Flying exclusively carry-on – best way to be sure your bag made it on your flight

Posted December 2, 2014


For experienced travelers, packing is a breeze – pack only the essentials in a single carry-on. But for more novice travelers, anxiety quickly sets in at the thought of how they’ll manage to fit all their clothes, shoes and house in one or more SUV-sized travel bags.

However, both kinds of travelers share one common fear if they check their bags: they arrive to their destination – their luggage did not.

“I remember a colleague of mine had her luggage misplaced by the airline once, and she had to attend a business conference in a sweaty shirt and jeans because she had no time to purchase clothes,” said Javier Maza, president of Maza Communications.

“I have a very tight schedule that doesn’t allow me to go on an emergency shopping trip for clothes or even a tooth brush. I can’t have that amount of stress when I travel,” Maza said.

Maza, 56, is a political consultant who has been traveling carry-on only for the past 15 years. He also travels more than 30 times a year, with most of his trips being international.

Many travelers who only travel carry-on do so not only because of the assurance that their bag arrives with them to their destination, but also to avoid baggage fees, luggage damage, long wait times at the luggage carrousel and for security purposes.

“Not every airport is safe for travelers and their luggage,” said Maza. “Traveling internationally, I know stories from others who had locks on their bags removed or broken, and had souvenirs or valuable items stolen,” he added.

The issue with over packing seems to stem from lacking knowledge on what is truly essential. No matter the length of the trip, packing more than a carry-on with a week’s worth of clothes shouldn’t be necessary.

On a 15-day trip backpacking through Europe with friends back in August, it was the first time 22-year-old Miami native Manuel Acosta had traveled internationally and out of Florida.

“I took between four to five shirts, two pants, five pairs of underwear, two pairs of shoes with three pairs of socks and one jacket with a hoodie just in case it got cold and that would also help if it rained,” said Acosta. “I had also assumed I would have access to some sort of laundrymat,” he added.

Weather may also influence the kinds of clothes a traveler takes. Remember to pack smart: quality over quantity. Leave that one flashy shirt that only matches with that specific pair of uncomfortable pants at home.

“Think simple! For women, you don’t need 10 necklaces that are super heavy, or five pairs of shoes. Try to pack things that can be worn day and night, and that can be mixed and matched with others. You only need two pairs of shoes – one to walk all day in and another to go out at night,” said Valerie Lopez, 24, photographer and art director at CR-eate Studio in Miami.

“Take dresses that are one-piece so you won’t have to pack pants and shirts. And always take a comfy, small bag,” she added.

Often times, women may pack more “essentials” than is needed.

“You don’t need a whole makeup bag, just a few essentials that should ideally be less than five items that won’t take up much space,” Lopez said. “Take two accessories that match with everything – like one watch and one pair of earrings,” she added.

For trips to hot locations, pack only light clothes with the inclusion of one thin sweater or long-sleeved shirt. Freezing-cold, air-conditioned restaurants or hotels are often impervious to the weather outside.

For those traveling somewhere with a cold climate, pack layers of clothing. This means taking multiple, lightweight shirts to wear under a sweater, jacket or fleece. Keep heavy layers to a minimum – the shirts you wear as your first layer are the ones you will change more often, not the heavy layer on top. Keep pants to a minimum, usually no more than two or three pairs.

A word of advice is to wear the heaviest clothing layers the day of the flight to help save the carry-on some space.

For any destination reached by flight, regardless if it’s domestic or international, travelers should keep in mind the 3-1-1 rule upheld by the Transportation Security Administration when packing liquids: they should be no more than 3.4 ounces, must fit in a quart-sized bag and they should be in only one bag. No more than one bag is allowed per traveler.

“My travel essentials included a razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, cologne, dental floss and my phone,” said Acosta. Acosta uses his phone to download city maps or travel applications that helped him get around foreign countries.

Some other, often-mentioned travel essentials include hair products, skincare products, deodorant, medications and hand sanitizer.

If specific brands don’t sell products in travel size, local pharmacies or general stores often have sections where TSA-approved plastic containers are sold in the sizes approved by the 3-1-1 rule.

On business trips, lugging laptops around can be a hassle, so if possible, substituting a laptop for a tablet can be a convenient way to still get work done minus having to deal with the space and weight load.

Because travelers are allowed one carry-on and a personal item, which is often a smaller bag, a suggestion would be to take a medium-sized backpack that can store flight essentials or personal items. In addition, it may even help store a smaller bag to be used throughout a trip.

Depending on what class a traveler chooses to fly in, it would be wise to pack a good pair of headphones, a neck or travel pillow, an eye mask, snacks, and compression socks.

The latter may seem unnecessary, but studies have shown that long flights exceeding four hours may contribute to travel-related deep vein thrombosis, and compression socks help reduce the risk of developing it.

Traveling carry-on is not only ideal because of its convenience in and out of an airport, but also because it minimizes the unease travel often can be associated with.

“The only way you can be 100 percent sure that your bag will arrive to your destination is by taking your bag as a carry-on,” said Maza.

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