Tips to Pack Light & Avoid Excess Baggage Fees
Some people think packing is a boring, tricky task, just a necessary evil before the good part begins.
Others like doing it, getting excited about all the things they’re going to be doing on their upcoming trip whilst they pack the clothes they’re going to be doing them in
Frankly, I’m kind of one of those in-between people, neither actively hating the task of packing or getting particularly excited about it.
Whichever category you belong to, I think you’ll agree that finding out that your luggage is overweight when you get to the check-in counter is extremely frustrating, especially as it can be a pricey mistake to make!
Packing can be tricky business at the best of times, even if you know exactly what you’ll be doing, where you’ll be going, and what the weather will be like.
If you don’t have a fixed itinerary, the whole thing becomes even more complicated. For a nomad like me, that’s pretty much all the time. So what’s a nomad to do?
The first thing you need to do is to accept that packing can be tough and probably time consuming, but that packing well pretty much determines the comfort and freedom you enjoy during the journey.
Having a packing list ready can help as it means you’re more likely to stick the essentials and be realistic about what you actually need, rather than what you’d like to take with you because it would look great in that all-important Instagram shot.
As well as a packing list, you need to know a few more tricks of the trade to really pack successfully. Below, I’ve listed some of the tips I’ve learned (most of them the hard way!) to help make your travel experience super smooth.
1. It all starts with the luggage
“40% off on … luggage”
We’ve all been tempted to fall for this; heck, we do go for sale items a lot of the time. When it comes to luggage, however, I’ve grown to question why many pieces are on sale. More often than not, the ones with huge discounts tend to be heavier suitcases.
I speak from experience here. My parents bought a suitcase that had a 30% discount on it, only to find that it weighed a lot more than the one I already had that was exactly the same size. This doesn’t happen all the time of course, but it’s better to be on the lookout, just in case.
Make sure you look for lightweight luggage if you’re looking to buy a new suitcase, as that will mean you can take more with you.
Saving money is definitely important, so I recommend buying luggage sets instead of individual pieces. In most cases, sets of carry-on + mid-size + large-size suitcases will be heavily discounted.
That leads me to my next tip…
Try to get yourself a 26” and use its expansion capabilities instead of getting a 30”+ suitcase.
How does that help?
Well, it’s usually in our nature to stuff our suitcases till they’re completely full. If you have a 26 or 27” that’s expanded, there’s much less likelihood of going over the weight limit, even if you pack it completely. That’s dependent upon what you’re taking with you, of course.
Buying a set also gives you the flexibility to switch bags based on how long the trip you’re taking is going to be.
If you have a really nice suitcase already, then you might want to consider investing in a pair of luggage scales instead.
These days, digital scales are super accurate and spending a few bucks on one can save you a lot of money in the long run, as you’ll know exactly how much your suitcase weighs before you leave home, rather than finding out at the airport.
2. Take versatile items
Dental floss, coconut oil, and others can be used for multiple things. Dental floss is a neat item; it can be used to tie things together, to hang your clothes from as a make-shift washing line, or even as an emergency thread if your backpack gets a hole in it.
Similarly, coconut oil doubles as a moisturizer and hair mask too. This pretty handy, especially for women, but do remember to keep your coconut oil sealed and wrapped up in a plastic bag to avoid leakages, especially in hot climates.
Rubber bands are another handy packing item. They’re practically weightless and can be used for many things, like compressing socks or clothes, keeping your stationery from moving around in your bag, etc.
Is your blanket heavy? Do you only have bulky towels? Just use a sarong. This is one of the most versatile items out there, especially for women.
3. Develop a “carry-on only” mentality
Try to avoid check-in baggage in the first place. As you get more and more efficient with the way you pack, you’ll find that you utilize your space better, and your carry-on suitcase will all of a sudden feel large enough for that 4-day trip. It’s all about adjusting your mindset!
If you’re heading out on a longer trip and really do need a large bag, take a backpack as your carry-on instead of a suitcase. That way you can explore your destination more easily.
4. Quick dry clothing
You know those quick-dry hiking socks you only use on skiing trips? Well, quick-dry items have many other uses. Quick-dry socks and underwear are pretty awesome to have since you can wash and dry them in just a couple of hours.
Skip cotton wherever you can.
Quick-dry fabrics that work in both warm and cold temperatures are great. This material wicks moisture away, meaning your clothes also won’t develop an odor, even when you’re doing things at a brisk pace. You can easily get socks, underwear, and some thermal wear that will fit the bill.
A quick tip: If you’re a guy and are are traveling through some beachy locations, buy a pair of boardshorts instead of packing lots of pairs of ordinary shorts. These are super light and tend to dry minutes after you get out of the water. Similarly, swimwear for women is practically weightless and super useful.
5. Pack less & do your laundry!
It’s 2019 folks!
Unless you’re headed to some remote part of the planet, you’ll find most things you need at your destination. If you think you need x-amount of a certain item of clothing, take 3/4 or 1/2 of that.
Trust me, when your friend calls in the middle of your trip and asks you to bring something back for them, or when you find yourself faced with a long flight of stairs whilst in a rush to catch a plane, you’ll be glad you packed less.
Whatever generation you belong to, jeans suit everyone and can be worn multiple times without needing a wash. Packing just one pair should suffice for most trips, although you might want two if you’re going somewhere cold for a longer period of time.
Try to pack for 5-7 days at the most and you can always do laundry after that for the remainder of your trip. Trust me, you’ll only end up wearing your one favourite outfit day in, day out anyway!
6. Reduce the number of electronic devices & wires
Traveling can be an exhilarating experience that really allows you to grow as a person. Sometimes, though, you don’t get the full experience because you spend half the trip staring at a screen. Why not cut down on the number of electronic devices you take with you?
It’s always healthier to stare at a snow-capped mountain range or a flower-filled valley with your own eyes rather than through a lens.
Besides, when you’re in a new city or country, you can use the opportunity to talk to people around you. Learn where the best bars are from the locals instead of Google. You might even make some new friends along the way, which is something that won’t happen if you ask your phone.
Looking for a restaurant with a good vibe? Looking to make friends? Ask around, talk to people around you.
There are scenarios where wires are a necessity, but they’re just a pain to carry around if you ask me.
Assuming you have a phone, tablet, and a laptop, like me, you might have anywhere between 1-3 charging cables, depending on whether you use similar brands or not.
Mix an Apple phone and an android tablet and you’ve got a recipe for a tangled cable nightmare.
You typically have two options in this scenario. One is to not bring all of the devices if you can live without them (if you don’t need them for work, for example) and the other is to skip the charger plugs and use a power bank.
Decent capacity chargers can hold multiple charges for your tablet, phone and, in some cases, your laptop. This also gives you some more packing room.
Try to go wireless as much as possible in terms of charging and even headphones, since they’re cross-compatible most of the time.
Manage this and you can sneak in an extra book or two for a long flight!
7. Stay organized
Once you’ve decided to take less or just bring your carry-on, make sure you stay organized in order to maximize the space you have. Packing cubes are one way to do this. The way you pack your clothes (i.e. rolling vs folding) can also impact how much space you have.
You’ll be surprised how much can actually fit in a 21” suitcase.
Watch out, though. Packing in a super organized fashion before you’re used to leaving your large suitcase at home can start off a vicious circle. You pack more efficiently… so you’ve got more room… so you fill up the space without realising it… and go overweight again! Ugh.
Make sure that doesn’t happen! This is one that I learned the hard way. Don’t let your organization fool you into forgetting weight restrictions. Otherwise, organize away!
Staying organized and gaining that extra space can also be helpful when you change your travel plans.
It’s not uncommon to make friends and decide to stay longer or go somewhere else together. Meet new people, tag along to new destinations, and explore different things.
A trip where you started out in Australia and ended up in Ireland can be pretty good fun! And if you packed light at the start of your trip, you can easily have room for some winter clothes when you end up north without having to sacrifice anything.
With these seven tips, I think you should be all set to have a pleasant experience both in the airport and during your trip.
If you have other tips that you think I should add, please leave a comment below!