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smaller and lighter carry on restrictions and the pros/cons of checking a bag

On our family's last two trips to Europe we managed really well with only our 22" wheeled carry ons (back and neck problems make wheels nonnegotiable). But they are now too big for the European carriers we're looking at flying this summer. Most of the bags advertised as 21 inches are much taller when wheels are factored in, so I'm looking at having to purchase new bags that have much less interior space. The reduced size, plus the weight restrictions (only about 10 lbs of stuff after factoring in the weight of the suitcase) are causing me to rethink the carry on strategy.

This is what I was thinking about doing: purchase one new carry on roller that meets the size requirements and isn't too heavy and use the smallest of our suitcases which I think will still work (although I need to measure to be sure) and have 2 of us take these on the plane as our carry ons. Put all the heavy stuff like shoes and guidebooks -- but obviously nothing valuable like ipads -- and any bulky stuff like sweatshirts into one of the old 22" bags and check that bag (gasp!) and have the 3rd traveler bring a full day pack as her carry on. For personal items I'll probably take my RS civitas day pack, since that squishes down to nothing as long as it isn't super full and the others will probably take pacsafe type cross body bags.

We will be traveling for a month, and I don't want to be doing laundry all the time, so I want to have a certain amount of clothes. But from past trips, I remember it is the other stuff -- toiletries, medications, travel hairdryer, etc. -- and not the clothes that took up all the space and contributed most to the weight.

I'm curious to know whether anyone has chosen to do this and what your experience has been....or what alternate strategies you've come up with to accommodate the new rules for smaller and lighter carry ons. I feel like I've done a pretty good job of packing fairly lightly up until now, but there are limits to how little I'm willing to take....


Posted by
288 posts

We travel as a family of 4. We have gotten compliant rolling carry ons for our trips with Norwegian/easy jet etc. They usually aren't very full when they meet the weight limit. We each pack to the weight limit for the carry on. We then got a soft duffel and pack that with our overage so to speak. Once we get to our destination we each take our own stuff out of the duffel and put it back in our rolling bags and it all fits, its just heavier than the 10kg weight limit. The duffel can also be compressed into the rolling bags. The night before we leave we reverse the process. This also leaves some extra space/weight if we bring home extra stuff. This means pack muling one larger duffel to the airport. But, with its 2 straps you can slip an arm in each strap and use it like a back pack. Fortunately I can make my 16 yo son do this :).

Posted by
620 posts

Keith, do you check the duffle or somehow manage to carry it on?

Also, what rolling carry ons are you using and do you like them?


Posted by
3171 posts

I usually check my wheeled luggage these days, even though it is a compliant bag for most airlines and it is packed fairly light, but not ridiculously light. It is worth it to me to not have the hassle of carrying on, rolling around the airport, and just being a general drag (and don't even mention schlepping if I had to carry everything)! Wheels are non-negotiable for me also. I have never lost a bag in all my years of traveling with, mostly, checking. 1. I individualize my bag. 2. I have a photograph of the packed bag to show to the airline should it be delayed. 3. I make sure the airline properly labels my bag when checking it in. 4. I make sure I have more than 2 hours between flights, often almost 3 hours. 5. I make sure my ID and itinerary is in an outside pocket. 6. I carry a change of clothes (& PJs) in my underseat bag along with anything I really need, which isn't that much: meds, keys, documents, electronics and cords, entertainment, DSLR, and snacks. With my change of clothes I could conceivable travel thru my entire vacation without purchasing anything...I wouldn't like it, but I could. From reading this forum, it strikes me that most lost bags are the result of not properly preparing for checking one's bag and expecting the airlines to somehow do it all. This is my underseat and only bag I carry on and this is the purse I put into it. I use these bags all the time at home as well.

PS, 6.I also try to sit in the front of my flight class so I don't have to wait for everyone to get their bags out of the overhead bins, etc. to deplane.

Posted by
16893 posts

I really have no problem with checking a bag. The budget carriers tend to charge for it, but charge less if you pay the fee in advance. The same fee may also be bundled with a seat assignment or priority boarding, making it a slightly easier pill to swallow. It's really the weight limits that make checking more necessary, if they're as low as 10 pounds. Rick's newest rolling bags do meet the size limits, including wheels.

Also reassess if the travel hairdryer or another heavy item can be left home, or if you have a less-bulky sweatshirt.

Posted by
1068 posts

I too am now a bag checker (unless something is very different from my "norm" [such as very short layover windows].) The steps Wray takes are similar to the ones I take, so checking is not a big deal. I will trade waiting for 15 minutes for my bag for lugging it around an airport, hoping to find space on the plane etc. So my carry-on bag is a fairly small bag that I put overhead, but could fit under the seat (at the cost of some legroom.) My checked bag is (by most but not all standards) carry on compliant but I just don't choose to use it that way.

Posted by
14599 posts

To start off, make a packing list of every item you take with you and the number of them if multiples (i.e. socks, undies, etc.)

Then go through every item and ask yourself "do I really need it or can I get it there if I do?" I use the midnight's midnight and I need xxxxx. Do I need it right then and there or can I wait until morning to find it?" If I have a headache I want to take something right away. If I am running low on toothpaste, I can wait. Do you really need to take that hairdryer or will my hotels have them? Things such as that.

Then decide what airlines you are taking and look at their carry on restrictions. Most will let you take a bag that is 55 x 35 x 20cm (21.7 x 13.8 x 8"). The problem most people here make is they are thinking in terms of inches while European carriers are thinking in terms of cm. If they do display inches it will usually be rounded off to the nearest half inch.

The less you take, and the lighter the bag, the better chance you have of making weight restrictions.

Or just check the third bag. No law against it and there will be many others. On my last trip I stayed in the same place for nine weeks so I decided to take a larger bag. After waiting at baggage claim for what seemed an hour, and trying to maneuver the spinner on public transport and through the streets, and only using stuff that would have fit in my carry on anyway, I've decided to go back to carry on for most airlines.

Posted by
4663 posts

We check our bags, whether they are carry on sized or larger. In 40 years of flying, I've never lost a bag. Only twice has the bag not arrived on the same flight, and in both cases it was delivered the next day. We buy tickets that include 1 (or sometimes 2) checked bags. We take the same precautions as Wray mentioned above. And we NEVER, ever leave our initial destination less than 2 days after arriving. It's worked well for us, and I appreciate not having to drag them all over the airports.

Posted by
4431 posts

sometimes I check, sometimes I don't. Usually carry on going and check coming home unless I am trying to make an earlier flight in Toronto - then I don't want to wait for luggage arrival. Often I don't have a lot of time before heading somewhere else and to places with less ability to reach me in a hurry (cruise, safari, tour)
Going with Keith's plan (I am pretty sure he checks the duffle), you can do similar...or use a really light weight foldable back pack that you can stow away until the return. RS's own Sarah Murdoch travels with this pack -
I have checked it out, but I don't like the double clasp opening and it is a little short for my 5'8" plus size frame, but I bought this one last week
I figure with a little machine stitching, I can better lock the main compartment - to at least slow them down. It is still carry on size compliant, or would be with if not overstuffed.

Posted by
288 posts

Yes we check the duffel. As for the rolling bags I couldn't tell you the brand. I think we have 4 different ones. My wife bought 2. The other 2 we borrow from my parents who also travel to Europe but are no longer because of health issues. On Norwegian for example checking the duffel pre paid is $45. so we figure it adds $22 to our roundtrip cost each and we are still way ahead on price compared to airlines that do not charge to check.

Posted by
8328 posts

With 4 people, I'd just check at least one bag. Just put everyones bulky clothes, and easily replaceable things in the checked bags. Its not worth the anguish.

Alternate strategies? It seems to me that any wheeled bag is a loss of usable space. I prefer backpack style. But even then, meeting the size/weight limit is no guarantee that there will actually be space.

Posted by
4132 posts

Well, the big issue is that if you check bags enough, eventually your bag will go astray. If so, just hope it's on your return leg.

Posted by
6895 posts

Hi Ruth, if you're looking for an inexpensive option, I purchased this a year ago from Amazon and will probably use it again for my next trip to Italy instead of my roller bag: G4Free Large 40L Lightweight Water Resistant Travel Backpack/foldable & Packable Hiking Daypack. RS's Travel Guide, Sarah Murdoch wrote an article about it.

If you decide to go the route of checking one bag, you just as well check two of your current bags and just purchase one new one.

Posted by
5687 posts

I checked bags on my first four trips to Europe. I started doing carry-ons only about five trips ago (plus on many domestic trips) and have never looked back.

The reasons I like to travel with carry-ons only:
- Reduced connection time requirements.
- More flexibility in case of a last-minute flight change. More than once in the last few years (though not traveling to/from Europe), I've been able to hop on a different flight last minute only because I had carry-ons; digging my checked bag out of a different plane or finding it in the airport would have been impractical or impossible.
- No risk of losing my bags before starting a vacation.
- The constraint of a small bag helps me decide what I REALLY need. When I had a big bag, I was undisciplined and tended to throw EVERYTHING I might possibly need in there. And then I'd wind up with a big heavy bag...
- Quicker arrival at my destination; even if my checked bags delay me only 15 minutes at the airport, that might mean waiting another 30 - 60 minutes for the next bus or train on from the airport. (I rarely take taxis.)
- Packing into carry-ons means I can get around easier on my trip - much lighter bags to drag around. Again, I rarely take taxis; smaller bags work much better with public transportation.

I didn't mention "saving money for a checked bag" because I usually get a free checked bag going to Europe anyway.

Obviously there are a few drawbacks. I am a photographer, and I do miss my nice Bogen tripod when I travel. I take a smaller travel tripod instead - HATE it, but it works and fits in my bag. Also, it takes more time to pack and re-pack. But I have gotten a lot better with that over the last few trips. I know some people travel differently than I do and checking bags makes more sense for them, but carry-ons only works well for me.

Posted by
5687 posts

FYI, other than the "extreme" budget carriers like easyJet and Ryan Air, the European airlines may not strictly enforce their stated baggage size limits. I've flown numerous jets and never had a problem (only one minor see below). Twice, I've flown prop planes - with my 22" carry-on roller bag and still been able to carry it to the plane. Once I had to put the bag on a car at the plane's steps but could retrieve it as I got off the plane. In 2016, flying airBaltic on a prop plane, I carried the 22" bag on the plane and was able to stow it in a storage compartment at the front of the plane. No one ever said a word to me about it or suggested I needed to check either bag.

Once, flying KLM from Milan to Amsterdam a few years ago (probably a 737-class jet not a prop plane), we had a sports team with a lot of equipment on our flight, and a KLM agent went around the boarding area asking everyone with a big not tiny to check it - he was persistent, so I complied (no charge). Still, I was ready to do it, and I was not connecting in Amsterdam anyway, so it was not a big deal. I am now prepared to check the 22" bag if needed at the gate but have never needed to other than that once. If I were flying easyJet or Ryan Air, I'd be prepared for strict enforcement and would read up on similar airlines to know what to expect.

Posted by
156 posts

With that number of people traveling, I agree with the post advising to check one bag to share everyone’s more bulky clothing.

I don’t like checking bags, mainly because of the ridiculous fees. However, checking a bag is unavoidable at times. The last time I checked a bag, I carried on a backpack that would fit under the seat. In addition to my usual Dopp kit and iPad, I used a packing cube for a change of clothes just in case of an unexpected layover/canceled flight or a lost bag.

And these fears about lost luggage are largely urban myths. At least in the United States, if you look at actual numbers, the number of lost and delayed baggage is pretty low. I’m no big fan of domestic air travel lately, but the airlines generally get that right.

Posted by
4132 posts

I travel with a roller bag and a tote. My trips are typically 4 to 8 weeks. I take clothes for a week and a day, no matter how long I'm gone. That allows me to do laundry about once a week, not "all the time."

My basic wardrobe is 4 tops, 3 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shoes, 3 pairs of socks, 3 bras, 8 pairs of panties and 3 shapewear tops. That includes what I'm wearing. In addition I may have something to sleep in or wear in the room as well as appropriate layering pieces and outerwear. I don't know how that compares to the clothes you normally take. It's more than many people take.

You may just have to do laundry. I hate sink washing, but I have done it. I've done my own at a laundromat or left it there for them to do. I've had it done in a batch at my lodgings for about the same price. No garments were harmed in the process and none of these scenarios is as onerous as you may expect.

Since 2009 everywhere I've stayed has had a hair dryer that worked fine for me. My guidebooks are on my devices, as is all my other travel information. I take paper copies of some things, but that has dramatically diminished over the years. I toss them when I'm done with them.

Other than that, I probably have the same amount of weight in meds and toiletries although I don't take any makeup. A little Dove travel deoderant will last a month. A 3.5 oz. toothpaste will, too. Most face moisturizers are quite small, but will last longer than that.

I have very dry and sensitive skin and I can't get enough body lotion in my 3-1-1 to last. But I can always find something appropriate at a pharmacy. Travel sizes are often not on display, so you have to ask for them.

The meds are always in my tote along with my devices. The passport, plastic, emergency info (including meds list) and most money are all in my money belt. I could lose everything and still recover from the loss using only what I have in my money belt.

Not knowing what limits you are facing, I'm linking my stuff below. The two big bags' measurements include the wheels and handles. Each weighs about 5 pounds empty. I keep the total weight down to <20 pounds.

Spinner: Lipault Plume. My favorite. Easiest to move around in any situation. Easiest to pack.

2 wheels: Eagle Creek Load Warrior. Expandable. Awkward to move around.

Tote: Baggallini Hobo. My favorite tote. Sleeve slips over roller bag handles. Big enough for all I listed above as well as my tiny purse.

Tiny purse: Baggallini Plaza Mini Crossbody. Plenty of space for some money, my phone, tissues, etc.

Money belt: Eazymate. I have an embarrassing collection of money belts. This is the best. It's the most comfortable, the most secure and the least obtrusive.

I'm sorry this is so long, but I hope it gave you some ways to lighten the load, even if they will be a challenge for you.

Posted by
620 posts

Thanks, everyone -- these are helpful suggestions. I will definitely investigate the luggage suggestions. A backpack suitcase actually might be a good option for my daughter. I imagine that is something that would provide her with more flexibility as she travels on her own (she's in college and is definitely planning to go overseas for at least a semester) so it could be a good investment. If I'm going to invest in at least one smaller roller suitcase, it's also good to have recommendations.

I agree with everyone who talks about packing light, and have always done so in the past, traveling for nearly a month using just our old 22" carry ons and doing laundry periodically and sink laundry regularly. I just feel that -- while I was pretty comfortably able to do so with that much space and some weight restrictions, the smaller size and 8 kg weight restrictions I'm looking at now (and I'm likely going to book on Austrian Air and Lufthansa, which I understand DO weigh and measure) will make it much more challenging.

Our plan is to sandwich the RS Eastern Europe trip between travel on our own. We would be in Vienna for a number of days at the start of the trip, and the flight I am thinking of taking is nonstop, so hopefully that would lessen the chances of a bag being lost, and in the event of delays we would still be near the arrival airport. We'll probably have to change plans on the trip home, but I'm a little less concerned about that.

I expect to do laundry and sink laundry periodically, but the tour portion of the trip is a lot of two night stops, and I don't want to spend too much valuable time doing laundry. Ditto shopping for toiletries, umbrellas, etc. once we've arrived. I have been surprised in the past that it isn't always as fast and easy to do so without spending a fortune on basic stuff or wasting valuable time looking for a store with better prices. Because of the Eastern Europe itinerary, I think it is quite possible we will be staying in at least a couple of places that won't have hairdryers. The tour information also suggests we may want to bring towels for the thermal baths and beach day. Yes, I could purchase these and leave them behind, but....All of this is causing me to rethink the carry on only approach.

I need to try to figure out whether the airlines I'm looking at charge for checked bags, as the on-line information is a little confusing. And I need to balance that cost against the cost of having to purchase all new bags to meet the new requirements (our last European trip was in 2014, so none of our luggage is compliant anymore). We're not traveling until summer, so I have plenty of time to work this out. Seeking advice from this forum is often a great way for me to start. Thanks!

Posted by
19021 posts

I need to try to figure out whether the airlines I'm looking at charge for checked bags

My partner and I flew back from Germany on Lufthansa in late October, and she decided to check her bag on the way back. There was no charge for the checked bag then.

But, before I read of Rick's carry-on policy, I always checked bags. I never want to do that again. In addition to having checked bags delayed a day on two occasions, another time almost having my bags stay in the US while I went to Europe, and then once more almost having my bags sent to South American while I stayed in Europe, I have twice made an hourly bus by going directly to the bus stop, not having to stop and wait for a checked bag, and once made a tight connection in an eastern US city when a checked bag would not have made the connection. And a friend once had her checked bag damaged by the loaders. These are all problem I didn't or wouldn't have had with carry-on bags.

Posted by
4431 posts

I have a few questions -
Are you comfortable carrying and wheeling your current luggage?
How much do you spend on a week day take out meal?
How much is your mental state worth?
If the cost of a checked bag is less than what you spend on a weekday take out meal, then just pack the bags you have and look at the money spent as saving you time, stress and other dollars.
Sure, buy DD a convertible backpack, but don't agonize over the other stuff. You can only do the best you can and not every scenerio allows carry on only. Don't beat yourself up.

Posted by
5 posts

I was taught years ago, by a partner who was a seasoned traveler and travel agent for a while, that we never, ever check bags. "Besides the possibility of lost/delayed bags, " he said, "who wants to spend their vacation time waiting for the bag to show up? Those minutes add up ...".

I travel light and always take the bag on-board. Our rule here at home is 'if it can't go on-board, it can't go!" :)

Posted by
1318 posts

And as a differing opinion to the above, I can't imagine spending thousands of dollars on a trip and then wasting time doing laundry and/or wearing the same clothes constantly. For the most part, European trips aren't beach resort trips where you're in a T shirt and shorts for a few days and sipping cocktails under the sun. To me, there is nothing better than taking a shower after a long day of sightseeing and walking and then heading out for the evening in fresh clothes. Doing laundry in my hotel room? No way! I'm way beyond my college years. For a longer trip, I use a laundry service, preferably one that picks up and delivers.

Can your luggage not turn up? Sure, lots of things can go wrong with a trip. If you're lucky enough to get through immigration and actually have to wait for baggage reclaim, then use that time to check your phone, have a coffee, use the bathroom, etc. You're not a business traveller with a 9 am meeting you must make.

I do agree with Rick to not bring things you 'might' need. Don't bring workout clothes if you 'might' use the gym or swimming trunks if you 'might' take a dip in the pool one day. Don't bring anything dressy if you 'might' need it.

Most Europeans would question your mental health if you suggested that they fly across the pond to the USA or Canada for a vacation and suggested that they only bring a carry on bag and travel with shoestring necessities. Sure, they might do that for a long weekend, but for an extended trip, it makes no sense.

And yes, I'm well aware that carry on only vs check a bag can generate debate as fierce as religious wars!

Posted by
10137 posts

Dale's post made me think about my family in Germany. My husband and I have always carried on our bags, whether we are traveling for a week or six weeks. My cousin and her mother met us one year in Bavaria and spent about 4 days with us. They arrived by train. Their suitcases were big enough to store a body. Seriously. They each had their own. They use these large bags whether they are going away for a few days or traveling to the U.S. or elsewhere. They can't believe we can travel with such small suitcases. I am going on a 3+ week trip in June, and will be in 3 locations. I am ending the trip in Paris and am torn between using my carry on and bringing a hideaway bag, or to just take a bigger bag and check it. I hope to do some shopping in Paris. If I take a larger bag I can take gifts to the family in Germany, where I'm starting my trip. Decisions, decisions...

Posted by
503 posts

Ruth, I always check my bag and for a couple of reasons. First of all, I can't stand having to roll it around the airport, keep it with me, maneuvering it in airport restrooms, restaurants etc. It's just a burden I'd rather not have, especially if there are long lay-overs involved. The other reason will probably sound silly, but I start getting anxious when they start to load the plan and people who get on the first few boarding groups just plop their suitcases in the first available overhead bin while they go on further back in the plane. I see this happen quite frequently. My the time I get on the plane there never seems to be enough room in the bin above my seat and that drives me nuts. It's just a hassle I don't want. So, I check the bag and don't worry about it until I arrive at my destination. Honestly, when I get off the plane, I feel like a need a few extra minutes to mentally regroup, look around the airport to find the taxi stand, ground transportation or car rental pickup, whichever I'm doing. SO the few minutes that I wait for my case at baggage claim, I'm checking out where I go to get the service I need. Helps me mentally to feel like I know what I'm doing in my sleep deprived haze!! Grab my bad and then head over to the place I need., feeling like I know what I'm doing is empowering!