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When you’re preparing for an upcoming trip that requires you to travel via plane, it’s safe to say you’ll experience a bit of stress when it comes to your luggage...

  • Do you just bring a carry-on or will you need to bring a larger suitcase to check?
  • Does your current suitcase even fit the airline’s carry-on size requirements?
  • How much is it really going to cost you to check that bag?

It’s pretty overwhelming, especially as you struggle to get everything packed into a single suitcase. So, how in the world do you make the best decision for your next trip? To help you out, let’s break down the difference between carry-on and checked bags as well as the questions that will help you choose which one is right for you.

First, What’s the Difference?

A piece of carry-on luggage is defined by its size, but it’s tricky because there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to your carry-on. For domestic flights within the United States, the standard size for a carry-on is 22” x 14” x 9”. On international flights, your carry-on can usually be 27” x 21” x 14” with a maximum weight limit of around 50 pounds.

However, it’s important to note that this is not going to be the case for every single airline. Due to varying sizes in overhead compartments, each airline has their own regulations regarding carry-on luggage. You can easily check size requirements on the airline’s website ahead of your trip. This will prevent any mishaps that leave you needing to check your bag instead.

When it comes to checked bags, airlines will be looking at both size and weight. If your luggage is larger than what’s allowed for a carry-on, it will need to be checked. The standard maximum size for a checked bag is 62 linear inches. Your bag will also need to be weighed. Typically, the maximum weight per checked page is 50 pounds. If your bag is overweight, you can incur additional charges.

How to Choose Between a Carry-On or Checked Bag

Now that you know the difference between the two and are familiar with the size requirements for each, it’s time to make a decision. Will you be bringing just a carry-on or will you check your luggage for your next trip? To help you decide, here are a few things you should keep in mind before you start packing your bags.

1. Determine How Much Room You’ll Need in Your Luggage

The size of the luggage you bring along for your next trip will largely depend on how much stuff you’ll be packing. For longer trips, you’re going to be more likely to need extra space since you’ll have to bring along additional outfits, accessories, and toiletries. Even holidays might require extra luggage space if you’re packing gifts and expect to return with a few of your own as well. And remember, the same goes for returning home with souvenirs from a vacation!

So, take a moment and consider how long you’ll be away from home. How many outfits will you need to bring with you and what kind of clothes are required? For instance, if you need bulky coats because you’re traveling somewhere cold, you’ll need some extra wiggle room in your suitcase.

And for many people, using a larger suitcase means they don’t have to make sacrifices when packing since they’ll have plenty of space to pack what they want. If packing minimally stresses you out and you’re cool with checking a bag, go for it. But if you’re only going on a short trip and you won’t require much, you can probably get by with just a carry-on.

2. Consider the Costs of Checking Your Bag

When traveling, some airlines will allow you to check your first bag for free. That’s definitely a plus for anyone who wants to save money on their next trip. If this is something you’d like to take advantage of, look into the perks that are offered by the airline you’re flying with.

If they don’t offer one free checked bag with your ticket purchase, then you’ll need to determine how much it’ll cost to check your bag. Is that a fee you want to pay? Or would you rather go with a carry-on? The decision is totally up to you!

However, if you choose to just bring a carry-on, there’s always the possibility that your luggage won’t be stored nearby. This will depend on how early you board the plane and how much room is in the overhead compartment. If it’s available, you can pay a fee to board the plane early, which gives you a better chance at being near your luggage. Although, this might not make the most financial sense since it essentially means that you’re swapping one fee for another.

3. Sticking With a Carry-On Can Save Time

If you’re just bringing a carry-on, you can get your boarding pass and head straight to security. On the flip side, when you’re checking a bag, you’ll have to line up to drop it off, which can take some extra time. You’ll want to make sure you arrive with plenty of time to spare in order to get everything taken care of before your flight takes off.

Not only that, but you’ll have to wait at the baggage claim carousel after your flight to locate your luggage. With a carry-on, you’ll leave the plane and be on your way. Which one is more appealing to you? For some people, they don’t mind taking the extra time if it means they don't need to carry around a large suitcase, while others don't mind.

4. Think About What Will Make You Feel More Comfortable

One of the great things about bringing just a carry-on for your next trip is that you’ll always know where it is. Checking your luggage can sometimes be a little nerve-wracking since there’s the possibility of something going missing or getting delayed, especially when you have a layover during your journey. That thought alone is enough to stress out any traveler!

If you’re someone who is worried about luggage mishaps, you’ll probably want to stick with just a carry-on whenever possible during your travels. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your luggage is safe and sound with you.

On the flip side, there are also people who dread the thought of getting on the plane with a piece of luggage. They view it as a hassle and they don’t want to wind up stuffing their suitcase into an overhead compartment. To them, it’s much less stressful to just drop off the bag at check-in. It never hurts to think about what’s going to make you the most comfortable.