Let’s talk luggage! This is one of the topics that comes up in our Wandering Moms Facebook group on a regular basis and always sparks a hot debate as people definitely have their preferences! If you’re wondering whether you should stick with just a carry-on vs. checked bags for your next trip, we’re going to look at the pros and cons of each option to help you decide if you are #TeamCarryOn or #TeamCheckedBags!

Carry-On Only

Carry-on bags are bags that you carry on to the plane with you. This is usually backpack or small suitcase that will fit either under the seat in front of you or in an overhead compartment above your seat. Carry-on bags are limited in size due to the amount of space available on the airplane. With some exceptions, passengers have access to them at any point during their flight. If you’re not sure if you want to travel with only a carry-on vs. checked bags, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of packing only a carry-on bag!

Pros:

  • No luggage lines- With just a backpack or small suitcase, you don’t have to wait in long luggage lines to check your bags. You can get right in line for TSA and move to your gate much more quickly if you only have a carry-on.
  • Easier to navigate the airport- The less stuff you have with you, the easier and faster it is to navigate your way through the airport. If you really want to maximize this benefit, stick with just a backpack and you’ll be ready to conquer that terminal at warp speed!
  • You’ll pack lighter- Packing in only a carry-on forces you to pack lighter and smarter. You can only fit the things you really need and there’s a kind of freedom in not being bogged down by 18 shirts and 4 pair of shoes for a weekend trip!
  • You’ll save time- If you only have a carry-on, once that plane lands- you’re ready to go! If you check a bag, you have to head to luggage claim and wait for your bag to arrive, which can add up to an hour or more of time spent at the airport after your plane lands. If you’ve got places to be, stick with the carry-on so you can walk off that plane and right out of the airport.
  • You’ll save money- Most airlines allow a carry-on sized bag plus a personal item (purse, diaper bag, etc.) for free no matter what tier of ticket you purchase. Checked bags are another story, with many airlines charging an arm and a leg for a checked bag. You can save a ton of money by flying with only a carry-on bag!
  • You’ll have everything with you for your flight- This is a major pro for many people. Your carry-on bags stay with you for the duration of your flight, so you have access to them if you need anything. This is especially helpful when traveling with younger kids who tend to need a lot of stuff! The only exception here is that if your flight experiences turbulence, flight attendants may limit access to overhead bins as bags may be shifting and could pose a danger of falling when the bins are opened during turbulance. Therefore, if there’s anything you absolutely need to have available at all times, like medications or snacks for the kids, be sure to put those in a bag that fits under your seat!

Cons:

  • You can only bring so much stuff- If you’re traveling with just a carry-on, you can only bring so much stuff. If you’re only traveling for a weekend, that might not be a problem. If you’re traveling for longer, you’ll have to get creative with how you pack- but it’s entirely possible to pack for a week or more in a single backpack. Many experienced travelers on #TeamCarryOn view packing for a week or more in a backpack as a unique challenge worth of bragging about!
  • Overhead space is limited- If you bring a backpack that fits under the seat, you don’t have to worry about overhead bin space. But larger bags and carry-on suitcases must be stored in the overhead bins and with more people packing only carry-on bags, that space can be limited. Ideally you’ll snag the space directly above your own seat, but chances are your bag will end up quite a ways in front of or behind you. Then you have to move around to get it out when the plane lands- which can be a pain.
  • You can’t pack liquids- Carry-on bags are restricted to the TSA 3-1-1 rule for all liquids. This means that each passenger is limited to one quart sized bag of liquids and each bottle inside cannot contain more than 3.4 ounces of liquid. This includes toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash and lotion, etc. Exceptions are made for medications, baby formula, and drinks for toddlers- but when it comes to toiletries, you’re stuck with those tiny travel sized bottles if you are only traveling with a carry-on bag.

Checked Bags

Checked bags are checked in at the airport and delivered to the airplane where they are stored in the luggage hold under the plane for the duration of the flight. These bags are entirely inaccessible to passengers during the flight and will be delivered to you inside the airport upon arrival to your destination. Airlines limit the weight of checked bags and also limit the number of bags each passenger can check. With most airlines, checked bags are either paid for as an extra cost or the cost is rolled into your ticket, depending on what tier of ticket you purchased. If you’re not sure if you want to travel with only a carry-on vs. checked bags, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of packing checked bags!

Pros:

  • You can pack more- When you have all the space of a full sized suitcase, you can pack a lot more! If you’re traveling for a long period of time and need a lot of stuff, you might have to check a bag for this reason alone. If you’re traveling to a place that requires bulky clothing , those take up more space and you might need a full size suitcase to fit that all in.
  • You can pack liquids- There is no size limit on bottles of liquids in your checked bags, so if you need more than a travel sized shampoo or lotion then you can put all of that in a checked bag with no problem.
  • You have less to take through TSA- Sometimes TSA will inspect your bags, which may mean digging through them or emptying them out which can be a total pain if you have bags that are stuffed to the brim with all your stuff. If you check a bag, you can pack a much lighter carry-on bag, which means you’ll have less to take through- and possibly have searched- in the TSA line.

Cons:

  • Luggage lines can be long- Ever pull up to the airport and see long lines snaking out the door? There’s nothing that induces airport anxiety like long lines, and those lines you see from the street are the lines for checking bags. If you’re checking your bags, you’ll want to plan lots of extra time in case the lines are long or you could risk missing your flight.
  • It’s expensive- Most airlines charge for each bag you check, or they tack that cost on to your plane ticket with higher tier tickets that include a checked bag or two. Either way, you’re paying a lot to check those bags. If your bag exceeds the weight limit, you’ll also be slapped with a hefty overage charge and that’s not the way anyone wants to start a trip!
  • You’ll have to wait for your luggage to arrive– After getting off the plane, you’ll have to navigate to he luggage claim area and wait for your bags to be unloaded. It can take awhile for your bags to arrive, so be prepared to wait!
  • Luggage gets lost- It happens, and it happens more often than you’d think. Airlines lose luggage all the time. Well, not ALL the time, but often enough that it’s a legitimate risk. If you have anything that you absolutely have to have with you on your trip, like medications, medical devices and travel documents- those should always, always, always go in your carry-on bag just in case your luggage does get lost. But even if you have your major necessities on you, a lost or delayed bag is a huge pain for anyone- so many people choose not to check bags at all to avoid this risk.

Carry-On vs. Checked Bags

So- after listing all the pros and cons of carry-on vs. checked bags, which team are you on?! Some travelers are diehards and stick to one team or the other for every trip, but most of us will flip-flop depending the kind of trip we are taking. We tend to be #TeamCarryOn for any trips that are a week or less (yes- we can pack for two kids for a full week in just backpacks) but when we went to Hawaii for three weeks, we had to check a few bags. You’ll want to weigh the pros and cons for your trip and see what works best for you!

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