Can You Check a Box as Luggage? Pros, Cons, and Tips


June 7, 2024

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When it comes to travel, we often think of standard suitcases, duffel bags, and backpacks as our go-to luggage options. But have you ever found yourself wondering if you can check a box as luggage? The answer is probably yes, but as with all things travel, there’s a bit more to the story. In this post, we'll dive into the pros and cons of shipping a box as well as the restrictions, packing tips, potential risks, and alternatives to help you make an informed decision.

When You Might Want to Use a Box as Checked Luggage

Woman taping a cardboard box to check in as luggageThere are specific situations where using a box as checked luggage can be a practical and cost-effective solution:

  • Temporary or one-time use
    If you don’t travel often, it might not make sense to invest in pricey luggage you may never use again. A cardboard box can serve the purpose for a single trip.
  • Transporting gifts or souvenirs
    Bringing back gifts or souvenirs that won’t fit in your suitcase? A box can be the perfect solution.
  • Special items or equipment
    Sometimes, you might want to bring things on your trip that are easier to pack in a box than a suitcase. For example, you can often pack sports equipment, hobby tools, or art supplies more easily and safely in a box than in a traditional suitcase.

The Pros and Cons of Checking a Box as Luggage


  1. Affordable
    Cardboard boxes are like the unsung heroes of travel. They’re cheaper than buying a new suitcase, and if you only use them once, they save you the expense of new luggage.
  2. Flexible
    Boxes come in all shapes and sizes, so they’re very versatile. You can pack them full of the new clothes and a couple of pairs of shoes you bought 😉 or customize them to fit those weirdly shaped souvenirs and gifts for the folks back home.
  3. Easy to find
    Need a box? Look around. You probably have a few hanging out in your garage, or you can pick one up at your local office supply store or moving company.
  4. Lightweight
    If the airline’s weight limit is 50 pounds and your suitcase weighs 15 pounds, that leaves 35 pounds for the contents. On the other hand, if a box weighs 2 pounds, you have 48 pounds left for contents, giving you an additional 13 pounds before you reach the maximum weight limit. Now, if a train leaves the station going east at 11:34 AM 🚂… OK. I’ll save you from that one.


  1. Fragile
    Unlike suitcases, cardboard boxes aren't designed to withstand the rigors of baggage handling. They can easily get crushed, torn, or wet.
  2. A hassle to pack on the road
    Boxes are easy to pack at home, but if you’re on the road, you need to find someplace to get packing material, tape, and labels.
  3. Awkward to carry 
    Unless the box is small, it’s awkward to move around, although you can make a handle out of duct tape.
  4. Less secure
    A locked suitcase is more secure than a box closed with tape or rope. In addition, TSA may open the box to see what's in it, and they may or may not pack everything back up as well as you did.
  5. Risk of damage
    Some airport baggage staff might not give your box the TLC you think it deserves. This means there’s a higher risk of it getting damaged in transit.

What NOT to Pack in Your Checked Box

The list of things not to pack in your checked box is pretty much the same as what you shouldn't pack in any checked luggage. This includes things like:

  • Your passport and other important documents
  • Prescription drugs
  • Anything you'd need in the first few days
  • Small dog peeking out of a boxLaptops
  • Other electronics if they have a battery
  • Anything valuable that can't be replaced
  • Anything sensitive to fluctuations in temperature
  • Children and pets 😜

Check with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for a list of what you can and can't put in checked luggage, whether it's a suitcase or a box.

And if you're traveling outside the U.S., check with your other airlines to see their requirements.

Restrictions and Guidelines for Checking a Box

Before you decide to check a box as luggage, you need to review the regulations of each airline you'll be on. Most airlines allow boxes, but just like regular luggage, boxes must adhere to the airline’s maximum size and weight limits.

Here are links to some popular airlines in the U.S. and around the world. If the airline you'll be traveling on isn't here, just search online for "<name of airline> checked bag policy."

Expert advice

With how things are going in the world of travel today, airlines are making frequent changes to their baggage policies. If you haven't flown for awhile, be sure to check what's the latest rules are before you pack for your flight.

How to Pack a Box for Checked Luggage

Packing a cardboard box for air travel requires a bit of extra care to ensure everything arrives safe and sound.

  1. Choose the right box
    Go for a new or gently used heavy-duty box. It needs to be tough enough to handle some bumps and random tossing around. Companies like FedEx and UPS have sturdy shipping boxes that withstand rough handling. U-Haul has a cardboard luggage box with a handle, as does UPS. Or consider using a sturdy plastic box instead.
  2. An open box with foam packing peanuts containing a smaller box to check in for travel.Reinforce the box
    Place an extra piece of cardboard on the bottom of the box and on top of the contents. This not only provides additional strength, but keeps your items away from the knife when opening the box. For fragile items, the best approach is to pack them carefully inside a box and then place that box inside another, larger box. Provide ample padding to keep the smaller box secure, and use extra tape to reinforce the bottom and sides of the box. Packing tape or duct tape are the best choices.
  3. Photograph items you’ll be shipping
    If your box gets lost, these photographs will be invaluable when making a claim with the airline or the insurance company. The photos will show the items in the box and their condition when you packed them.
  4. Wrap items individually
    Cushion each item with bubble wrap, foam packing peanuts, packing paper, or even some of your clothes to prevent the contents from shifting during transit. You may even want to put your items in a plastic bag first if they would be damaged by moisture.
  5. Label clearly
    Write your name, contact information, and destination on the box. If you're packing fragile items, be sure to add “Fragile” stickers, one on each side, plus top and bottom.
  6. Seal securely
    Use strong packing tape to seal all the box openings thoroughly, including the corners. You don’t want anything falling out mid-journey, and you don’t want moisture and bugs sneaking in. You can also enclose the box in plastic wrap for extra protection, but keep in mind that the box may be opened and not completely sealed back up.
  7. Photograph the sealed box
    In case of damage, you want to show that the box was in good shape and taped securely when it left your possession.

Expert advice

In addition to the label on the outside of the box, create a duplicate for the inside. This way, the airline can track you down even if the label on the box is damaged.

More expert advice

Pack a roll of tape and extra labels inside if you'll be shipping the box back at the end of your trip. This will be much easier and will take less time than tracking them down at your destination.

How to Check In Your Box at the Airport


The procedure for checking in your box is the same as checking in any other piece of luggage. Just take them to the airline check-in counter when you arrive at the airport.

Keep in mind that this box will count toward your luggage limits. So, if you’re allowed one checked bag and you bring one bag to check plus a box, you’ll need to pay an additional fee for the box.

At the end of your flight, pick your box up in baggage claim along with the rest of your checked luggage. If it doesn't show up on the conveyer belt, check with the airline's office in the baggage claim area.

Potential Risks of Checking a Box as Luggage

While checking a box is doable, it comes with its share of risks:

  1. Damage
    The biggest risk is damage. Boxes can get crushed, torn, or simply not hold up against the rough and tumble of baggage handling.
  2. Loss
    Boxes aren't shipped that often and might be more prone to getting misplaced or lost.
  3. Weather Exposure
    Cardboard isn’t waterproof. If it rains and your box sits on the tarmac, its contents could suffer.

So, do you really want to ship something expensive, something fragile, or an item you don’t want to lose in a cardboard box? Uhhh…probably not.

Alternatives to Checking a Box

If the potential risks of checking a box as luggage make you nervous, here are some alternatives:

  1. Hard-sided suitcases
    These offer better protection against impacts and weather and can be locked so the items inside are more secure.
  2. Duffel bags
    Duffel bags are flexible and spacious, making them great for odd-shaped items.
  3. Specialty shipping boxes
    There are boxes made specifically for shipping a particular item. Think musical instruments, camera gear, golf clubs, skis, etc. If you need something generic but sturdy, a Pelican case might work for you.
  4. Carry-on luggage
    Take a small box as one of your carry-on items. It will be with you during the flight, making it less likely to risk mishandling. Just be sure the box meets the airline's criteria for a personal item and fits in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.
  5. Ship it
    Traveling is enough of a hassle without bringing extra luggage. So, a great option is to use a third-party service. FedEx and UPS will even pack the box for you.

Expert advice

If you know you'll be bringing home things purchased on your trip, pack a collapsible bag in your luggage before you leave. Then, you’ll have a bag to ship your purchases home in. If they’re fragile, you can check your other carry-on and take this bag with you on the plane to protect the contents.

Final Words

So, can you check a box as luggage? Absolutely. But it’s all about weighing the pros and cons and knowing the potential risks.

While cardboard boxes are budget-friendly and versatile, they don’t offer the same durability and security as traditional suitcases. But, by following airline rules and packing your box carefully, you can minimize the risks. If you’re still on the fence, consider alternative packing solutions that might offer better protection and peace of mind.

Just remember to reinforce your box, pack it carefully, and always check with your airline for specific requirements.

Safe travels, and may your adventures be as smooth and enjoyable!

🕵️ Looking for other travel tips?

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