It was like night and day. By simply avoiding travel with a suitcase, I was able to experience what I call the “Fabulous F’s” – freedom, flexibility and forgoing forfeiting (extra) finances. HA! I decided last year that 2012 would be the year that I finally travel with just a carry-on, whether it was by backpack or otherwise.
In 2011, I made my first solo trip to the beautiful city of Victoria, BC (Canada) with a large, bright blue suitcase in tow. I needed help getting it on & off the airport shuttle to my hostel and help making it up three flights of stairs to my hostel room. Fun times. I felt like the only idiot there with luggage. Everyone seemed to have backpacks of varying sizes. It was then that I did an online search to find out why. I was new to travel, never read travel blogs and missed out on all of the great tips. Despite my struggles with my suitcase & coming across this new-found information, I was still on the fence. Literally no one I know travels sans checked luggage. I was also unsure of how practical it would be for a woman to travel without proper luggage. Then ‘it’ happened.
The end of my trip came, my luggage was weighed at the counter and I was told I’d have to pay $90US for overweight luggage, unless I wanted to open my luggage right there in front of everyone and take some stuff out. Never. I paid the overweight fee, a little ticked off, but I understood that I did quite a bit of shopping in BC and I should have expected this. Then ‘it’ really happened.
After I’d arrived safely back to the Bahamas, and waited close to 45 minutes in the Baggage Claim area, I discovered that my large bright blue suitcase never made it past my 1st connecting flight. Fantastic news. I had to spend another half hour describing its appearance to airport personnel and searching all of the carousels 3-4 times. I was then told to wait for another flight that was due in an hour ‘to see’ if my suitcase was on that plane. Nothing. It was now 11PM and I was advised to return to the airport the next morning to check.
Well they did send my large, bright blue suitcase the next morning but it looked black from how wet the bag was. Apparently, my bag was so annoyingly heavy to staff that they left it outside for a while in the infamous rainy BC weather before shuffling it around to some other flight. I opened my suitcase at home and some of the nice clothes that I bought were damp & smelled like stagnant water. Never again.
That was the final push I needed to make the switch to backpacking. Since then, I’ve traveled to Cleveland, TN/ Washington, DC/ London, England and to 7 European countries with just a carry-on (backpack) this year. Backpacking is the perfect fit for me. I will never travel with checked luggage again.
The ‘freedom‘ that I got from my backpack was unreal. I don’t have to pay for a cart at the airport to push all my luggage or ask for help with my things. I don’t have to wait on a hotel bellman to bring his trolley to the lobby collect my luggage. In Europe, where many budget accommodations do not have working elevators, or in hostels in general, I didn’t have to drag a 40+ lbs suitcase up flights of stairs. I am free.
The biggest benefit for me to carry-on luggage is the ‘flexibility‘. If I get delayed or flights get cancelled, I don’t have to worry about where-in-the-world my luggage is. I can also hop on a public bus or train or even run down the road and hail a taxi at an instant because I don’t get held back by having to drag around a big suitcase. If I arrive early to my destination and need to kill time before I’m allowed to check in to my hotel/hostel, I can visit places like cafes, restaurants & shops easily without being a big spectacle with a large suitcase.
Finally, not having to pay extra money on baggage fees is so essential for budget travelers. I no longer worry about overweight fees. I also don’t have to worry about buying new luggage every 2 years. Let’s face it – travel is rough on suitcases. You hand over your baggage in great condition and get it back with broken wheels, scuff marks, ripped handles, broken zippers (and in my case), water damage. I have spent so much money over the years replacing my luggage repeatedly. I also save money from never being subject to possible lost luggage/goods either. I’m sure you’ve heard about TLC’s hit new show, “Baggage Battles”. They pretty much show how airports put your lost & unclaimed luggage up for auction. Imagine strangers paying hundreds of dollars for items in your checked luggage that may be worth more than that or things that are deemed priceless. Infuriating.
After all of that, saving time is a bonus. I can check-in to my flight online or at a kiosk, print off my boarding passes and head straight to the gate, no need to stand in long snake lines to check my bags. While everyone else on my flight is speed-walking to the baggage claim area, I am heading out the door.
So that’s why I made the switch from checked luggage to carry-on. I will share in another post just how I did it. I hope after reading this that you will at least consider traveling once without checked luggage and judging the two methods by your own experiences.