I'm travelling from Amsterdam to New York with a stop in Reykjavik. I plan to only bring my 25L backpack. I've used it in Europe and I've found I can always buy what I can't carry. My bag is within the dimensions for carry-on luggage specified by the airline. I'm wondering: will not checking in any baggage draw suspicion (regarding me planning to leave the US again) from the TSA upon entering the US?

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    Lots of business types travel with just carry on baggage. Its nothing new. And with bag fees these days, lots of of everyday travelers also only have carry on luggage. Can't see any reason why TSA would treat you any different.
    – user13044
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 13:27
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    @Jonas - Actually the folks stamping him into the USA, will not know what his total baggage count is, as Immigration control is before baggage claim. After baggage claim the Customs checkpoint is only concerned about what you brought with you, as Immigration has already approved your entry.
    – user13044
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:14
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    @Tom Is the number of bags checked read from a database that's checked by the barcode on the boarding pass? I've certainly never seen anything about the number of bags I've checked printed on my boarding passes in the U.S. and I fly at least several times a year within the U.S. I usually print my boarding passes from home a day prior to even arriving at the airport, so there's no way that information could actually be physically on the pass.
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 18:55
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    Your passport and all the luggage (or lack thereof) you check in are simultaneously at the Schiphol checkin counter hence certainly the US officials have detailed information about this even before you board. Their greatest problem would probably be to convert kilograms to pounds (but of course not if there is no luggage in the first place), Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 21:19
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    Saying "I don't have any bags, don't you think that's suspicious?" to a customs agent is probably suspicious, though.
    – Jason C
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 14:02

7 Answers 7


Normally I carry a small bag for the overhead compartment, but I was flying from Heathrow to NYC once and carrying only my baise en ville...

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It caused me to get flagged up for further questioning by airline security (it was a US carrier). They were very worried that no baggage was checked and I had no carry on.

I was attending a party on short notice and fortunately had the invitation with me. I also explained that I was going to purchase some new clothes in Manhattan anyway (I explained also that I was born there and knew my way around, plus hotel reservations at the Marquis). So they let me go...

After this, my advice if you are travelling 'conspicuously light' is to have something on hand that demonstrates your itinerary and some plausible explanation for not carrying any change of clothes. I also switched to the Victorinox Altmont handbag after that incident, but this may be a spurious connection.

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    I've had a similar experience when coming back from what was basically a week-end trip from the US to Europe, carrying just a small back-pack. Having a plausible reason and the stub from the first leg of the flight calmed them down.
    – Jonas
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 14:01
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    @Jonas OT, but having a stub from a leg just doesn't sound healthy Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 21:22
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    @HagenvonEitzen: Better than having no leg at all to stand on.
    – Jonas
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 7:43
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    @JasonC Gayot says he once travelled without checking in any bags and it drew suspicion. Seems like a legitimate answer to me. Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 14:08
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    TSA probably won't have any idea how much luggage you have when clearing the security checkpoint, but US CBP will know about whether you checked luggage and can visually see what you are carrying. If you are traveling very light, be prepared to explain it with documentation. I personally almost always travel with just carry-on but my trips are just a few days and it is very easy to cover this with one bag and a backpack. LHR also does special pre-boarding screening and questioning and they know your bag status. Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 18:08

I've been to the States three times, flying once from Paris, and twice from London with just one backpack and no checked in luggage. The airports were Newark, San Francisco, and Denver. I wasn't stopped or questioned once.


I live in the UK and until not too long ago, I used to fly between London (LHR) and Boston (BOS) quite often, up to a dozen times a year. Most of these trips to the USA were for short periods, the longest being about a week, but quite a few were literally for a weekend (i.e. flying to USA on Friday evening and flying back to UK on Sunday evening).

For most of these short trips I would only have a 25L backpack with me - with the minimum required stuff - and buying/obtaining anything else in Boston.

Most of the trips (but not all) were with Virgin Atlantic. Not once had I been stopped because I didn't check any bags. Once or twice I was selected for a secondary screening, where they would sift through my backpack - and then let me on the plane.

So I can say that not having any checked in luggage is not a problem in itself.

Note that I am a dual British/American citizen - and this may have had some impact.


Not at all.

I have friends who travelled all over South America and New Zealand with just carry-on 40L packs.

Many low-cost carriers these days also charge for luggage, so for example, when I fly from Sydney to Christchurch tomorrow (international) I am taking only carry-on - it saves me money, and it's fine for me to pack that light for a few days.

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    I think it's still somewhat uncommon to have a small carry-on only on a transatlantic flight. And if you stand out, you may have a higher chance of getting selected for questioning.
    – Jonas
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 16:07
  • However it goes tomorrow, maybe you'll come back and let us know how it went? Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 16:52
  • @Jonas I have about a 4kg one for a long weekend with two cities, a birthday, a wedding and the cricket final :) Stupid surgery means I can't carry anything heavier. Will keep you posted.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 22:15
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    @Panzercrisis, flew, no problems at all. Had to get people to lift it for me as well, everyone kept commenting on how crazy light it was, but almost in a jealous/amazed tone, if anything. :D
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 20:28

Not at all. Tons of people travel with just carry ons. I wouldn't worry about it much, so long as you abide by the dimensions/rules for carry ons.


Based on my experience, the thing that's most likely to trigger extra security checks (at departure rather than arrival) is being a single male travelling on your own.

Every time I've travelled to US in that way, I've been pulled aside for extra security checks at the gate - always very brief and polite. I never experienced that doing similar trips when travelling as a couple or part of a larger group.

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    That's odd, I've never had that experience and I often travel by myself. Did you have checked bags ?
    – blackbird
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 17:14
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    Yes I had checked bags every time - maybe I just look like a terrorist ;)
    – Peregrine
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 17:33
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    I'm also a male who travels frequently and almost always alone in the U.S. and I've never been hassled about it, regardless of whether I checked anything or not. Of course, I'm also a U.S. citizen, so that probably makes a difference. I could see how carrying only one rather small carry-on on a trans-Atlantic flight could raise more eyebrows, but I wouldn't think this to be terribly unusual for business travelers.
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 19:01
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    What's unusual about a single male traveling alone? I'd assume most business trips involve single males traveling alone, and the US would be a common business destination. Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 21:08
  • @TheEnvironmentalist having travelled by air a lot I have noticed that when travelling alone, I am pulled over more if I am wearing casual clothes, than when I am in a suit. It also depends on point of origin, travelling from Morocco I was pulled over 3 times in a row. At time I was working for a travel company and put in a lot of hours on planes so I started wearing smart casual when flying, it seemed to save the hassle Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 23:56

I just returned from a 12 day trip to Europe, flying in from Amsterdam to Detroit. I am a single male, 46 years old, U.S. citizen, and I only traveled with a 32.5L backpack as a carry on, and also carrying a small bag. Before I left customs in Detroit I was pulled aside and the entirety of my belongings were searched; they even flipped open the top of my dental floss and peaked in. They left me to pack most of it back up, and thanked me for my cooperation. I had nothing to hide, but still a little unnerving.

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    Amsterdam? They were probably searching for marijuana. Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 19:11

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