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carry on or checking in luggage at the airport?

We are going on a 21 BOE next May and my wife and I are pondering the advantages and disadvantages either carry on or checking the luggage at the airport. We are both taking a carry on and a backpack.

Thank you,
Joe and Donna

Posted by
2715 posts

If your bag will fit in the carry on size/weight limits then you should absolutely carry it on. That way you don’t have any risk of it being lost or delayed. Also if your flight is changed or delayed last minute you have your bag with you. Also you don’t need to wait at baggage claim, you can just be on your way once through the passport checks.

Main reason to check in a bag is if it won’t fit in carry on. Or if you are bringing lots of liquid or something not permitted in carry on but allowed in checked bags. If that doesn’t apply to you then I’d suggest carry on.

Posted by
5169 posts

I usually determine this choice based on what I am bringing. If I know that there will be hiking involved, I want to bring my hiking poles which have to travel in a checked bag. The decision is made for me! I have never had a problem checking a bag so far. I do always have an emergency change of clothes, etc in the day bag that does go on the plane with me.

Advantages of carry on: You know where your luggage is (unless it is gate checked), you may be able to exit the airport a little faster on arrival. You can make last minute changes due to irregular operations at the airport quickly without waiting for someone to find your bag.

Disadvantages of carry on: If you have a long layover, you are lugging those bags all over the airport. You may end up in a bit of a "squeeze" for overhead compartment space. People can get a little testy on this subject while boarding. In the end, the airline may tell you that you have to check them anyway (gate checking).

Posted by
1179 posts

As others have said, it’s a personal choice.

I’ve had the airlines lose my luggage too many times to count. One time they lost it for 5 days. That was my main incentive to go carry on only. It may matter less on the trip home.

I’ve found other advantages though. On at least three occasions I’ve encountered flight delays that meant that I was stuck overnight at a connecting airport. Unlike the bag checkers, I had my bag with me that had pajamas, clean clothes, toiletry items etc. It was a nice luxury.

It’s a bit of a pain hauling the bag through the airports, but at least I know it won’t get lost or misdirected.

Posted by
149 posts

Great question to ponder upon, Joe. At the onset of my European travels with my then 20-year old daughter, carrying on was a self-imposed requirement more to insure that she would corral her travel wardrobe into a smaller space. In our experience on multiple RSTs, we both have recognized it is supremely helpful to be an organized packer, along with being a minimalist. Having to lug/tote/drag/carry your bag(s) into/out of your inbound/outbound airport/train station, as well the subsequent on/off of the tour bus and the entering and leaving the different accommodations in warm/wet/cold/windy/hot/??? conditions multiple times over varying surfaces over the course of a tour means it is smart to do what you can to make this as simple and easy as possible. We usually check on the return flight since the risk of luggage delay is not critical and because we have liquids such as wine and olive oil that we've sandwiched between our clothes. (Knock on wood, have not experienced any breakage or spillage using this method.) We have also checked luggage on the way to since it is nice to not have to wrestle with carry on luggage and the fight for overhead compartment space in main cabin seating. The personal bag coming on board always has the proper items (carry on-size liquids, grooming items, valuables, meds, paperwork, entertainment, etc.) plus a spare change of under things. This is tactically done when arriving minimum 2 or 3 days in advance of tour start and not having a time crunch upon landing to be anywhere right away. Basically, when checking a bag I have the mindset that I am accepting the chance of temporarily lost luggage and prepared to deal with that hassle should it be in the cards. Living out of a suitcase may not be the most exciting part of a trip but done efficiently it can greatly enhance your enjoyment of your journey.

Posted by
996 posts

There's a lot of personal choice here. I have grown to the point where I hate having to carry my luggage through each connection. (My home airport guarantees that there will be a minimum of one connection, possibly two for each overseas trip.)

If you have any liquids, powders or even possibly a corkscrew for your wine, you may need to check one bag to cover these items. If not, and you don't mind hauling your bags everywhere, then you may be more comfy carrying your bag everywhere. There is no correct answer. It is not a one size fits all question. It all depends on your personal comfort level.

Posted by
707 posts

Our experience favors bringing less on any trip mostly for moving around in Europe, and doing laundry more often, but for our usual direct flights to Europe from the east coast we see no particular benefit for carrying on our principal bags. We love having a carry-on size bag plus backpack once on the ground.

Posted by
1730 posts

My husband is going to do carry on only after almost missing his connecting flight in Philadelphia. He had to wait forever for it to go through customs/passport control. Of course, the other option is not connect in US.

Posted by
6871 posts

We too never check any luggage. We once had to stay in an Atlanta airport hotel for 2 days waiting for my electronic car key to arrive from Prague.
After staying in apartments in Spain in May/June, we had a washing machine and came home with all clean clothes. Future trips will be staying in apartments whenever possible in order to lighten the clothes load we've been carrying in a 21" rolling bag.

Posted by
431 posts

The important things are to pack light and to make sure you have enough items in a carry-on -- especially toiletries and a change of underwear -- to make it through a day or two. Lately, I have been checking a bag more often than not. A few reasons I have been checking bags on recent trips:

  • Traveling with someone who is physically challenged (and probably
    shouldn't have been traveling at all). I knew I would have to schlep
    my friend's bag as well as mine, and it was simply too much to deal
    with on top of everything else.

  • Traveling with my mother, who checks a bag no matter what.

  • Traveling with items that aren't allowed in carry-on. Trekking poles,
    for example.

  • Traveling with oddball stuff. I decided to do a full costume, including a hoop skirt, for Carnivale in Venice a couple of years ago. There was no way I was going to pack that in a carry-on.

Admittedly, I live in Atlanta, and I can get non-stop flights more often than not. I also have been fortunate never to have had a bag lost or delayed. Once, a flight was delayed and I wound up having to spend the night in Istanbul, and I was glad to have pj's, toiletries and a change of underwear in my carry on.

There are good arguments both ways about checking bags. Do what works for you.

Posted by
5786 posts

If you can pack everything you need in a carry-on, traveling only carry-on or checking luggage is a personal preference. (All carry-on is not an option for us when traveling with sports gear (e.g. skis, trekking poles) or transporting other items not allowed as carry-on.

If you can travel all carry-on and do not need to check part of you luggage, be aware that you may be forced to gate-check a carry-on if all the cabin is filled with luggage. Keep you cannot replace and essential items in you "personal" size bag that will fit under the seat in case you larger carry-on gets gate checked.

The primary advantage of carry-on only is the reduced risk of delayed or misdirected checked baggage. And some airlines are now charging for checked baggage on international flights. Not waiting for checked baggage usually save you time but I have had checked baggage beat me to the baggage claim.

The primary disadvantage of carry-on only is carrying (or dragging) the luggage through the terminal. And if connections are tight, you can run faster with less carry-on baggage.

Posted by
4470 posts

I’m coming up on my 12th trip to Europe, and I’ve never checked a bag on those trips Our second trip to Europe was a Rick Steves trip where (at the time), we were told that it was carryon, only. That trip showed us how efficient it was to pack light, and now I bring even less.

The advantages that we’ve experienced:

No lost luggage - no stress, and no wasted time finding replacements during precious vacation time

No waiting for our luggage at baggage claim which equals more vacation time! And, on the front side, it means that we can relax with a cup of coffee at the airport vs, standing in line.

Flexibility - twice we’ve had flights on the way home where we could switch to another flight last minute because we didn’t have checked luggage already loaded on the first plane. One trip, we each received $1000 in AMEX cards to volunteer for the second plane!

And it forces us to pack less stuff. We want our luggage as light as possible for lifting and carrying.

Have a great time on your trip!

Posted by
2914 posts

I usually check my carryon sized wheeled bag traveling in both directions. After many, many years of travel, I have not had a problem with my suitcase. However, there are things I do to help the airline.
1. If I have a connection, I make sure there is enough time between my flights for my bag to switch plaines as well; ie, 2-3 hours if at a large airport. 2. I make sure there is something distinctive marking my bag from all the others. I also take a photo of the bag. 3. When I check the bag in, I make sure the airline places the correct destination on the bag. 4. I make sure I am staying in the area near the destination airport for a day or two, just in case; ie, Heathrow...I'm staying in London for a night or two. 5. I include in my personal item that I carry on a change of underwear and shirt, all my meds, electronics, anything I can't replace easily. 6. I also make sure I don't check the bag in too early or too late.

However, again, I've never had delayed luggage going on vacation. I think a lot of people have trouble with their luggage because they do not 'help' the airlines. I enjoy not having to have my luggage with me while I'm in the airport or traveling between flights.

Posted by
1217 posts

If you're flying with one of the Legacy 3 airlines, they're moving toward having bag tracking as a feature on their mobile apps. I'm usually a Delta flyer and they send me a nice little push notification each time my checked bag is loaded onto a different plane or sent to a carousel at the end.

As someone who has to connect through a mega hub to get anywhere interesting, I'd rather just have to deal with a small backpack with a change of clothes and other high value & important stuff when I'm going from T to F concourse in Atlanta or the American Eagle cattle pens to the international gates at Charlotte.

Posted by
84 posts

It is always better to be able to travel with carry-on baggage only. It keeps you from over packing, and your clothes and other necessities are always with you. If you face a delayed or cancelled flight, which is common, you have all you need. To me it is not a question of whether you should do carry-on only, it is whether to use a wheeled bag or a backpack style bag. You can carry more in a backpack bag because there are no wheels or handle that take up space. No matter where you travel, you will have to bring your bag through long customs lines, and long walks to exit an airport to get to public or private transportation, to reach your hotels or train stations, etc. That is where you will have a lot of frustration with a bag. I personally like to have my bag on my back with my hands free. A good backpack style bag has to have a good padded hip belt to be carried a long way. Even though I am an old guy, with the weight of my bag resting on my hips, my arms swinging free, I love to be able to move without the feeling of having a ball and chain keeping you from getting to my destination. I would not get a bag that doesn't have a well padded hip belt, without the belt, all the weight of you bag rests on your shoulders, no matter what you will feel tired and sore very quickly .

Posted by
7605 posts

I almost almost always check (am traveling literally today carry-on only). But I always have a clean pair of underwear, pjs, and basic toiletries with my in my carry -on bag in case I am stuck overnight somewhere without my bag.

My checked bag is not necessarily that big — just not as tiny as the carry-on-only restrictions. And while everyone else worries about overhead space, I don’t have to fight.

It would be nice though to be able to walk away from the airport without waiting for the checked luggage to arrive. I have late arrivals tonight and when I get back to Paris, which is why I am doing carry on on this trip.

And if you’re traveling with a partner/friend, their choice may influence yours. If I am going to be waiting upon arrival for my husband’s checked bag, there’s no reason for me to kill myself trying to do carry-on only.

Anyway it is all personal preferences, and there are good reasons both for doing carry-on only and for checking a bag.

Posted by
5549 posts

No brainier for me for a 21 day trip - check in luggage, then you don’t have to launder your clothes as often and you don’t have to agonise about what to leave at home. I haven’t had any luggage lost by an airline and waiting for baggage in Europe rarely adds more than 5 minutes to the travel time. If it has wheels, it’s manoeuvrable.

There are more debates on this forum about luggage and how to pack each day than I have had in over 25 years of travelling, as I can always fit everything in my checked bag, including liquids. We usually check one bag for the 2 of us. That frees up the hand luggage for camera kit, laptop, 2 kindles, 2 iPads etc which is useful if the airline has a weight restriction, as my husband’s camera kit is around 10 kilos.

Posted by
15 posts

Thank You for your helpful comments.

Posted by
5863 posts

I pack light, so that is not in the decision, but I rarely check bags on the way over for a Europe trip. I might if I were going to be in my arrival town for a few days, but generally, I am on the move, sometimes not knowing an exact address, so I can't risk losing a bag and having to reconnect with it.

On the way back though, I nearly always check a bag, mostly due to stuff I picked up, but also nice to not have to lug a bag. For that matter, I travel for business in the US frequently, then nearly always check a bag both ways.

Posted by
1253 posts

It's certainly a personal preference, but here's why we always check-in except on the very shortest of trips:

(a) with a larger suitcase you can take more (and you can bring back items not allowed in hand-baggage, such as wine). I'm not saying we pack our cases to the gills. But with more space we can take books and "maybe useful" items such as binoculars, extra adaptors and alternative clothing/accessories if the weather isn't as expected;

(b) with most luggage checked-in, the carry-on is small and light with just items for the journey and any essentials needed at the other end if the suitcase gets lost or delayed. As well as being easier to get around the airport, there's no worry about if overhead space will be available. Instead of being one of those pensive passengers keenly eyeing each other and desperate to board early, one can sit back and get on last after the queue and knowing our little bags will easily go under the seat.

Posted by
845 posts

OP [We are going on a 21 BOE next May and my wife and I are pondering the advantages and disadvantages either carry on or checking the luggage at the airport. We are both taking a carry on and a backpack.]

So you’ve never traveled before? This question gets asked here at least weekly so you can scroll or search back and find literally of responses, suggestions, rationalizations, links to YouTube clips, and arguments. We of the carryon-only school can come up with a long list of risks but they are largely imaginary. Until they happen.

Advantage of carryon-only: all of your belongings are with you all the time. Period.
Disadvantage: you must carefully and securely keep your carryon bag and personal item with you at all times.

Advantage of checking: you don’t need to keep track of your main bag, just your personal item.
Disadvantage: your stuff is not with you.

Everything else mentioned in this thread are questions of traveling and packing style. You do what you want, take what you feel you need to be comfortable, and enjoy yourselves.

If you are going carryon-only you must accept some the inconveniences or, as we prefer to think of them, the rewards of having far less stuff in an easily transported compact package.

Posted by
3789 posts

One comment I wanted to make is about 'checking in luggage at the airport'. I am used to free international checked bags, but if they have started to charge for this, you are generally better off paying for your checked bag on line when you do your 24 hour prior on line check in. It tends to cost more if you wait until the airport to pay for a checked bag. If you are packing light anyway, it might also be the deciding factor of whether to check or not.

Posted by
2914 posts

Note the OP is packing light per his opening statement. It's just whether to check or not.

Seeing Maria's note, I'll also add that I have free checked luggage when I travel to Europe so the decision is perhaps easier. With checking my bag, it is lovely not to have to carry/wheel a carryon size bag around the airport. When I get through immigration, my bag is usually just popping out onto the carousel so the timing is lovely. Fear seems to be the only reason to carryon a bag and you know what FDR said about fear... LOL. Without a bag in the overhead bin, I can get a seat in the front of my class and be off the plane while everyone else is hassling with the overhead bins, so I'm at immigration ahead of them, etc., which is more important to me.

Posted by
959 posts

Still not in the camp that "less is more" I always regret leaving out that 2nd pair of shoes
I'm with aquamarinesteph as our local airport means 1 or not 2 connections so checking my bag is so much easier
My bag is small enough to handle on trains when I need to
I've had bags sent on different flights when I've been delayed - and arrived before me. I've had bags delayed an hour - but I've never out right lost a bag

Posted by
1179 posts

I think a lot of people have trouble with their luggage because they do not 'help' the airlines.

Here’s an article from Travel + Leisure. In theory, only 6 out of 1000 bags get lost per year. However, 47% of those were due to connections.

That’s been my personal experience. There were no direct flights to my home town and I always had to transfer. And that explains why they lost my bags 5 (or is it 6?) Christmases in a row. Yes my bags were properly marked. Yes they had the right scan code on them. The bag that was lost for 5 days? It was left behind at a connection too.

Since I’m on the west coast I also have to transfer when flying to many destinations, including Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and even South America. So according to the data, my risks go up.

Fear seems to be the only reason to carryon a bag and you know what FDR said about fear... LOL

Oh, come on. This is hyperbole. There’s nothing wrong with mitigating risk, especially when it’s happened to you on multiple occasions.

Without a bag in the overhead bin, I can get a seat in the front of my class and be off the plane while everyone else is hassling with the overhead bins, so I'm at immigration ahead of them, etc., which is more important to me.

You might be first through immigration, but will you be first out the door? You still have to pick up your checked bag.

Posted by
3621 posts

No matter which you decide (check or carry on) consider this thought. Pack half your stuff in her main bag and vice versa. Even carry on bags get gate checked on occasion regardless of size / weight. If one bag goes astray you'll each still have enough to get by until it catches up to you.

Posted by
5786 posts

Assuming that your backpack is "personal bag" sized for under the seat storage, pack you valuables, critical documents, medications and then "essentials" in the backpack/personal bag. Pack the rest in the overhead bin sized carry-on.

Posted by
1179 posts

Also for consideration

Larger rigid frame wheelie bags are the first chosen for gate check. I’ve never ever had it happen with soft backpack style bags. It’s especially true for darker bags, which appear smaller.

On connections:

  • Are connections two different airlines Vs the same company metal? Higher chance of getting lost

  • Are the connecting flights out of two different terminals? Higher chance of getting lost.

  • Are you flying at crush times? Higher chance of getting lost.

  • Are you flying out of a podunk airport to a bigger one? Higher chance of getting lost

  • Are you flying a regional to a main airline or vice Versa? Higher chance of getting lost.

If the answers to all these questions is “No” then there’s less of a chance of a lost checked bag.

Posted by
1878 posts

Be aware that the overhead space on flights within Europe can be really small. Seems too small often for even an official European size carry on, IMO. Europeans seem to go even smaller than required. Personally I don’t want to stress about that nor fight for overhead space. And I don’t want to spend time hunting down toiletry items in my destination. On nineteen Europe trips we have had checked bags delayed a few times. Ideally you are staying in the arrrival city for a couple of days if checking. Check with the airline but United told me they would get me my delayed bag even I took the train to another city upon arrival. As others have said it’s a personal choice.

Posted by
11832 posts

Who are you flying with? Some of the European carriers won't let you carry both a carry on and a backpack. If anything, the trend is toward only one item for all airlines. I like to put my "flying stuff" in a day pack, then put it inside my carry on. When I board, I pull my day pack out before I put the carry on in the overhead.