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Checking Luggage Before You Fly - Is It Really That Bad?


05 Feb 2009

There is a mindset among frequent fliers and hardy travelers that one of the absolute worst things a person can do is check luggage.  This is certainly understandable, considering all the advantages one gets from carrying on all baggage; you donít run the risk of your luggage getting lost, you donít have to stop ad deal with baggage claim and you can walk right out of the airport and get on your way.

While this is all well and good, Iíd be willing to bet very few of the folks who carry on all their luggage are traveling for longer than a week or ten days and probably staying at the same hotel or house for most of that time.

For the rest of us who travel for weeks at a time, deal with changing accommodations, weather, terrain and environments, we have to pack for longer time and varying circumstances and therefore need to pack a bigger bag, one that is often too big to carry on in the cabin.  If they would let us carry our bags on, we probably would.

However, bag size aside, here are a few other reasons longer-term travelers usually need to check luggage.  The full list can be found here, but these are some of my favorites:

Liquids.  Letís face it, if youíre doing a cross-continental trek, 3oz of shampoo, contact lens solution, toothpaste, bug spray, sunscreen and other essentials just arenít going to cut it.  Also, you canít be sure the products you need or like will be available at the places youíre going.  Itís better to pack what you need before you leave home, which means containers bigger than 3oz, which, in turn, means youíll probably have to check your bag.

Weapons.  I hope youíre not actually trying to bring weapons into an airport, but there are items the TSA may consider weapons which are okay to check, but not to carry on the plane, such as:

-Baseball bats.
-Bows and arrows.
-Hockey sticks.
-Mace/pepper spray.
-Night sticks.
-Cattle prod.  This always makes me chuckle, not only because of the absurdity of someone bringing a cattle prod on to an airplane, but because I often feel like Iím being herded like cattle when I fly.

Tools.  This includes, but is not limited to, multi tools, Swiss army knives, camera maintenance equipment and cattle prods.

I love my multi tool.  It has accompanied me on every trip I have taken since I got it nine years ago and is extremely reliable.  I have performed basic camera repair with it, cut loose threads, screwed, unscrewed and tightened things, cut open fruit, sliced cheese and hosts of other tasks.  But, sadly, I canít bring it on the plane.  If you also travel with a multi tool or Swiss army knife, I know you understand.

I sincerely hope the majority of travelers are checking our luggage because of liquids and tools and not weapons, but hey, to each their own, I guess.

Because I check my luggage, I have to ask; is checking really that bad?  In theory, itís great.  You drop off your bag when you check in at the airport and they give it back to you later when you get where youíre going.  You donít have to carry it, wheel it around or look after it.

Sure, luggage gets lost on occasion Ė mine has Ė but if you use luggage tags (and lock up with TSA-approved locks), your bags will find its way back to you, usually.  And I admit, flights with a lot of connections and stop-overs can be intimidating, but you should have all your important stuff in your carry-on anyway.

If youíre the kind of person who can travel for weeks at a time, deal with changing accommodations, weather, terrain and environments without checking luggage, good for you.  I would do it if I could, but my unwillingness to give up my multi-tool and liquids greater than 3oz keeps me handing my pack to the agent at the ticket counter.

And itís not that bad.

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