If you’re one of those people who believes they’ll never be able to ditch their checked bag, you may have met your match. And with all the madness and chaos of summer air travel right now, it’s a pretty good time to at least give it a try.

I’ve traveled to the far corners of the globe, often for extended periods of time, with nothing more than carry on baggage. If you try, even just a bit — you can too.

In the ever evolving process of stripping out the unnecessary and refining packing technique, I’ve come to learn that it’s as much about what you don’t bring, as it is what you do. In fact, what you don’t bring may be all the difference.

And frankly, now’s a great time to try. Time at baggage claim is time away from trip enjoyment, and as social distancing continues to be the flavor du jour, avoiding large crowds wherever possible is nice!

Here are a few tips to help you ditch the checked bag, and avoid the pesky fees that come with them, forever. For a start, there’s two major questions to ask.

What Can You Get?

Maybe I’m spoiled, but I’m yet to meet a hotel which doesn’t offer complimentary shaving or toothbrush and toothpaste kits as a courtesy for those who request them.

Add on that most hotels and even many Airbnb’s offer shampoo, conditioner, hair dryers and body wash as standard in rooms, and that’s a whole lot of liquid and space not to worry about.

A toothbrush might not make or break needing a checked bag, but all those tubes for toothpaste, hair products and beyond certainly can. Before you commit to packing all your toiletries, find out what you absolutely can get for free at your destination.

You might even get slippers, too!

What’s Cheaper To Buy Than Bag?

If you’re a flyer with elite status or an airline credit card that covers a checked bag, this is less relevant, but if you’re not — it’s a vital question.

A checked bag typically costs at least $50 one way or $100 round trip when purchased separately to the ticket, so it’s always worth asking: what should I just buy when I get there, in order to avoid checking a bag?

The answer: pretty much anything that remains under a grand total lower than the round trip baggage price. If you need a $30 worth of cosmetics, gels, machines or any other products, that’s still cheaper than checking a bag, if not bringing them makes the difference.

With the expansion of Amazon prime and other super fast shipping options, I’ve even regularly just shipped wishlist items to my hotel, with them arriving the same day as I do. No hassle, yet significant savings. Once, even some running shoes!

Have I Exhausted My Allowance?

If hockey goalie pads look bigger than they did in the 90’s, that’s with good reason.

Every effort has been made to maximize every legally allowed inch of pad space. If you want real success with avoiding checked bags, investing in a world class carry on is a big first step.

People constantly forget that with few exceptions (such as European low cost airlines), most economy tickets allow both a full sized “roller” carry on bag, and also a “small” personal item.

In practice, this typically means a roller bag and something the size of a backpack, or anything else that can fit under the seat in front of you, like a purse. Now taking this even further, if there’s one larger item, that won’t fit – wear it?

I see nothing wrong with dressing like an eccentric country club person, or 90’s grunge act, and wrapping a heavy sweater or hoodie around you for flight and boarding. This can also create a nice pillow or blanket in flight, in addition to saving a checked bag.

Roll It Up And Flex It

Yes, rolling clothes is more space efficient than folding. Yes, you can manage to bring more than one pair of shoes and still go carry on only.

If all the above efforts have been exhausted, and you’re still over on space, you need to think strategically about your attire. Flexible layers — also known as things which can work both as formal and casual wear — are travel gold. This allows you to be prepared for any occasion, without redundant items.

When it comes to shoes, it’s the same.

What pair of shoes solves most attire situations on a trip? Is there a pair of workout shoes that are suitable for running and gym work? The more that can be condensed into one, the better off you’ll find yourself in pursuit of never checking a bag again.

And finally — packing cubes work. They may seem silly at first, but once you start compartmentalizing your things into neat little compartments, you realize how much more you can fit in, without busting the seams!

Last Chance: Ship It?

With all the same logic as above, if it’s cheaper and easier to ship some stuff, it’s not a bad option at all. Shipping means things will reach you without having to carry them, or maneuver them on public transit or through airports.

As shipping rates become more competitive, yet checked bag prices do not, the value in a little advanced planning can be huge. You might even be able to bring more stuff than a standard checked bag would allow.

For longer trips, this can be particularly useful, and can actually bring extra home comforts to places far and wide. Basically, you probably never need to check a bag again.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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15 Comments

  1. Some of these tips are great but the problem I have with relying on free toiletries from the hotel or buying when I get there (which presumably means leaving unused portions behind) is that it’s an unnecessary contribution to the plastics problem that’s plaguing the globe.

  2. We have found that our all-inclusive resort in Cancun does NOT have hair conditioner – all they could come up with was body lotion. Since then, I always travel with small bottles of shampoo and conditioner. And, the last Air BnB that we stayed at chose not to supply shower soap, shampoo, or conditioner because they didn’t want to take on the expense. So, I would not assume that the hotel/air bnb will alway have what you need. However, we can still travel with carry-ons only. The idea of Amazon shipping items to your destination was well worth the read, though!

  3. Do most hotels accept deliveries without a fee? That is an additional cost to consider if ordering and shipping to the hotel.

    1. I have never had a hotel charge me for delivery. I’ve had items delivered (including new suitcases) so we are talking a fairly large box, to hotels in London, across the US, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Mumbai over the past couple of years.

      There was one hotel where I had deliveries every other day. Most days concierge would deliver it to my room, or I would pick it up if they were too busy.

      Never an issue. If I am uncertain of the hotel setup, I call ahead.

      On your Amazon label, just mark it as Hotel Guest: Name.

  4. You can take small bottles eg50ml of wash stuff or small solid bar of soap. Wear a black vest tshirt n jumper on flight n take a few light clothes rolled up in bag.plus swimwear wear a large scarf that doubles as a sari on the beach

  5. I’d suggest you take a group tour changing hotels every other night or 2, so that doing laundry becomes an issue. See how you fare then and what your suggestions are. And be sure the trip length is more than a few days – like 17-25, perhaps requiring internal flights (making shipping virtually impossible and soft sided luggage required for local transport). with various weather conditions requiring layers.
    3-5 day trips are easy – it’s the long ones that present the issues in real life.

    1. Excellent point Kathie L. The post also doesn’t cover trips to the moon where you have to pack a space suit and all that space food.

      Good Lord, if you’re traveling with a group tour for three weeks, not only are you going to bring a lot more stuff but since the whole point of the post is to avoid wasted time at the baggage claim, it’s an irrelevant example. When you’re on a tour, you’re stuck to their schedule so unless the entire group is of a similar minimalist mindset, you’re not going to save any time.

  6. Very interesting! I once went all the way to the lovely island of Tobago from London as my sister in law has invested in small guest house there. The airline/airport lost my large suitcase. It was a 2 week stay but I spent the 1st week having to borrow/wear some of my eldests son’s beachwear an borrow clothes for the evening apart from what I had worn on the flight over. I always carry small extra in my carry on luggage… The point is that it didn’t really spoil the trip much if at all

  7. I travel with a carry on and a huge “personal item”. For a 3 week trip I book a place with washer and dryer at the middle and near the end. Minimal capsule wardrobe everything matching and going from day to night. 2 shoes and 1 flip flop. Heavy stuff on. Nothing needing iron. Minimum makeup. Buy stuff on destination.

  8. While most of what you suggest is worth trying if not adopting as standard practice I will add this caution. For 17 years I traveled with a large checked bag because my visits were for more than a week and I was crossing an ocean. Recently I took a short flight for a weeks s stay including A formal event and decided to use a carryon, it weighed 22 pounds. When I put it on the TSA conveyor something went wrong and I was in pain. 3 days after my return my doctor determined I had fractured a rib. So though I agree with your recommendations it may be better suited to a reduced audience and not for everyone.

  9. I totally agree. I have been traveling with one bag for more than 45 years for biz and pleasure. I would point out that if you do not want wrinkles or creases in your clothes, use the bundle technique You can find all the known tactics at one bag dot com. It takes a little practice but it is well worth the time.

    Sort and choose clothes that resist wrinkling from experience and hold them aside solely for trips. Not all poly blends are equal.

    Also, be sure to take a small amount of laundry detergent and a clothesline. There are a couple of good ones out there for travel to string in the hotel shower.

  10. The biggest flaw in the carry-on only deal is the weight! All that efficient packing comes to nothing if your bag is over 7kg, or 10kg on some airlines if you’re in a premium cabin. Most airlines will want to weigh your carry-on, but almost none will weigh your smaller ‘personal item’. Just sayin’ !
    Don’t fall for the ‘buy it when I get there’ bright idea. You may not be able to find what you want, or take forever to track it down , taking far more time than waiting for a checked in bag at the airport. Also anything you do buy is gonna add weight and volume to your luggage for the rest of your trip including your return flight home.
    One thing I do is to take some clothes I rarely wear and no longer really want, and wear them once or twice on the trip and leave them behind. Depending where you are they may end up being usefully re-used by some grateful hotel employee.

  11. Why would I want to ditch a checked bag? To me, the checked bag is one of the last bits of civility remaining in air travel. I always check a bag.

    I almost never pay to do so; I am an elite frequent flyer with multiple airlines, and through the various airline alliances that gets me free bags 95% of the time. In the rare case where I fly an airline where I don’t have status, I can usually pay a slightly higher fare to get “free” checked baggage, or I will pay the baggage fee. It’s better than schlepping a heavy bag through the airport, having to limit my toiletries, etc. to comply with TSA limits, and having to worry that something in my bag will require them to have to unpack it and search for the offending item.

    I do carry on a backpack with stuff I’ll want during the flight, medication and things that would create a problem if they were delayed, etc.

    I have flown millions of miles all around the globe and incidences of missing/delayed checked baggage are very, very rare. When it happens, you usually get your bag back within a day. The only time I’d consider NOT checking a bag would be on an itinerary where I was moving from place to place very quickly (like a new destination every day) but that’s pretty uncommon for me.

    I never have to worry much about availability of overhead bin space, because I’m only carrying a small backpack and there’s almost always room for it. If not, it easily fits under the seat in front of me, but I almost never have to do that.

    When I arrive at my destination, my checked bag contains a selection of clothes (so I don’t have to wear the same thing every day) and even has extra space in case I buy something along the way. Checked baggage makes travel a pleasure instead of a chore, at least that’s how I see it.

  12. I haven’t travelled with a check in bag for at least 20 years. Once you go carry on only you will never go back again.

  13. I think given the recent chaos at airports, this advice has never been more relevant. Travelling hand-baggage only reduces the need to queue for check-in, removes the risk of baggage being lost and allows you to be more light on your feet in the event your flight is cancelled. However, for travellers in Europe, I think there are a couple of trends that have an impact at least on the cost-equation:
    1. Low-cost airlines are increasingly charging for anything other than the smallest under-seat carry-on. A full-size locker type carry-on will undoubtedly incur a charge.
    2. Those same airlines are introducing proportional checked bag charges, based on weight.
    So, if you’re prepared to check a relatively small bag (15kg?), the gap between paying for a carry-on and paying for a checked bag starts to narrow dramatically. Also, let’s not forget that there are benefits in checking a bag; less hassle at security, no worries about liquids, etc.

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