A recent comment to an older post on RyanAir’s online check-in policies has me mulling over the obvious benefits of carrying on vs. checking luggage when you travel. There are times when nothing but checked luggage will do (which I promise to cover in another post), but even if you’re a tried and true “heavy” traveler, I encourage you to read the following and consider the benefits of packing less and carrying on as much as possible.
Packing light from the get-go saves you time, money and hassles on your travels. It saves you the money you’d pay your low-cost carrier to transport your luggage and it saves you any overage fees. It often saves you money on the ground in luggage storage or extra baggage fees on buses. You will never have to pay for cabs or (I swear I am not making this up) entire train coupes because of your copious luggage. You will never have trouble fitting your suitcase in the overhead bin or in the bathroom stall. You will never complain about lifting, carrying or wheeling it about town. You will be the envy of everyone who wasn’t as smart as you and packed too much stuff!
There are many travel gurus who extoll the virtues of traveling light far better than I ever could. You will find great advice on packing from Rick Steves and from One-Bag Doug, for starters. (Actually, to read all the packing information on those two sites, you will probably need all day . . .)
Cindi’s comment took issue with my statement that RyanAir has never charged me for checking a bag at the last minute. While this is true in my case (with two examples I can remember from recent travels), I note in my reply that the major difference between her case and mine is that I was traveling with carry-on luggage that needed to be checked following a security issue while she was traveling with (overweight) checked luggage from the start. Because RyanAir charges per checked bag AND because they are well-known for charging for overages (as Cindi notes), I prefer to sneak by with my small (but often quite heavy) carry-on suitcase instead. I have trouble remembering an exact incident when RyanAir or another low-cost carrier had me put my carry-on luggage on the scale to make sure it was not over their weight limit, but in theory this could happen. As I noted, RyanAir maintains a policy in which they can deny you boarding if your suitcase is too large, so I do not recommend you pack your bag heavier than their allowances! If this is a regular problem, perhaps you might consider flying EasyJet instead, which has no weight restrictions (within reason) on carry-on bags?
Nevertheless, if you fear your bag including new purchases is too heavy, there are a couple quick tricks for getting around any potential weighings. I usually get to the airport early with plenty of time for repacking and fussing if necessary. This allows me to scope out the check-in teams and see how they respond to other fliers: Are they sending everyone away to pay overage fees? Are they weighing anyone’s carry-on luggage? If they’re not, you’re scot free. If they are, use their policies to your advantage. Most airlines allow you to have a laptop bag or purse, a coat and an umbrella in addition to your carry-on suitcase. So never place these things in your carry on! Even if they make you weigh the suitcase, they often don’t make you weigh your other items. You simply need to make sure that your suitcase is lighter than they require while you are checking in (you can use scales at other, empty check-in counters to check the weight while you repack). Often this means nothing more than placing your guidebooks or heavy souvenirs in your purse or laptop case (or coat pockets, if desperate). You can often move them back over before the security check. If you are traveling only with carry-on luggage and trying to game the system, remember to do your fancy shifting away from their watchful eyes.
If you, like in Cindi’s case, are checking luggage and it appears your suitcase will be overweight, carry on the overage. Be prepared for such an incident by packing along a small folding duffel, tote bag or other such bag (these Chinese-made trader bags are worth every yuan at such a moment — apparently around the world, London too!). Transferring the heaviest items first allows you to save time and space. In Cindi’s case, being prepared in this way would have saved her 32 euros! Another fast-thinking work-around I suggest for the unprepared is to invest that money in a new bag at the airport rather than forking the money over to RyanAir. A 20-euro bag still “saves” you 12 euros — and at least you get something out of the deal!
Perhaps most importantly: always look like you have your luggage under control. I usually have 4(!) carry-on bags: my suitcase, a laptop bag, a tote bag (with food) and my purse (which can usually cram on top in the tote). Yet I never look overburdened by my stuff at or near the check-in counter so that anyone would think to count. Even if you’ve just transferred 4 kg of books into your laptop bag, keep on smiling as if it were light as a feather. Think of it as your 32-euro smile!
Work-arounds aside, you can still be thwarted by security personnel, such as those in UK airports who require travelers to enter the security check area with only one bag. In theory, I can understand that such a limit should speed security lines by limiting the amount of stuff needing to be checked. Problem is, x-ray equipment is much less efficient when a lot of stuff is crammed into one bag rather than spread out. This leads to the need to open such bags and rescan the contents individually, which in fact lengthens the entire ordeal. Further, if you’re trying to speed the security process for everyone, you need to have your liquids bag and laptop out before you get to the front of the line. I usually put all of my “need to be examined separately” items in an extra tote bag I have before I enter the security line so I can quickly unload and reload them when I get to the table with the plastic bins. This is a no-go with a one-bag rule, and fishing them out while in a moving queue is unpleasant to say the least.
Long story short: everything is a heck of a lot easier if you carry your luggage and simply carry less. If you end up with just a little more weight than allowed, try the cheats I recommend to save yourself overage fees. On the other hand, if you’re rather the honest type and can think ahead, consider mailing your suitcase to yourself instead!
Do you regularly carry on more than you should? How do you beat the system? Leave your comments and suggestions below.