You know those “how to travel around the world for three years with carry on luggage only” stories? This is so not one of those.
This post is all about what it’s like to travel with two medium checked in cases plus one carry on plus a large handbag from a small town in Australia to Berlin via Sydney, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
For this adventure I had a mix of old and new cases with me, from my old trusty softside expandable Samsonite that had already done a few laps of the world with me, my brand new shiny blue medium sized Samsonite Spin Trunk which was going on its maiden voyage, its matching carry on blue spin trunk which had already racked up a few miles, and my new Samsonite Mooval handbag, as seen below in the countryside before the trip with a curious chicken.
I’ll admit that as I looked at all of the bags in the back of the car ready to head to the first airport I did think “This is either going to be brilliant, or a bit of a nightmare.”
As I tried to push that prickly ‘what have I done?’ feeling aside I recapped why I was attempting this possibly crazy idea.
It was good in theory. Knowing I’d be spending six months based in Europe, with trips to Canada and the USA in the mix, one medium bag was going not going to swing it for me.
Consider the shoes alone. I wanted one pair of trainers to walk do long city walks in, one pair of hiking shoes for those big country hikes (and no, they couldn’t be the same, as proper hiking shoes wouldn’t work with skirts and dresses for city exploring as well as my sleek black trainers could), a pair of ankle boots that could go from day to night, a pair of big heavy boots for cold weather and for Burning Man (to be worn on planes as they would take up too much room in a bag) and one pair of heels. Just one. So that I could feel fancy every now and again with a nice frock.
I told you this wasn’t one of those ‘pick one pair of shoes to wear with everything day and night’ kind of posts. My choices may seem excessive to some, but if you could have seen how hard it was to leave some of my beautiful heels and boots at home then you’d appreciate this was actually a tough call.
By the time those shoes are in a medium sized bag there’s not a whole lot of room left for anything else. Of course a larger bag was an option, but here’s the thing about larger bags….
The Pros and Cons of Travelling with One Big Bag
Last year I thought ‘sod it’ before a big trip and decided to pack a big bag like the ones I see so many other people traveling with. To see how it compares with the size of my other bags, here’s a suitcase line up shot sans chicken…
Taking my big red Samsonite meant I could take some more shoes and fun outfit options to Ibiza for a friend’s amazing wedding celebrations and it felt great to have more things with me.
But I felt so awkward traveling with the Big Bag. I was always apologising to taxi drivers and friends I was travelling with for it being so big, and because it could fit more in I was also over the weight limit for some of my flights.
I was fine for Qantas because of silver status, and for my business class flights (thank you FF points!) to Europe and back. But my flights within Europe were cheaper ones and so I was pinged with excess baggage costs.
As I’d be going to Copenhagen and then to Stockholm before arriving in my European base of Berlin this time around I knew I’d have to face excess luggage fees one way or another.
And as I also knew I would have to go straight to a luggage store in Berlin to buy a medium bag for my shorter European hops if I did move over with the Big Bag, heading over with two mediums was starting to make sense. Then I started looking into excess baggage prices.
Excess Baggage Fees for Two Bags Vs One
Sometimes things don’t make a lot of sense when it comes to airlines.
Take Norwegian Air’s excess baggage for example. My fare had a 20kg bag limit and it would cost 11 euro per kilo that my bag was overweight if I paid it 25 hours ahead of travel. It would cost more at the airport, as it usually does.
However an extra checked bag of up to 20kg would cost 12 euro.
So 11 euro per kilo over, or 12 euro for a whole other 20kg bag?
I had to read that one a few times to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me, and even as I handed over my bags to Norwegian Air at the airport in Copenhagen I expected an alarm to go off and to be charged more. But it turns out that was correct*.
That was a definite Two Bags Vs One no-brainer.
Over the course of the flights over there were some pros and cons with the two bags fee idea.
For my domestic Qantas flight I could have gotten away with one big heavy bag as silver status means I can have up to 32kg. To travel with an extra bag cost $30 pre-purchased as I did, or $40 at the airport.
From Sydney to Copenhagen I’d used all my points to go business class with Singapore Airlines (one day I’ll save up enough to fly Singapore Airlines Suites again!) and that meant I could have 40kg of luggage so the two bags were fine there as long as I kept them to 20kg each.
Copenhagen to Stockholm was the Norwegian Air one, then Stockholm to Berlin was Air Berlin which charged quite a bit for an extra bag – $131 (Aussie dollars) which hurt a bit but the year before I’d paid $80 excess baggage on my Big Bag on Air Berlin between Ibiza and Berlin so I figured that was about $50 more than I would have had to have paid anyway.
So in the end it cost me around A$180 to get the extra bag from my Aussie countryside home to Berlin via all of those flights. I spent around $160 on excess baggage on my Big Bag on just two flights the year before in Europe so for the $20 difference I was feeling pretty good about my decision financially.
Getting Protective with Suitcase Covers
As I looked at my old and new cases side by side I thought of all the journeys my old faithful beaten up one had been through, and what fun lied ahead for my brand new case. My shiny shiny beautiful case that I just knew I was going to find it hard to watch going down the conveyor belt at the airport.
While I’m sure there are lots of lovely baggage handlers out there, we’ve all seen the videos where some bags are thrown around by some of the rougher ones, and while I know battle scars are part of a bag’s journey I really wanted to keep my new bag looking her best for as long as I could.
And so when the big day came to go the airport I suited up my cases in protective Samsonite covers, which are super easy to put over the bags, and can then be zipped back up into their pocket when you’ve arrived at your destination.
The covers have little zips you can undo to let the handles out, and I was pleased to see they survived their first series of journeys well, even if I did catch the man on the Nice to Cannes shuttle dragging the bag by a handful of its case rather than taking the time to hold the handle.
My New Favourite Travel Handbag
And while we’re talking new additions to my travelling life I have to do a shout out to my new Mooval bag, which won me over from our very first flight together.
When I first saw photos of the Mooval I wasn’t sure just how much I’d be able to fit inside but when I got my hands on her I realized I was onto a winner.
Lovely and light (0.4kg) and made out of nylon ribstop, she looks nice and sleek and can be packed flat within other bags, though I can’t imagine ever packing her away when I go to the airport.
With 11L of volume to play with, once I start filling her up with my wallet, camera, tablet, headphones, carry on liquids, cardigan and other travel favorites she goes from handbag to a serious work and travel bag.
As someone who hates digging around in bags trying to find things I’m very happy with the way she has so many compartments. There’s the big centre one, two large side ones, then two sleeker zipped side ones on either end of the bag, two small zipped compartments on the outside (one large enough to hold a phone and then some) as well as internal zippers and compartments.
In fact she fits so much I reckon I could do a weekend away with just her. But for her first trip she definitely wasn’t flying solo. Oh no. She was part of a luggage quartet, and one that was interesting to travel with.
Travelling Solo with Lots of Bags Challenges
Okay, I’ll admit it. On this trip there were a few times when I envied those people with their breezy Carry On Only ways. I’d look at all of my bags and wish I was the type who could zip around with such a tiny amount of luggage.
Everything was fine when I was in an airport with nice smooth floor surfaces, and while I did use one once, I didn’t even need a trolley to get around. I’d just rest my handbag on top of my carry on, and put the two checked in bags side by side and grip their extender handles with one hand and off I’d go, all the wheels working together as we easily walked along.
Of course once I left the airport if there were cobblestones and steps involved things got a tad tougher, and so it was that I decided I’d treat myself to taxis from airports to hotels rather than navigate trains and buses, which I’d usually do to save a few dollars on the road.
So yes, taxis in Scandinavian countries kind of blew out my $20 budget difference.
That said I could have left one of the bags in left luggage at the airports as both Copenhagen and Stockholm have the option. I had been all organized, avoiding those things you shouldn’t do when packing and I’d separated my things into Before and After Berlin so I could easily have left one bag at the airport and still have everything that I needed. But I’ll confess I was tired and just wanted to be in my hotel room so I went the easier and more expensive option.
If I’d been travelling with someone else it would definitely have been easier, as flying solo with that extra bag did mean I had to take things a little more slowly than I’m used to.
But oh my, when I finally got to Berlin, opened my bags and had lots of things I both needed and wanted for the coming months it felt mighty fine.
As I write this I’m on one of Star Clippers’ beautiful tall ships in the Ligurian Sea. Under the bed in my cabin lies my medium blue spinner trunk and my carry on blue spinner. My Mooval handbag is by my side, and my red and slightly battered other Samsonite is in my friends’ wardrobe in Berlin, holding the things I didn’t need for this trip.
We’ll all travel together again towards the end of the year when I head back to Australia. But for now it feels good to be travelling for a few weeks with my usual amount of luggage.
One medium case, one carry on, and one roomy handbag.
I’ll save the carry on only for the weekend trips.
This post is in association with Samsonite but all opinions remain my own
* Prices for excess baggage were correct at the time I travelled in May 2016. Obviously it’s always best to check the current prices before booking in case things have changed. And as this is based on my own airline choices and doesn’t take into account all the variations, if you’re facing your own Two Bags Vs One conundrum you’d need to check out the prices for your own airline choices.