It’s getting more expensive to bring bags on planes, but these simple tips can help you avoid those costs
The bad news? Airline baggage fees are going up.
The good news? If you read this, you won’t have to pay them.
That’s because, with a few rare exceptions, you should never have to check your bags again. In nearly every case you can meet all your travel needs with the stuff you carry into the cabin.
So say a small army of light-packing experts, some of whom have been traveling all over the world for years without checking a single bag. “The airlines have accustomed people to over-pack and bring more than they need when traveling,” says Alexandra Jimenez, veteran light-packer and editor of the Travel Fashion Girl blog. “You can easily bring everything you need for your trip in one small suitcase.”
“We began traveling light years ago, when it became really cumbersome in Europe to lug our heavy, overstuffed check-in bags up and down flights of stairs in hotels with no elevators,” says Lori Grant, who has spent years traveling the world with her husband Randy. “We each travel with a carry-on rollaboard bag as well as smaller backpack. That holds everything we need to travel for any climate and for any length of time.” They have documented their adventures at the website Freetirement.
Erin McNeaney, author of “The Carry-On Traveler: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light,” says she and her boyfriend dumped their office jobs years ago and headed off on permanent travel around the world. They travel, she says, with just one backpack each. Airline checked baggage fees: $0. Time spent waiting for the baggage carousel and worrying about lost luggage: 0 hours, 0 minutes. Stress and hassle avoided: Priceless.
What are their secrets? Here are 10 ways to avoid baggage fees:
1. Understand your carry-on allowance. It’s more than you may realize. Most airlines will let you carry two bags into the cabin free of charge: A “carry-on bag” that will fit in an overhead locker (22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches), and one “personal item” that will fit in the seat in front of you (18 inches by 14 inches by 8 inches). That’s one bag of 45 liters’ space and one of 33 liters’ space. The total — 78 liters, for those who flunked math — could hold 21 gallon milk jugs. You can’t fit your stuff into that?
2. Be creative. If you’re struggling for space, wear your heaviest and bulkiest clothes on the days you travel, experts advise. And if you really want to go to extremes, wear a jacket with big, roomy pockets and pack them with more stuff as well. Also, think about using packing cubes or even compression bags — which squeeze out the air — to cram all your stuff into your carry-on bags. (There are even coats that double as wearable bags designed for this purpose.)
3. Change your mindset. “You don’t need as much as you think,” argues McNeaney in her book. Most people, she says, pack far too many clothes, and far too much stuff. They take things they won’t use or wear. Think minimalism. Can you take an Amazon AMZN, +0.63% Kindle instead of your books? Do you really need a laptop, your Apple iPad AAPL, +0.39% and a smartphone? Do you need all those workout clothes? Do you need all that makeup, or can you function with a simpler beauty regime on the road?
4. Be ready to buy it or rent it there. Think twice before carrying heavy items, like some toiletries, that you could replace for a couple of bucks. Do you really need to take your own fins and mask to go snorkeling? Do you need all those items for backups or emergencies? “We have learned through trial and error that dragging along those “just in case we need them” items, was way more inconvenient than just purchasing something if and when we needed it,” reports Lori Grant.
5. Think “small alternatives.” That’s what McNeaney advises. Take an ultralight down jacket instead of an overcoat, and a light, packable windbreaker instead of a bulkier jacket, she says. Find ways to pack smaller, lighter versions of the stuff you have at home, but still need on the road. Transfer medications where possible into smaller containers: You don’t need to take your 90 days’ supply on a five-day trip. Pack travel-sized items whenever possible.
6. Pack for a week, even if you’re traveling for a year. “My rule of thumb is to pack enough clothing for one week: seven tops and three bottoms,” says Jimenez. “All you need is one fresh shirt per day and you can easily re-wear trousers. Just make sure that all your clothes can mix and match.” If you are going away for more than a week, “bring the same amount of clothing, but plan to do laundry once per week,” she says. With that in mind, go for clothing materials that are lightweight and that can be washed easily and dry quickly: That includes cotton, and poly-cotton blends, modal, microfiber, and merino wool, experts argue.
7. Work your wardrobe. Pack clothes that can be mixed and matched to create multiple outfits. Think neutral colors, or maybe colorful tops and neutral bottoms. Look for items that can do double or triple duty, and which can be worn in layers in cold weather. McNeaney says she travels with three pairs of trousers, three dresses, three short-sleeve tops, a cardigan and a fleece. Her boyfriend takes three pairs of trousers, three T-shirts, two shirts with collars, and a fleece.
Dresses and ballet flat shoes, she notes, are light to pack and can be “dressy or casual.” Lori Grant says a lightweight scarf is a must. “It can be used for anything from a swimsuit cover, an airplane blanket, an improvised tote bag to hold items, and even a curtain in a window to block out the sun while trying to sleep,” she says.
8. Plan ahead. Work out in advance what you’re going to do and what exactly you’ll need. Do you need to take your hiking shoes if it’s going to be pouring rain? Do you need to take your umbrella if it’s going to be sunny? Are you packing items that may be culturally inappropriate for the places you’re visiting? “A smart traveler is one that is well-informed,” says Jimenez.
9. Keep working on it. It may take time to dump the bad habits of the past. But don’t worry. Even if you can’t become a minimalist traveler in one step, experts advise, try getting there in stages. Take a little less on each trip. Once you’ve packed, look for things you can take out.
10. Be prepared to be liberated. Light travelers say the experience has taught them how little they really need. Erin McNeaney recalled getting home after a year’s travel only to be horrified by all the clutter. Why do I have three hair dryers, she asked herself? Why do I have 30 T-shirts? She and her boyfriend, she said, took bags of surplus stuff to Goodwill stores and haven’t looked back.