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On Not Packing Light

Hello! I was wondering how difficult it would be to travel and pack a suitcase larger than a carry-on? My trip is to Germany , France, and Switzerland in September. I realize this means checking a bag and that the larger size will be less portable. But, will it affect getting on trains, buses, having a hotel watch your suitcase, etc.?

The one time my husband and I were in Europe, on the MY Way Alps tour, we packed light, but ended up buying a couple of suitcases before we left for home because we ran out of room with souvenirs, etc. Thanks for your help!

We have traveled with a 25” suitcase on one trip and a 26” on another. It’s about 1) allowed airplane dimensions and weight and 2) ability to carry it. I had no problem rolling it down sidewalks and lifting it up steps on trains. On trains, left it in bin/rack near car door or next to me on floor or hoisted into overhead bin. The 25 - 26” bag is the largest I will go. If leaving in bin at end of train car - make sure your valuables are with you (smaller bag) and not left in suitcase. We had little trouble. Hoisting a larger bag into an overhead bin can take work. So, leaving on a rack in train car is easier.

Posted by
14955 posts

You can do whatever you want. You'll notice that many people travel with large suitcases.

But unlike a MyWay tour where all you had to do was get your bag too the coach, on this trip you will have to lug them up steps into buses and trains, search for elevators or working escalators in train stations to reach some platforms, up or down steps depending on the hotels you book.

Get hold of a larger suitcase, fill it with the same weight you would for your trip, then see how well you do going up and down the stairs.

Hotels watch all sizes of bags. It doesn't matter.

A few weeks ago on the Piccadilly line in London, there were two girls that between them had four huge wheeled bags, two wheeled carry on bags, and two very large purses. One actually blocked the door at Heathrow while the other got all the bags off. The other passengers weren't happy as well as the train crew announcing to "clear the doors."

Posted by
836 posts

You have several country changes on your itinerary, and I assume multiple changes of location within each country. In other words, that is a lot of lugging your luggage, getting onto and off of trains and other transport, carrying your bags up hotel stairs, etc. Those larger bags are difficult to schlep around...

I would not travel with additional large bags on a multi country itinerary where traveling "light" will really matter.

Good luck.

Posted by
352 posts

The issue for me is getting a heavier bag onto and off of the train safely. There is the gap and then often several very steep steps. Also keep in mind that at some stations we have found no elevator and had to carry the bag up or down a flight of steps to get to the track. A larger bag can also be more awkward to handle in these situations even if it's light, especially if you're on the shorter side. Been there, done that with a large, heavy suitcase, and never again for us.

In the long run it depends on your own personal factors such as strength, age, fitness level, etc. No one else can tell you if it will work for you. I would advise packing your proposed suitcase with the approximate weight you plan to pack testing it out going up and down stairs. See not only if you can do it, but if you really want to do it for your entire trip.

One suggestion if you find the larger bag too awkward...we take carry on only, but also each pack a sturdy fabric bag folded up in our suitcase. We put the items we acquire along the way in that extra bag which attaches to the top of our spinner carry on bags. For us it's easier to handle the 2 smaller pieces.

Have a wonderful trip. P.S., we've also learned to buy small souvenirs!😁

Posted by
3828 posts

Have you thought about bringing the smaller suitcase and a foldable tote, or two, for your souvenirs. Then when the tote gets filled, mailing home a package. It might be expensive but no more expensive than buying extra suitcases.

Posted by
6280 posts

Ditto to what Barbara said. Instead of schlepping souvenirs all over Europe, pack them in a box and ship them home. If you don't have all your souvenirs ready to pack, then supplement the box with clothing that you could do without at that point. It will make such a difference when you are trying to catch trains and so on.

I don't know what France and Switzerland have but just about every decent size town and city in Germany has DHL post offices where you can buy a box to ship, get a customs label from the clerk, take it to your hotel, pack it, fill out the customs label and take it back for shipping. When I did this in Germany, I got my box back in about 3-4 weeks.

Posted by
7261 posts

You might want to pack a large travel backpack along with you suitcase and purse tote. If the backpack could be squished empty into the tote, you could use it as soon as you left the plane. Then check you suitcase on the way home and bring the large backpack into the plane as your carry on that could handle anything breakable. I’m thinking the size similar to my Cotapaxi 35L.

Whatever you’re thinking, try it out packed at home and going up & down staircases and also up your two garage steps. Can you do it at a pace that wouldn’t block the train entrance/exit?

Posted by
2009 posts

Jean--that is exactly what I am doing as we leave tomorrow, except my Cotopaxi is a 28

Posted by
6489 posts

Good suggestions above re shipping home souvenirs and extra clothing. To answer your question, yes, the larger bag will affect getting on trains and buses, and no, it won't affect having a hotel watch your suitcase. Whether the bag space is worth the effort depends on your physical abilities, how often you'll be moving around, and design specifics of stations, platforms, trains, and such. I don't mind checking a bag when flying, especially internationally when it's free, but I try to keep it light when I'll be moving it around.

Posted by
364 posts

I've purchased cheap check in suitcases for the flight home, usually only when we used a car for most of the trip. When I can, I do as Jean and Mikliz suggested---have a collapsible bag that can become the carryon and check the hardsided carryon on the way home. This last trip, I ended up doing both---found a cheap suitcase for my charity shop finds, and used a very old foldable RS tote for my carryon home.

With so many transfers, and transits, I wouldn't want to wrestle with a large suitcase.

Posted by
763 posts

"....there were two girls that between them had four huge wheeled bags, two wheeled carry on bags..."
When I see this, I always wonder, "What could they possibly have in those bags?"

Posted by
649 posts

Pre-Covid my girlfriend and I traveled from Berlin to Prague to Vienna using public transportation. My girlfriend had her Delsey 25" case, and didn't have any problem keeping up with me - I had a RS 22" rolling carry-on.

If the suitcase is relatively light to begin with, and you don't pack it to the gills, you should be able to manage. Weight may be more important than size. I would prefer a roller over a spinner at that size.

Posted by
485 posts

You can pack and use whatever you want, just remember you're the one having to lift it and drag it around. Not unusual to see people hauling around 25"+ sized rollers, most of the time they're either moving or they overpacked, and their face shows it.

If you're prone to purchasing souvenirs and nicknacks which end up creating packing problems, just remember you can ship items back home. Carry the valuable and breakable with you, ship back the durable and replaceable.

Posted by
10212 posts

One point that hasn’t been raised regarding larger luggage is that hotel rooms are often small and there might be limited space for your luggage in your room.

As for mailing things home, we did that in France for the first time in 2022 during a 10 week trip. We were in Tours and took what we wanted shipped to the post office in a packable tote bag we had with us. We bought a box at the PO and were given the paperwork to fill out. After filling the box they taped it closed, we paid a reasonable amount and away we went. I have family in Germany and my aunt has told me that when she mails something to me it’s a bit costly and it can take a long time to arrive to here.

Posted by
931 posts

You will have so many opinions on this. The right answer is whatever you can manage. We did go to Italy for 3 weeks with carry-on only and we have not done it since.

We go to Europe at least once a year for 2-3 weeks and use the train. We each take a 26in 2 wheeled Eagle Creek suitcase and a Tom Bihn Backpack as we find those straps to be the most comfortable. We also take the Rick Steves HideAway tote which packs into itself and weighs nothing. We use it as our day bag and for souvenirs if needed - it can go up in the overhead bin on the way home.

As far as the train, my husband steps in with his luggage, and then I hand him mine. It works.

Posted by
321 posts

Pack up whatever you want. Then take it out your front door and walk a mile then come back and decide what you want to leave at home.

Posted by
3241 posts

The bad part about traveling by train with big suitcases is that you can't check them. You have to get on the train, and then find a place to stow them.

One time we were on a train in France, and most of the available luggage space in our coach was taken by three gigantic red suitcases. I can still see them. Fortunately for the rest of us, the owners of the "steamers" were actually 2nd Class passengers, and the space re-opened after they were shooed out by the conductor.

Posted by
2394 posts

If you can lift the bag to the overhead rack in the train, then it doesn’t matter much. My wife’s bag weighed almost 50 pounds and we did o.k.

Posted by
1418 posts

My hubby and I ALWAYS bring our 28 in and 31 in suitcases to Europe. We love shopping and bring loads of goodies back home. As long as they are sturdy and relatively lightweight, these suitcases never slow us down.

My favorite brand is Lojel -- check their Cubo line. It's a hardsided case that opens like a soft one. Not cheap but well worth the price tag.

Another suitcase that I like is made by Samsonite, but it's not sold in the US. I got it while in Europe and it's actually made in Europe. Hardsided also.

Posted by
27070 posts

In addition to the awkwardness of getting large suitcases onto a train and storing them, give some thought to the time you may waste when unpacking and repacking during the trip. Extra clothes are a burden. And budget hotels (my preference) typically provide 3 coat hangers in a single room and 6 in a double. I travel with 2 inflatable hangers (useful for laundry), 2 folding hangers and 2 very lightweight pant hangers. That doesn't allow me to hang up all that many garments.

Inter-city buses are vastly easier to deal with than trains if you have larger-than-carry-on luggage.

Posted by
2308 posts

We over packed for a trip in December for Christmas markets. It definitely was an issue on trains. We (two people) had a 28” checked bag, a 21” carryon, a 19” carryon and two backpacks. We also brought a foldable tote bag, which we ended up filling by the end of the trip.

We traveled by train. We encountered several stations where the escalators were not working. So we were hauling bags up and down stairs to get to platforms. We encountered last minute platform changes, so a quick rush to the new platform. We had reservations on a train with two stories, and our seats were upstairs. So not only did we have to get the bags up about three steps into the train, but up a tiny curving stairway to the second floor of a packed train.

For most of the trains, only the backpacks fit in the rack overhead. The other bags had to go on the luggage racks. We always tried to get on the train as soon as it arrived, to get a spot for the luggage.

Lesson learned, and next time we will travel lighter.

Posted by
888 posts

As to taking the trains, it can depend.

Back in 2022 we took the highspeed train from Madrid to Barcelona. I had a 26" roller bag and a tote bag. I had a really hard time lifting my big bag up from the platform to the steps on the train and my husband barely found room on the luggage rack for our 2 bags. We had a lot of trouble finding escalators or elevators on the Barcelona metro system and I had to carry that big bag up a full flight of stairs twice. The second time some nice man helped me. On La Ramblas and no he wasn't a thief. It was also a pain rolling over the textured sidewalks in Barcelona.

After that experience the next summer we went to Scotland and planned to take the train to Oban. I downsized to one hardside 21" roller bag and an underseat bag. Definitely made handling my bags much easier but it turned out the train wasn't an issue there. Easy to get the bags up into the train and I didn't need to rely on finding a large luggage rack. The overhead was fine.

I'm fine with the bigger 26" in most all airports but if I was going to be taking trains, walking around streets and sidewalks, etc I'd go carryon only.