Extra long cardboard boxes

When cardboard boxes are better than suitcases
April 1, 2024 – 04:42 am

luggage before departureHave you ever had to pay extra fees to carry oversize luggage? Flown somewhere, ended up buying so many things that they did not fit your suitcase anymore?

Here's a nifty trick we used in our last trip to Europe which allowed us to carry much more than we believed we could at no extra charge.

First: make sure to read the allowances for carry on and check in baggage on your ticket. Make sure you understand them fully, and if unsure, call your airline.

In our case, me, my wife, and baby were traveling on a Swiss Airlines fligth, and our ticket allowed us to bring for free:

  • 2 Carry on bags.
  • 3 Checked in bags.

The checked in bags were limited in weight and length:

  • 23 Kg (~50 lbs) at most.
  • 158 cm (~62 inches) of linear length, where linear length is the sum of the width, depth, and height of your suitcase.

In our case, we discovered that:

  • The large suitcases we used weighted about ~7 Kg (~15 lbs) empty. With no clothes, no items whatsover, the suitcase itself used up ~30% of our allowance!!
  • luggage after arrivalThe small suitcases weighted ~5 Kg empty, or about ~21% of our allowance.
  • None of the suitcases we had was even close to the 158 cm linear length limit. Additionally, we discovered that at least one of the large items we wanted to carry was well within those limits had the suitcase been a little taller and a little thinner.

The solution

Easier said than done, though: finding just the right suitcase in terms of size in a super-light yet sturdy material, without any space used up for pockets or the internal mechanisms for wheels at a reasonable price is not an easy task.

But the solution was simple: use a cardboard box. Before you scream bloody murder, consider that a cardboard box does have some really nice properties:

  • It is much lighter - the box we used ended up weighting, empty, just 1.7 Kg, 7.4% of our allowance, or a 22% gain.
  • You can shape it to your will - with scissors, tape and about 30 minutes work you can get pretty much any shape you like, and with no cumbersome weird spaces to fill to allow for wheels and handles.
  • It is dirt cheap - you can buy a cardboard box big enough for about ~5 USD anywhere in the world, and probably get one for free at any supermarket or store if you ask nicely.
  • It is so cheap you don't care if it breaks - as long as your stuff is safely held together inside.
  • It is solid - especially if you wrap it in plastic before checking it in.
  • It can be carried by any airline - I looked online for a while, and could not find any airline that would refuse to carry a cardboard box, as long as it fit the required dimensions. And by experience, I can tell you I have not had any problem so far.

It does have a few drawbacks though:

  • It does not have wheels or handles, which makes it harder to carry, especially if you need to use public transports. Moving within airports is fine though, as you can easily get carts.
  • Water and humidity may cause it to fall apart more easily. But don't fear: if you bag your clothes and don't skimp on packaging tape, even if the cardboard breaks your beloved ownings will be well protected. For additional protection (and insurance!) you can even plastic wrap the cardboard box at the airport.
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