Travelling too light - issues

Just curious if anyone has experienced any negatives to packing too light and travelling with only one carry on.

When we were on our first Europe trip and were heading home from Athens, we were asked very directly if that was all the baggage we had for our month trip. I can tell it raised some concerns for the airport official, so after she called someone one else over to discuss, our bags were tagged with some stickers, we got pulled aside and had to wait a long time, re-screened through security, total bag search etc. Our 2 hour pre flight wait was reduced by all the checking, re checking, that we were almost the last people on the plane. Didn't give it much further thought, thinking its just a one-off.

However, since then we've get questions by officials EVERYTIME we go anywhere. We live close to the US border and usually fly from Spokane for all our trips (mexico, europe, us destinations). Just yesterday, we get questioned at immigration coming from Mexico, get questioned again at customs. Crossing the US border, the canadian patrol thought it was unusually, so of course we got are car searched. He made a numerous comments/questions that that's all the luggage we had for a two week trip. Does anyone else experience this?

Posted by Michael
Griffith, IN, USA
515 posts

So what are you trying to say, take along a fake bag which makes you look like your carrying a ton of baggage???

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
2892 posts

Have never had my one carry on bag questioned, even when traveling for 2 months. Not sure why you're getting picked on.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
9472 posts

nope warren.. its just you,, do you look like a crook,, lol ( just kidding).... I travel with one carry on and go for weeks.. sometimes 4 or 5..

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1491 posts

I've been asked a couple of times if that's the only luggage I have, but when I answer, "yes," the official has said OK and allowed me to proceed. Hopefully you don't keep getting hasseled for being the most efficient traveler they'd encountered in awhile.

There are super lightweight and collapsible zippered nylon tote bags that crumple into a tiny bundle - smaller than a pinecone. We've gotten one in France and another at REI in the USA. They're handy for coming back with purchases. You could stow it, collapsed, going out, then bring it back containing a few items, and use it as your "plus one" if you don't already have a backpack, briefcase, etc. to accompnay your single carry-on suitcase. Maybe that would raise fewer eyebrows and get you past the customs and security scrutinizers quicker.

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

We have multiple homes and commute among them with not much more than fits in our pockets.

For me to have more than a carry-on it's because expedition gear is involved. And, traveling light, I can stay gone forever.

For air travel, how does the pre-gate screener even know if you have checked baggage since the stubs are on the very last boarding pass.

Wild guess: there's a butthead on the loose with a name very similar to yours.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7337 posts

Ed may be on to something. I travel for almost three months at a time with a carryon, have only been asked once where my checked bags were.

Posted by Karen
508 posts

I'm another one who has never been asked about it, thankfully, other than by a hotel staff member who thought I must be forgetting something when checking out.

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
888 posts

I think Ed hit it. You might consider applying for pre-check eligibility if it is available at your frequented airports - then you get a magic word stamped on your boarding pass.

What does TSA Pre✓™ mean for travelers?
TSA Pre✓™ Experience:

Quicker transit through airport security screening
Faster moving lines
Improved travel experience
No Removal of:

Light outerwear/jacket
3-1-1 compliant bag and laptop from carry-on

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1620 posts

In the year 2010 (?) a man planned to travel from the United States of America, airline flights, around the Earth, returning to the United States of America. He planned to not carry any bag. No check - in bag. He wore a vest that has several pockets. Did any of you read or hear a report of his experiences in that trip ?

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
14092 posts

We constantly travel with one carry on and have never been asked about it or subject to additional checking. To get question EVERYTIME means something else is going on and has absolutely nothing to do with luggage. How would security know how much total luggage you have or how long you are staying anywhere? Lots of people are toting carry on so that is not the cause.

My only issue with traveling too light is the year I tried to get by with two pairs of pants instead of my usual three pair - pack two, wear one. About the fourth day at an outdoor concert, the my pants was severely damaged. Wasn't sure I could get by with just one pair of pants for another three weeks. Lost a half day and it wasn't cheap to find an acceptable pair of replacement pants. Now back to carrying three but, of course, haven't damaged another pair.
Warren may be Canadian and not eligible for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry.

Posted by gone
2081 posts


i havent had that issue with one exception. I was in Ohau going to Kauai and i was "chosen" to go thru more screening. They told me it would take more time and that i would get onboard first due to the additional screening. Since i was the only one there in the first place, it didnt make a dif to me. Also, i figured that the planes not going to leave without me either.

On a trip from Europe i was questions alot at the Passport control (here) since i went to Europe within 6 months. I have heard that the USA doesnt like that unless its for business. So they examined my carry on bag while ignoring my check in. The guy was more or less thumbing thru my stuff while gauging my reaction and I was watching his reaction while he was trying to gauge mine. It wasnt a big deal since i had nothing to hide. I did bring back a lot of chocolate and he wanted to know if it was and it told him to go ahead and open it if he wanted to but he didnt.

to me if they want to scrutinize me or my luggage due to how i travel, its no paint of my hull. If they choose to make me miss my flight that is a different story. But so far that hasnt happend.

happy trails.

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

Precheck and global entry are only for US citizens or permanent residents.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

The only reaction we've ever had when walking up to the counter with a family of five and no checked bags was admiration.

Ron; I think the man's name was Rolf Potts and he was being sponsored by Scottevest, who supplied him with a pair of their convertible cargo pants and their vest. If I remember correctly, he had a 2nd pair of socks, underwear and a 2nd thin long sleeve shirt (like a base layer) neatly folded in the pockets of his cargo pants. Meanwhile, he used the many pockets of his vest for tiny toiletries, a cell phone, a tiny bluetooth keyboard (to use with his phone to blog the experience), documents, and other small stuff.

He would wash out the shirt, socks and underwear in the hotel sink each night and wear the other pair the next day. He didn't have any trouble with day-to-day travel, but WAS pulled aside at security since having no bags at all was highly suspicious.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
13884 posts

There must be something else going on - I haven't seen people pulled for too little luggage. If it happens all the time it must be something like mentioned above, perhaps you look like or share the name of somebody else.

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
888 posts

In Canada there is NEXUS

Once approved for Nexus in Canada you are eligible for TSA pre-check in US

Posted by James E.
4475 posts

When traveling for extended periods with just a carry on I have on maybe one or two occasions had a question from the check-in clerk that seemed more inquisitory than just polite chit chat. But that is the extent of it. I have a common name and I travel to some strange places, and frequently, with little luggage so I wasn't too surprised. I have been pulled out of line on two occasions when re-entering the US; forced to sit in a waiting room full of criminals until my turn, then asked; "have you broken any laws?" With the answer of, "no", I was sent on my way. That all stopped when I got my Global Entry. I was also stopped one other time in Jerusalem which took about an hour to process through. But they were polite about the entire thing and then announced that I have been cleared by the state of Israel so the world will know I am a good man. Ha! great fun.

By the way, my goal is never to travel with just one carry-on. My goal is always to pack "smart" so that I am not carrying any more than I will need. For my comfort, Moscow in January requires more than one carry-on. Fishing in June also requires more than one carry-on. But Africa in January is pretty much a one carry-on and a small back pack trip.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
8186 posts

I've never been bothered because of too little luggage but I could see, around 9/11, concern with too little baggage - just as there was concern about people buying one-way tickets. If asked, I'd just say, "I've got five shirts, three pants, underwear and socks; I can do laundry when I need to, what else do I need?"

I took a Caribbean cruise in March, I drove into the port to drop off my bag before parking my car. I was driving a two-door convertible and had the top down and my carry-on in the passenger seat. I pointed to the carry-on and told the porter, "That's all." He looked surprised so I added, "That's how I travel." My bag included a nice looking formal outfit, casual clothes, and beach gear - what else did I need?

Like every time I travel, I always think of a way I could have traveled with less.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
14127 posts

I haven't checked a bag in 14 years - 10 trips to Europe and multiple shorter US trips. Never had anyone question my lack of baggage.

I've assembled a wardrobe of cotton/polyester shirts and underwear that I can wash in the sink and dry overnight. In the morning they are always dry enough to put back on, so I have actually been tempted to go with just the one set of clothes I am wearing - just to prove a point.

I've also been tempted to spend a couple of weeks at Cap d'Agde (the nudist city on the Mediterranean in France). Just go with a bathroom kit and the clothes on my back. Take off my clothes when I get there, put the same ones on in two weeks to come home.

Posted by Allen
Lafayette, LA
210 posts

My wife and I were questioned mercilessly once at Newark International Arrival Halls back in the 90's following a 3 week trip only because we each had one small carry-on. They were incredulous that's all we had. They pulled us to the side and dumped everything out of our packs onto a big table. They looked at everything, even opening up bottles of shampoo and sniffing. I thought it would escalate into a strip search. But after 30 minutes, one of them said "You can go". And they walked off. And that was the last time I ever travelled through Newark International.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
14092 posts

Lee, that is frighting thought !

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
3279 posts

I agree with Frank; something else may trigger the scrutiny. I've travelled with only carry-on for years with no questions about my luggage. Only in England they seem to think I have an awful lot of stamps in my passport. Could be they think my frequent visits indicate illegal activity?

Just guessing, but if you look poor or over-rich to travel light, that may turn a light on in some minds.

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1491 posts

Hmm-- I guess to prove a point, you could travel with a whole bunch of suitcases, stuffed with just shampoo and chocolate and see if the security folks approve. And why wouldn't England welcome visitors as often as possible? I guess you have to be the "right" kind of visitor, and not wear out your welcome with excessive passport stamps.

Posted by Marc
Detroit, MI, USA
72 posts

After an ordeal years ago (at JFK) returning from a week in London with just one bag and just a few purchases, I read somewhere that the intensity of the scrutiny can have to do with what is listed as one's occupation on the passport. People with occupations that imply a high income are evidently expected to have lots of luggage and lots of possibly dutiable souvenirs. After that, I changed my occupation from "college administrator" to "college staff member" and never had another problem.

Posted by James E.
4475 posts

Lots of speculation. Much of it may prove true, but my guess is that with Global Entry it all goes away.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
5055 posts

As of 2012 as primarily a solo traveler, I checked in both main pieces, a medium suitcase ca. 24-28 lbs and a shoulder sack, carried on board a small sack about the size of fitting binoculars in. I board the plane practically carrying nothing, in contrast to all others who stuff the overhead bin. They are the same two pieces of luggage, be it a 3 week or a nine week plus trip. Coming back to SFO from Europe after 10.5 hr direct flight, I am hardly ever asked about my trip, just the purpose...vacation or how long was I gone. The Immigration/Customs personnel are rather perfunctory, humourless, some are sticklers. Sometimes it's possible to avoid them. Lately, to get a Passport stamp I have had to ask, then they're obliging. Extremely rare to hear from one of them welcoming you back. If the trip included both England and Schengen countries, then I can count on getting 5 stamps on the Passport after I clear Immigration at SFO.

Only one time, as far I can recall, was my suitcase opened by Immigration at SFO upon coming back from Europe. I've never been pulled aside for questioning along with the luggage.

Posted by Wray
Boston, ma, usa
517 posts

I remember reading an article by Paul Theroux, the travel writer, about how he was held up by US immigration officials in Boston, MA. At that time, he lived in London and had his summer house on Cape Cod. As his warm weather clothes were on the Cape, all he had with him was a paperback book. He was apparently removed to an isolated room, questioned and held over a long period of time due to his lack of luggage. The fact that it was in Boston is funny because he is originally from the Boston, MA area…I guess the US officials don't read about travel much…it would probably be like a busman's holiday! SO, Warren, I think you are in good company. I'll also add that I am 60 and when I travel with my friend from childhood, chatting, giggling and smiling like children, we are always pulled out and searched…apparently older women traveling together are not supposed to be having fun...

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
2075 posts

Wray's note about Theroux brings to mind Farley Mowat's ("Never Cry Wolf" and many other books) experience trying to enter the States for a book tour in 1985. The Americans denied Mowat entry into the States without explanation. Mowat wrote "My Discover of America" recounting his experience and his attempt to get an explaination from American Immigration. Could it have been that someone in high places did not want Mowat to promote his 1984 book "Sea of Slaughter"? All this predated 11 September and the dreaded no fly list.

Farley Mowat, 1986, "My Discovery of America", Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, ISBN 0-87113-050-5.

Posted by James E.
4475 posts

Fred, on the trips home to the states we look forward to checking everything but a very small back pack that holds a small camera, prescription medicine, a few toiletries, a book and a pair of clean under ware should we get stuck someplace. Weight? Maybe 5 pounds. Being able to board the plane with almost nothing is wonderful.

Posted by Bob
Reading, PA, USA
374 posts

Yes, no bags on the airplane is nice. But I would rather avoid the hassle at the luggage carousel wondering if your bag(s) made it. Without checked bags I can be half way home before the baggage is unloaded.

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
785 posts

How do folks who go carry-on only deal with the smaller bins on many European connections? A 22 inch bag may be carry- on legal technically in the U.S., but on some Euro planes , as I recall the space is much smaller. Do they check it upon boarding as in the U.S., so it still checked but in a different way? I like the idea of traveling lighter, especially since I am the one to carry the bags up and down the stairs for both of us. I am skeptical though as to weather it would work for us. I need to carry lot of stuff for dental, plus lotions and sunscreen. It's always a trade-off between how much you carry, how many days can your wear the same clothes, and how often you want to spend a couple of hours doing laundry.

Posted by Raymond Francis
New Zealand
7 posts

I think you will find that the Customs officers on most borders have a bunch of criteria that can make them suspicious
A lot of travel to certain countries by single travellers without much baggage is going to set off the computers, just one of those criteria might give you a strip search if it is a slow day

I might say to non Americans that the USA is infamous for the way it treats the rest of the world when we travel through your borders especially those who are just transiting

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
14127 posts

" A 22 inch bag may be carry- on legal technically in the U.S., but on some Euro planes , as I recall the space is much smaller."

I flew from Oakland CA to Phoenix on a very small (2x2) USAir commuter jet with small overhead bins. They announced at the gate that no rolling luggage could be carried on, it all had to be gate checked.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
2075 posts

Re Lee's carry-on puddle jumper experience.

My local regionals (Horizon, Skywest, United Express) offer ramp check of carry-on bags that return the bag at the destination ramp. The only mechanism for lost baggage is the baggage handlers not loading it. These regionals have very thin overheads.

The irony of our three hop winter trip to Austria is ramp checking our carry-ons (her RS rolling carry-on, my RS classic). One or our ramp checked carry-on along 3 others were brought into the cabin and squeezed into overhead and under seat space. The cargo hold was too full for all the ramp checked carry-on bags.

What was ironic was my suspicion that the cargo hold was too full in part because of our checked baggage - one 210 cm long ski box and a large rolling duffel bag holding my ski gear including waxing iron, tools and boxes of waxes.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
3399 posts

I've not checked a bag in years. This trip, my wife bought someone a wedding present (carryon) and we had to check a bag full of dirty clothes.

Wouldn't you know that that bag was detained coming out of Prague? My problem was that my electronic car key was in it, and I had to wait in a hotel in Atlanta 2 days for my bag to appear. Leaving the key in the bag was my mistake.

But I will still never check another bag again. I didn't even use 1/2 the clothes in my 21" rolling bag for a 18 day trip. One pair of heavily starched jeans still looked great after 10 days wear.

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1852 posts

That is the second time I've heard of the car keys being in the checked and lost/delayed luggage. I've put my key in my carry on, but sometimes you do need to gate-check. I'll be sure to keep a spare in my day bag as well.

Posted by Maryam
Washington, DC
766 posts

Hmmm, not sure it's the carry on that's the entirety of the problem. I carry on almost exclusively, and never had to go through extra security.
Someone mentioned something about one's occupation on a passport. I have never had my occupation revealed as part of my travels nor do I see it on my current passport!

Posted by Julie
Bend, OR
44 posts

I have NOT been stopped and re-checked because of luggage. However, in 2010 - 2011 I was consistently stopped and my car searched and passport reviewed and questioned about my activities and purpose of travel at the border between Canada and NY as I regularly travelled between my home and Kingston Ontario.

This all started AFTER I had trips to China and France.

I finally reached a tipping point and did the pre-approval travel process with TSA. The being stopped pattern ended. I have since travelled overseas on three other occasions. I head out again next month for a week in London.

The point of my story, go through any process to get yourself "pre-checked", TSA approved, especially as you travel light between countries and cities that may be considered "suspect."

Posted by klbader
16 posts

My friend's brother went to visit his friend in Turkey last year and only took a carry on as he was planning on sharing clothes with his friend once he got there. He did get stopped and questioned as to why he was only bringing a small carry on when he was planning on staying for a month and a half. Not sure if he missed flights or anything becuase of the hold up, but I do know he got questioned.

Posted by Ray
Tigard, OR, USA
548 posts

I've been singled out for "extra security checks" once in a while (I was told it was random....but it happens every 3-4 trips.) I take a carry on and one personal bag (that fits comfortably under the seat) it isn't because I only have one bag. It is (I think) because I am solo. When I fly with friends, it hasn't happened yet.