Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Bucking the Trend: Why I Don’t Fly Carry On Only


I don’t travel carry-on only. There I’ve said it! I’m bucking the trend, all the accumulated advice of the dozens, maybe hundreds of travel blogs I’ve read. I have my reasons.


When I was growing up I spent wet, winter Sunday afternoons cuddled with my mom watching  old black and white movies on TV…… Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, Bing Crosby et al – I mean can you imagine these folk traveling light? Even given the pure silk of those slinky evening gowns you still couldn’t stuff the entire travel wardrobe of one of those dames into a backpack – or want to!

So I had very definite ideas about my first travel experience, which was a school exchange visit to Germany in 1963.  I happily took my dad’s old, leather suitcase…..with my tennis racket strapped to the outside! The case alone must have been the equivalent of today’s luggage allowance! We were going by train and ferry, so our journey began in my home town, Blackpool, and thence to Preston to get the overnight train to London (a journey which I think takes around two and half hours now!)  It didn’t take me long to realize that perhaps travel wasn’t as glamorous as I’d imagined. We had to cross the station to get to another platform….which meant going over a bridge (still does)….and it was heavy!  Luckily for me, when we got to London, and had to get from Euston to Victoria by Tube, the age of chivalry was still alive. There was always a kind and helpful guy around who helped carry my case, and I had no fear of them running off with it…, those were the days!

After that I thought perhaps I should endeavor to be more practical, although I don’t think the concept of traveling carry on only had yet dawned. In my head at least travel was still glamorous, by now I was more into Audrey Hepburn,  and when I headed for Germany the second time, this time by air, I actually wore a hat. I mean, a genuine, Jackie K pillbox, which I thought was the biz.  I really should find some pix of these trips!  I also had a brand new Samsonite vanity case. The day of the square ones with all the dinky compartment for make up was just over, and this was the cool, new shape of the 60s. It likely held about as much as anyone traveling without luggage would carry these days!

My next trip was to Rome…..and by this time I was earning my first wage and all of it was going on clothes!…..I was still into the Audrey Hepburn look (but not sufficiently to diet myself into it properly!). Looking back at photos now I think I perhaps took my entire wardrobe. It was during the severe restrictions on how much money you could take abroad (can you imagine that now??) I think the limit was 50 pounds per week. Whatever, it was certainly low, and we certainly weren’t going to be swanning around luxury places which demanded a glam wardrobe…..however, in my defence I point out that it was the 60s!

After that, my days of traveling solo were numbered, and since my partner was an aspiring businessman, packing always included a little cocktail dress or something “just in case” —— really, right up to 1992, which I think was our last trip together – to Disney! So, no, we didn’t travel light!

I’ve been solo now since 1996, and in all that time I’ve struggled to fit the modern image of the pared-down, international traveler, but being an expat and living on an island kind of got in the way of my ambitions. It’s always a flight to get off the island, and then an onward flight.  I usually go via UK so  that I can stop off to visit friends or family en route, and that means baggage full of mojo, wine, turrón or other goodies from The Canary Islands. It also often means blueberries, magazines, coffee, teas, and half of Marks and Sparks coming back. It used to mean, literally, a caseful of books too, but thanks to the wonderful those days are long passed.  Whilst my checked luggage isn’t huge, and still allows me to look snottily at the garish, over-stuffed, gigantic suitcases of  tourists as I leave the island, it still needs to be checked.

What with American alarm about imported foodstuffs you can’t even get away with a packet of Smarties in your backpack, so all the cheese, mojo, candy and pie I’ve smuggled into the US of course had to go in checked luggage. I have had the odd flying visit, and managed with carry on, and, yes, felt smug breezing past the weary tourists waiting at the carousels, but, meh, not that much.

The fact is that in recent travel around Europe, with everyone stuffing their worldly goods into the overheads, thus less luggage on the carousel,  the delays in collecting luggage are no longer what they were. Delays are now mainly caused by???? Yup, everyone trying to stuff their bags into the overhead….because they are always too big to go under the seat in front. And standing around looking lost or looking accusingly at the flight crew when there, literally, isn’t any room left. BTW flight crew hate this carry on only trend, like they don’t have enough to worry about in getting everyone boarded so that the flight doesn’t miss its slot. I can, actually, understand all the fuss in measuring your bag, much as we like to moan about it.

And, another thing, how do you travel light when you’re going to a cold or wet country? Packing for summer, or even spring, weather is a doddle, but if you’re going hiking in muddy fields, for instance (as two recent trips involved) how do you cope? Twice in the last year my boots have been way too dirty to travel back in, and had to go, well-wrapped, into my bag. Then there are the thick socks, waterproofs and spare sweaters, maybe even thermal undies! Plus, I mean, can you go hiking without a multi tool? If your trip also includes going out to dinner or a meeting, er, do you turn up in your muddy hiking pants? or what?

State of my now dry but still bearing the mud of Asturias boots, more than a week after returning!

State of my now dry but still bearing the mud of Asturias boots, more than a week after returning!

Hmm….no, not me, at least! Even a very short trip the other week had me stuffing the hiking gear into a gym bag, although I traveled out in my hiking boots simply because they were comfortable. The boots did get muddy, very muddy, so there was no chance I was wearing them home.

Love my Lowepro bag, but it doesn't cover my needs when I get to my destination.

Love my Lowepro bag, but it doesn’t cover my needs when I get to my destination.

The thing which puzzles me greatly is that over the last few years the necessity to carry more gear has increased, I mean gear which you can’t trust to checked luggage, like laptops, cameras, hard drives, lenses, and such. I don’t carry nearly as much as some folk, but that stuff, plus the necessities (wipes, book, phone, a little make-up, keys, pens, neck cushion on a longer flight,  and overnight kit “just in case”) and that’s my carry on allowance with most airlines.

I was delighted three years or so ago to find a Lowepro camera/laptop bag the sales. Up till then I’d been squidging my laptop into a normal daypack (to avoid looking as if I was carrying anything worth “pinching”), and whether everything was protected enough was a worry. I love the Lowepro bag. It’s black and inconspicuous and fulfills both those needs. However, it’s a trifle on the large side when I want to carry just the camera stuff on a day-to-day basis, which means taking another bag in my luggage for that. I’ve experimented with a small camera bag (camera protected – especially as it has a waterproof cover), cloth bags (weigh little and look inconspicuous but don’t protect your gear at all, and that old daypack – trouble with the latter was that it’s right now in London, at my son’s, because it was too much to stuff into my bag when I returned last time! If anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear from you!

I suppose that if I was a 5’2″ skinny thing then my stuff would weigh less, but even dropping down the size I need to, I’m still 5’8″ and so everything I own weighs more than if I was 5’2.” Besides, a big case comes in useful from time to time. I distinctly remember sitting on my case on more than one occasion waiting for a reluctant  car or a check in to open. In fact I have learned to travel with less, much less than I used to (modern fabrics, and the trend to more casual dressing have helped), but I still need two bags! Perhaps I’m not now as extreme as I was but I still need to check baggage in, and I am determined to lose the guilt or embarrassment!


Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

20 thoughts on “Bucking the Trend: Why I Don’t Fly Carry On Only

  1. Haha I loved reading this and identified with it very well! The idea of wearing a fancy hat to fly in suddenly sounds rather glamorous and appealing.

    And by the way, I am 5’2. It doesn’t cut down on the luggage…for some mysterious reason! 😉

    • LOL! Well then losing weight won’t help either. I’m off the hook! I always used to say that I was born too late – or that I was a reincarnation of a flapper or someone of that era! – Still love hats, mind you! Many thanks for both reading and commenting!

  2. I always used to check my baggage in because, like you, my camera equipment took up my hand luggage allowance. It never used to bother me as I don’t mind waiting around and find people watching a fantastic hobby. I no longer travel by air. From were I am now I can travel practically anywhere by road or ferry which means I have the freedom to take as much, or as little as I like.

  3. What a glamorous, nostalgic, wonderful read! I am 100 percent a carry on-only traveler if at all possible. I can squeeze two weeks in a bag without blinking an eye. BUT, when I was an expat, forget it. I was always carting back from home vitamins, snacks I wanted my friends to try (or that my American/Canadian friends were missing), beauty products, boat parts my friends had shipped to my house so I could bring back… You name it! And I don’t own a backpack.

    • I think I was just slightly too late for the glamorous travel era (to my chagrin, a part of me would still like to be Audrey Hepburn!). If I left camera and laptop out of the equation it wouldn’t be a problem I don’t think!

      I guess expats are the same the world over then! Certainly, it’s eased up in the years I’ve lived here. At one time I needed a case just for the stuff I was bringing back!

  4. You are quite right the airlines are now regretting this carry on malarkey, as if everyone on a flight does it then it isn’t possible to put everything in overhead lockers and some has then to be redirected to hold anyway. this looses the most valuable thing they have TIME. plus as you say, those annoying folk who keep going into the bag time and again. they had oodles of time waiting to board to get organised for petes sake. do remembering talk at the office of ‘what are you wearing for the flight?’ and one girl having a matching coat and dress made when she flew to Saudi, it was in a very fancy fabric, almost a wedding outfit, but it was just for the flight! just a regular holiday. everyone loved their pill box hats eh? we all thought we could aspire to be HER, Jackie. now I realize just how much her clothes cost and we were all on a hiding to nothing. ahhh that was the sixties!

  5. Well for sure the airline staff hate it, but not so sure about the bosses! Can’t see the despicable O’Leary caring much!

  6. Have managed to avoid the lovely O’Leary for years now (the last experience of landing with a pilot who didn’t seem up to the job put me off). Most of our flights have been Aer Lingus who I swear by, and they are not as fanatical about measuring carry on – and yet it all seems to fit. Going somewhere is fine – but coming back is the problem, as although I’m not much of a shopper I do like to get some clothes and bits and pieces abroad that I are different to what I can get at home. So for that reason it’s usually 1 check bag (usually for 3 of us traveling as a family). Can do the trip itself with carry on only – but that’s no fun if you can’t get anything when you’re there. G’wan, dig out the ole pill box hat pics for the crack – you have us curious now lol.

    • I’ve only flown Ryanair once (because I thought I should have the experience before I criticized, and I so wanted it to be ok, ‘cos I like to be “different”!), and it was every bit as horrid as feared. I do have the honor of being refused boarding by them once though 🙂 Unhappily my experience with Aer Lingus wasn’t a whole lot better, considering it was a trans-Atlantic flight, actually, it was on a par, and I had no preconceived notions about that! I like to do that with clothes too! I don’t buy many souvenirs these days, but I tend to travel with old clothes I can discard, and then I can replace them as I go along. Happy 🙂

      LOL! I’ll see if I can find the box of photos of that era. A lot of my stuff is packed up now.

  7. Easy jet rules from 1st July, smaller carry on 50 x 40 x 20

  8. Fair enough. They used not to have a weight restriction, though, which was great with all the tech stuff + my love of books! Hope they don’t change that!

  9. I’m also a frequent traveler and refuse to do “carry on” for many of the reasons you stated, packing is challenging enough, I don’t have the time or inclination to limit myself to carry on requirments. But is is important to note that charging for checked bags was originally a scam by airlines to free up space in the bottom compartments to get paid to carry cargo for more money. A practice many airline staff are regretting today now that flight attendants have become overtrained baggage handlers. Fortunately, there are airlines like Southwest who encourage people to check their bags by not charging and making the process easier, and others like Frontier airlines who allows those passengers without carry ons to board the airplane first. I hope to continue to see additional airlines take on practices that make traveling a better experience. If I get hid in the head or my foot rolled over by one more wheely bag, I might hurt someone.

    • I very much hope that trend spreads to Europe! Presumbaly Frontier’s idea of “no carry on” does allow for a small bag for essentials an techie stuff? Just recently had my foot rolled over by a very pushy kid, who, I assume didn’t know anything at all about the etiquette of flying because he tried to push his way to the front whilst everyone was getting down their bags! As if it wasn’t hard enough! For once I was wearing heels! Not too high, but enough to stamp guess where! At the time I was trying very hard NOT to hit a woman from the middle seat next to me with my heavy bag (heavy but not big!) who insisted on trying to get into the aisle before I could sensibly make way! Oh for the travel of yesteryear 🙂

  10. maybe reading about how you travel with old clothes and buy new is what triggered a most vivid dream about you! we were shopping for clothes, me trying on hats (never wear them other than sun hats) you other things. given I hate clothes shopping these days we were enjoying ourselves!

  11. You had me at ‘vanity case’ Linda. And a hat always goes in my bag: waterproof one when I’m going somewhere with unpredictable weather and a squashable sun-hat when it’s hot. I always have a favourite, and I’m always losing them – a lovely white linen one left on the Paris Metro, and another blew off into the road from an open-top bus and I watched in horror as it died a horrible death.

    Oh god, Ryanair. I’m flying with them to Girona in a couple of weeks and use them only when there’s no other option. The booking system is excruciating, and I’ve been held up in queues much more often recently while they measure EVERY bag. I do agree that they should, but why don’t people read the rules? I sometimes cut costs by flying out with the bare minimum in hand luggage, but booking a hold bag for the return journey. I take a Skypak fold-up bag out with me to use on the way back. My carry-on always goes under the seat – usually a Travelpro laptop bag with good padding but just enough room in it for some clothes and other stuff. Completely agree about the old clothes thing, particularly underwear and socks, although I bet Audrey Hepburn didn’t travel wearing knickers with worn-out elastic.

    • Oh how I craved a vanity case! My mom and dad used to go ballgroom dancing (nothing grand, just the Tower ballroom or the Winter Gardens …. though they were on tv once, which was a highlight of my young life!) My mom used to have this vanity case with all the pockets for make-up, and the middle bit for her dance shoes, and it fascinated me! I always imagined myself carrying one onto my first flight, but, alas they had completely gone out of fashion by that time!

      Oh I still adore hats! It’s a joke amongst my family & my friends how I am drawn to shops and market stalls selling them. Just not the formal ones I used to like I guess! It’s so sad when you lose a favorite – I angsted for ages over buying one I fell in love with in a shop in Marbella. A 1920s sort of style which I adored. Kept it for years before I had the chance to wear it. Took it to England for my goddaughter’s wedding…..where I did get to wear it and then left it on the train to the airport!

      That’s a great tip about the fold-up bag. I totally forgot that I used to do that at one time. It depends on the circumstances, doesn’t it. Right now, planning a September trip I’m thinking about what to take back from here for family & friends, so it doesn’t work…..were I going not via UK that would be perfect!

  12. LOL! I hope that might a dream come true some time! Perhaps a prediction that we will go shopping together in Blackpool? I hate it too, mostly because I only now buy things when I need them. I suppose it might be fun to shop and lunch and stuff, the way I used to! As a primary occupation it sucks, but as time to time fun, it’s a different matter!

  13. Linda, I love your next piece and everytime I try to leave a comment it isn’t accepted, curious as to why. trying now to see if this is accepted

    • It went into the spam folder, and I’ve approved it by hand. I’m trying to find out why that would happen when you’re a regular and approved commenter. My only suspcion, as I think I said to you before, is your email address, perhaps the sky in the name is a red flag. I’ll let you know.

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