One of the frequent questions I see posted in travel forums is “why travel carry on-only when you can check a bag?” There are devotees on both teams, and they all have compelling arguments. When it comes down to it, choosing between a carry on vs checked bag is a personal choice, dependent on your style of travel and the length of time you’ll be on the road. Here are the pros and cons of both, to help you decide which is best for you.
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Carry on-only is usually the choice of frequent flyers such as business travellers and budget-conscious vacationers for various reasons. Those who travel often are more likely to have experienced the huge inconvenience of a lost or misplaced checked bag. Having carry on-only means they know where their bag is at all times. They are also on shorter timeframes so packing carry on-only saves them precious time arriving earlier for their flight to check their bag and at the baggage carousel after landing in their destination.
Limiting your bag to a carry on size is a great technique to prevent overpacking. It also ensures you have lighter luggage for maneuvering around foreign streets and airports. Not everywhere in the world has great accessibility standards, especially historic locations. There may not be lifts or curb ramps. You might encounter cobblestone streets, stairs or even sand – none of which are any good for wheeling around a roller bag – therefore you need to be confident that you can carry your suitcase.
Lastly, low-cost travellers know that money spent checking baggage has to come out of the budget for other things. They would rather wear the same outfit a few times and spend the money on sights and experiences. They are also more likely to use public transport to make transfers, which can be a hassle with a checked bag.
Holiday-makers, fly-and-flop tourists and luxury travellers more frequently cheer for “team checked baggage”. They may be based out of one location for their entire trip and so they are less likely to experience the inconvenience of carting their luggage around. Or they have a convenience budget, i.e. they don’t mind paying for checked luggage, tipping a bellhop or paying for door-to-door transfers.
A checked bag can be a much smoother way to move around airports and make tight connections between flights. We’ve all had the experience of furiously running between airport terminals or hopping buses/trains to get to our gate in time for a late connection and a larger carry-on can slow you down.
Sometimes packing carry on-only can be a false economy. For instance, a few years ago my husband and I went to the Maldives for a week. We could take our own snorkelling equipment, which required a checked bag, or we could rent what we needed by the day on the island. After doing some quick maths, we realized paying for one checked bag between us to take the equipment we already owned was going to be far cheaper than daily snorkel, mask and flipper hire for two.
Lastly, a checked bag provides the opportunity to leave space for souvenirs, and who doesn’t want that?
What camp am I in – carry on vs checked bag? Well, I do a bit of both dependant on the many factors addressed above. I assess each trip on what will be the most convenient and cost-effective. Often my husband and I take individual carry on bags and one checked bag between us for longer trips – a benefit of travelling as a duo. For shorter sojourns, I go carry on only. Currently, I’m toting a matching checked and carry on set in the Samsonite Solyte DLX softside range.
Which do you prefer – carry on or checked bag? Or are you divided like us?
Peace, love & inspiring travel,