It used to be that the decision to check a bag or carry it on was simply a matter of how long your trip was and how much stuff you felt like bringing. But these days, everything has changed…
The vast majority of airlines today don’t simply accept your checked bags – they make you pay. The worst offender is that devil in the sky – discount airline Spirit, which charges a whopping $50 for the first checked bag and $60 for the second. (Spirit even charges you to put carry-on luggage in the overhead bins, but we won’t get into that right now.) At the other end of the spectrum is Southwest Airlines – ah, wonderful Southwest – which allows every passenger to check two bags for free.
But what about international carriers? The universal standard seems to be about $25 for a first checked bag and $35 for a second checked bag. And when you’re traveling internationally, it may not be so easy to pick up that thing you forgot to pack or were unable to fit in your tiny carry-on luggage.
So the dilemma remains: to check or not to check?
The Argument for Carrying On
Carrying on your luggage has a number of great benefits aside from the obvious cost savings.
- Packing light gives you pro-traveler status. Admit it, there’s a feeling of pride that goes with fitting everything you need for an eight-day trip into one carry-on bag. Being such a seasoned traveler that you know exactly what you need and what you don’t is a pretty great feeling.
- Packing light makes the rest of your trip easier. Yes, if you check a bag, that means you won’t have to lug it through the airport. But you’ll still have to lug everything you pack to your rental car or to the train station or a mile down city streets to your hotel. And if you have multiple stops during your trip, all of that lugging will definitely begin to weigh on you.
- You can literally fit all of your books, your work presentation, your movies, your music, and your journal on your phone. You just don’t need as much stuff to travel well these days, so why weigh yourself down? And with the right travel wardrobe and savvy use of your hotel’s laundry service, you can make plenty of great outfits out of just a few carefully chosen pieces. No one expects you to pack your whole closet while traveling, so why hold yourself to that standard?
- Nothing gets lost. It doesn’t happen all that often, but if you’ve ever lost a checked bag, you probably never want to do it again. Much better to keep your stuff with you at all times.
- You’re in and out. After a long plane ride, do you really want to wait for another half hour for your bag to show up? I didn’t think so.
The Argument for Checking It
We already know you’ll pay more, but what do you get for that extra bit of cash?
- A much easier packing experience. Pro-traveler status be damned! If you want to have a variety of shoe options on your next vacation and to bring your DSLR camera, why shouldn’t you? You’re paying to have a great trip, so why limit what you can do while you’re there by only packing the bare minimum?
- Packing things you can’t carry on. If you try to go just carry-on, there’s the risk that TSA will take your toothpaste, and that’s just annoying. Plus, by checking your bag you can also pack a favorite bottle of wine for your big anniversary trip or a nice bourbon to give as a gift to your business host. Wouldn’t that be nice?
- You want to actually enjoy the journey. Sure, if you’re going on a short, one-leg trip from one tiny airport to another, hauling around a carry-on bag may not be so hard. But what if you have to pull that thing that you have loaded to the max with everything you need through major airports and make a thirty-minute layover in the middle? All of that stress and weight can literally vanish if you just check your bag and focus instead on enjoying your flight.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer in the carry-on v. checked luggage debate. For some trips, you’re never going to be able to avoid checking a bag, and for others, it really only makes sense to bring a carry on. But for those borderline trips in the middle, it’s a matter of opinion. So which do you prefer? Let us know your luggage philosophy in the comments!
Rob Lee is co-founder of Swift Passport and Visa Services. Originally from Michigan, Rob is an avid fisherman and SCUBA diver who enjoys adventure travel.