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My Journey to Carryon-Only

I am NOT the Packing Police. Your experiences, budgets, and emotional responses have led you to your own opinions and practices.

Year is 2014, location is Denver International. Exiting the airplane, I met an old friend (what are the chances?) and we chatted for ten minutes. By the time I got to the carousel, there was one bag left and it was not mine. I knew what happened: someone had mistaken my ubiquitous black suiter for theirs. The Lost Luggage Police chased them down and informed me that my bag would be delivered to my hotel in twelve to twenty-four hours.

I immediately went to the Denver REI and purchased a bright yellow North Face 22” roller; no more inadvertent bag confusion for me! On the return flight, I noticed (for the first time?) the large number of seemingly intelligent folks who deliberately dragged their slick roller bags and clumsy backpacks into the cabin, bumping into everyone else along the way, and who struggled mightily to force their carryons into the overheads. Why would anyone do that? I thought they were nuts.

Then my yellow North Face went missing.

It came home to me twelve to twenty-four hours later but the episode got me thinking those carryon folks might just be on to something I didn’t quite understand. So I launched the interwebs and dived down the onebag and carryon-only rabbit holes! What a bizarre community: enthusiastic proponents, rabid minimalists, extreme zero-baggers, committed brand loyalists, and some calm rationalists. I already knew how to pack efficiently from decades of ultralight backpacking and bicycle touring so adapting my older techniques to some new methods was easy and fun.

I sometimes need to check my carryon out on the jetway for smaller aircraft. I will take advantage of free gate-checking (but only for non-stop hops and only if my bag will not be going through the luggage handling system) but I doubt I shall ever revert to traveling with more than one carryon-sized bag and a reasonably compact personal item.

Posted by
2693 posts

You’ll get some responses that go like this-“I’ve been checking my bags for 30 years and I fly six days per week and I’ve never had a bag go missing!”. And to that I say, good for you. But you have, I have and it’s no fun, especially if you are far from home and on an itinerary that means you need to move on. At times my achy shoulders bark at me lifting my roll aboard into the overhead bin. At times I wish I could squeeze in one more pair of slacks, shoes. But I simply won’t chance checking luggage unless it’s on the way home and I can afford to have it delayed. Even then, unless I’ve really over done it with the souvenirs I just carry it on.

Posted by
4 posts

First ever trip to Italy last April. Cheap mid sized roller. Handle damaged on arrival in Milan. Packing for the trip home, a seam split. Made it home. Returned the roller due to the poor manufacturing of the seams. The seam was not stressed during packing, just poor quality. just ordered the RS Classic back door bag. One bag, carry on from now on.

RS videos, guide books and this forum are well worth the time of every traveler.

Posted by
4489 posts

Lol. Two threads in 4 days by the same poster touting the horrors of bag checking and the heaven on earth that is carry on only. No one can so enthusiastically proselytize like the newly converted. Enjoy your minimalist travel style.

Posted by
128 posts

On a Best of Ireland with RS a few years ago my bag did not arrive for 9 days of the 14 day trip...I only carry on now....

Note: It was not really the airlines fault, but no fun just the same. Long story of fire at the airport, cancelled and delayed for thousands of folks (Chicago). BUT made me never want to check a bag again. Yes, 1 in a million or whatever but once it happens to you, you will be converted.

Posted by
109 posts

I had a different kind of awakening. Halfway through a 2-week European trip Air France lost our larger-sized internal frame backpacks. Despite claims that they would arrive (each day when they did not, they claimed "one more day"; we finally received them 3 weeks! later, back in the US). Aside from the aggravation over the inconvenience (and very poor and dare I say nonchalant customer "service"), and of course the need to buy the basic toiletries and clothing (though far less quantity than packed) we realized that traveling with our daypacks was exhilarating! It was a real eye opener, and though I am not a true minimalist packer, I always use only a carry-on and small daypack now. Merci beaucoup Air France :)

Posted by
681 posts

OK, I am a one small overhead luggage kind of gal. My husband also takes an overhead bag but checks it in due to having a back pack and camera bag. We have never lost a bag (thank goodness) but we are always the last to get HIS bag. No matter what! Low and behold I finally asked what he puts in his back pack. I thought I was going to lose my mind...magazines, sweater etc. After that I decided we need to have a talk. I will report how it goes when we pack for our next trip. Now that I am a big little bag fanl I must tell you that I just bought a mama size bag (25 inches) for my next trip. The trip is to the Pacific Northwest where my sister and I will be spending several nights out of our 21 days sleeping in state park's yurts and cabins. We have to bring our own sheets, towel, pillow and blanket. I don't think I can fit all these into my little overhead, so wish me well on my journey and keep your fingers crossed. I know I will be saying my prayers with all fingers and toes crossed.

Posted by
212 posts

We have never done carry on only. I guess we are luck as we have never had a bag go astray or damaged. It may eventually happen but for now we will continue to check our bag.

I am sure no one on this forum does it, but it appalls me to see what size luggage and the quantity some people bring on board. Bags to heavy for them to place in a overhead bin and then they expect help. If the carry on crowd would actually respect the requirements I might admire them, but most abuse the system with the size of their bags.

However, I suspect I am in the minority with this view. So all you carry on people, respect the bag size, use only the space over your own seat and travel in a manner that does not affect others.

Posted by
169 posts

Agree with Bob, too. People come onto planes hauling bags that should not be in the overhead compartments. Airlines are lax in enforcing rules on size and/or weight of these bags. The rule followers end up with no space, arms bruised from bags hitting the people seated in aisle seats, and delays while these selfish people try with all their might to get their belongings squeezed in. Frankly, I wish the airlines would step up the monitoring of these so-called carryons. Sorry for the rant!!

Posted by
156 posts

Call me a hybrid, but I decide on carryon only versus checking based on 1) length of trip and 2) what I have to pack.

I travel “carryon only” about 95% of the time, not so much for fear of luggage getting lost (as I’ve only had it happen twice in my 62 year lifespan) but to avoid the delay leaving the airport as well as the hassle of a big bag.

When I do check a bag, it’s a 24 inch AmazonBasics hard side spinner that’s held up really well. Actually, I’m a big fan of their luggage. Affordable and durable. These are usually situations when I need to pack a suit for a wedding (or sadly, at my age, too many funerals). Yes, I’ve seen all the YouTubes and other suit packing videos, but unless you’re more of a minimalist packer than I care to be, a suit just doesn’t make it in a 22 inch carryon without having it pressed at the hotel, save for a fairly short trip. I’m a stickler for a wrinkle free suit on the rare occasions when I wear one.

I also don’t do the “laundry in the sink” bit unless I have a few days to spare in one location. It’s too time consuming, and I’ve never been able to fully dry clothes I’ve washed in the sink or tub overnight, particularly in more humid climates. I also don’t care to buy special “travel” clothing that costs twice as much as normal duds. For these reasons, I try to book hotels where I can use coin operated washers and dryers for domestic trips and local laundries or hotel laundry abroad.

When going carryon only, it’s an airline compliant wheeled bag combined with a small backpack (I LOVE the RS Veloce bag for this purpose) for inflight access to my iPad, water bottle, etc. If checking, I make sure to bring a midsized backpack that will fit under the seat with a change of clothes and my toiletries and meds, just in case the main bag gets “misplaced”.

Anyway, that’s what works for me. I don’t generally weigh in on the endless debate over packing, as everyone’s preferences are different. If it works for you, do it. Just don’t try to carry on a steamer trunk, okay? ;)

Posted by
6471 posts

Bob & others, check out Brian Regan on YouTube: “Brian Regan on Flying” - very entertaining and many of us have experienced several of his examples!

Bogiesan, oh yes, we only do carry on - too many bad experiences with allowing the baggage handlers to play with our luggage.

Posted by
517 posts

Can one of you carryon-only types call my Wife please?

Posted by
14208 posts

I have always flown with checked in luggage, never had thought otherwise, and never had any piece missing or delayed. I used to check in 2 pieces, now only one piece is checked in , the spinner. The carry-on goes in the overhead bin, which contains nothing of value to be stolen.

Yes, "they" can drag "their slick roller bags and clumsy backpacks...and who struggled mightily to force their carry-ons into overheads." I won't do that...not my choice

Posted by
7833 posts

This is your second thread this week on this topic. It seems to hold a very important place in your life.

Posted by
64 posts

I agree with Alan - I'm another that if my bag can disappear it will. I carry when possible - if not, I carry at least 2 changes of clothes and my toiletries with me as a delay of 1-2 days is what I plan for. I do this for when I'm staying in one place only. If I'm moving around I figure out how to pack lighter and carry on so that I don't have to worry about my bag catching up with me.

Posted by
1071 posts

My wife and I do carry on only and our bags fit the overhead bins easily but I hear what others are saying because it always amazes me at the oversized bags that people try to carry-on with, and it does slow down boarding. After saying this we are going on the RS Munich, Salzburg & Vienna tour in December to see the Christmas markets and we know we will be bringing back gifts for people so I'm having my wife take the large spinner (haven't used in a long time) and we will check it both ways so we can bring back things we buy.

Posted by
14208 posts

A good deal of validity in points made by Bob...these are the "space imperialists" who monopolize the bin space. Another reason to check in.

Posted by
3500 posts

I am a carry on only convert from many years ago. And by carry on, I mean a bag I carry on -- no wheels. Wheels only take up space and add weight that could be used for things I am packing. By having a bag I actually have to carry, it also is pretty much self limiting on the weight I will have in it. So I am not one of those bin hogs who seem to bring their entire worldly possessions with them onto the plane.

Even though I carry on even for my extended stays in Europe whenever possible, I am not against checked bags because I realize that every once in a while I (and Others) just have to have something that either will not fit or is not allowed in a simple cary on bag. Last trip back from Italy I checked a bag that was filled with food and wine. It all passed customs when I got back to the US and friends and family enjoyed it all.

The main reason I prefer carry on only is the interminable wait for bags at the airports I mostly fly through. And the time spent checking the bags. Checking bags usually goes smoothly, but still easily adds half an hour to the check in process and sometimes over an hour if it is peak travel time. Claiming the bags on arrival always take more than an hour no matter what. So with a carry on, I can arrive back in Denver and be drinking a cold beverage at my house before I would even have my checked bag from the baggage claim area.

Another reason I prefer cary on is the lost baggage issue. While it is a minimal chance of happening, and airlines are doing what they can to improve, I have had 3 bags lost over the years with only 1 of those found. I lost nothing of great value, a few items of clothing, because I will not check anything of value, it is just frustrating and inconvenient when it happens.

Posted by
1259 posts

Carol: >> This is your second thread this week on this topic. It seems to hold a very important place in your life. <<

Naw, I just like to talk.

Posted by
1221 posts

I am sure no one on this forum does it, but it appalls me to see what size luggage and the quantity some people bring on board. Bags to heavy for them to place in a overhead bin and then they expect help.

As someone who prefers aisle seats, I've been hit on the head and shoulders multiple times at this point by the giant bags that the carry-on only set is overly optimistic about their ability to bin and remove on their own.

It makes me very cranky.

Posted by
5828 posts

Ironically I was carry-on only during my business travel days. Carry-on was three bags - garment bag with business clothing, small carry-on size duffel bag, "brief case", and in later business days a portable (not laptop) computer. Of course in those old days carry-on space was not a problem in first class or boarding as a frequent flier. Most tourist checked their bags and the airlines were not fussy about the one carry-on + one personal bag limit.

Posted by
5684 posts

I switched to "carry-on only" ten years ago and will never go back. The first trip to Europe that way (three weeks) was quite a challenge - packing everything into a 22" roller bag plus all of my camera stuff into a camera bag that fit under my seat. ("Personal item."). I've since learned to do with fewer clothes and pack lighter. But...traveling with only carry-on bags has not only avoided any worry about lost bags, it has saved me a lot of time just getting around on trips (e.g. trains in Europe) - smaller bags are a lot easier to lug around than big ones, which I used to deal with on my first trips to Europe.

Posted by
12154 posts

I used to fly carry on only back in my Air Force days. One of the Air Force mottos is "flexibility is the key to airpower". I'd add to that "so always carry on your luggage". Back then it was because a flight may be delayed or canceled and you were ready to hop on whatever plane moved you toward your destination.

That was with a "full size carry on". I still had a lot packed, just not more than could fit in a carry on.

Later, I did an exchange with the German Air Force. My NATO orders required me to carry one of every uniform, which took up a lot of space (flight suit, fatigues, blues, dress uniform, coats, shoes/boots and hats for each option). Even with a giant checked bag, I didn't have room for much civilian clothes. At the end of my exchange, I toured Germany for a week with just a day pack and a "change and a half of clothes" - one extra pair of pants, two extra shirts and some socks and underwear. I was never happier traveling.

Now I travel very light all the time. Never more than 12 lbs. and never more than something I can carry free on RyanAir (or any of the other strict carriers). I'm currently using a shoulder bag, no wheels, that fits under the seat.

Posted by
1316 posts

It’s probably easier to solve peace in the Middle East than to resolve the carry on vs checked bag debate. I will say I’m amused by how adamant many carry on only people are, not just here, but other travel forums and YouTube. There’s times I’d almost rather listen to a college student that just became a vegan.

I’m a checked bag guy. Thankfully, I never had the great aunt who told me endlessly about how her bag got shipped to Bangkok rather than Bangor back in 1987.

However, it would depend. A long weekend trip to San Diego or Las Vegas where I’m wearing nothing but t shirts and shorts? I can easily everything into a carry on. But a long trip to Europe? Nope. Sorry, I’m not doing laundry in a hotel sink or shower and I want a nice change of clothes to go out in at night. This trip cost me lots of money and I’m going to enjoy it and not wash underwear in the sink.

But, do what you want. There’s no one right way to travel. A great friend of mine is having the time of her life at an all inclusive resort right now and I would have been bored to tears after the first hour. But she’s happy and I’m glad, she’s had a very insane year and deserves the vacation with her husband.