Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Study Abroad in a Carry-On: WHY? (1/7)

“Are you excited to go to Peru?!”

“Yeah, I’m just a bit stressed about the packing. I’m only bringing a carry-on, and I want to leave some space in my suitcase, so I’m just trying to narrow down my items.”

“Why ON EARTH would you do that to yourself? You do know that international flights get a free checked bag, right? What are you going to do about shampoo?”


As I revealed in my last post, people have certain reactions when I tell them about my choice to study abroad. I’ve also determined that I can expect them to respond with a wild, crazed look when I tell them that I intend to pack everything in a carry-on.

On commercial flights, you are typically allowed to bring two pieces of hand luggage. One is stowed in the compartment above your seat, and its dimensions can be no bigger than 22”x14”x9”. The second piece is called a “personal item,” and it is stowed underneath the seat in front of you. This piece is usually a backpack, purse, briefcase, or laptop bag. Bringing these items on board is typically included in the price of your ticket, unless you fly some budget airlines like Spirit or RyanAir.

If you would like to bring a larger piece of luggage, you may, but you will have to surrender it to the airline staff when you check in for your flight. This luggage will be placed in the bottom of the plane in the cargo hold, and you will have to wait and claim it at the luggage carousel whenever you reach your destination. Checked luggage incurs a fee on domestic flights, but is sometimes free for international trips on certain airlines such as Copa, United, American, and Delta.

So, you’re taking a five-month trip. If the checked bag is free, why not use it? While I’m not telling you that you can’t bring a checked bag, I think that it is unnecessary and cumbersome. In the series to come, I will show you the benefits of going carry-on only and will give you my best advice for how to diminish your packing list for a semester abroad.


Probably. But first, let me paint a couple of real-life scenarios that I have witnessed:

One summer I was traveling in a group of eighteen people. We were on our way to a mission trip, and we missed our connection to our destination country. Since the trip was scheduled to last ten days, it was important that we get to our final destination as soon as possible. Finding a cohesive flight for eighteen people was a logistical nightmare, and the best course of action for the group was to fly to a different country, spend the night there, and reach our destination the next day.

The time before our new flight was limited, so we rushed to the gate. Once we arrived to the new country, we noticed that our checked bags had not been forwarded to our destination. We picked them up to go through customs, but three bags were missing. It was late, and we assumed that they would greet us at our destination.

After another day of traveling, however, we arrived without a trace of the lost bags. We contacted the airline, waited, and finally came to the conclusion that the bags were still in the U.S. They never made either flight due to the short notice of the new itinerary.

Three people were without their bags for an indefinite amount of time. All of them had packed their clothes in those bags. One girl even packed her toothbrush in her checked luggage.

The days persisted, and the three were miserable. Their clothes were dirty. One man even ripped his pants! With nothing else to wear, he had to borrow someone else’s jeans. Three days later (and almost halfway through the trip!), they finally received their bags.

During another group mission trip, I had two friends sharing a room together. I was the lucky duck who got her own room, so I had the opportunity to spread out my things. Our accommodations had closets to store our clothing, so we took advantage of that luxury. The only downside was that the beds were low to the ground, so storing them underneath wasn’t an option. Everything was fine and dandy until I decided to visit my friends’ room.

There was NOWHERE to walk. Their room was just as big as mine, yet it felt cramped. I quickly realized that the space issue was due to the fact that my friends had brought six bags between the two of them. SIX! Four of these were suitcases. They brought so many clothes that the closet was overflowing. If each of them had only brought a carry-on, there would have been plenty of room.

Rooms here in the States are very spacious. Remember that your host family might not have any space to store your luggage, so it’s best to keep it to a minimum.

I tell you these stories out of inspiration for any of your future travels. I have been abroad enough times to know that carry-on bags are the way to go. Over the next few weeks, I will show you my bags and what I’m taking with me to Peru. During each of my posts, I will give more reasons why you should seriously consider going carry-on only during your upcoming adventure.


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