In this era of relentless airline cost-cutting, it’s tough enough to fly these days, let alone during the holiday season when long lines, crowded planes and winter weather up the hassle factor. On top of those frustrations, almost every airline has now instituted a checked-bag fee, typically about $20 per bag each way.
Frugal traveler that I am, I’ve opted to avoid that charge by flying only with a carry-on bag. But there are other reasons to skip checking luggage. If you get bumped or your flight is changed, you aren’t separated from your bag. If you pack less weight, the plane carries a lighter load and burns less fuel — better for the planet, especially since air travel is the biggest source of atmosphere-warming CO2. And it’s a lot more convenient to haul less stuff, whether that’s to and from the airport or at your destination.
When I went to frigid northern Manitoba to see polar bears last month — requiring warm clothes for Arctic temperatures — I still managed to make it for a week with a carry-on. That was all I took to Europe the summer before, too — for 22 days.
8 tips to lighten your load
Here are my top packing-light tips, tested and honed, to make your holiday travel merrier:
1. Start with a lightweight carry-on bag that’s maximum regulation size.
I love my Rick Steves’ 21-inch roll-aboard. It weighs barely more than 7 pounds, but it’s sturdy and spacious, with a 2,500-cubic inch main compartment and functional outside pockets.
2. Use packing cubes.
These are my No. 1 most valuable packing accessories. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can fit into a small bag with these. I use Eagle Creek cubes in several sizes — larger ones for clothing (roll each garment and you can get five or six shirts into a 14 by 10 by 3 inch cube) and smaller ones for underwear and socks.
3. Wear your heaviest or bulkiest items.
It’s a lot easier to pack light in summer. But it’s not impossible in winter. Wear, don’t pack, your biggest pair of shoes or boots. And wear your heaviest coat, or even layers, which you can adjust once you’re on the plane.
4. Bring knits and fleece in limited colors.
These lightweight fabrics are rollable, crushable, quick-to-dry and easy-to-care-for when you are on the go. If you build mix-and-match outfits around two, maybe three, colors, you can make several items work for days on end.
5. Go light on the “unmentionables.”
When I discovered Ex-Officio’s travel underwear, I realized it really was possible to take just two pairs, no matter how long I’m gone. These quick-dry undies allow you to wash one pair while you wear the other. Made mostly of nylon with lycra added for stretch, they feel as comfortable as cotton. Great for outdoor adventures like backpacking and safaris. (Men’s styles also available.)
6. Use a set of refillable travel-size bottles.
I like Nalgene’s set of seven, which are sturdy and easy to fill. I take my own favorite shampoo and conditioner as well as lotion and vitamins — and I don’t need to use disposable bottles or pay more for products in tiny sizes.
7. Try soap and shampoo sheets.
If you’re going to be gone for a while, you may need more than 4-ounce toiletry bottles. Yet you don’t want to pay $40 or $50 to check a bag just so you can take bigger quantities of liquids. Here’s an ingenious solution: sheets of soap, shampoo, conditioner and shaving gel that you reconstitute with water. Because they are dry, they are TSA-approved for your carry-on. You can order these through my favorite hometown travel store, Changes in Latitude in Boulder, Colo.
8. Toss in a large expandable shopping bag.
Of course there are going to be trips when you take more home than you set off with — especially during the holiday gift-giving season or with vacation shopping. I always tuck in this handy tote from Baggallini, which fits neatly into a zip-up 8 by 8-inch pouch. And if you fill it up, you can use it as your carry-on while you check your roll-aboard.
Holiday air travel is rarely easy — but it can be less daunting when you’re zipping through the airport toting only your rolling bag, knowing it has everything you need to carry aboard with you.
P.S. Do you have you more tips for packing light? Please share them with fellow readers by posting a comment below.