Never Check a Bag with an Airline Again

There are many reasons to not check luggage with airlines.  The most obvious ones are the cost savings and not having to worry about the airlines losing your luggage.  By not checking luggage, you also don’t have to wait around at the baggage claim after your plane has landed.  It’s nice to just step off the plane and leave the airport immediately.

For me, the biggest reason why I stopped checking luggage when I fly is that I was worried about my suitcase not reaching my destination or not reaching it on time.  I run half marathons and have the goal of running one in every state.  I’ve ran 39 half marathons in 37 states to date so I’ve traveled to races quite often.  Initially, I would wear my running shoes so I knew I would at least have those but I would worry if all of my running clothes and other racing gear would actually make it to my destination with me or if my bag would get lost by the airline.

The first time I tried not checking a bag when I flew, I had a wheeled duffel-type bag.  It was definitely nice having all of my things with me the entire time on the airplane and to just grab my bag and leave the airplane.  However, it still wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.

My black Patagonia bag along with my clothes plus running gear

I did a lot of research on travel bags and ultimately decided to get a soft-sided bag that can be worn as a backpack or a cross-body bag using a strap or even like a briefcase using handles.  I bought the MLC (stands for Maximum Legal Carry-On) by Patagonia and have loved it.  You can buy it from ebags here: Patagonia Headway MLC.  It is a 45 liter bag that weighs only 3 pounds.  It has multiple zippered compartments, with the main one opening fully for easy packing and unpacking.  The nylon material is super-tough and my bag still looks brand new even though it’s been all over the United States with me including Canada three times, Germany, Austria, Greece, and New Zealand.  Even on the smallest of airplanes, I’ve never had to gate-check my bag.  My husband and daughter who both have small wheeled carry-ons have had to gate-check their bags on small planes however.

My clothes plus a pair of flip-flops in a large packing cube

There is a great debate going on whether you should roll or fold your clothes.  Personally, I roll mine and combine that with packing cubes.  You can also buy packing cubes at ebags here:  Packing Cubes.  I have the three piece set that includes a large one, medium, and smaller one.  These packing cubes are guaranteed for life under the ebags lifetime warranty.  I’m not part of any affiliate programs and I don’t get any kind of money or anything for mentioning these things here.  I just have had great experiences with them and have been very pleased with my Patagonia bag and packing cubes.

Running clothes, running belt with bottles, watch, charger

The great thing about having different sizes of packing cubes is I can pack all of my running clothes and everything else race-specific that I have together in the medium cube then come race prep I can just pull out that cube and I don’t have to hunt for things in my suitcase.  I pack the rest of my clothes including shirts, pants, socks, underwear, and bathing suit in the large cube.  My family and I use the small cube for food-related items like napkins, hand wipes, extra spoons, etc.  Another great thing about rolling your clothes and putting them in packing cubes is when you get to your destination and unpack, your clothes won’t be wrinkled.  I always ended up with very wrinkled clothes when I tried the various ways of folding them.

My running gear neatly zipped up in a medium packing cube

One big tip for packing lightly is to only pack one week’s worth of clothes.  When I went to New Zealand for 16 days (New Zealand- My family’s North Island Adventure), I only packed one week’s worth of clothes and did laundry at the end of the first week.  It’s really not as difficult or as much of a hassle as some people might think to do laundry on vacation.  Many hotels, hostels, and resorts have laundry facilities available on-site and many places in the United States through Airbnb have a washer and dryer you can use.  If that’s not an option, you can drop off your clothes at most hotel or hostel front desks or at a local dry cleaner although those options will be more expensive than doing it yourself. I’ve never had to resort to going to a laundromat to wash clothes while on vacation, but that would be another option.

Another way to save space in your carry-on luggage is to pack toiletries lightly as well.  A fun way I’ve found to do this is with the Target Beauty Box.  It allows me to try new products, most of which fit into a small quart-sized ziplock bag.  Most hotels and inns also come stocked with a hair dryer in the bathroom so you don’t need to bring yours and leaving that out will save a ton of space.

Finally, one way to not take up so much space in your luggage is to have an e-reader or if you’re like me and really just prefer good old-fashioned paper books, only bring one small paperback.  If you finish reading it during your vacation, take it to a local Goodwill or other donation center and buy another one.  There are many options for book exchanges. Just ask some locals or at the front desk where you are staying.  Chances are good they have books there you can borrow during your stay.

The longest vacation I’ve ever packed for with carry-on luggage only is 3 weeks.  For that case, I was staying in three different places, each for about a week each.  I made sure there was a washer and dryer at the first and last place so I would have to do laundry twice, but to me that’s far and away better than having to check luggage and deal with all of the hassle and stress involved with that.

My Patagonia bag with my packing cubes and 2 pair of shoes inside

So what all did I fit inside this bag?  Here’s the list:

6 shirts, 1 pair jeans, 1 pair shorts, 6 pair undies, 6 pair socks, 1 pair flip-flops, 1 pair casual shoes, 1 pair pj’s, 1 bathing suit, 1 running shirt, 1 pair running shorts, 1 sports bra, 1 pair running socks, 1 sports watch and charger, 1 running belt with 2 bottles, 1 container sports drink mix, 1 pair running sunglasses, 1 running hat.  Usually I’ll pack more than one running outfit but for this particular instance I really only need one.  I’ll wear a light-weight jacket on the plane.  All of this will get me through a week, upon which point I will do laundry.

I have a small backpack in which I will put my toiletries which are mostly items I received from the Target Beauty Box in a quart-sized plastic bag, plus a hairbrush, toothbrush, my phone, wallet, camera, 1 small paperback book, and tablet.  Honestly, all of this would fit into my Patagonia bag, but I prefer to have a small backpack for hiking and things like that when I travel.  Oh, and of course I also have some snacks for the airplane and a water bottle in my backpack.  I don’t carry a purse when I travel by plane.  I’ve found it’s just not worth the hassle and I really don’t need it.

I’ve heard of people who travel for much longer- months or even up to a year with only carry-on luggage and they buy and discard things as needed along the way.  If they can do it for that long, anyone can for a couple of weeks or so for sure!



Author: runningtotravel

I'm a long distance runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US, which I completed in 2021. I also love to travel so I travel to other places when I'm not running races. Half the fun is planning where I'm going to go next!

20 thoughts on “Never Check a Bag with an Airline Again”

  1. Okay, that’s amazing! I have a tendency to pack everything including the kitchen sink! And I really like your carry-on! And hey, this post is just in time before my trip to Tulsa next week, soooo, let’s see if I can learn by your fabulous example, 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done on the minimal set up! It gets kind of addictive once you start finding ways to reduce your gear. I’ve been traveling the last 10 months with a 40 L backpack and am about to reduce that to 20 L. The thought of what that means in terms of freedom is even more exciting than the actual places I’m going to travel to!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I found this article to be very helpful! I have only flown twice and the 2nd time I checked a suitcase and took a carry on. I split Jason and my clothing between the two of them. I’m quite motivated now to consider carry ons only for our trip to New Orleans later this year as I can’t believe how much you fit into your bag!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s incredible how much space “just one more pair of shoes” takes up or that sweater you “might” wear and on and on. I love not having to stop to check my bags when I get to the airport or at the baggage carousel after I land. Plus I know my luggage will never get lost when I fly. And no checked bag fees! There are just so many advantages of not checking bags they far outweigh any disadvantages. I think once you see for yourself all of the advantages, you’ll never go back!


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