Let’s Talk Luggage

Today’s Let’s Talk Luggage post is about when to take your Really Big Luggage. Nearly every article, video, tweet, FB page advises always and only traveling with just a carry-on, and I travel this way almost exclusively and highly recommend it.  It is also my experience that there ARE times to ship bags, times when the $25-50 spent is a less expensive choice and/or less if a hassle than the alternative.

Moving Out of DormMoving. Your child is coming home from college for the summer from a long-distance location.

In a cost comparison of a) renting a storage unit over the summer, b)renting a car and driving, or c) paying to ship bags home on the airplane from one coast to the other… Shipping bags on the airplane wins.

UPS Ground service on a 50 lb duffel bag one-way costs about $80 coast to coast.  Shipping round-trip DC to LAX on United for the same bag: $50.   Rental unit: about $50 a month, for the three months of summer $150.  Renting a car plus gas? Too much.


Extended stay 
is about convenience as much as cost. I am currently on a 4-part jaunt that will take 5 weeks, and my destinations are require broadly different kinds of clothing and carry-on items.

My first stop  is also the last stop before heading home. The big bag stays there.  My carry-on rolling bag travels to the first stop half empty, to use on the trips-within-a-trip, and of course my daypack goes under the seatback in front of me – the daypack from which I shall not be separated, ever.

Shopping - BarcelonaWhen you know you will buy new stuff.  This summer, I will be traveling to Barcelona and shipping my large bag – half empty. This allows me to bring home the written material I like to collect on my excursions (maps, museums, newspapers, guidebooks published by in-country writers) and to purchase a few souvenirs, most notably a new pair of shoes (hey, it’s SPAIN, people), and at least one piece of culturally authentic clothing.  Even a piece of pottery, well packed. Many airlines give you one bag free when go international, but even if they don’t it’s a good deal. Shipping a 50-lb bag from Barcelona back to the states costs hundreds of dollars.

Yes, it can involve a longer trip through customs, yes, I have to lug it through the airport.  But I know in advance I’m going to bring these things home, so I need to take a big bag.

Did you know many of the passenger airplanes began as cargo aircraft – back in the day when flying people around was crazy talk. Using the baggage option of airplanes is a logical choice, they are very good at it, and it may be the less expensive of your options. Yes, I have heard or read “horror” stories about delayed or lost luggage.  It’s not nearly as prevalent as it seems – there just aren’t many people who post or publish about the luggage that made it right on time in great condition.  The stories we hear are the exceptions to the rule.  Most luggage gets where it is going.

Just because there is all that space in the bag, doesn’t mean you should randomly toss anything that catches your fancy in your closet and your drawer and stuff it in.  Pack smart, pack light, bring home cool stuff.

Vacuum space saver bagsAs for compression “space saving” bags, they are great for fat coats and pillows.  Otherwise, don’t add another layer.  Also, be careful not to overpack just because the compression bag makes you think you can.  You still don’t need all that extra stuff.

The vacuum bags work best when you can leave them flat and are not trying to fold them after compression.  The organizing cubes make it really easy to keep your clothes grouped together (t-shirts, underwear, shorts) so that the cubes themselves can act as “drawers” when you get to your destination.  I haven’t tried one of those hanging shelves that you pack and compress, then just pick up and hang in the closet, clothes wrinkle free, folded and fully organized, but I think I might for the Barcelona trip.  I will keep you posted on how that works.

A large piece of luggage offers the luxury of including bags and organizers to help keep your stuff wrinkle free, and to make it easier to find what you brought while staying in a strange space (hotel, rented room, hostel, etc.).  I hate when I get somewhere, KNOW I packed something I want to use and just can’t remember where I put it, so I have to unpack EVERYTHING in my bag and hunt.

An advantage to larger pieces of luggage is the compartmentalization available already built into the bag.  Pockets on the outside of the luggage let you stow things you will need quick access to at the destination airport, but don’t need on the plane or in the airport – a coat, rain-gear, an umbrella, scarf, maybe dressier shoes if you are going from the airport to a business meeting or dinner. I wouldn’t put anything in there that is breakable or irreplaceable, as the bags may get flung around a bit in handling. Pockets on the inside of the bag give you a place for shoes and accessories.

Length of trip is the a key decision-making criteria. On a short trip – 2-5 days, you will get everything you need in a daypack or small backpack.  On a medium trip – 5-10 days – you can absolutely get by with a daypack and a small carry-on rolling bag.  But for those extended stays measured in weeks or months rather than days, I suggest you take a larger luggage piece to ship and a small rolling bag and a daypack. This allows for easy travel when you take the trips-within-a-trip.

I can’t think of any good reason to ship two large bags unless you are moving or have to take specialty clothing for skiing or snorkeling or photography or something equally specific.

While I take as much pride as the next super-traveler in being able to survive just fine with only carry-ons almost all of the time. Most of the time that saves money and time.  But I also own large luggage and I ship it, strategically.

If you have larger-luggage strategies, please share them, I’d like to know!

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