Carry-on vs. checked luggage: which is best for you?

Carry-on vs. checked luggage: which is right for you. Briggs & Riley Sympatico intl carry-on and medium-sized luggage in red. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

If you have travel planned in the near future, you may be evaluating your luggage and packing needs. One of the most important considerations is whether you’ll be traveling carry-on only or be checking your bags.

This post was published at a prior date and has been updated. I’ve left earlier comments in place.

Keep Calm and Carry On?

There are few issues that divide the (traveling) masses as much as luggage, specifically whether to check bags or travel carry-on only. Each side has its adherents, and some will defend their position vehemently!

Above: for shorter trips or when I don’t want/need to check a bag, I like this carry-on sized spinner bag When I use a bigger, checked bag it’s the medium-sized one on the right (mine is an earlier version, not expandable).

Carry-On vs. Checked Luggage: Which Makes Sense For You?

I’m an agnostic in this, and say there’s no right or wrong answer to the carry-on vs. checked question. I’ve traveled with both carry-on luggage and larger checked bags in recent years, depending on the nature of the trip.

And le Monsieur adamantly refuses to edit his travel wardrobe down to carry-on size, so at least one of us is always checking a bag. We have noticed that baggage handling services seem to have improved in recent years at most of the airports we’ve traveled through.

Here are a few considerations to help you decide whether checking bags or carrying on is best for you.

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 to 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. (Seriously, if you have back problems or strength issues, it may not be worth the risk of injury.)
  • The thought of not having enough variety in your wardrobe makes you break out in a cold sweat.
  • Hey, half the fun of travel is shopping! 😉

If you decide to check bags, I encourage you to never bring more luggage than you can manage on your own (unless you have door-to-door assistance lined up). And do include some fresh clothing in a carry-on bag, just in case that checked bag gets delayed.

And even if you always check bags, it doesn’t hurt to pack lighter and smarter.
Check out my 👉 Travel Wardrobe Resource Page 👈 for ideas.

In the carry-on vs. checked luggage debate, where do you come in?

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  1. I always check luggage for international flights although my bag is carry on size. I find it a challenge to put luggage in the overhead lockers. I do get sick of, I am sorry to say, predominantly older women doing carry on who expect others to stow their luggage because they can’t manage to get it in overhead Lockers. I just think whatever your choice you must be able to manage your luggage yourself.

    1. For me it’s less a question of age or strength than my short stature and the height of some overhead lockers. That’s why if I’m traveling by myself, I usually check even a carry-on sized bag that won’t fit under the seat.

      1. Agree entirely. I really do think we of short stature are discriminated against by airlines requiring a baggage fee for all checked luggage. Very unfair- at least give us one free checked bag!

        1. So true. We petites (I’m 4’11”) should file an ADA lawsuit . My trick is to reserve an aisle seat. Kick off my shoes & stand on the seat to reach the overhead. I’ve traveled for business so many times and this works. Getting it out of the overhead I reverse the process. I travel carry on only because airlines have lost my bag .

          1. I do this, also, and it often brings generous offers of help from those with greater vertical advantage. I don’t expect it, but I am appreciative and thankful when help is offered.

    2. Amen to Maryann’s comments! I usually check luggage on both domestic and international flights…I get sick of people of whatever age really slowing down the boarding process because they can’t get their carryon luggage stowed in overhead bins. People! Pay to check your luggage or go to the gym to increase your overhead arm strength!!!

      1. Wow. There are more numerous reasons than “overhead arm strength” that make the bins a challenge for many.

      2. My goodness…I am a strapping woman who used to be able to toss her carry-on in the bin, but I shattered my left elbow 2 years ago, and will never regain the strength necessary to hold a bag over my head. So yes, there are more reasons that someone might not be able to lift their bag. I usually check luggage, but do carry a small rolling bag for my critical essentials, and am not shy about asking a nice strong man to help me. I smile and explain my situation, and I have never had anyone give me any grief.

      1. I live in the Southern Hemisphere and spend 2-3 months in Europe during June/July/August.
        Travelling with just carry on is impossible. I travel with one checked bag and a cross body (leaves hands free) carryon. We have a family rule. What you pack you must be able to deal with yourself!

    3. I”m with Maryann too. (If anyone should be worried about checking a bag, it’s me. I once had to go through a ten-day trip to Spain without my luggage, which had gotten lost en route to Madrid.) Despite this, I check my bag. Even if I travel with a carry-on size, I don’t carry it on. I just HATE the fighting for space in the overhead bin. I would probably make an exception, though, if I did not have a direct flight. Lost/delayed luggage seems to happen more often with non-direct flights.

  2. I’m with MaryAnn ^^^^ about carry-on luggage. My long-time travel mantra is: “If you can’t lift it, don’t pack it!”

    However, I encounter older folks who expect others to stow their overhead luggage (I’m cool with that) less frequently than I see capable-looking younger women who wilt helplessly in the aisle until some already-seated man stands and hoists the bag aloft. Although others’ mileage may vary, in my book that’s not cool.

    Susan, I think your decision criteria for carry-on vs. checked luggage are right on point. This fall I’m going to France for three weeks, and for the first time since the 1960s I’ll be carrying a spinner and a backpack, because … trains.

  3. I went to Europe a couple of times for 2 weeks with a large backpack for carry on. We went to several cities and had to carry our luggage several timess plus we stayed in some older buildings without elevators. A backpack is soft and easy to throw up into the overhead and when we landed, I was able to hit the ground running. I also don’t mind washing things out in sinks and checking bags make me feel uneasy.

    1. I just wanted to add though if I were to ever go on a cruise or something like that, or got to the point I couldn’t do the backpack anymore, I would probably check.

  4. Going home, I take so many presents, I have maximum luggage. On vacations, I do like to pick up things to bring home, often stuff that isn’t allowed in cabin luggage (bottle of wine…). That doesn’t mean I need a huge suitcase, though.
    I have had my luggage lost more than once and make sure to pack 1-2 changes of clothes in my carryon.

  5. I always carry on my swimming suit, nightdress, and a change of clothes. Anything that I would hate to lose.
    Essential medications, toothbrush, paste, hairbrush. Any jewelry. I have had the airlines lose my suitcase three times now and am sick of being at my destination with nothing until I can get to a store! I always assume now that my case will probably get lost and pack accordingly. Just got back from Spain with my husband, his suitcase went AWOL for five days. The first thing we had to do was head to a department store to buy shorts, swim suit, t-shirts, sandals, etc. When the case arrived we had to take a taxi and spend half a day at Malaga airport filling out papers and running around to collect it. Waste of a nice day in the sunshine. I don’t travel with a lot of stuff, but am definitely a carry-on girl now.

  6. I am currently in Florence Italy for three months, packed in one 25” checked bag. I am hand washing, and using the laundromat. Thanks to the packing suggestions from this site. The packable down from Uniqlo, Eileen Fisher silk tops, and smart wool socks are all working great. Thank you for all your help!

  7. Oh yes, I do bring essential things in my tote, in case my luggage gets waylaid, and yes, it’s happened.

    1. I have shoulder issues, so lifting luggage into and out of overhead bins isn’t really my thing. I do mind paying luggage fees! One thing that we do is to share a medium-sized checked bag between two of us. This means careful selection of a capsule wardrobe. For longer trips with two checked bags, we’ve learned to pack half of our clothes in each other’s bag in the event of a luggage delay., Nightwear and a complete change of clothing come along in a small carry-on bag. We never take large suitcases because they’re too much to handle and incur extra fees.

      1. I also have shoulder issues, so lifting luggage into the overhead bins has become very difficult.
        Yes, I resent paying luggage fees, especially when the airlines sometimes offer free check-ins at the gate when the flight is full.
        Yes, I’ve had luggage lost. The worst was in Finland. It took 5 days for my bag to be located, then Finnair NEVER paid for any reimbursement costs.
        Yes, I’ve learned to pack essentials in a carry-on, but the days of gracious travel are long in the past.

  8. I agree with MaryAnn and Ann. My pet peeve is people who travel with carry-on luggage that can’t handle the weight and bulk of their carry-on luggage. If you can’t get your bag up or down without possibly injuring another passenger then you shouldn’t be doing it! Families who travel with carry-on’s that can’t handle the amount of carry-on’s they have (because the children are allowed items also and may be too young to handle their own backpack) should consider checking most of their clothing and carrying on the essentials. Then there are the bags that say they will fit under the seat (and the measurements say they should) but they don’t even when moderately filled. By then you own the bag.

  9. I have always been an advocate of carry-on only. However, for the past decade, diagnosed with sleep apnea, a CPAP machine has become a required article of travel. We rarely hear people addressing travel with this item! I pack as much additional as I can in the CPAP bag, but still.
    We are taking a month-long trip to Europe in the fall (three days in Rome & a 24 day Mediterranean cruise); while embracing the minimalist packing ideas, checking a bag for the two of us will not be a hardship. I carry on my CPAP, & a large tote with electronics, chargers, cables, & a change of clothes.
    (While I am a gent ‘d’un certain âge,’ I enjoy your page! Thoughtful, well written, nicely photographed; entertaining! Thanks!)

    1. If you’re a first time checker just be sure any liquids in your luggage are not overfilled. My daughter had a sunscreen bottle in a sealed plastic bag that still managed to make a mess in her luggage since the cargo area is not pressurized.

      1. Try zip freezer bags for all toiletries and liquids, preferably the ones with the double seal. The regular zip bags aren’t strong enough. I take extras along, in the large size. And double bag them.

    2. Kurt, May I suggest a travel cpap machine. Particularly the Transcend brand. It has been a huge help for me since I started having to travel with one a Year ago. The one I use every day took up a massive amount of space in my suitcase whether it was checked or carried on. There are several that are even smaller but this one is the quietest and cost about 1/2 what the smaller ones cost. I tried them all. It even comes with several different plugs for overseas use. Well worth every penny it cost!

      1. Thanks, Chermo! I am looking into an upgrade, since there have been modifications since I received my CPAP!

        1. Kurt, thank you so much for this tip. My husband uses a CPAP, well actually an APAP (his is a Resmed) and he has a travel bag for it, but it is a big thing to deal with while travelling. I love the idea that it hopefully will take his regular hose so there will be no change or adjustment needed. I’ll look into the Transcend brand. I hope it is available in Canada.

    3. Hi Kurt – I’ll be traveling to Italy next year and for the first time will be bringing along my CPAP machine. Have you found it easy to obtain distilled water?

      1. My husband uses a CPAP, and the firs time we traveled with it (in England and Wales) he found it almost imossible to find distilled water. When he got home, he was told by his CPAP provider that it was okay to use regular bottled water (not the mineral sort) for 2-3 weeks while he traveled.

        I developed permanent shoulder issues after running through CDG pulling my carryon (We made the connection!). Since then, I consistently check my bag,

  10. No one has mentioned this but if you don’t get on the plane early the storage places are often full. I ususit toward the front of the plane and sometime I think people in the back use the front spaces so they don’t have to carry their bulky luggage to the back. I hate that hassle so I usually check

    1. I so agree with you! I am so sick of rude people putting their luggage as close to the front as they can. I am sick of waiting for people to get their too big items etc out of the bins. Boarding and deboarding would go so much faster if everyone had to check their bag. I have never had my luggage lost and I have taken students all over Latin America. Frankly, I would charge for overhead since I think it inconveniences everyone else!

      1. I work in aerospace and trust me the day is coming when the airlines will charge for every bag, both carry-on and and checked. What they will do is called “reverse incentive”, e.g. the checked bag fees will be the lower price (current) and the carry-on will set at the higher price. The fee will just be automatically added on to a ticket at booking.

    2. It’s not just that people don’t want to carry their bag to the back, many times I’ve been on flights where I am in the last row. There is usually zero overhead bin space available. Sometimes it’s supplies for the flight or more often the flight attendants have put their bags there.

      I will also say that the worst offenders for too much/too big carry is flight crew. I’ve seen some with large roller carry ons and TWO additional bags on top of that. Far more than any passenger would be allowed.

  11. If you are travelling on New Zealand’s planes please be aware that the limit for carry-on luggage is only 7 kg. It is hard to pack for more than a few days with that limit. However, on economy flights the included allowance for checked luggage is 23 kgs, with no additional charges.

    1. Hi. It’s the same with most Australian planes going international and domestic so if you are coming to Oz, I would suggest you consider checking the baggage weight limits for the airline you are considering booking. Some are slightly different to others but the cheaper airlines, last time I flew, had a 7kilo carry on limit and there is also a size restriction for the carry-on bag.

  12. I went to Europe last year for 2 1/2 weeks with a carry on. Even with packing for a wedding I had everything I needed. I used a laundry mat once and hand washed clothes. As we had 4 different flights, it was really nice to know I didn’t have to wait for bags or that they would get lost.

  13. I go to Paris for a month at a time and take a carry on. I am 78 years old and someone always helps me put my suitcase in the overhead. Recently, the flight attendant, a young man, said, “Part of our job is to help people put their suitcase in the overhead.” I stay in an apartment where there is a washer and dryer. To each his or her own!!!!

    1. That’s interesting…I’ve had flight attendants tell me they’re not allowed to help with luggage, something about liability issues? I guess it just depends on the airline. For me, very short stature and the height of many overhead bins is more an issue than my strength.

    2. Jennie,
      I am so interested in your time spent in Paris! I am considering a similar holiday in Paris, extended time allows ample opportunity to enjoy all Paris has to offer. Do you rent the same location every year? Is the location close to the metro? Would you please share the pros and cons of the location, how to contact the owner, just the scoop in general? We are of similar age and I don’t mind traveling alone.
      Thanks so much.

  14. My husband and I always check a carry-on size bag each. We pack light with respect to clothes, take a change of clothes and shoes and essential make-up and medications in a small tote bag. Since we are usually away for a month at a time, we schedule a rest day every week or so, to recharge and do laundry.
    I don’t mind if others want to do carry-on only, I just wish that more airlines would enforce their own rules. We’ve encountered delays at the gate a few times because the flight was full, practically everyone had large carry-ons, and no one seemed inclined to volunteer to check their bags. And in South America the airline people went down the line of passengers waiting to board measuring bags and sending several people who were trying to fly with too large a carry-on or had too many bags. We were glad we checked the carry-n limits of the small airlines we hadn’t used before.

  15. My husband and I use a carry-on and a backpack when we travel. Going over to Europe we carry it on, but sometimes we check on the way home. Not as critical if the airline loses our luggage.

    1. I forgot to mention that our carry-ons are G-ROs. A little strange looking, but the wheels can go over any surface; carpet, cobblestones, even sand. We used to have spinners, but found that unless it is a flat, hard surface, we ended up pulling them on two wheels. These suitcases will even go up and down stairs.

  16. Leaving later today for Rome and then heading north, part of the time on a ship. The weather forecasts are quite variable and I had to pack for several occasions, so I’m checking bags, which is free for us (a smallish roller bag and a not very big soft bag with room for purchases). I fret more about whether there will be space to stow a carry-on than I do about a suitcase going astray, especially since I have a change of clothes and my essentials in my backpack. Your wardrobe suggestions are very helpful, and I’m only a little embarrassed to tell you that I am bringing two linen travel items that you suggested – the leopard tee and the navy striped sweater. (And I hope those links are monetized – you deserve to be compensated for acting as my personal shopper!)

  17. I carry on a four wheeler bag, so that I can take a full size personal item, and rest that on the roller bag to get it through the airport easily without straining my back or shoulders. The one time exercise of getting the bag into the overhead is far less strenuous than carrying a heavy personal item throughout the airport. I need to travel with computer, even on my holidays.

  18. In my professional life -where I traveled every week- I was totally team carryon. Now I agonize every flight as to what to do. I live in a B market so I often have to change planes to get to my destination. This has been problematic occasionally for my luggage. Overall airports are doing a better job with this, I agree, but it’s not perfect. Having some essentials in a carryon tote is a great suggestion. One can even get stuck in an airport after checking luggage which you can’t recover for an unplanned overnight. I’ve had that happen more than once, sadly.

  19. I have always checked a bag, with the one exception being a recent trip to Kenya with five friends. Since we would have little to no opportunity to replace lost luggage before we were off to a game preserve, and because we had several tight connecting flights that increased the odds that our luggage might be lost, most of my traveling group choose to carry-on instead of checking.

    Well, our first flight was delayed, giving us very little time to make our connecting international flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. And, the plane was small so we had to “gate check” our carry-on luggage. We arrive in Minneapolis; our friends who checked their luggage run to the connecting flight…while we wait 15 minutes for our luggage to be loaded off the plane. We arrive at the gate to our connecting flight and find the gates had just closed. Our friends who checked their bags are on the plane. The rest of us spend the next 24 hours rebooking all of our flights and waiting for buses to take us to and from a hotel that’s 45 minutes from the airport. And, of course, our friends arrive in Kenya on time and with their checked luggage. Lesson learned.

  20. I don’t mind that some folks need help stowing their carry-on luggage. What I do mind is that so many people blatantly ignore the carry-on rules and bring three or four items instead of one carry-on and one personal item. And airline personnel rarely enforce these rules.

    1. Oh, yes! It is ridiculous.

      There’s also extra detritus that isn’t packed in bags, and that falls on the heads of the people who are seated underneath it. I’m talking oodles of snacks, when the people constantly going back and forth to get it had nothing in the bins above their own heads (drink cups falling). Yep, i asked them to stop it, and I was not nice about it.

  21. We have just returned from a week in Ireland, staying in three separate places so no chance to do any washing and for it to dry in damp Ireland. Irish late-Spring weather, in fact temperatures in the day around 12 to 18C, sometimes very windy, but could have been hotter or cooler. We travelled with Ryanair, the budget airline, who are thieves, and charge extra for EVERYTHING. We had to pay to take carry on suitcases because otherwise you have a tiny bag only. But the suitcases were small. I always look at travel wardrobes like yours and think, what a lot. This is what I took, for a week of uncertain weather, staying with friends and in a small hotel. This is all of it, including for travel (and it just fitted). One pair of jeans, one pair of trousers, one sweater, one fleece, one waterproof (so call could be warn together if needed), three shirts, one long-sleeve tshirt, one short-sleeve tshirt, hat and gloves (not needed), swimming costume and goggles (not worn), eight pairs of socks, eight pairs of knickers, two bras, toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturiser, body moisturiser, sunscreen, conditioner (my partner had the shampoo and soap),a book, a couple of small gifts, a magazine, diary, small handbag, small cloth backpack, phone, chargers, one lot of jewellery worn all the time, passport, travel instructions, a biro. Robust walking shoes (not quite boots), one pair v lightweight lace-up shoes, slippers and a nightdress because staying with friends. That seems about the minimum to me. If it were two weeks it would be the same – you’d just have to find somewhere to wash stuff. Ireland is odd because it has outdoor launderettes. So I guess this puts me, usually, in the carry-on camp! Is this about average for most travellers, or do others manage with a lot less? I have a friend who at one stage only owned three pairs of knickers, so was changing every day.

  22. I’ll check luggage only when taking something forbidden in carry-on — for me it’s the gel packs needed to keep perishable baked goods cool when traveling to see our kids. Lately I just bake for them at their place. I hate not having control over my things, so checking luggage is a real trust fall for me.

    For the last ten years my carry-on has always fit under the seat in front of me. I wear a lot of layers and pack a laptop, couple of washable changes of clothes, and minimal toiletries. I loathe the whole overhead bin dynamic and have had good luck avoiding it so far.

    If I find something I love at my destination I’ll factor shipping into its cost and not worry about getting it back home.

  23. If only I could learn to travel with just a carry-on suitcase! I just can’t seem to manage what I pack, and yes, I typically take more than I need. Great tips, and so appreciated! One other tip to add, if two people are traveling, especially if both are checking bags, split the items up, half in one bag, half in the other, that way if one suitcase is lost, you both will still have clothing. In all my travels I have yet to have a bag go completely missing, but I have had them delayed for 24+ hours on numerous occasions.

  24. There’s a category of us with a special problem: very short and plus size.(Or any uncommon size). It is impossible to run out at many destinations and find anything that fits. If I check a bag, I still carry on necessities and two changes, plus my bathing suit. Every try to find a size 16 at the resort gift shop?

  25. That is always a dilemma for me. For some reason I feel more comfortable checking a bag when I have a direct flight. On an overseas trip It seems like I am often on the move a lot more and don’t have time to hand wash or get things laundered. Often only a couple nights and then on to a new place. So I end up taking a medium size bag. After hearing of so many of you losing your luggage it makes me reconsider checking a bag internationally. No perfect answer I guess.

  26. My husband and I travel with an expandable 4-wheel carry-ons, even for international trips of 2+ weeks. We normally spend some or all of the trip in apartments, so I do laundry at some point. On the return, we usually check our bags. I always pack a light Baggalini bag to accommodate dirty laundry, so new purchases can go in the carry-ons.

    My goal is to be able to store my (sometimes heavy) bag in the overhead myself. However, I don’t understand the judgement about people helping fellow passengers with their bags. If boarding is a mess these days, it’s the airlines’ draconian policies that are to blame.

    Also, if you download the airline’s app to your phone you can usually track bags, which is tremendously reassuring.

  27. Carry on!? I get by with the personal size bag. I recently did 10 days in Mexico that way. Wear the bulkiest clothes, roll and pack lighter things, small size toiletries. We always stay in vacation rentals with a washer and dryer. It can be done.My husband takes issue with baggage fees. I am donating all of my larger bags.

  28. You don’t mention the most difficult part of carrying on for a woman — fitting your liquids in a small quart plastic bag. It’s no problem for my husband so I give him some of my small liquid bottles, but if I’m traveling alone I find it very difficult.

  29. I must say I am surprised at the number of comments about “old ladies” taking advantage of people when they get help with their luggage. Is there something wrong with accepting help from a kind stranger who offers? I wonder if these offended people will still feel the same way when they themselves are older and may need some help.

    1. I have to say, I am quite shocked too. I’ve never noticed more than a couple of people that needed help and I am always happy to help if I am able.

  30. What would any of you (Susan and readers) suggest as a carry-on bag? It would have to carry a nightshirt (folds small), at least one or two panties, a presentable t-shirt, wireless bra etc in case check-in gets lost. I’m usually arriving in Paris or Amsterdam so can find toiletries I’m familiar with upon arrival.

    Do I have to put my laptop in the same bag?

    1. For the little amount you are carrying on, I would recommend this backpack…
      Pacsafe Vibe 20 Anti-Theft 20L Backpack

      I bought the smaller on, on Amazon, as I am short and my husband uses the larger version. It has quite a bit of room in it and I like that it locks well enough to make it hard for someone to easily get in to it.. They fit under the seat if the overhead is full and they are light. You could get your laptop in it too, if you didn’t want to carry another bag.

  31. I did 10 days solo in France with just a backpack. Sixteen pounds total. I took trains to five different cities, so that was the way to go. I’m going back this fall for another week or two and will take just the backpack again. It takes some advance planning (and sink laundry), but I had more than I needed.
    That said, I usually pack in a 21″ carry-on bag, and I need help hoisting it into the overhead bin as I’m 5’2″ and it’s a very awkward angle. I don’t think this should determine my “worthiness” to go carry-on only. My test is whether I can carry all my luggage up a flight or two of stairs, which it seems I always end up doing at some point in my trip.

  32. A great place to save on Luggage, and they always have good stuff: Nordstrom Rack! I’ve gotten some great Tumi luggage and I will always look here first for what I need…

  33. Great post and your summary of carry on v checked bags is spot on! My husband has a phobia about lost luggage so we always carry on. I’ve learned to love traveling light, it’s so liberating to get off the plane and go. As far as packing light, two words – Eileen Fisher!

  34. I travel for 3 months at a time to Europe approximately twice a year. I have two rolling bags, both international check-on size. One is checked, one I carry on. This doesn’t happen on international flights that I have been on, but on US flights, I have noticed that the bins fill up quickly, and then ground crew will ask travelers if they will let them check their bag, which at the point you’re getting on the flight, will be free, so I’m sure a lot of people wait for that opportunity. But ever since the small bottles only rule was instituted, which coincided with my needing more bottles of goo, not fewer, I have checked a bag, although my carrier to Europe, Icelandair, does not so far charge for one checked bag, and for many years allowed two. I miss those days, but I can’t check my 2nd bag, which is all my photography equipment and weighs a lot. This issue of ‘can an older person get their bag into the bin themselves’ is new to me; throughout my entire life, and I’ve been flying since I was 18 months old, older people have always received respect from those who happen to be young and strong. I do not want to see that change, and it seems incredibly rude to me to treat older people badly. If an older person (and I will be 60 this year) requires help, I offer it if I’m able. I was on a train not that long ago with a man with two homes, one in Bali and one in Edinburgh, and he was in his 80s, very capable, and I noticed how little he was carrying. That’s my role model for my 80s, if only to combat this divisive trend of absolute rudeness from younger people.

  35. I’m so glad Kurt raised the issue of traveling with CPAP equipment. For the sake of medical necessity, travelers should carry the CPAP with them instead of packing it in a checked bag. I have first-hand experience traveling with my regular CPAP gear in tow. Two years ago, my sister and I traveled to London and Rome. On all flights, I carried the CPAP in its own bag (with a medical equipment tag) onto the aircraft, which meant I had three bags. I had no problems in the US airports but once outside of the USA I had to explain why I had three bags and that was not easy.

    For the record, “Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a CPAP machine is not considered carry-on luggage and does not count toward your carry-on quota. You are allowed a carry-on bag, a personal bag such as a purse or briefcase, and your CPAP machine in its traveling case. A medical equipment tag, identifying your machine as a necessary medical device, will help avoid any concerns about your carry-on items should you be asked by a TSA agent or flight attendant.”
    NOTE: The Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply when outside of the USA.
    FYI-The following may help when outside of the USA. “While not a TSA rule, it is recommended for easier passage through security that you provide documents from your doctor demonstrating that the machine is yours. Bring a note of medical necessity from your doctor explaining the medical reasons why you need the machine. Additionally, bring the prescription from you doctor for the machine. These documents can be particularly helpful when boarding international flights and can help you replace the machine should anything happen to it while traveling.”

    Even though the CPAP does not count against the “carry-on quota,” I think carrying on two bags is simpler/easier than three. So, last year I purchased a travel CPAP to fit inside either of my two carry-on items, and it does fit nicely inside both but of course limits the remainder of what I want to pack. My solution was to get a slightly larger personal item and I seriously considered the OMG by Lo and Sons but decided to go with a larger and sadly more costly item (even on sale) from MZ Wallace.

    Props to Susan for introducing me to Lo and Sons because I ended up purchasing The Pearl Crossbody and I love it. It’s compact but totally functional and will be easy to pack in my carry on or personal item but I will also use it for everyday. So happy with this purchase, and Lo and Sons provides excellent customer service.

    As always, well done, Susan!

  36. I tend to check my bag because I usually have liquids that do not meet TSA requirement and I have too much for carry on. I have travelled a lot globally for work and vacation and have not lost a bag yet – I hope I don’t jinx myself. I also am one of those people who tend to overpack so I am prepared for any situation, weather, etc. I have gotten better about that though.

    I do have either a small bag on wheels or tote that includes my electronics – camera, iPad, laptop if I bring one and a change of clothes just in case my bag is delayed or lost.

    I usually fly airlines that do not charge for bags so cost is not the concern.

  37. I have had even carry on bags taken away from us on airlines so I now always check a bag. Such a relief not to fight for overhead space. You are paying plenty for the ticket, why whine about the extra $50-75. I watch folks struggle to shove bags in overheads and think, no thanks! I agree about those bringing 4-5 bags. Ugh. If the airline will not enforce the rules, folks will take advantage. Do not get me started about the “emotional support” animals. Ridiculous.

    1. I get that about the additional baggage fees, but I also try to keep in mind that for some, this additional cost might put travel with a family out of reach. ($25 per bag adds up…) I think we should blame the airlines more and our fellow travelers less, both for adding fees to milk every last dollar, and then not enforcing their own guidelines to make travel more comfortable for everyone.

  38. What I find interesting is the length of this thread, & how passionate we all are about this topic.
    Travel is expensive, even when tickets are discounted, but it’s also priceless in terms of what we gain from the experience. We’re all seeing the profound effects of xenophobia, whereas the airlines are looking at fuel costs, profit margins & cramming as many human sardines onto their planes as possible. Whether we check our luggage or carry it on; whether we’re considerate to the passengers in the rows in front or behind us — we all have the ability to try to make things more pleasant for ourselves & our fellow passengers. ‘Just saying…

    1. Good point. The whole thing is very stressful for me, an unhappy flier who will do it if she has to. Sometimes other people’s peccadillos drive me insane but I am countering it by trying to be considerate and helpful because it helps to keep my anxiety levels down if I do. I like to wait on a plane till everyone has disembarked and then stroll off, feel better if my bags are checked and just fingers-cross that they will turn up at the other end. There is something about flying that brings out the worst in people (me too, I will admit) and that is probably due to a feeling of helplessness – cancellations, delays, ticketing process, waits, queues etc all go towards that – and the slightest thing can turn into an argument or cross words. Anything that lessens that for me is a good thing. Hence I am always pathetically polite to cabin crew whose jobs I do not envy. I am planning to put this attitude into action in a few days so if you find yourself sitting next to a short woman who might look a bit agitated but is attempting to be kind, it’ll be me. Good luck.

  39. I’m dismayed to see multiple comes about older women being unable to physically handle getting their bags into the upper bins without help. It seems to me that when one says that anyone who isn’t able to stow their own bag without assistance should pay to check their bags, you are saying that folks with physical limitations should be required to pay more to travel, basically to tax them for not being young, or for being too short, or for having a disability or injury. I almost always travel with just a carry-on and I don’t mind helping out if someone needs a hand getting their bag into the bin. I encourage everyone to remember that being physically able could change in the blink of an eye for myriad reasons.

    1. I completely agree with you, Heather. I’m a 55 year old carry-on traveler as I’ve had multiple lost luggage issues. On my last domestic flight, I was happy to have a very nice man offer (I didn’t ask, nor was I struggling with my bag) to lift my bag into the overhead bin. I had a recent shoulder injury so this was helpful and I graciously accepted his offer. Everyone just needs to be kinder to those around them.

    2. I also agree with Heather. To single out the elderly just because they can’t hoist their carry on into an overhead bin sounds cruel to me. I do not know how any of us are going to avoid growing old. Perhaps a little compassion would make this world a kinder place. I was taught to show respect to anyone older so this comes easy to me. Some of the other comments have been about absolute rude behavior from other passengers and that’s different and not ok.

    3. Heather, I so agree with your comment. I had no idea people frowned upon helping us with our bags!! This actually makes me sad today.

      1. I don’t think it’s that people “frown” on helping others, but that flight attendants are not allowed to?

    4. As a very physically fit 75 year old woman traveling alone, I am fully capable of lifting my carryon bag into the upper overhead bins. However, it’s very nice when several much younger men offer to do it for me. Chivalry is not dead! I also have a very squish-able tote bag with me that easily goes under a seat. I’m amazed that so many people have a “personal bag” that does not fit under a seat. I’ve seen people with extra large backpacks that won’t fit under the seat and they end up in the overhead along with a that passengers carryon suitcase.
      I almost always also have a bag to checkin. I make sure I can easily handle all my bags myself.

  40. Florence is quite right regarding the cost of air travel and if like me you live in New Zealand the costs and the travel times are both almost off the scale. As a retired couple in our mid/late 60’s we have now made the decision to see as much of the world as we can before lack of stamina precludes it. We have quite adequate luggage but made the decision to buy two, wheeled duffel bags for a small group 11 day tour to Uzbekistan next year with a likely stop in Seoul for a couple of days. Unlikely as we are to utilise the optional use backpack straps, the bags were recommended for trains with narrow aisles and limited space on minibuses where large, hard cases take up more room. We’ve also just booked a 3-week tour to China for October this year and looking at Spain, Portugal and Morocco after that. A varied wardrobe beckons but it’ll be capsule nonetheless.

  41. Carry on only. I’m not 5’ and I am 70. My bag is 20 inches and I can lift it. By choice, I choose seating near the back. I get on while there’s lots of room in the overhead bins by my seat. Never would I place my luggage near the front. Being at the rear means deplaning later. It’s not an issue. I can still be one of the earlier ones at the taxi line. Guess, that’s now the ride sharing areas.

    Some of the carry on bags in the photos have spinners. This could fail the measurements for some airlines.

  42. So as a senior I do rely on overhead storage as well as checked backage but am not impressed with people that expect others to accommodate their oversize carry ons.
    But even less impressed with those ignorant passengers that fake needing boarding assistance to get on the plane first with their oversize carryons the good thing is when airline staff reognize them and hold them back to be last off. Not impressed with stupid people.

  43. I am still aspiring to being comfortable doing carry-on only, but one thing I will mention is that a good compromise might be to carry on going out and use an expandable bag which would need to be checked coming home if you shop and expand it. I’m less worried about the bag going astray on the way home than at the beginning of the trip as well.

  44. My feeling is I want options and am not going on vacation to do laundry. I have, however, learned some very valuable packing tips from this blog! I generally check a mid sized suitcase and bring a soft, Vera Bradley carryon plus a large tote bag with me on the plane. I can easily put the carry on overhead and because my bag is soft it can also easily fit under the seat.

  45. This post has garnered a lot of comments! It has been so helpful to me but also confusing. I have not experienced air travel in a few years but have a couple trips coming up where I will be traveling by air. I had planned on doing carry on. I love packing light and have learned a lot from this blog about that. I also like to know where my stuff is and would prefer to not worry about lost luggage. And if my luggage would be lost I don’t think shopping because I have no clothes would be nearly as much fun as shopping for fun! But apparently it’s hard to stash your carry on in the plane and the bins are very crowded. And I don’t want to have to do alot of laundry on vacation but I also don’t want to drag alot of dirty clothes around! Arghhh What to do?

    1. Hi Rondi, I’ve found that overhead bin space *really* depends on the airline and the flight. Shorter flights on discount airlines will probably have the most issues. Regarding laundry, I’ve found that unless it’s really hot and humid where I’m traveling, I can usually wear clothing items for multiple days without washing. Sometimes a spritz of Febreeze is all that’s needed to keep things fresh and wearable. Usually I’ll do sink laundry once or twice over a two-week trip. It takes 20 minutes tops, and the items I pack will usually line dry overnight. Of course if you’re traveling for multiple weeks, you may need to spend a couple of hours at a laundromat periodically.

      1. Thank you, Susan. That is very helpful. I really want to just use a carry on. I think that’s more my style. Your packing tips have helped so much!

  46. I just returned from a two week trip to France with my closest friend which included a river cruise as well as stays in Aix, Lyon and Paris. It was necessary to take several trains and shuttles in addition to our flights, so we elected to go carry-on only. This turned out to be fortuitous, as my friend, who was originating from a different destination, was unable to make our international connection due to a mechanical issue on her original flight. Fortunately, she was able to be rerouted and arrived in Paris only four hours after me and in time to catch our train to Aix. If she had checked her luggage, there is no telling when it might have caught up with her. We both had ample clothing for the entire trip, but did do some hand washing in the sink and freshen up a few pieces with some wrinkle releaser. Because we did some shopping (and I purchased some liquer to take home to my husband) I expanded my carry on and checked it for the trip home. I had packed an extra foldable tote in addition to my usual personal item tote, but didn’t need to use it. Incidentally, we ran into the musician from our cruise on the train when we were leaving. He had two very large suitcases he was unable to lift onto the luggage rack on the train by himself. I was more than happy to help!

  47. For years my family of four travelled to Europe every summer and all we own are carry on bags. Usually we check one carry on for the flight home. We’d load one bag with all the travel guides, any heavy items and souvenirs. Six years straight the airlines lost that single bag we checked on the way home. It eventually showed up but it’s exactly the reason we never check a bag on the way to our holiday.
    This fall I’m taking my first long solo trip (widowed and kids now in college). I’ll be in Italy for 2 weeks and then a 30+ day transatlantic/repositioning cruise. In total about 7 weeks, and once again using carry on only. I’ll be taking 14 tops and 8 bottoms and can make well over 100 outfits by mixing and matching every top with every bottom My long evening skirt can also be hiked up and worn as a short skirt or a strapless dress. Another short skirt can be worn as a top and serves as my beach coverup. A pair of knit pants can be strategically rolled and wrapped and worn as a scarf. Over the years I’ve made sure to have an assortment of separates in fabrics that wash well in hotel and cruise ship sinks and dry in hours or overnight. This year I purchased travel fabric underwear so 5 pairs will be plenty – they wash/dry in under 2 hours. My carefully edited wardrobe will cover biking through vineyards in Tuscany, formal dinners on the cruise, horseback riding in Jamaica, and touring every museum/gallery/church in Florence. The key is ALL PLAIN tops, and the bottoms are only black, black and white, or one in royal blue; 4 scarves in multi colours to dress up the plain tops, one small box of earings/one long and one short chain with interchangeable things to hang on them). Everything top goes with every bottom or it doesn’t come with me. One pair of black heels that go with all possible dinner outfits, one pair of dressy sneakers (not good enough for running, but good for active tours and lots of walking, and one pair of sandals/slides or good quality flipflops. I’ve always travelled in summer with the family, but since this is a fall trip I’ve dropped 2 short sleeved tops from the usual mix and added 2 long sleeve ones. I’ve also added a thin waterproof jacket I can put over several layers to stay dry and warm if I have any cold rainy weather. My apartment in Florence was specifically chosen because it has a washing machine, the cruise ship unfortunately doesn’t have a DIY laundry room so I plan to do sink laundry about 3 times in the 30 days. I’ll likely send all the pants to the ship laundry once or twice to reduce the amount of laundry hanging in the bathroom to dry. Normally a DIY laundry room onboard is one of my top criteria but this time the itinerary and the great deal$ won over laundry considerations.

  48. If I can fit what I need in carry-on luggage then that’s my preference. It doesn’t bother me if someone needs help to stow carry-on luggage. I’ve never been on a flight that was delayed because of this.

  49. We have family in Europe and only do carry-on (trips 7-10 days typically) … and I usually have several pieces of clothing that I don’t end up even wearing. Our luggage was once lost on a trip to the carribean (delivered a couple of days later) so I will avoid checking if at all possible. Unless you have special events or business that requires more than a carry-on can accommodate, it is quite easy to work with a small bag for casual travel needs.

  50. Love your posts Susan an have for years. Thank you for your beautiful style ideas! You do a beautiful job. Here are my options on luggage.

    For numerous reasons, PLEASE CHECK YOUR LUGGAGE. Speaking from experience (38 year flight attendant for a major US carrier – most of which as an international f/a). I see bags DAILY that do not fit into overhead bins . I commute to work from my home on a smaller regional jet to my base in NYC. Most roller bags do not even fit into the overhead bins on the regional jets and those new, all the rage square roller bags fill up bins quickly on bigger jets if they even fit at all. Unless you have status to board your flight earlier, you will most likely be checking it anyway. Simply pack a very small bag with your essentials to carry on board your flight & be done with it!

    For what it is worth, I have always preferred the 2 wheeler bags to the four wheeler “spinner” bags. The spinner bags will slow you down on moving sidewalks throughout larger airport terminals and on escalators. At least that is my experience. ‍♀️

    Side note: flight attendants are no longer allowed to lift bags for you unless there is a documented disability. Think about it ; if the bag is too heavy for you to lift then it is too heavy for us! Back injuries and shoulder injuries have been on the rise in my profession for years. Check your bag and forget it! Now sit back, relax and enjoy your well deserved vacation! ✈️ ☮️

  51. I personally feel carry on luggage slows down boarding process. I always check in. I use a Tumi expandable and stay to under 50lbs. I have a small bag for essentials, outerwear I carry on and my purse. I like to unpack quickly. I uses hangers with 2-3 pants and shirts over pants, covered in laundry bag. I fold them over each in layers. Other items in cubes. I have my own hangers and hang up clothes when I arrive with never a wrinkle with use of plastic bags. I am unpacked in 10 mins. Stress free.

  52. Susan, I think your guidelines for choosing whether to check or carry-on are spot on. Different strokes for different folks. While in most cases I prefer to carry on my luggage after having my luggage delayed on more than one occasion, I will check a bag if my planned activities require special clothing (those hiking shoes are HUGE!), we are staying in one location for the entire trip or we will be driving or renting a car. However, having my luggage with me has allowed me to adjust my travel arrangements on the fly on more than one occasion, and still arrive at my destination with all my belongings. Life and air travel are unpredictable, and I would have had to miss some very important moments if I hadn’t had the flexibility of changing my flights on a dime when the circumstances required it.. Besides, putting together a good travel capsule wardrobe for the trip is part of the fun, IMHO. You really can get along with a lot less than you think, and still look put together. My husband and I have made it a bit of a game as to who can pack the most efficiently in a carry on–having everything they need but using nearly everything they brought. Those debriefings have been really helpful in planning for subsequent trips. And, of course, I have learned a lot from your blog–it is the one I continue to turn to for practical advice every time I start packing for another trip!

  53. I am finding so many must-check friends in these comments. I have shoulder issues and have had two hernia operations (and am 5′) so, yes, I check the bag. But I still try to make the luggage as compact as possible.
    One upside of checking the bag is that is speeds up the boarding process that much more, everyone who checks is helping!
    And, as others have said, I put critical things like medication and one change of at least underwear in a small tote that fits under the seat.
    Susan’s travel advice always helps. And packing cubes.

  54. Carry on. A few years ago I spent 3 weeks visiting the 5-Stans with a 19” rollaboard and a small backpack. While I certainly got tired of the very limited choices, the mobility was invaluable (Chinese made buses are TINY). Did necessary laundry in a hotel sink and had one chance for hotel laundry service. I’ll never fill a 26” suitcase again.

    FYI I use a 2 wheel case. Spinners are great for pavement but struggle with gravel, sand and cobblestones. Harder to find but sturdier and have a bit more packing room.

  55. For some strange reason, certain domestic flights tie advance seat selection to checked bags. We want to sit together, so we pay and use the one checked bag each. I’m with those who pay for a checked bag, but keep it small.

    In the past we have shared one checked bag between the two of us, sometimes with one carry-on. Only on short trips have we taken carry-on only. Things have definitely gotten more complicated with a CPAP machine, so that’s why we prefer to check other baggage.

  56. I once travelled from LA to Hong Kong, then spent 10 days in Vietnam taking every possible type of transportation. I did it all with a duffle bag and a backpack. I was SO glad that I travelled so light. Having said that, it is much easier to travel light when you are heading to a hot climate as you don’t have to pack bulky sweaters and coats.

  57. I prefer carry on and use an E-Bag, both my husband and myself have them. Some airlines do a size check of every carry on, mostly in Europe, and I wish they all would. We’ve done up to 2 months in Europe with them and with the packing cubes, have never had a problem. The soft sided nature of them means they store more easily as well, mine is the smaller version and fits inside his. I also don’t wear make up, have short wash and go hair so the toiletries are limited. It really is a personal choice for very traveller but getting on and off trains and buses is just so much easier with a back pack. And, Venice!

  58. Checked luggage for me as I am the one that breaks out in sweat by the thought of not having enough variety hahaha.
    Tip for whrn you cannot manage to put your luggage in the overhad bin…tilt your head, put on a big smile and ask someone (preferable but not necessairily a man) to help you. You will always find a kind soul.