you need extra bags, then check them in.

    • Patricia
      January 31, 2017 / 11:53 am

      On most flights, overhead bins aren’t assigned. This was confirmed when I overheard a passenger complain about someone putting a bag above her seat and a flight attendant told her emphatically that bins are not reserved. But I, too, wish airlines would enforce their own rules on carry-on baggage.

    • Bobbie
      January 31, 2017 / 2:28 pm

      I recently flew on a budget airline where they charged $30 to carry on and $25 to check. Almost everyone checked their bag, no matter the size. Getting on and off the plane was a pleasure!

  8. Rose
    January 31, 2017 / 5:36 am

    Carry-on probably 90% of my trips including 7+day long vacations. Greatest feature of my 6 year old suitcase is the compartment in the lid for folded clothes. I love EBags packing cubes for pjs, underwear, tights, swim items. Neither the lid or cubes are compression storage, but the mesh inserts and zippered cover allow me to compact quite a volume of clothing in a smaller space. Socks and small flat iron stuffed in shoes. Usually limit to 2 packed shoes.

    Cosmetics are stored in my Trish McEvoy medium planner (even though I don’t use the page) and one ziplock bag for liquids and creams. Skincare is usually samples. And I often I bring the very end of products, so I can throw it away on the last day.

    I plan my daily outfits before each trip. My formula is to wear the identifiable pieces of clothing every other day. Jeans on Tuesday and Thursday. Black pants Monday and Wednesday. Usually a skirt day thrown in. A couple years ago I met a women temporarily living in Switzerland. She said the women dressed so stylishly, at first she felt she did not fit in. Then she realized that all she needed was a good coat and good handbag.

  9. Pink Azalea
    January 31, 2017 / 6:21 am

    Carry on. I enjoy figuring out what to take and having it work out. Especially when traveling internationally, the idea of lost luggage is something I’d prefer to avoid. In addition, after landing we can go right to our hotel and settle in. Packing toiletries is still a challenge. We’re going to Ireland in May and I think I’m going to order one of the Emme bags you like.

  10. Jane2
    January 31, 2017 / 6:24 am

    I travel with one carry-on sized bag with spinner wheels but I check it because I don’t want the hassle of trying to fit it in bins, hauling it to tight connecting flights, etc. When you land in say, Gare du Nord and the escalator to your connecting train is broken, it’s easy to haul one small piece up and down stairs, over curbs, and on uneven sidewalks.

    Every time I travel, I pack less into that one bag – like you, I don’t have special clothing, but I have a uniform of black/neutral with easily packable accessories. And I never wore all five pairs of shoes I used to haul! If I need something additional, I purchase it.

  11. January 31, 2017 / 6:31 am

    When I traveled by train in Europe (now we mostly drive), I had a very small roller bag. Sometimes I really had to sprint to catch my train.
    I always go to the U.S. with a huge bag that is nothing but presents for family and friends and come home with the bag stuffed with favorite products (cranberry sauce, a million Mexican condiments). Everything I need for a month I manage to stuff into a small carry-on. Mine is a duffel bag; husband has a roller. Often we are on a very small plane for at least one leg, and the roller is checked at the gate; having a duffel allows me to absorb his electronics/medications, because you should keep those with you. And I can put the duffel on his roller when walking through the airport so my back doesn’t get abused.

  12. January 31, 2017 / 6:32 am

    I agree with Joanne above who mentioned lifting the bag up above when you travel alone. I often travel alone to Europe, or at least on different flight/time than husband, so this is a REAL issue. I once had an Air France attendant watch and just smile at me when I unsuccessfully tried to hoist my bag up. She just stared. I waited for a nice strong man, naturally, and that is something I don’t like to do!!
    I’m going to England in June, alone and will probably pack a carry on size bag. But I will check it.

    Another idea is to use a baggage delivery service like Luggage Forward :https://app.luggageforward.com/trips/new?event=QUOTECAL I’ve never used them, but have heard they are good. Pricey yes, but it’s guarenteed to get there on time.

  13. Laurel
    January 31, 2017 / 6:47 am

    My DH convinced me we could do carry-on for 10 days in Paris and Normandy and after that, I was sold. I traveled for work for years before retiring and never checked a bag unless I had no choice. I still have a zip lock bag with sample size bottles and jars for my liquids and I got PSA Precheck long ago so they don’t have to come out of the luggage. It’s a challenge when I’m tired, but I often find the airlines asking for checked bags on my way home, which I gladly do, since I have everything I need on the other end.

    The real selling point of carry-on was driven home to me when I got a cold on our last days in Paris, and by the time we flew home I was in agony with what turned out to be two ear infections and a sinus infection. We were in the bulkhead seat near the exit door and first at the customs window reentering the US. It was a godsend with the way I felt. Carry-on forever!!

  14. January 31, 2017 / 6:57 am

    I never check my bags, ever. I’ve seen the loss of checked bags ruin too many holidays and experienced it myself. I do need a new carry on because my 35 year old Hartmann is less than efficient compared to what’s available these days.

  15. January 31, 2017 / 6:59 am

    I would LOVE to try to use a carry on bag… but the amount of toiletries, even in 3oz containers is in NO way going to fit into 1 quart sized ziploc. Facial cleanser, toothpaste, night cream, body lotion, foundation, shampoo & conditiner, hairspray, hair mousse… blah blah blah… To purchase after arriving to my destination is time consuming and then I have to throw it away before returning home… which is costly and wasteful. I watched the videos of the Emme bag, what I didn’t understand was the ladies had their TSA zip off bag and then had liquids in the larger sections?…am I not understanding something about how much liquid can be carried on?

  16. January 31, 2017 / 7:03 am

    As always, great advice! I am a light packer and have gotten almost 30 days of outfits into a Lucas Underseat bag without issue. The Briggs and Riley looks like a nice alternative when my ‘baby’ gives up the ghost. For me, when I buy something during a trip I have it shipped home. It can get costly, but I have a guarantee that it won’t get lost or broken, or if it does there will be recompense. I learned that the hard way when a custom made machete I picked up in Costa Rica jammed the baggage carousel in PHL. =(

    On another note, thanks for being an elegant, soothing corner of the Internet, Susan. It’s like meeting a friend for a chat and always makes the day brighter.

  17. Peggy McCallum
    January 31, 2017 / 7:48 am

    I prefer to check my bag if it’s not a non-stop flight. I want to be free from worrying about a bag during stopovers. Several times over the past few years we have been on planes whose overhead bins are much smaller than planes flown by US airlines and our bags never would have fit so would have had to check them at the gate anyway. Knock on wood, we haven’t lost a bag in over 20 years.

  18. January 31, 2017 / 7:56 am

    I enjoy the freedom and simplicity of traveling carry on only for up to two weeks or so, mostly in Europe. I too had a checked bag arrive three days late but it was to Paris, so I quite enjoyed the excuse to shop. That trip also included a black tie outdoor opera at Glynbourne so I was a bit panicked. I also travel by rail and have had to haul my belongings up and down escalators and even stairs at the smaller stations. At 69 I have no problem hoisting my bag to the baggage compartment thanks to good health and a lot of planks in the work out program. I am a make up junkie but have no problem minimizing to the baggie for travel. In fact I keep it packed and updated all the time so I am ready to throw it in and go. The only time I check bags now is when I am taking art classes abroad which I love to do. No way to carry on paints and canvases!
    Thanks for all your thoughtful cheery posts. Even when I am not traveling I like to think about it.

  19. MarcyLuna
    January 31, 2017 / 7:59 am

    For me, carry on always makes the most sense. My trips are often between 4 to 6 weeks in length, often involve several climate changes, and one of my frequent destinations is a small Greek island with a lot of steps and rough terrain. I do not want to lose my luggage in transit; it would take forever to get to me. (This happened to my daughter-in-law this year.) I also go to a small city in the mountains of Mexico. A four-wheeled suitcase is fine when you are in an airport or traveling on relatively flat surfaces; it doesn’t work at all for my ‘rough’ travel. I have an LLBean carry-on with two large, tough wheels. My partner has an REI wheely beast. I’ve also learned to wash underwear and light clothing by hand in hotel washrooms, using the shower gel! The only place this did not work was during our stopover in Helsinki last year, where it was too chilly for things to dry overnight.

  20. January 31, 2017 / 8:13 am

    I am not a seasoned traveller but I opted for a carry on when I went to Paris and the south of France for 3 weeks….I would do so again as it was so easy and with your posts on what you packed for Paris I was able to use your ideas and found them invaluable…your blog is a source of great knowledge and I love that you share with your readers the wealth of your experiences.

  21. January 31, 2017 / 8:23 am

    As much as I’d love to, I just haven’t mastered the carry-on.

    I purchased the large Emme toiletries bag and though it’s the best I’ve tried, my search continues. I found it wasn’t quite large enough – another inch would have made a huge difference. I also liked the idea of the zippered removable compartments, but found them difficult to reattach.

  22. January 31, 2017 / 8:29 am

    I’m not a road warrior, but last year I logged over 16 trips (domestic and international) and I rarely if ever check luggage. Like all carry -on only packers, I spend time up front determining what clothing pieces to pack based on weather, activities, etc., etc. I absolutely love your travel posts Une Femme -and find myself referring to them often!
    For me, carry on only forces me to be more discerning in what I pack which makes my travel experience more enjoyable – less stuff I have to deal with!!! As for how to handle the toiletries issue, it was a great excuse to pare down my “beauty routine”. I typically keep my toiletry kit stocked and ready to go – definitely came in handy when I had to go out of town unexpectedly and only had two hours to get my act together before my flight!

  23. January 31, 2017 / 9:13 am

    It’s carry-on only for me, though I come by it honestly because in my 20s I spent a year living out of a backpack in Europe, and a few years ago I carried my things across the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I was sold early.

    Like others, I enjoy the challenge of creating a wardrobe that is minimal and yet meets my needs, and I enjoy not having to overthink my clothes once I’m traveling. (I love your travel posts and pay close attention.) I actually use a smaller-than-average carry-on, a Samsonite spinner “boarding bag” that’s got more room than it looks like but unstuffed could fit under the seat. I wear the larger of my shoes and my coat (if needed) onboard, and I’m willing to wash things in the sink. These days we often rent apartments in European cities, so we can use a washer mid-trip.

    For a recent two-week trip to California I carried the larger of my carry-ons, and I regretted it. We were on the move, and digging around in my suitcase made me crazy. Back to the smaller bag for me. Life at home is plenty complicated. When traveling, I like the opportunity to keep it simple.

  24. Brit
    January 31, 2017 / 9:37 am

    I’ve been trying to do carry-on only. I was very proud to pack for a week in Spain last summer using only the Lipault spinner you posted above. It worked so well, I recently purchased one for my husband and am trying to convince him and my daughter to fly carryon for an upcoming Europe trip this summer. We will have flights within France, and may do an overnight to Spain and I think combined with the ability to do laundry in between that carryon makes the most sense. Also, there is a certain freedom to just grabbing your bag and go – you feel more spontaneous!

  25. Out and Back
    January 31, 2017 / 10:12 am

    Oh, I’m a carry-on girl all the way. I’ve had way too many mishaps with missing luggage. But I also love having the ability to change travel plans on a dime either due to my whim or to carrier issues. I figure if I can’t haul it, I don’t need it, and I’ve had no trouble putting together enough outfits for two weeks or longer. And although I know a lot of you love roller bags, I greatly prefer my structured duffel, which has both a crossbody strap and two handles that I can carry in my hand or over my shoulder. It’s not large, and is easy to maneuver in airports, trains, buses, cobbled (or dirt) streets, and up and down staircases. I also use a small crossbody tote as a purse, so I can carry both bags and still have my hands free. I organize everything with lightweight packing cubes and decant my toiletries into small plastic bottles. And for packing light, I love merino wool tops, which dress up or down, are comfy in a range of temps, can be worn multiple times between washings, and wash and dry quickly when needed.

  26. Joanna
    January 31, 2017 / 10:55 am

    How do you pack for evenings out when taking a carry on bag?
    I found laundry in Europe VERY expensive. So much so, that in Rome, I purchased a couple of new dress shirts for my husband after the first shock of wash & press.

    • January 31, 2017 / 12:00 pm

      I am sure Susan will have some good advice. I don’t have anything to offer for the gentlemen but short of a black tie event or wedding, I find I can feel quite appropriate and even glamorous with a floaty top over black pants and some glittery earrings.

  27. Mary Rammel
    January 31, 2017 / 11:26 am

    I try to pack one carry on size bag, which I check, and one small underseater that I carry on, handbag inside. I try to carry just the minimum and your blog has been very helpful. However, I am more or less a US size 16 and my clothes are just LARGE. It doesn’t help that when we travel overseas my husband and I try to go for three weeks, and we sometimes split time between city and country or even between weather/climates (mountains and seashore, rainy and dry). There are always one or two “just in case” items that are never worn! Otherwise my motto is I’ll never see these people again and I pack for comfort and practicality.

    Just FYI we go to Opéra and theater when we travel, and audiences (natives and tourists) wear everything from jeans and tees to formal wear. Many people come directly from work and bring a sandwich to eat beforehand or at the interval.

    M

  28. Kathryn
    January 31, 2017 / 12:08 pm

    Where would I find the super cool leather luggage tag??!
    I love the quote – a travelers motto for sure!

    • Susan B
      January 31, 2017 / 12:48 pm

      I wish I knew! I found the image on Pinterest and have been hunting for the original source all morning. What I did find were sold out but I’ll keep trying!

  29. Kay
    January 31, 2017 / 2:06 pm

    I travel a lot now that I’m retired. That means at least one trip a month. I have the Lipault spinner bag, carry-on size, that I take every time, whether flying or driving or taking a train. It’s lightweight, and because it is soft-sided, it can expand a bit when stuffed. I also carry a lightweight backpack and a small crossbody purse, usually from LeSportsac. Everything I need (aside from clothes and shoes) is contained in a multi-compartment organizer, about 11 inches wide, and 5 inches deep and tall. This contains everything from makeup to laundry items, and I always keep it packed, replenishing after trips as necessary. It stays in my suitcase between trips. I pack enough clothes and underwear for one week, regardless of the length of the trip, in packing cubes. I never take more than three pair of shoes, and usually only two. I am mobility challenged, and I take my collapsible cane with me in the back pack to use after I check the suitcase which serves as a kind of “cane” on its own. When flying, I check the bag because there is no possible way I could lift it up to put in an overhead bin. Anything I need for the flight, Kindle, travel pillow, tissue, etc. goes with me in the backpack. I often travel alone, and I must be able to wrangle my own luggage. It has been a few years in the making, but I think I have my travel plan down now. (However, I’m always on the look out for new ideas!)

  30. Mary
    January 31, 2017 / 2:09 pm

    Carry on is my choice, but I am definitely a very light packer. I have a small (17″) wheeled carry-on I bought in the UK (not sold in US) a number of years ago. I use packing cubes which are critical to the success of this method. The bag itself is extremely lightweight and even though I am a senior citizen, I can still manage to get it into and out of the overhead bins on my own, as well as navigate trains/etc.. I also carry a shoulder tote (no handbag) that fits under the seat leaving plenty of space for my feet. An empty cross-body handbag is packed in the carry on for use upon arrival. This method has worked for me on all my domestic and overseas trips…even those lasting more than two weeks.

    • Katie
      January 31, 2017 / 11:25 pm

      c’est moi, except that I use a Rick Steves’ carry-on backpack/suitcase. I find it easier and more comfortable than my roller bag, especially in European narrow hallways and cobbled streets. The bag has never weighed more than 20 pounds (thank you Susan for many great packing tips), even when we’re traveling for 4+ weeks which we’ll do again this fall, in France, to celebrate my 70th year!

  31. Penny
    January 31, 2017 / 2:26 pm

    We decided a long time ago that checking is much more convenient for us. It means we don’t have to fumble with bags when we board and depart, and we don’t feel that waiting for a bag is all tht bad. That said, I was reading about the ultra-supersaver fares on airlines now. They require that you only can bring a bag that fits under the seat in front of you, no overhead bin use, or that bags be checked. I probably will never take a trip on that plan, but for those who look for the best bargains, you will need an even smaller carryon to skip waiting for luggage.

  32. January 31, 2017 / 3:50 pm

    You hit Every. Single. Note. with this post! It really should be required reading for all those who are new to traveling. Oh Hell, it should be required for ALL who travel! I love carry-on luggage and its the only way I go these days. My new personal challenge is paring down even more of what I pack when we return to the French beaches this summer.
    But the biggest reason I’m into carry on is that I want my stuff with ME! Bonaparte likes to check his luggage and that’s fine. I throw all my liquids into his suitcase. But as for me, Unh uh- I guard my stuff like a pit-bull.
    One of my fave posts of yours! Thanks:)

  33. January 31, 2017 / 4:51 pm

    Carry on vs. checked bag depends on length of trip and activities planned for me. But please, if you are taking your bag on board, be sure you can hoist it over your head. I just had a nasty experience while sitting in the aisle seat when a man lifted his wheeled carry on but failed to make contact with the bin and dropped the bag on my thigh. It hurt like crazy and I got a huge bruise that hasn’t healed completely after two weeks (he never apologized, got the bag in the overhead on the second try, then proceeded about six rows back to his seat).

    Now that that’s off my chest, I am in the market for a wheeled carry on for my 21 year old daughter. Any recommendations besides the Briggs & Riley? A few people here mentioned Lipault.

  34. Sandra
    January 31, 2017 / 5:43 pm

    We check one bag and carry on another smaller one. Usually we rent an apartment in Paris for 3 weeks then travel to another part of France or another European city using only the smaller valise. The company from which we rent our apartment minds our larger valise until we return to Paris.It makes it easier to travel by train and most European carriers are strict on the size of the carry-on, the maximum limit being a bit smaller than the US size limitations.

    DH and I back 3 pairs of pants and 8 tops, each and do a laundry every 10 days (another reason to stay in an apartment). Thanks to Sephora and Kiehls I have enough makeup and perfume samples to last for the remainder of my life! 🙂

  35. jo
    January 31, 2017 / 5:51 pm

    We take 3 or 4 international trips per year, and I could easily do carryon, but my husband is 6’3″ and his clothes are massive. A pair of his shoes would fill the suitcase! I am only 5’1″ so clothing is not a challenge. My problem are the toiletries, hair appliances, and pharmaceuticals. I am a physician and carry drugs for every illness that has ever infected the civilized world. I am also a huge fan of Briggs and Riley suitcases. They have a lifetime warranty. I own the 26″ Baseline, and the original 26″ and new 25″ BRX cases, several totes and smaller cases. I am a Briggs and Riley luggage junkie! They usually have a sale in February where they will give you credit towards a bag when you trade in any suitcase.

  36. Verónica
    January 31, 2017 / 7:12 pm

    Great article Susan! Lots of helpful advice. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences. I love your blog!!

  37. Dee
    January 31, 2017 / 7:17 pm

    I have traveled both ways (carry-on or checked luggage, depending on the trip). I lift my own carry-on into the overhead bin when I am traveling alone. My husband helps me on other trips, if necessary.

    My last trip reminded me that one should be able to lift ones own luggage into the overhead bin. The flight was fully booked and it appeared that everyone had carry-ons to be placed in the overhead bins. I saw two females, in their 20s and 30s, expect and demand that strangers/other passengers lift their lugguage into the overhead bins. Yes, demand. These individuals should have made arrangements with the airline for help on board, if possible, or they should have checked their luggage. Attendants don’t lift luggage because of concerns for their safety. Passengers shouldn’t lift other passangers’ luggage, also.

    There I was, and I was close in age to their combined ages. I lifted my own bag into the overhead bin quickly because we were told that luggage that was not in the overhead bins would be checked. I did not want my new carry-on with its exposed spinner wheels to be broken or lost on its first trip. My husband was concerned that I might have hurt my back. I wanted our return trip to be uneventful as possible, and my back hurt anyway. I can be strong-willed or just plain dense, at times. I do know, from this experience, that if I can not lift my own carry-on into the overhead bin as I grow older, I will check my bags. I would be rude and selfish to expect/demand or to politely ask that another passenger do it for me. (Damsel in distress, when young, or little old lady routine, when old, is selfish.)

    The emphasis on carry-on luggage could be decreased by improvements in how the luggage is handled and delivered to its final distination. Not charging for luggage could help too ( some airlines don’t). The lost of time and luggage is our main concern now. I don’t remember the last time I’ve checked bags but that’s because of damage/ lost in the past.

    I purchased new carry-on luggages with spinner wheels for the trip above to replace older luggage with plain wheels. Yes, you are right! Spinner wheels make traveling easy! We use them now. We will use them in the future for shorter trips where packing will be extremely light or until they become too heavy for us to lift.
    My concern is that, if we check bags with spinner wheels, the wheels might be broken during handling or in flight. Do you anything about retractable spinner wheels? I don’t remember if they exist or if they do, if they are sturdy. Do you know?

    Could you do postings on the “everyday stuff” when traveling abroad: what do you do with your passport, credit cards, & money? Do you use room safes? If yes or no, why? How do you hand wash clothing? What about the clothing items you don’t count in your final total? Would like your take .

    I enjoy your blog.

  38. Yazi
    January 31, 2017 / 8:51 pm

    It’s worth mentioning that not every airline charges for checked luggage and that can make all the difference in ease of travel.

    If your aim is only to save money, then bearing with many inconveniences is part of it. But as many people have point out, travellers often can’t carry their bags and place them above and they have really been abusing the carry-on luggage exception to the detriment of their fellow travellers’ safety.

  39. Jan Deane
    January 31, 2017 / 9:25 pm

    I have enjoyed reading these comments and will certainly take some of the tips on board (pardon the pun!).
    Travelling from Australia to anywhere is a long way so most of my trips are around 4 weeks so carry-on is not really an option for me. I do not want to waste precious holiday time visiting laundromats so need enough clothes to last the distance.

    We are planning a 4 week trip to the US in Sept/Oct later this year. We are spending time in California/Las Vegas/Grand Canyon area where I am assuming it will be hot that time of year. We will be then heading to New England and New York which will be quite cool going into October.

    My dilemma is packing for both climates without taking too much. I would love to see you do a feature on this Susan.

    • February 2, 2017 / 1:43 pm

      I’m from Australia too and I agree – it takes longer and costs more to get to destinations from Europe, I don’t know anyone who does short holidays to anywhere other than Asia. For multi-climate packing, skirts which you can wear with long warm leggings in cooler weather are helpful, I also used dresses which looked nice if you add a long sleeve layer underneath plus leggings, but were light enough for warm weather wear (whilst this worked, last time I’d packed way too much). I’d suggest just packing for an Australian spring and then buying a nice warm coat when you get there, clothing is so much cheaper in the US.

  40. February 1, 2017 / 12:01 am

    I am fine with carry-on for business travel, when I know what I will wear and take sample sizes of key beauty products, but for holidays I like to take a very large case so I have lots of clothes to choose form, and all my favourite beauty items. It drives my husband mad!
    Gail
    http://www.isthismutton.com

  41. Belinda Manley
    February 1, 2017 / 5:55 am

    The smaller the better. And I am at a loss about people’s “toiletries” problem. Take sample size,buy local brands on arrival. I usually check my carry on for return trip so those items go home with me. Makes me smile to brush my teeth with French,etc, toothpaste at home! I do have the advantage of having wash and go hair so no gadgets. Most places I’ve stayed provide hair dryers.

  42. Maria
    February 1, 2017 / 7:26 am

    I’m a fan of carry-on luggage for all of our trips. I prefer not carrying added baggage, and have learned, like you, that it’s not easy to travel with checked in luggage. We’ve rented cars in Europe that have very little trunk space that probably wouldn’t fit larger luggage.
    Truly love your packing lists and use them as my template!

  43. Alice
    February 1, 2017 / 8:08 am

    For the type of travel I do I usually need a checked bag. I also don’t enjoy lugging a carry-on through the airport if I have a connecting flight, and awkwardly trying to fit it into the bathroom stall with me, etc. That being said, when I can travel carry-on, I will though.

    I have also had luggage lost (and it took a week to get back to me!), so I always carry on a few personal hygiene necessities and an extra t-shirt and set of underclothing juuuust in case.

  44. February 1, 2017 / 11:43 am

    One thing I need to add: I am now 75 years old, and while very fit and strong, found on my last trip that I just do not have the strength to hoist my carry on up to the overhead bin. Luckily, there is always someone to help. At the same time, wish there was some other way!

  45. bellsonme
    February 1, 2017 / 9:18 pm

    Reading this post is so inspiring! Now I’ve got the travel bug.

  46. Minerva
    February 2, 2017 / 4:08 am

    I’m in Australia and the whole “carry-on only” phenomenon isn’t nearly as prevalent here. I must say that I have been a bit bewildered by it, but I suspect there are couple of reasons why checking is the norm here. Airlines losing checked bags seems to be a major concern among the carry-on only crowd. This hardly ever happens here as our airlines are pretty reliable. As well, our domestic carry-on size was considerably smaller than the international carry-on size until fairly recently. People here are used to checking bags.

  47. Silvia
    February 2, 2017 / 1:28 pm

    Susan, First let me say I really enjoy your blog and posts. Especially the packing posts. It has really helped me plan and organize my outfits and packing. You mention you are currently traveling(carry-on) with the Briggs&Riley Transcend. In older posts, you mention traveling with the Lipault 4-wheel carry-on. Have you stopped using it? If so why did you decide to stop? I am considering purchasing it. Thank you so much!

  48. February 2, 2017 / 1:29 pm

    Do they charge for checked baggage leaving the US? They don’t leaving Australia (but they do if you travel within Australia). And honestly, even the largest carry-on bag that you can buy here would still give you fairly limited space.

    We did hit problems on trains in Europe last year with our luggage, making our way from London to Belgium. Mind you, part of this was because my husband had brought his guitar! The girls’ combinations of suitcase plus backpack (instead of a proper carry-on case) was probably the easiest to manage.

    We reduced the risk of lost luggage by having one outfit each plus our toiletries in the carry-ons, and mixing the luggage up between suitcases (so that if just one case got lost, the person would have some clothes in other people’s cases). With five of us going for a month, could never have survived with just carry-on (but we did travel with our suitcases half empty, to give us space for gift buying and clothes shopping). My daughter’s suitcase did go missing temporarily on the way home from Paris a couple of years ago, but it did turn up and at least she was home so she had access to her normal wardrobe.

    I have difficulty packing lightly partly because I feel the cold a lot, so even a trip to Adelaide locally normally requires lots of options. Mostly though, I just want the variety! I like colour, I don’t like wearing the same thing a lot (I did use tips for mix and max capsule wardrobe, but where we went meant that I needed it for both cool and warm weather). We did buy new luggage before we left, lightweight with wheels, and that made life much easier (except for the darned guitar!!).

    I am going to Paris in April and as we will be doing a couple of overnight trips, will take the large suitcase but just use the carry-on for the overnight trips. I am tempted to ditch the carry-on and just take a large shoulder bag, but I don’t want to check in electronics like my laptop and camera, and I know that lugging these around in a shoulder bag gets tiresome, so they will all go in a carry-on.

    It’s interesting to see how things vary between countries. We have checked the bags as soon as we get to the airport, so getting them into toilets etc. mostly wasn’t an issue (except going Brussels to Brugge in the train and Brugge to Paris). At all airports, what was a hassle was the sheer quantity of carry-ons (travelled last year with my husband, our two kids and a friend of my daughter’s, so three carry-ons, two backpacks, etc.) – we always needed someone to mind bags whilst others went off to source food, go to the toilet etc. during the stopover. Travelling alone in April, I feel it will be much easier with just my own stuff to worry about.

  49. h
    February 3, 2017 / 6:10 am

    I carry on no matter what – short domestic trips or multiweek vacations. I use a little tumi spinner that’s a hardcase and is going strong after 6 years. I am seriously considering trying to do only an underbag seat so that I never get to the plane with my carryon and they have to check it at the gate. Plus a smaller bag would make traveling around easier in general. I think the only things stopping me from doing an under seat bag only, are toiletries and if I want to bring a couple pairs of shoes – easy in the summer, harder in the winter. I am interested if anyone else carries only an underseat bag…

    • Emme
      February 3, 2017 / 6:45 am

      This is a fascinating discussion. I do love these travel posts. I have gotten it down to one under -the-seat backpack, and a medium canvas tote. Went with this to Japan and Dubai for ten days in the summer. There was sink washing and scarves – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. For a ski vacation, my helmet fits in the carry-on and I rent equipment there. I always remind myself that the first syllable in the word luggage is lug.

      • Ginger
        February 3, 2017 / 7:53 am

        Could you share what bag you use? I am interested to try this for upcoming travel…
        Also does the medium canvas tote go in the overhead or are you able to store both under your seat. Please give details!! Thank you!! (My exclamation points are meant to convey excitement and enthusiasm not anger.) Many thanks!!!

        • Ginger
          February 3, 2017 / 7:54 am

          I meant this for the other reply. Not technically savvy. So sorry!!

          • Emme
            February 3, 2017 / 12:03 pm

            Hi! Thank you for asking. I measured the bag – an ll bean nylon backpack from the late 80’s – and it is approximately 18″ long, 15″ wide, and 8″ deep. I like the nylon because it is easy to wash after travels. The one I have is a “retro” blue and purple. Stylish enough for most travel!
            My denim colored tote was about 15 by 18″ inches, and squishy, not stiff. It gave up the ghost on the last trip so I am looking for a (thrift shop) replacement. The key is to find one that is not too stiff – so it can fit under the seat in front of you (next to the backpack) or – if you have to – it sits on or next to your lap. It holds the iPad, book, essentials, snacks.
            In my next life I might spring for packing cubes, but for the time being I keep on reusing those fabulous ziplock bags. The quart sized holds the liquids and other toiletries. If it doesn’t fit, I don’t need it. Travel is mean to be liberating!

        • Ginger
          February 3, 2017 / 2:50 pm

          Emme, thank you for the details! As I walked around pondering this challenge this afternoon I kept thinking about my lands end canvas bags that I use for car travel. I love their durability. They are just stiff enough to stand open while I pack but when full will cram into any space. They would be perfect for the under seat space. They don’t close at the top, which I think would be a drawback, but it gives me something to go on. I think a cloth duffel sounds perfect. I will check out llbean. I too have a ziploc bag stash for organization. I will say that I found two plastic topped cosmetic cases on a random clearance table years ago, so you never know!!! Many thanks for your measurements and good luck hunting!

      • h
        February 3, 2017 / 10:47 am

        Omg, I love ‘ the first syllable in the word luggage is lug’!

        And I like the backpack and canvas tote method as I don’t want to carry my tote and a small under-seat duffel because then my arms would be loaded.

      • ginger
        March 3, 2017 / 12:37 pm

        Hi Emme! I thought I’d follow up, just for fun, to let you know I packed in two small bags only this past weekend, and it was a big success. I found that the only thing I missed having was a pair of jeans. I left them out because of weight and bulk, but it was not worth it. I missed having them. You were so right about the hard sided bags. I had a large Kate Spade purse that was almost the right dimensions by your measurements. It has a cross-body strap. It also stands upright with hard sides which I thought would be great for packing. I decided to take a chance with the height. Well. Unfortunately, the uprightness made it difficult to squash underneath the seat in front. Not impossible. However, it also is open in the middle section which meant I did not feel comfortable putting it on its side. So, for my next trip in a couple weeks, I have ordered a zippable tote. It will be squish able. If it does not work, I have found a plain old nothing duffel bag on Amazon. I would try it first, but it does not look well made. I am looking to find my “ideal suitcase” and get it down to a process. It’s so fun to consider the challenge. I find myself thinking about it a lot. May be a bit obsessed, but I think it will be totally worth it! Anyway, that’s my report. Thanks again for your kind encouragement and measurements!

  50. Linda
    February 5, 2017 / 9:31 am

    I’m grappling with how to pack for a 3 week trip to Europe that includes a 9 day Mediterranean cruise for myself and my husband. I think it may be easier for me as he’s a wear it once kind of guy. Guessing will do laundry at the beginning and near end of the cruise. We are going with a group of high school friends so I will want to dress a little bit he differently.

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