The Joy of Never Checking Luggage

The Joy of Never Checking Luggage


If you've always checked luggage, this past summer, with its plethora of lost luggage and delayed bag horror stories might convince you otherwise. Just today clients who had arranged their own flights wrote: “Upon arriving [at our destination] our bags were missing…so we had to buy everything. Air France customer service was non-existent , nobody answered calls/messages/twitter/Facebook. I had Air Tags inside the bags so I knew all the time where they were, but I could not find anybody to help. They finally arrived [at our home] about 20 days after the trip, so at least we recovered them. No reply also to our claim for refund of emergency expenses.”

Unfortunately, almost all airlines are severely short-staffed, so misplaced luggage is a likelier risk than pre-pandemic. With flight disruptions, if the flight you're on ends up cancelled and you need to find a different flight, it's liberating to not have to worry about retrieving luggage from your cancelled flight, and being able to make new travel plans without being tied to a checked bag. Even if your luggage isn't lost, there's the possibility of significant delays when waiting for it at your destination. During our recent travel to Europe, on our way out of the airport, I overheard another American griping that she'd been waiting for her luggage for hours. Again, while that hopefully won't be you, why take the chance?

We don't check luggage even for longer trips; we've spent 3-4 weeks away with only carry-ons, and most recently, our son traveled with us for a little over a week before going off to a summer camp for 4 weeks, with only carry-on luggage. Here's how we do it:

1. Keep to One Pair of Shoes if Possible

It's much more challenging to pack lightly if you also have to pack a bulky pair of shoes in addition to the ones you wear. It's not impossible: our son packed a pair of Permethrin treated shoes for his camp, to wear for hikes and avoid the ticks that carry Lyme disease, and I've sometimes packed a pair of ballet flats for work while wearing sneakers, but it significantly reduces space for other things. This most recent time I wore comfortable black Teva sandals that were ideal for daily walking and also worked for nice dinners, and only packed a thin pair of slippers.


2. Reduce Your Clothes to the Essentials

While winter travel can be trickier, it's possible to wear your bulkiest clothes and keep them out of your luggage. And for summer, do you really need more than one nice outfit for fine dining, another pair of slacks or shorts, underwear, socks, three tops, and a bathing suit if there's a pool or beach involved? I aim to take up no more than half of my rolling carry-on with clothes, while the other half gets used for slippers, a few essential toiletries in a ziplock bag, and other trip-specific items such as an underwater camera and chargers.


3. Plan on Doing Laundry at Your Destination

Assuming you're traveling for more than 5 days or so, you'll likely need to do some laundry at your destination, either via your hotel (don't forget that some resorts such as Four Seasons Hualalai, the Grand Hyatt Kauai, etc. provide complimentary laundry facilities, and laundry is included for many luxury safari lodges, such as Singita Sasakwa) or, if you're in a private residence, using the residence's laundry room. To us, it's well worth being able to not check a bag and travel more lightly.


4. Enjoy Hotel Toiletries and Amenities Rather Than Packing Them

If you're reading this site, chances are you're like our clients and stay at luxury hotels, which provide not only shampoo and conditioner, but can also, either already in the room or on request, provide a razor, toothbrush/toothpaste, comb, nail kit, etc as well as slippers. Luxury resorts often provide a beach bag at least to use during your stay (sometimes for you to keep: although check if you're not sure, to avoid a potential charge), sometimes a sun hat as well. Four Seasons resorts always provide sunscreen by the pool. Rain? There should be an umbrella either in the room or with the bellmen that you can borrow. While you'll probably still want to bring your favorite toothbrush, toothpaste, facial cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen, you may not need to bring much else.


5. Your Personal Item Can Be a Laptop Bag

With all the clothes you need in your rolling carry-on, that still leaves a personal item, which can be a laptop bag or backpack. Since it's possible, depending on how crowded the flight is, that your carry-on may be in an overhead bin not directly above your seat, you'll want to keep your laptop, chargers, and valuables in your personal item, which can be a laptop bag that goes under the seat in front of you. These days we prefer backpacks, so as to be able to evenly distribute the weight when carrying it. Make sure it's sturdy, in case you need to shift anything heavy to it in order to ensure that your carry-on doesn't exceed the weight limit. Budget carriers in Europe and Asia can have very low weight limits for carry-ons, so double check the limits and requirements on all the flights you'll be taking.

Have any tips that have helped you to not check luggage? Share them in the comments!

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1 year ago

My top 4 tips are identical to yours, and I have never checked a bag! Even on a 3 week Round the World trip, I traveled with my carry-on bag as always and did laundry along the way. I simply cannot fathom taking full size luggage!!! No extra shoes either! So liberating!