I’m a life long committed bag checker. I even have what I like to think of as a little bag-checking diet - I feel thinner after I check my bag. Well - lighter for sure.
It’s possible that my extreme commitment to bag checking is directly tied to my equally extreme hatred of packing. But, aside from the packing, lugging a suitcase, purse/bag, and another location-dependent item(s) (adorably perfect beach hat?) is just bulky. It's too MUCH.
But if you check your bag, all you have to do is:
- Print your own bag tag.
- Attach it to your suitcase.
- Take your suitcase to the counter - and walk away.
Purse/bag on one shoulder, cute straw hat swinging in your hand - and that.is.all.
Everyone will be thinking “where is that thin woman going with that cute straw hat?” That's absolutely what I'm thinking.
In order to reach this state of travel nirvana, you'll have to pay attention to some guidelines.
Hold your horses for a second. Don't assume I check a thousand-pound behemoth. That’s absolutely not what I do. I’m not a pack-as-much-crap-as-you-can-and-check-your-bag advocate. I’m a hands-free, TSA sprinting, “I feel so thin without my bag” advocate.
Big, BIG difference.
On top of that, it's great to sit on the plane, purse tucked under the seat in front of me - with oodles of room for my feet - and people watch. You know - watch people lug those carry-on bags down the too skinny aisle, exhaustedly opening and closing bins already stuffed to the max. Desperately searching for a place to put their damn bag.
If they do find space, they liiiffft and shove, then pull it back out, pushing the next one over. Then re-lifting and shoving and slamming, slamming - wait for a second, tuck the stupid straps in, and back to slamming the bin shut.
Or. You can check the damn bag.
If you do, you'll be able to stop in the restroom without being ridiculously crowded in the stall. And the long, tedious wait at the baggage carousel you hear about? They oversell that misery big time. It’s just not that bad people.
Ok, let’s call on the elephant in the back of the room with her hand raised. Worst-case scenario: your bag is lost. Yes - catastrophe. Total bullshit if that happens. But it can still happen to you after slaving over that stupid carry-on. It can be taken out of the back of a taxi trunk, or off a train or bus. Basically - it can happen with a checked bag or a carry-on.
So you buy travel insurance.
Lost Luggage Insurance
I use a combo of coverage from my credit card, the travel insurance I always buy, and the airlines (if they’re the "Blamee.") to compensate for lost luggage. It has happened to me and the airlines' coverage was all I needed. Still, I know what my credit card coverage allows and the $$ limits in the travel insurance I buy.
Tip: Check out the coverage on your credit cards now. I use a Chase Sapphire Reserve, but most cards offer decent coverage. (If you’ve never used travel insurance before, sit down and email me right now. We need to have a lil’ chitty-chat.)
I’m going to rest my case here, even though I could easily go on about why I so very truly love to check my bag. But know this: you will never hear me say “does this bag make my butt look big?”
And if you get stuck with that luggage in between accommodations, learn how to 'stay thin' while sightseeing (hint: where to put your luggage) here.
(PS - I'm not the only travel blogger that's a bleeding bag-checker at heart. Ever heard of Adventurous Kate? I rest my case on her blog post here!
What about the Carry-on tribe? Well, please read on!
My good friend Melanie has kindly heeded my request to write the counterpoint to my bag checking diet. Meaning she does that carry-on thing. She didn’t start her travel life that way, but her evolution to a carry-on creature happened for good reasons. Might have gone a tad too far with a little packing challenge - but maybe not. You be the judge!
By Melanie E of 3 Gypsies and a Passport
I started traveling as a little girl always taking at least two big suitcases. And it wasn’t unusual for me to return with three! My mother was even worse at traveling heavy than I was and this was my normal. Until I went to work for United Airlines.
Working in reservations, I heard numerous horror stories from customers about lost luggage - and those stories were the start of my efforts to lighten my travel load. Add that to the lessons I learned from the craziness of “pass travel”. That’s when you get to travel for cheap with an airline voucher.
Even though I could travel for pennies on the dollar with a pass, I was usually waitlisted for most of the flights I wanted. Sometimes I sat in an airport for 8+ hours just trying to get on a flight. And my checked luggage? It arrived without me.
So, my first adjustment to traveling heavy started on those pass travel trips. I’d keep essentials in a carry on in case my bag got lost. Eventually, I realized I didn’t need all the things I always brought. A lot of it I never wore and I could wash what I had and wear it again.
Each trip I further lightened the load till I was down to a very small carry on (smaller than the accepted size!) and a personal carry on that held my travel purse, computer, snacks, etc. I’ve spent years narrowing down what I take, testing out bags to see what bag works the best, and finding the fastest way thru TSA.
Which might be the admitted drawback to going with a carry-on.
For instance, if you live in Alaska (and I do) you must take all of the shoes and food out of your bag, which makes going through security longer. Unless you’re prepared.
“Yes, Mr. TSA officer that white powder is indeed vanilla protein powder and not illegal. No, my flip flops are not a weapon. OK, well maybe if I throw them at you, but in theory, they are just flip flops.”
There’s nothing like digging it all out at the last minute and holding up the line. (You can hear the travelers behind you cringing.) I totally get the concern over safety since my business is centered around safety for traveling but it makes it no less frustrating. I once stood behind a gentleman who held up the line digging out six pair of shoes in his carry on. He had more shoes than his wife!
Yes, over time, I pared my belongings down smaller and smaller. I don’t think there are many people that traveled with less than I did, but that wasn’t good enough for my son. He’d traveled with me extensively over the years, and felt he was entitled to offer his opinion as an adult. “Mom - you take too much stuff.”
That’s why I agreed to his challenge to allow him to pack a bag for me for a business trip. Now I know what all of you women are thinking. You let your SON pack your suitcase?? Are you crazy? Likely so, but I was willing to accept his challenge this once if for no other reason then to stop the constant nagging and lectures on why I should travel more lightly.
Ultimately it almost backfired and convinced me to pack more things ‘just in case.’
Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
My son’s argument is sound, and I advocate for traveling as light as possible, not only for your sanity but for your safety. Carrying lots of bags screams “tourist!” and can make you a target for criminals.
My business trip was to Denver in the middle of summer. He wanted me to test a backpack instead of my usual roller bag so I’d be more mobile. This meant carrying everything on my back and no extra personal bag.
I let him know I was spending 4 days and needed clothes for work, a computer, and personal items. My norm is to always take extra underwear, an extra shirt, and a pair of stretchy capris for relaxing in the hotel. I ranger-roll my clothes to compact them, which works great and I can get twice as many clothes in my bag. Not this trip.
My son limited me to 3 pairs of underwear, clothes I could re-wear, and no capris. He insisted I didn’t need cooler clothes because I’d be in an air-conditioned workplace and car.
“It will be fine,” he said. “You’ll adjust,” he said.
Resigned to the challenge, off to the airport I went with backpack loaded. For TSA, I had shoes on top, food on the outside, with everything ready to pull out and easily put back. The only issue - loaded backpacks are heavy!! Having recovered from a fractured back years ago I longed for my roller bag.
Traveling light doesn’t mean you have to be miserable!
And then I flew into Denver on a record-breaking day of 105 degrees. My black yoga dress pants stuck instantly. The taxi, air on low, drove slowly and I felt myself melting. Arriving at the hotel, I realized it was in an extended stay. No restaurant or food and it was in a part of town with virtually no services.
Meaning if I wanted food it was a 5-mile walk in 105-degree heat or the roundtrip hassle/cost of taxies! I quickly settled on pizza delivery and the hotels’ soda machine and cranked up the air in my room. I only left it to go to the air-conditioned office.
I survived my trip, but not without a little cursing. And it taught me that I like the comfort of a roller bag more than the efficiency of a backpack. And there might be a limit to how little you pack.
I haven’t checked a bag in over 10 years and likely never will. It makes checking in a breeze and getting thru international customs faster. Best of all, you can travel light, be safe, and not stand out.
But if someone’s chasing me - I’m heaving the roller bag at them and running! I keep all my valuables on me, so they can have my clothes if they’re still standing after I throw it at them.
A business leader and COO for the last 8 years, Melanie has been an entrepreneur and business builder most of her life. Originally from Colorado, she now lives in Alaska after falling in love with the state 30 years ago on vacation. Daughter of a German citizen and avid traveler she's traveled most of her life. Growing up in a less than desirable neighborhood forced her to learn ways to keep herself safe. Now her passion is to use her years of traveling, knowledge, and safety skills to empower women to stay safe while traveling. You can find her at 3gypsiesandapassport.com and on Instagram here.