Euro2018: The carry-on vs checked luggage question

Help me, sophisticated travels of the blogosphere! With two months left in the year-long adventure of planning our trip to London and Paris this summer, we’ve arrived at the time for some tough decisions. Today’s debate: carry-on versus checked luggage.

I’m an inveterate over-packer. Nearly two decades of motherhood has made a good boy scout out of me; I like to be prepared. I’m also reasonably organized, and a pro at the jigsaw puzzle of fitting all the pieces we need into our mid-size car and rooftop luggage rack for a road trip. Airline travel, though, is a whole different ball of packing tape.

On the one hand, I can see the merit of packing for carry-on only. It’s quicker, more streamlined, and nobody wants to lug a giant suitcase through the Tube, onto the EuroStar or through the RER in Paris. With carry-on bags, we don’t have to worry about bags going off on a different adventure (although with a non-stop outbound flight, I’m reasonably confident this is not much of a concern.) We could probably fit everything we need into five carry-on bags plus the personal bag you’re allowed to have on the flight. And the boys are getting to an age where managing their own bag is probably an important life skill.


My first problem is that we don’t actually HAVE five carry-on bags. I think we have one, maybe two. The boys can use their school backpacks for their personal stuff, but I’d still need to beg, borrow or steal at least a couple more carry-on bags.

Second, I think while five carry-on bags are manageable in a plane, it seems like it would be awkward everywhere else, like in taxis and on subways and whatnot. The more bags we have, the more chance for error. Two big bags are much easier to keep track of than five little ones, even when each boy has been exhorted to manage his own bags. Yes, I realize I’m micromanaging. It’s what I do.

Third, am I ready to deal with the restrictions of carry-on luggage? We don’t travel a lot, so I don’t have travel-size anything. I almost lost my 20 year old pocket knife in Mexico when I accidentally forgot it was in my purse and had to pay an extra fee to turn my purse into checked luggage or forfeit it. It just seems more – complicated.

Fourth, don’t laugh at me, is that I’m bringing at least one camera body, at least two lenses, and a MacBook – and that’s just me. Hell, that’s one carry-on right there!

We’re not overly nomadic, staying in one place in London for a week and then moving to Paris for a second week. And, we have laundry available at both places, so we can pack on the light side and probably fit everyone’s stuff into one or two larger checked bags, which I picture as being vaguely easier to wrangle than five carry-on bags.

Who knew this would be harder than planning for a month of travel for one with nothing but a backpack, nearly 20 years ago?

Thoughts or advice for a newbie overseas travellers in a large family?

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

5 thoughts on “Euro2018: The carry-on vs checked luggage question”

  1. How exciting! We’re a family of four (kids now 16 and 18) and have travelled enough in recent years that I know I MUCH prefer to take two big suitcases and check them. We once took a rolling carryon, along with our personal backpacks and I think we left it behind somewhere in airports at least once or twice. Luckily, we realized this quickly each time and weren’t far away from it!! As the kids get older, they don’t seem to get that much more aware of the things they need to keep track of… So, for us, checking our luggage and keeping only a backpack each for the flights, has been our preferred method of travel, even it means that we need to pay a little extra to do it. We’ve been fortunate that our bags have only been misplaced twice – both on our way home, so no big deal. Finally, there are a few small things that we like to bring that you can’t put into a carry on: large sunscreen, nail clippers, razors (electric and blade) and a small pair of scissors, to name a few. I hope this helps! Good luck with your decision and have a terrific holiday!!

  2. you need what every young new zealander has taken on their OE “overseas experience” … a tramping (hiking) pack. Big enough to fit what you need and have space for souvenirs, worn on your back so you’re not “lugging” it, a proper harness so it’s easy to carry and the “travel style” have a fold out cover to go over the harness so the straps won’t get stuck on luggage carousels. Lastly it has a detachable day pack that you can use for your carry on or when you go exploring in the city and want to leave all your gear at home. Hopefully this link works to give you an example

  3. Our kids are younger, but we travel quite a bit. We usually take a single (medium size) suitcase that we check with all the clothes/shoes/toiletries (that you can’t take with you in the countries you’re travelling in). We take a rolling carryon with the heavier stuff (laptops/books/iPads/camera) and both adults have a backpack with spare clothes/food/meds/stuff we can’t lose even for 24 hours. Because even though your luggage is not likely to disappear, this is a reasonable thing to plan for. My friend came to visit us with her family (also 2 kids) and their suitcase arrived 48 hours after they did. You can get most of the stuff to tide you over, except meds and such. We take the backpacks so that we have them when we explore (all rolling luggage stays in the hotel). Sometimes my kids have their backpacks with them, and for longer flights, they’ll take their trunkies (which have wheels and still support them so they can sit on them and be dragged around the airport). I don’t know your kids, but it’s a long flight and you’re jetlagged as an adult, so if kids decide they can’t carry their carryon you might find your hands full.
    I hope this help…

  4. I second the suggestion of travel backpack. We have three of these for our family of three. We did a 3 week trip to Spain and London with them three years ago and will be taking them to Germany and Poland this year. We bought two at Mec 18 years ago and bought another one n Kijiji used for about $40. We check them with the straps all zipped away, using the zip off day packs for the plane. and then wear them while we walk and take public transportation. We also use zippered packing cubes to keep organized. Our daughter was 12 years old last time and knew she could only take what she could carry. Having laundry available makes it easy to pack less, take clothes pins and some rope for an impromptu clothesline. Enjoy your trip!

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