Not Checking In: Managing With Hand Luggage Only

Not Checking In: Managing With Hand Luggage Only

One major thing that’s changed about me travel-wise is that I almost NEVER check in luggage. With the airlines I’m flying, it’s often an extra charge, with a little more hassle. Here’s how I managed to survive my few years of travelling with carry on luggage only.

Why go hand luggage only?

There are countless benefits to sticking to only hand luggage. A few examples:

  • Money: first and foremost. Cheap flights won’t come with any luggage and the cost of this extra stuff really adds up. That’s how they make their (additional) money, but something that organisation and planning ahead easily circumvents
  • Time: not having to wait for the lottery of the luggage carousel. That can be a decent chunk, especially with my luck. For me there’s such a satisfaction being first out of the airport
  • Convenience: a lot easier to get onto buses and trains when you don’t have as much. The extra mobility means you don’t always have to dash to your accommodation as the first thing you do in a new city
  • Safety: you stick out a tiny bit less when you’re carrying less stuff. And there’s also less to lose. Carrying your own things is also a safer bet then being in the hands of those luggage handlers

Our hand luggage-only strategies

Before the trip:

  • Know your allowances. Each airline has different standards (both in weight and luggage dimensions) and also different temperaments at which they apply them.
  • An earlier post of mine was around packing for hand luggage only. In short: pack lightly and smartly, only take what you really need.
  • Buy lightweight alternatives when you can (e.g. clothes, bags, technology).
  • Have a jacket that has lots and lots of big pockets.
  • Get the right bag – I had the CabinMax bag which goes to almost the maximum dimensions for most airlines’ carry on.
  • Have a supplementary bag – most airlines allowed a secondary ‘handbag’ or ‘laptop bag’ (sometimes with specified dimensions). This is an easy opportunity to carry some extra stuff so I had a smaller backpack.
  • Buy the luggage in advance if you know you are going to need it, it’ll be cheaper than at the airport.
  • Have a low-shopping attitude during the trip. We purchased very little souvenirs but took plenty of photos. Digital > Physical.
  • We did end up sending things back home when in Vietnam. It wasn’t very cheap at all though, so I’d probably avoid this scenario if you can.

At the airport

  • Wear as many layers of clothing as you comfortably (read: safely) can! Make sure these have as many pockets as possible.
  • I wore my heaviest items at the airport: boots, jeans, sweater with belt and watch (all the accessories!).
  • Stuff all your pockets, and with your heaviest (weight to size). For me these were items like my powerbank, shaver, toiletries, laptop.
  • I also¬†wore a fanny pack which carried my heaviest things.
  • My passport was held in my hand, seperate to my carry on, by way of a travel wallet (that also housed my Nintendo Switch!) and some other pieces.
  • Empty your water bottle (you need to do this anyway).
  • Only take a few snacks (sorry!). Or eat them quick.
  • Another option is holding your jacket in your hand and trying to disguise things under it. We didn’t do this one ourselves, seems a bit more suspect.

At check-in

  • Check-in online or at a kiosk if that’s an option.
  • Be friendly, a smile can make a difference. Charm and attractiveness can help too from the stories we’ve heard from other travellers.
  • The two-parter. My friend and I checked in separately (holding a bit of stuff of each others before checking in) and this was easy enough. There is the fear of being checked again t the gate, but this never happened on our trip. Also the people checking you in will almost always be the same people at the gate anyway.
  • Wear your bag rather than carry it (it might look smaller, or at least appear a little lighter).
  • Not sure it makes a difference but we always held our bag(s) in a way to make it not appear heavy.
  • When we approached the desk, sometimes our smaller, secondary bag wouldn’t be visible, so they didn’t ask us to place that on the scale.
  • Being lucky! A few times we were offered free luggage check in due to the flight being full. Rare, though.
  • In all cases – be prepared if things go awry and you do need to chuck some stuff.

Overall our experience is that check in staff were relaxed with their airlines’ rules (except Thomas Cook and WOW Airlines), and only really enforced them if we were very clearly pushing these boundaries.

So there you have it. A few tips and strategies that we employed (or had ready) to keep our carry on weight within the limits. Of course there are reasons for rules being in place, this is all designed to manage the load of flights and ensure these are at safe levels.

My next post recounts our experiences with various airlines/ airports on the most recent trips.