Our Guerrilla Packing Tactics: Check-In VS Carry-On

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“The sense of ease we had going through the airport was well worth the shoes I had sacrificed.” I am sure I never said this, Josh Bender! A lady needs shoes. 

You may have seen our post from last year regarding our luggage. We had a lot of it. When we left Australia in May 2012 we had 3 large suitcases and 3 small suitcases, plus a backpack.


Throughout 2012 we fluctuated from 1 to 3 large suitcases the entire time. We ended up returning to Perth with 2 large suitcases, 3 small suitcases, a pram, a carseat and a backpack.

Fast-forward to April 2014. We were about to set off again for an indefinite amount of time. What did we pack? How did we pack it?

This time we knew one thing.

It all had to fit in one large suitcase. So the pruning began.

As we started using our new awesome packing cubes we soon realised everything was not going to fit. Well it was going to fit, just not into our 20kg bag limit. After we asked our Facebook fans for advice about taking another large suitcase or a carry on, we realised there were so many different pros and cons.

We ended up with a last-minute addition of another carry on. Why another carry on, surely with children checked-in luggage is easier. True! But here was our reasoning:

Check-In Luggage

Carry-On Luggage 





Don't have to worry about during flight or while carrying tired children off cramped airplane confines. 

 Has a weight limit. 

Don't need to check in, so can easily use online check in services. 

Smaller space means more bags. What could fit into one large bag, now needs 2 smaller bags. Less free hands. 

Can be checked through to next destination during transit. 

Sometimes can not be checked through, so have to wait for it during transit and re-check. 

Do not have to wait after flight lands for luggage, can just leave airport. 

Hard to carry sleeping children as well as bags when exiting flight. 

Can carry more things in one bag. 

Have to wait at carousel after flight, which sometimes can be a long wait. 

Everything you own is with you at all times, no losing bags. 

Sometimes overhead compartment space becomes a death match with your seated neighbour. 

Can take things you wouldn't be able to on the plane, like larger liquid bottles including shampoo, wine, etc. 

Can be lost, damaged, thrown around. 

Most airlines do not charge for carry on luggage so spared expense. 

Can't take certain things in your carry on, like a larger toothpaste, shampoos or a bottle of wine.


Can cost more. Discount airlines have no free luggage allowance and so you pay per bag and weight. 

Many airlines do not weigh carry on so you can carry the heavy stuff in them. 


Overweight bags can occur a very high fee. 


Bigger bags are harder to get in taxis or carry around on trains and buses.


Check-in can become a longer process when checking in bags. 


As you can see the cons of a larger bag far outweighed the pros or cons of the carry on luggage.

So here you can see we ended up with 1 large check-in bag, and 3 carry-ons, plus one backpack.


All suitcases vary with their contents, however with our new packing cubes it is real easy to find items. I know the kids clothes and underwear are all in the red cubes. Mine are in the blue and Josh’s the black. How my life has changed!


Our newest bags are the Pacsafe carry on. They look small, but they have plenty of space and it’s so easy to wheel them – I am in love with them. On top of all this they are pretty much impenetrable. We actually wrote a whole post about them here.


So what’s in the bags?

Well we have 3 eBag packing cube colours – Black, Red and Aqua. They are divided into:

  • Black small – Josh’s underwear and socks
  • Black medium – spare
  • Black large – Josh’s clothes
  • Red small – Mia & Caius’ underwear and socks
  • Red medium – Caius clothes
  • Red large – Mia’s clothes
  • Aqua small – Erin’s underwear & socks
  • Aqua medium – Erin’s clothes
  • Aqua large – Winter clothes for everyone – jeans & jackets


I read on Travel Fashion Girl you should try to pack 15 items per person. My first attempt had 20 shirts, my second more brutal attempt had 10. I was very proud of myself. Add to that, 2 shorts, a skirt, 2 dresses and I was pretty close.


First Aid Kit

We went through our first aid kit removing bulky packaging and using zip lock bags for labels. This gave us lots more room and actually has made finding things much easier. This year, unfortunately, I was diagnosed with a hyper thyroid so not only do we have to take our first aid kit, but I needed at least one year’s worth of meds to travel with. Again, I disposed of most of the packaging and used zip lock bags. 

Car Seats

We are also carrying 2 BubbleBums for car travel, the best and easiest way to carry car seats, instead of last year’s awkwardly large booster seat. Check the latest price here.


Kids Toys

This year we decided there would be no toy bag, but the kids could choose 1 toy each. It didn’t really end up working like that, but it’s an improvement on last year. Mia and Caius both have 3 soft toys each, a pencil case and a bunch of interactive educational Leap Frog books and paint/colouring books. 

Beach Bag

We have a beach bag filled with our swimmers, sarong, sunscreen and hats.



Of course there are shoes. I had to be thoroughly chastised on my shoe collection and managed to get down to 5 pairs. My daughter was just as bad with 5. My son brought 3, one has already died so now he is down to 2, just like his dad.



We have two toiletry bags.  One filled with shampoos and conditioners, one with toothbrushes, makeup and deodorants. Unfortunately we are all using different products presently, but hopefully that will change when we run out. I managed to get my large bottles into these new smaller travel-friendly ones, which are just fabulous.



I mustn’t forget our food packing-cube. I mean it carries our liquid gold – Vegemite. And emergency dinner's that can be prepared with just boiled water. 



There is a bag of cables for everything we carry and, of course, a bag of our electronics. Our electronics bag shrunk overall as Josh pared down just the bare essentials. We are now carrying 2 laptops, 3 kindles, 1 iPad and 2 smartphones. 

Josh also invested in some new tech gear to make life easier.

We now have a new travel power board, with built in travel adaptors and 2x USB ports as well. It charges everything we have. We haven’t found a country that didn’t fit so far, which means we can now buy electronics anywhere without carrying multiple adaptors.


His new multi-USB power adaptor allows most of our electronics to be charged from one point. Very handy!


We’ve also swapped our Apple TV for a Google Chromecast, which is similar but smaller, lighter and more travel-friendly.

And there you have it. A revealing glimpse into a nomadic family’s baggage. If we were travelling for a set period of time, like a month, I could foresee some of the stuff unnecessary, but with an indefinite period before us we have found this to be a wonderful compromise.

We hope you’ve found that to be some help. One day we hope to get rid of the large suitcase altogether, maybe when the kids can carry their own packs. But until then I’ll keep carting around exotic foreign wine from my travels and enjoy the benefits of checked-in luggage while I have it. 

Reader Comments...

"I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" -

Hi there,
When you travel as a family its so different isn't it, than travelling alone. I saw the size of your first aid kit and it brought back memories of my husband and I travelling the world with our kids. Figuring out the important stuff - I think has meaning to it on all different levels, Happy travels and may more of them be light - (Love the cubes!)

janice stringer May 5th, 2014

Love it Erin! I should get some of those packing cubes. We are trying to figure out how to pack ourselves. We don't have much here with us in Spain, but it is still too much to "carry" around all of the time. We leave in 2 months for our more Nomadic lifestyle, so I will use your tips for sure. At this moment we are torn between luggage we wheel around and our backpacks (55cm). We have 4 55cm backpacks and 4 small ones (for us each to carry our own electronics, snacks and activities). We have some small rolling carry on bags available too. I just can't decide which is better. It would be nice not to have to carry it all and roll it around. Maybe we should rethink the backpacks for the kids and just take our 1 large suitcase! Oh the decisions. I guess we will figure it out when we get closer to leaving Spain, just 8 weeks from today.

Heidi @WagonersAbroad May 5th, 2014

OMG. We traded our massive, rigid booster seat for a Bubble Bum a month ago and I am so IN LOVE! Not only are they easier to carry but they take up so much less space in the back seat so we can get everyone across without any issues.

Shell @ IHeartFamilyTravels.com May 7th, 2014

We love our new Bubble Bum inflatable car seat! Now that my daughter fits the height and weight requirements for the booster (40'' tall and 40 lbs.), we can rent a car so much more easily. Her Bubble Bum fits right in her luggage too, since we are happily not carrying diapers anymore! Thanks for the tips. Will be sure to reference this when I go over my own packing list.

Katie @ BeachForBaby May 8th, 2014

Erin, it really is hard to pack for a family. I always start waaaaay in advance and take my time to get it right! I agree about wanting to have hands free to hold the kids hands rather than being bogged down with luggage. When we started traveling as a family for month+ long trips to Europe, I decided to switch over to backpack suitcases myself. I bought four of Rick Steves convertible carryon backpack suitcases and we love them. Each member of my family has their own color bag and since my youngest is now twelve, everyone can carry their own bag. We always have laundry facilities since we home exchange and that helps to reduce the amount of clothes we need to bring. This has worked great for us. We never have to wait for our luggage and we've never had to suffer the airline losing our bags. It's also so much easier on public transportation when we use it; although we usually have a car as part of our home exchanges.

Kerry Ascione Jun 13th, 2014

Awesome! We have pretty much exactly the same as you but are going to try and get everything into 2 suitcases and 2 backpacks!

Jen Jun 13th, 2014

Hi! Thanks for this post and many others! I'm getting our family (myself, my hubby, and 3 kiddos) ready to leave next week on a 6 week trip through London, Paris, and India, and I've been using a lot of your posts to get ideas and advice, so thank you!! I'm wondering if you could tell me the name of the universal power strip you're using? I'm trying to find something that will work for all our travels and having a hard time...also, does it convert volts? If you have time to answer I'd sure appreciate it. Thanks!! :)

Tiffany May 22nd, 2015

I'm debating on a neck pillow for the kids for a 10 hour international flight but they seem so bulky and non essential during the rest of the trip. My hubby and I can sleep anywhere but the kiddos are a different story. Any reccomendations? Do I just roll up a sweatshirt as a pillow? How do you get your kiddos comfy and sleeping on long flights?

Rachel Aug 8th, 2015

Hi Erin,
Firstly thanks for a great webpage with very useful & essential info. My husband & 2 boys (4&6) leave North Queensland in 6 weeks for open ended trip- we have purchased a motor home in France & hope to settle in Spain for at least 6 months of school...

Linda Jan 16th, 2016

Great tips/thanks for sharing! We have those ebags too and love them! Different colors make it so much easier. Happy travels!

Julie Bennett Sep 12th, 2016

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