Ask anyone who has regularly traveled with me, and they'll confirm that I hate checking my bag. Hate it. Of course I can't always control whether I check my bag or not, depending on the plane size, but if I can control it, I am Team Carry-On all the way.
To give some more context to this, let me take a step back and tell a little story: my freshman year of college, I went on my very first trip to Europe through a program at my school. Excited to explore everything there was to do in beautiful Firenze, I packed my suitcase early and made sure I had everything I needed leading up to the trip. Fast forward to our arrival at the Rome airport as the other students and I gathered together in the baggage claim area. I slowly watched my friends' bags come out, one at a time, until everyone had their luggage except another student and me.
Well, that might be a problem, I thought. Considering we were about to jump on a bus and drive a few hours north to Florence, I knew it would be difficult to get my bag once we left the airport. But, after speaking with the airline and being informed my bag, as well as the bag of the other student, was missing, we had no choice but to get on the bus and go.
Over time, I began to rely more and more on bringing the things I needed in my carry-on, and pretty soon, I realized that I should travel with just my carry-on.
I ended up getting my suitcase about three days later — and thank goodness I got it at all! For most of those three days, I borrowed clothes from friends or wore the outfit I had traveled in, until the school paid for the other student and I to buy some new clothes since it didn't look like our bags were coming anytime soon (it came the day after my shopping spree, so I can't complain too much). For me, it became apparent that if I had had my bag on me, I wouldn't have had to deal with the stress of figuring out what to do for several days. Then again, I would not have gotten the shopping spree, so...
Besides that story, I can count several other times my bags were lost, like when I went to my cousin's wedding in Jamaica and my bag didn't make it from New York to the Caribbean island. Luckily, I anticipated this possibility and packed everything I needed for the wedding in my carry-on. Over time, I began to rely more and more on bringing the things I needed in my carry-on, and pretty soon, I realized that I should travel with just my carry-on. Of course, it also helped that many airlines started charging for checking a bag. Which brings me to today: 100% Team Carry-On. In fact, I recently donated my carry-on of 10 years after many, many adventures around the world and replaced it with a new carry-on that's already traveled with me to five countries in the last five months (you're doing good so far, new carry-on).
Lost luggage aside, there are other reasons why I prefer to travel with a carry-on and NOT check my luggage. Below are what I see as the best reasons to be Team Carry-On:
Lighter Load = Easier to Move Around
Other than not wanting to lose my luggage and deal with the inconvenience that follows, my other biggest reason for being Team Carry-On is how EASY it is to move around when it's just you, your rolling carry-on and a backpack. I'm often never in one place when going on a trip; I like to move around and sometimes that involves jumping on several planes. Last year, I traveled for three weeks to Australia, the Philippines and Hong Kong, all with my carry-on. The year before that, I did South Africa, London and Stockholm. This past summer, I did Southern Italy, Northern Italy and Portugal — all of these trips with my carry-on. That's not to say I didn't check my bag at all, because when you're on a very small aircraft, pretty much everyone has to check their bag, but I was able to move around so much more freely with my light load, which is a huge advantage for a frequent traveler.
More Time in Your Destination
As someone who has waited in baggage claim for a checked bag and also walked off the plane with my carry-on, I can confirm the latter is the better option. Depending on the airline, your bag can take foreverrrr coming out onto the conveyor belt in baggage claim. By the time you get down there, get your bag and then figure out how you're getting to your destination, you've already started eating into your time in said place. When you have a carry-on, you get to grab your bag and go and it doesn't matter one bit where the baggage claim area is because you don't care! Not that this is hours you're losing, but every minute counts!
You Can Keep Your Eye On Your Belongings At All Times (For the Most Part)
Perhaps it's overly controlling of me, but I like being able to keep an eye on my belongings as much as I can. Of course, if I'm flying and my carry-on suitcase is in the overhead compartment, I technically am not always keeping my eye on it but I know where it is, generally speaking. When I check my bag, it's hard to say what happens to it. I can only make sure the correct destination airport is on it, hand it over to be checked and pray it makes it to greet me on the other side. I particularly get anxious about this when I'm making tight (some would say foolish) connections on two separate tickets, in which case I would basically be screwed if my check bag didn't arrive. But, well, let's hope I never have to cross that bridge.
It Helps You Prioritize
Another huge benefit of bringing a carry-on: it helps you — make that forces you — to prioritize and streamline. Too often, when we pack, we throw in outfits for every possible scenario. I understand this because I've been there. What if I'm invited to a fancy dinner or a black-tie event at the last minute, I delusionally think as I throw in a fancy dress while packing for a safari (the answer is no, you won't be invited). I've learned it's all about editing, rolling and being strategic when packing (I write more about that here). When you prioritize and streamline, you literally take pounds off of your bag and you become much more intentional in what you choose to wear, making it so much easier to travel.
You Save Money
Over the last several years, many airlines have started charging to check your bags. It's lame and I don't agree with it, but business is business, I guess. What that means is that, if you decide to check your bag, you may end up paying a minimum of $20 just to get all of your belongings from on place to another. Then you have to get back to where you came from, so that's another $20+ to check your bag again. But, when you only have a carry-on, you're saving money by bypassing those fees. It may not sound like a lot but those $40+ can be put to good use on something else much more worthwhile than a checked baggage fee.
You Won't Be That Person
You know the person I'm talking about — the one who has packed more than his or her bodyweight and then cannot manage the load when traveling. Usually several kind souls help them lug their bag up or down the stairs, but they're usually so burdened down by everything they have with them that it becomes stressful just trying to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B. And I know what that feels like because I've been that person. Granted, in one scenario I was moving to study abroad for five months, but I know what it's like to have a ton of luggage and be sweaty, miserable and in desperate need of help managing everything you have on you. It ain't fun. With a carry-on, I'm the opposite of that person. And I like it.
So, which are you? Team Checked Bag or Team Carry-On?