Use a Carry-on

Patagonia MLC In Action

Undoubtably, the best tip the frequent traveling is ever going to get is: never check your luggage, always use a carry-on. In the US, you can actually carry-on two bags: one of a purse, laptop bag, or other so-called “personal bag” and a carry-on bag/suit-case that fits the airlines allowed sizes. For most frequent travelers, this means a laptop bag and a piece of small luggage.

There are times, of course, when its not a good idea to use a carry-on like long trips that require more space than a carry-on bag or the fact that some people simply prefer to check luggage.

Carry-on Advantages

Backed-up Luggage

Those exceptions aside, here are the reasons it’s good to avoid checking luggage:

  • Your luggage will never get lost.
  • If you switch flights around, you won’t have to worry about your luggage getting to you later. Switching flights, or traveling on stand-by, means you can change your flight to a sooner one, a less crowded one, or even a different route. Airlines generally let you do this without hassle: once you’re in the airport system, you’ve paid to get from point A to point B. We’ll cover this more in another entry, most people don’t seem to take advantage of it.
  • You don’t have to wait to pick up your bags as baggage claim, which can take a long, long time.
  • You don’t have to wait in line to check your baggage.
  • For many airlines, you can avoid paying the extra “tax” on checking baggage.
  • You’ll be able to change clothes, freshen up with your liquids, or otherwise use the stuff in your bags.
  • Because you’re using a smaller bag, you’ll limit the amount of things you take an travel more lightly.

Problems with Carry-ons

Of course, there are disadvantages, primarily having to lug around an extra bag and find overhead bin space for it.

The overhead bin space problem is taken care of if you have status on the airline and are one of the first ones to get on. Also, most airlines will waive the checked bag fee if you have status. American Airlines, the airline I fly on, applies in both cases.

Shoulder bag or Roller-bag?

Lugging around the extra bag is at the center of one of the classic frequent flyer arguments: do you use a shoulder bag or a suit-case with wheels, roller-bags. It seems like there’s some pragmatic machismo for shoulder bags: they both give you more space and have that “I’m not a lazy roller-bag person” feel to them. As someone who primarily uses a shoulder bag (a Patagonia MLC, thanks to Stephen O’Grady’s recommendation), though, I think roller-bags have their place.

Shoulder bags are more flexible and easy to fling around. And if you’re taking small, 1-2 night trips, you actually will pack less bulky with a shoulder-bag. For longer stays, shoulder bags also encourage you to pack light which most people, myself included, can use all the encouragement I can get: I tend to still always pack one out-fit too many.

On the other hand, if you have to carry a lot of equipment, or extra shoes even (sneakers are bulky), the shoulder bag can get too heavy if you’ll end up having to walk around a lot. I do a fair amount of video for work, so I’m always traveling with a tripod, video camera, microphone, and associated wires. Those ad extra weight that just barely fit in my shoulder bag. Nonetheless, I’m usually only walking to and fro the airport, in the airport, and then from car/cab to hotel room with the bag.

Dolphin Checkin

However, sometimes you have to walk a lot more than that, like, when you go to Las Vegas. Las Vegas, though a concentrated frequent flyer destination (it’s all on the strip) requires a lot of walking around to get from the airport to your hotel room. Once you get out of the cab, you’ll have to hike to the front desk. Then you’ll have to hike through some hallways, through the casino, up the elevator, then around some more hallways to get to your room.

In cases like that, a roller-bag starts to look nice.

Whichever one you use though – shoulder bag or roller-bag – try your best to avoid checking a bag. If you’re a frequent traveler, it’s the kind of thing that’ll pay off all the time without you noticing: your bag will always be there right with you, instead of in Milan, and you’ll save time in lines checking in your bag and getting it at baggage claim.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. For the ardent traveler, one of the best investments you can make is to buy a luggage set with wheels. Some of the top brands have increased the rolling motion to spin in all directions, making the transport of the suitcase a piece of cake. Although there are carts for hire at an airport, assume you will not be able to get one and have to manually maneuver your bags. Should you arrive at the airport in peak hours, the chances of being left without a cart are high and you want to be ready with mobile luggage that you can run with.

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