To check a bag or not to check a bag?

I’m about to embark on a two week round the world journey, and while quite a bit of the time will be spent on planes (including about 30 hours in a Qantas Airbus 380 first class suite), I still don’t know what to do as far as luggage goes. Of course a cardinal rule for the frequent traveler is to not check bags, though I’m not sure I can swing it this time around. I can easily live out of a carry-on for two weeks, but the challenge is that I know I’ll be picking up a bunch of amenity kits, pajamas, etc., along the way, that will definitely not fit in a carry-on.

So with that in mind, I’m not sure what to do. Do I just take my laptop bag and carry-on and hope for the best? Do I take my laptop bag and a larger bag that I check? On one hand it would be a pain because it makes me a lot less mobile when hotel hopping, but on the other hand I see myself otherwise trying to carry on my rollaboard, laptop bag, and about three plastic bags full of airline crap. One other thought I had was to take just my rollaboard and laptop bag, and pick up a cheap bag somewhere along the way that I can check, but at that point it seems easier just to check a bag from the beginning, since I would otherwise end the trip with two rollaboards.


Filed Under: Advice, Travel
  1. Take your big roll-aboard, and pack a folded-up duffel-style bag inside. Start out carrying it on, while it’s your only piece of luggage. As you accumulate stuff, put a couple days worth of clothes in the duffel and use that as your carry-on while you check the roll-aboard, especially as you hit smaller planes with less room for carry-ons. If the checked bag gets lost for a day, you’ve got some clean skivvies in the duffel you brought on board.

  2. Avoid the initial checked bag, and if you need one, pick up the cheap bag along the way. The need to be mobile is most important at the start of any trip. And if you feel stuck with all the airline stuff, you can just abandon it to the gods of baggage handling.

  3. The foldup Longchamp bag (largest size) with the SHORT handstrap is used in Europe by men on leisurely travel. You can fold it up on the way out and store it, and as you collect things, you can open it up and put them inside.

    I use one as my carry on, as I don’t normally have enough stuff on the way to Europe, but on the way back I do.

    I can’t seem to find it on their site, in neither the men’s nor women’s section. I’ll keep looking…

  4. I did 2 weeks in Italy. Brought my 2 carry on bags, picked up so much stuff that I had to buy a cheap bag ($20 USD). Well worth it not having to lug a huge suitcase around except for the last 2-3 days. The packing a duffel in your suitcase is a good idea, but takes up a decent amount of room.

  5. If you were traveling with work I would suggest fedex slips and boxes … I’ve done loops of Asia and Australia a couple of times and fedexed out a 2nd case with different clothes to half way through the trip. You could also use the same method to periodically send accumulated stuff home throughout the journey .. and if work paid for the fedex 🙂

  6. Simple… take carry-on and whatever you get along the way — that you want to keep — ship it home while on the road.

    I seriously doubt that you’ll have a use for ALL the contents of “three plastic bags full of airline crap” during your trip, but if you actually want to keep it, make a plan now to ship stuff home at intervals or even at every stop.

  7. I second the opinion of a roll-aboard with a duffel on top of it. I do it all the time and basically doubles your space while still “rolling” around. Plus, you’ll only have to bust out the duffel on the way back (probably).

  8. Check a bag. I know it is painful, but it makes it so you can pickup whatever you may want. I’ve done the whole hotel shuffle (using public transit no less) with a 25″ spinner bag and it is doable and not too inconvenient for the luxury of being able to pick things up during the trip.

  9. I usually carry on a rolling computer bag and stack a garment bag on top of it, so I have some clothes with me if my checked bag goes awol. You could either then check a bag, or pack a big duffel bag in your carry on to check all the amneity kits and other things you accumulate.

  10. I’m a frequent traveler and as long as it’s free, I always check my bags. I like having less to drag/carry through the airport, and I’ve found it to be less of a pain than dealing with the 311 rule and trying to squeeze all of my toiletries until a 1 quart bag.

    If you do decide to check, make sure you pack a few essentials/a change of clothes in your carry on. I’ve only had a bag lost/delayed once, and all I wanted out of it was a swimsuit so that I could hit the pool at my destination. Now I carry one.

    Packing an expandable duffle bag inside of your suitcase whether or not you decided to check is still always a good idea, especially on long trips.

    Looking forward to your trip reports when you get back! 🙂

  11. if you are Ex Plat on AA, you get priority bagging so your luggage is always first off the plane. Not a bad deal.

  12. My recommendation would be to take along a light cheap duffle (like those that cologne companies give away with purchase or an unstructured gym bag). When your stuff starts to accumulate, just put the less important things (dirty clothes, airline PJs, amenity kits etc) in that and check it.

  13. I’m not a “One Bag, One World” kinda guy. I do my carry on and laptop bag for four nights in Paris in Winter, or six nights at a beeach destination. But any more than that and I’ll check. It’s not really THAT cumbersome. Flying F, no baggage fees, and especially in destinations where you barely touch your own bags… Ok, that’s not Australia the way it is Asia, but still it’s not a huge burden.

    The downside to checking a bag is losing control of your luggage, the risk that it’s lost, which IS a bit lower as a first class passenger on a premium airline but if you have to check out of Tampa you could lose it before you get yourself to a top-end carrier. And even first class bags are lost. So the key, at least before the very end of the trip, is to keep enough with you that you could manage a day or two without your checked bags if you had to.

    It’s not the cumbersome nature of the checked bag, the inability to easily move around, it’s the risk of loss (although a BIG checked bag can be cumbersome navigating public transport especially, a modest sized checked bag is all it sounds like you’d need, not that much bigger than a carryon).

    Plus with some carriers and some destinations they’ll actually enforce weight limits for carryons regardless of class of service, Philippine Airlines last year took away my carryon as overweight as a business class passenger flying MNL-CEB.

    As long as you have stuff to shower mid-trip and to deal if luggage is lost, the checked bag isn’t a huge deal.

    And if you don’t need more stuff than fits in the carryon, the duffel bag isn’t a terrible idea. But I would disagree slightly with the above characterization, I would check the duffel bag of dirty clothes not the carryon with clean stuff…

  14. The carry-on, and a backpack. Leave the backpack a least half-empty for stuff you buy. Make sure its a “nice size” one.

  15. If you can deal with the possibility of your bag getting delayed for a couple of days, go ahead and check it. Bags really don’t get lost/delayed that often and as long as your prepared for the possibility I think you’ll find it nice to be able to move through an airport with your hands free.

  16. Jimbo is right — the Longchamp bag is an excellent extra bag to carry with the benefit that, once folded in thirds, lies flat in a carry on bag. It’s called the “Surf” travel bag and you’ll be able to use for years. In fact, I’m traveling in Singapore right now with one in my Samsonite carry-on for last minute purchases in here and in Tokyo before flying home to Montreal.

  17. Do you really need to bring all those amenity kits and PJs home? Unless you’re flying a different airline on each leg, many of them will likely be identical. I get that it’s nice to have a souvenir, but how many crappy toothbrushes and little bottles of hand moisturizer do you really need?

  18. Not an answer to your question really, but, I tow around a Briggs & Riley rollaboard that’s expandable. If I need to schlepp something back I can expand it and check it on the way home. Might be worth looking at next time you’re in the bag market

  19. I think the carryon plus backpack makes sense. Especially if you are flying up front the whole time. Do you really need all those amenity kits? Or maybe ditch the contents of most of them and keep the amenity bag if you must have it. How many combs, folding hair brushes, cheap toothbrushes, tiny tube of toothpaste, etc does one need?

  20. I agree with Jim. I was at a party thrown by a Flyertalker a couple of weeks ago, who was giving away amenity kits he had been given by the airlines. He had at least a hundred of them. I took four, from Emirates, JAL, Iberia, and some other. My first thought was how much stuff there was to throw away. Folding hair brushes, spray on face water, a mint. If I were you, I’d shoot pics of them and then leave them behind. Unless you’re maybe starting an amenity kit museum. 😉

  21. Qantas has a strict 7kg limit for carry-on luggage (2x 7kg allowed for First/Business pax). Your electronic equipment will take up most of that weight restriction anyway. You will have no choice but to check luggage.

  22. I just returned from Madrid via Lufthansa in Business and at check in, we had to weigh our carryon’s on the luggage scale– Before this, we were strictly carryon people but, but we expanded our carryons and said the heck with it, we’ll check them. Well, we would have had to check them anyway.. Is this common?? I have never been restricted in terms of carryon weight flying Business before!!

  23. I would check a bag. You’ll probably be picking up bottles of wine at hotels and even if you don’t drink, they make nice gifts and cannot be carried onboard in many countries.

  24. I agree with Jim. Just leave the amenity kits on the plane. Don’t you have enough of that junk already?

  25. I’ve always taken two bags on Qantas and NEVER been asked to weigh my bag. I’ve usually got a backpack and a duffle bag (from a store called Country Road here in Australia). It looks smaller than it is and I’ve managed a couple of times to fit in excess of 10kgs into it without trouble from airlines. That is in cattle class, you should have no problems bringing on you roller and a duffle if flying First.

    The carry on limit of two bags includes an additional ‘personal item’ such as a laptop bag so in total you should be able to not check in anything if bringing your roller, a duffle and laptop bag

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