Next time you get on a plane, use a carry-on, even if you’re going to Europe. It’s what I do, because the bag that travels by your side is the bag the airlines can’t lose.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are some other ways to pack right and pack cheap.
1. Carry-ons are often free
Another reason to use a carry-on? Big airlines generally allow carry-ons for free. All you have to do is make sure the carry-on isn’t too big; the good news is, each airline publishes size allowances on their websites (just look for ‘baggage’). Pay attention to this, because travelers are sometimes relieved of their oversized bags at the gate, so they can be placed in cargo.
2. If you have must pay a bag fee, pay the cheapest one
Smaller airlines like Spirit and Frontier charge a fee for every size bag, and the price varies depending on when you pay; the most expensive fees are slapped on at the airport. Don’t wait — pay for your bag during the airfare booking process (and book on an airfare comparison site to get the cheapest tickets).
3. Leave your valuables at home
OK, some electronics are must-haves, so keep those in your carry-on, in the hotel safe, or on your person. The valuables you don’t want to bring are things that are easily lost or stolen, like jewelry or maybe super-expensive sunglasses. Also, leave one-of-a-kind items at home, such as a child’s drawing or an award — whatever. If you want to show these things off to family members, hand them a photo.
4. Let your device multitask
In many cases, a phone is your library, a flashlight, a camera, TV, diary, document drop. Heck, you can even make calls on it! If tempted to add something to your bag, first ask yourself, “Is this already on my phone?”
5. Keep most clothes in your closet
Unless you’re a bride heading to your wedding, nobody really cares what you’re wearing, so leave most of your wardrobe at home. Just be sure that every pair of pants or skirt you pack goes with every top you pack — it doesn’t have to be the same color, just hues that complement other items. Also, khakis generally weigh less than jeans, so pack accordingly.
As for footwear, don one pair of shoes and pack just one more. A third pair is OK if it’s something light, like sandals, but you’re trying to save space and keep the bag on the light side (some airlines charge a fee for overweight bags which range as high as $200). Finally, wear your heaviest stuff; you can take your coat off on the plane where you can turn it into a blanket for the ride.
6. Do pack the necessities
Something for the rain, like a very small umbrella that could fit in a side pocket, or a cheap plastic rain poncho (again, nobody’s going to care what you look like in it). Other necessities: charger cords for phones and other devices, medications, Band-aids, prescription glasses, contacts, and anything else you can’t live without. Make sure to fit these in the carry-on, too.
7. Before you go, take some pictures
Get out that phone camera and take a picture of your bag in case you decide to go the checked-bag route, and the airline loses it. With a photo, you’ll have no trouble describing it. Also take pictures of your ID/license, plus any important documents such as passports or doctor’s prescriptions. It’s kind of comforting to have all this important stuff in one safe place. And never place your phone on a table in front of you, where people come and go (like an outdoor café). It’s too easy for someone to reach down, grab it, and keep going.
8. Pack a snack
A couple of energy bars won’t take up much room and may keep you from spending $7 on a bag of nuts in the airport. And grab yourself a collapsible water bottle, too (I’ve seen them for under $10 online), because you can’t bring water through security, but you can fill up once you’re past the checkpoint. Great for the plane, too, since it’s so easy to get dehydrated in flight.