Airline baggage: It's time to start packing light and ditching checked luggage

If there was ever a time to seriously think about travelling with only carry-on, it's now.

The depleted workforce at airports means long baggage delays are more frequent and lost luggage is an increased possibility.

Like most travellers, I've suffered those nail-biting moments when my bag doesn't appear on the carousel until it is finally the last item wobbling down the belt after everyone else seems to have gone.

I've had suitcases delayed many times – one for a whole year before I got it back. I've had bags delivered two, three, four days after arrival. That's not so bad when you're arriving at home but when you've landed in Vienna in your flight pyjamas and your travel insurance is only going to cover the price of replacement underwear, it's not so much fun.

I usually travel with a spare set of clothes in my carry-on, which has led me to wonder lately - why check in a suitcase at all?

Some people manage an entire trip with just an overnight bag and I'm full of admiration for them. One well-travelled friend has refined her kit to a few pieces of what is now called "athleisure"- leggings, hoodies and sneakers – that roll up into small balls, don't crease and can be hand-washed and dried in the bathroom (even, at a pinch, at the airport, using the hand dryer).

When she cruises and it's a formal night, she simply unrolls a long black jersey dress and pops it on. She wears the dress with sneakers, as evening shoes take up precious space. Admittedly, you need some confidence for this look. But in the end, your memories are going to be of the fun you had, not the judgment of others.

I've been trying to emulate her for years, but I've never managed it. When I went to Europe last December, I tried, but I had to pack for two climates – a milder one in the south of France and freezing in Paris. And I had to bring dressy clothes for dinners and parties. That's my excuse. I ended up packing five pairs of shoes when two would have done.

I went to Fiji last month and I thought it was finally an opportunity to travel light. What more do you need at an all-inclusive resort than a pair of bathers and a sarong?

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And, in fact, that turned out to be more than I needed. The sarong was supplied.

But it was too much of a leap of faith for me. Even my "reduced" quantity of clothing filled a small suitcase. Ironically, if that suitcase had been lost, I would have been fine with just the swimsuit, sarong and undies I took on the plane, just in case. I didn't wear a pair of shoes the whole time at the resort.

On this trip, I met a peripatetic couple who have learnt through experience never to check in a suitcase. For years, they've limited themselves to what luggage is permitted in the cabin. If they're going to cold climates, they carry lightweight puffer jackets. Each passenger wears one pair of shoes and packs one other. They never take toiletries. Instead, they buy everything they need at the destination.

Seasoned light packers dress in layers for the plane. Flights are usually cold anyway, so a big puffy jacket or sweater can come in handy. Books and devices can be carried under your arm and aren't usually part of the 10 kilogram total. If you're smart about what kind of handbag or shoulder bag you take, you can fit quite a bit into that as well.

Essential face creams and liquids can be decanted into small reusable plastic bottles and pots (MUJI makes good ones) and then placed in a zip-lock plastic bag for passing through the security checkpoint.

I've observed that a lot of business travellers have worked out the suit bag thing quite well, bringing their clothes on hangers plus a shoulder bag or roll-on for their laptops and devices. People in business class can take two small bags in the cabin, which is all they need in many circumstances.

If you're travelling with babies or children (I've been there) it's another story. But for a solo traveller like me, there's no excuse. Maybe wearing all my clothes for Paris on the plane is an airbridge too far, but I can dispense with the suitcase on my next barefoot holiday. Possibly.

lee.tulloch@traveller.com.au

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