Ok, this might sound crazy, super tacky, and cheap. But hear me out. I’ve found that in some instances, a wheeled cooler makes the perfect checked bag. If you aren’t too proud to pull it off, you might just find that a cooler as a checked bag is the way to go. It’s convenient, saves you money, and is environmentally friendly (as opposed to buying a styrofoam cooler).
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Transporting Fish Home
The first time we thought to bring a cooler as our checked bag was on a fishing trip to Alaska. There are fish processing plants in Alaska that will flash freeze and vacuum pack the fish you catch. We’ve used Coal Point Seafood Co in Homer. They will even sell you a makeshift cooler box to take on the plane or mail home. But, the coolers cost $15 to $22 dollars each and are made of styrofoam.
Styrofoam is so bad for the environment, I can’t imagine paying that much to bring home a huge hunk of styrofoam.
We started thinking “we’re packing a suitcase full of clothes anyway, why not pack our clothes into a cooler on the way to Alaska and then bring a duffle bag to put our clothes in on the way home when the cooler is full of fish?” So that’s what we did and luckily came home with a cooler full of salmon and halibut on that trip.
We’ve since been on several fishing trips to Alaska and Mexico where we’ve brought our cooler as our checked bag and it has worked out great.
On our latest trip to Alaska, we ended up buying another wheeled cooler because we caught so many fish.
Cooler For the Beach
The wheeled cooler was our checked bag on our last trip to Maui even though we had no intention of bringing home fish. On the first leg of our trip, we stayed in Hana in the Wai’anapanapa State Park cabins. When our flight landed we drove straight to the grocery store and stocked up on food for our trip. It was necessary to have a cooler to put all the groceries in that needed refrigeration before the long drive to Hana.
Bringing our own cooler to Maui was so much more environmentally friendly and easier on the budget.
I love the beach and have found that nothing will shorten a family beach day faster than a hungry kid and no food on hand. It was so convenient every day we were in Hana to have a cooler packed with sandwiches and drinks to bring to the beach. We could stay until the sunset every night and not have to worry about leaving to find somewhere to eat.
Our wheeled cooler was our checked bag on our most recent trip to Mexico also. Chad had booked two fishing charters and was hoping to come home with fish.
We decided to take advantage of having our cooler in Mexico and get away from our resort to explore some public beaches nearby. Before leaving our hotel we packed lunch, snacks, and drinks in the cooler. We found a fabulous public beach – Playa Palmilla, and spent the whole day there. It was perfect to be prepared with lunch and drinks packed in the cooler.
Is a Cooler Allowed by TSA on Domestic and International Flights?
According to TSA’s website, coolers are completely acceptable to use as a checked bag. If your cooler is a suitable carry-on size you can even bring frozen meat through security as a carry-on. You would just need to make sure your ice-packs are completely frozen when going through security.
Make sure you keep your cooler securely closed with a luggage strap or bungee cords. You could use duct tape but TSA is allowed to cut the tape to inspect the inside of your cooler. I’ve read that if TSA cuts through the tape to inspect your cooler they will re-tape it but luggage straps or bungee cords are more secure and easier.
The Best Cooler to Use as a Checked Bag
We love our YETI cooler and use it all of the time for camping and boating. It keeps ice for days even in hot weather.
That being said, a YETI cooler isn’t the cooler you would want to check on your flight because it is way too heavy. A YETI cooler weighs almost 40 pounds completely empty. By the time you load it up, it will be way over the 50-pound weight limit to check on a flight. Plus, you don’t want to risk damaging your YETI cooler by putting it in the hands of airline baggage handlers.
The cooler we use as a checked bag is an IGLOO cooler that has held up nicely for years. It doesn’t hold ice as long as the YETI, but it has been fine for 24 hours and weighs under 15 pounds.
Tips for Bringing a Cooler as a Checked Bag
- Bring a few reusable ice packs. If you are staying somewhere with a freezer they are nice to have so you don’t have to buy ice. These ice packs I bought from Amazon have held up really well for years.
- A wheeled cooler is the only way to go. Any other cooler would be more trouble than it’s worth to lug around.
- Keep the size of your cooler in mind when you rent a car. We rented a car in Alaska once that was so tiny the cooler didn’t even fit in the trunk.
- Pack everything inside your cooler in a duffle bag or drawstring mesh bag to make it easier to remove when you arrive. Also, if you plan to bring home fish you will want the duffle bag to put your clothes in on the way home.
- Book a direct return flight if you plan to fly with fish or meat. You don’t want to risk having your cooler get lost between connecting flights.
Getting creative with packing can really make travel easier and save you money.
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