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Avoid Checked Bag Fees: A Guide to Packing Light With Just a Carry-on

Airline expenses are egregious these days, from the ticket price to the snacks on the plane. Some airlines charge over $100 to check a bag.

With a little finesse and the right mindset, you can avoid the checked bag fees and pack everything you need in a reasonably sized carry-on.

If you want to travel even lighter, this guide can also apply to a personal bag — if you’re resourceful enough. Learn how to pack everything you need for your trip into one bag.

Adopt a Nomadic Mindset

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Image Credit: Soloviova Liudmyla and Shutterstock.

Before we elaborate on the tricks to traveling light with a carry-on, we want to highlight the importance of embracing a nomadic mindset.

Traveling light requires mental flexibility, resourcefulness, and sacrifices. If you can’t fathom going to sleep without your noise machine, silk pajamas, and face mask, it’s best to pay to check a bag.

Traveling light means saying goodbye to some of those daily creature comforts and embracing a more simplified routine. It also demands that you work with what you have and find ways to adapt. Don’t feel bad if this doesn’t sound like your jam; just check your bag. For those ready to become a carry-on comrade, follow our guide below!

Use the 54321 Rule

Woman smiling packing suitcase for vacation.
Image Credit: Daniel de la Hoz and iStock

People who religiously pack light often live and die by this strategy. There are several variations, but the gist is you abide by a precise number of items from certain categories.

Our favorite is the 54321 rule: five tops, four pairs of trousers, three accessories (hats, belts, sunglasses, etc.), two pairs of shoes, and one activity-specific item (swimsuit, workout clothes, formalwear, etc.). As mentioned, there are many variations, but once you find one that works for your travel style, packing is a no-brainer.

Choose Your Bag Carefully

Woman smiling at airport traveling international with passport.
Image Credit: PeopleImages.com – Yuri A and Shutterstock

Packing light is just as much about your bag as what goes in the bag. You have to find the right balance between spacious and stretchy and compact and sleek.

If it’s too bulky, it might get checked at the gate. If it’s too rigid and small, fitting everything you need will be tricky. We highly recommend a durable (nylon or faux leather) backpack, as backpacks are less likely to be checked at the gate.

Pack Dual-Purpose Items

woman packing suitcase.
Image Credit: Kostikova and iStock

The key to packing light is avoiding bringing one-use or one-wear items. The exception to this is if you have a specific event, like a wedding. Don’t bring a shirt that only matches one pair of pants in your bag. Try to choose items you can mix and match so you can wear items more than once.

You can also bring daytime items that become PJs after one or two wears. Duality is especially important with shoes. The best shoes for traveling light are comfortable but also stylish.

Select Lightweight Materials

Summer women's clothing neatly folded to be packed in a suitcase. Travel suitcase prepareing concept.
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One heavyweight sweater can take up all the space in your bag, and a bulky pair of hiking boots will weigh you down. Choose lightweight materials, like cotton, silk, linen, satin, and the like, whenever possible.

Silk and satin are perfect because they are very thin and dainty. Avoid wool, leather, denim, and flannel as much as possible. Of course, bringing a pair of jeans is okay, but try to limit these heavy fabrics and materials.

Plan Your Travel Outfits

packing cubes
Image Credit: Kostikova and iStock.

It’s best to plan outfits for your trip and not just select individual pieces you like to wear. Choosing items individually can result in a disjointed vacation wardrobe.

As mentioned, try to find dual-purpose clothing. Pick a blouse that works with your jeans and skirt. Pack shoes that can be casual with shorts or elegant with dresses. Try every outfit on before committing to it.

Invest in Travel-Sized Items

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Image Credit: New Africa and Shutterstock

If you don’t travel often, you may not want to invest in travel-sized items, like small combs, tiny shampoos, compact makeup, short deodorant, and more. We understand, but they’re worth it if you travel more than once a year.

You can buy travel versions of your products or purchase small containers to refill for every trip. A full-size stick of deodorant or standard brush may seem like no big deal, but they can substantially reduce your bag space.

Limit Toiletries and Beauty Products

Top view female housewife organizing bathroom amenities and toiletries in open drawer under sink
Image Credit: Dalivl@yandex.ru and Depositphotos

If you use ten different products a day, you’re not alone. We’re right there with you. However, you need to edit your routine for the sake of your carry-on. For example, if you use two types of shampoos, only bring one. If you layer your face with serum, sunscreen, moisturizer, and foundation daily, try to bring only one or two of those items.

We know this can be tough, but bringing three eyeshadow palettes, two perfumes, shaving cream, and four types of moisturizer won’t leave any room for necessities.

Pack at Least Twice

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Image Credit: Prostock-studio and Shutterstock

This one sounds like a silly hassle, but it can make a huge difference, especially if you’re an overpacker like us. Once you choose all your travel items, pack everything up. This helps you see how everything fits. Then, unpack and consider removing any unnecessary items.

Repack everything based on how items fit the first time, moving things around to use the space strategically. Play with how you position your shoes or toiletries. Packing twice ensures your bag is optimized, and packing more than twice is never a mistake.

Consider Laundry Options

Blond woman in a laundry.
Image Credit: Miguel Valls and Shutterstock

Depending on the length of your trip, you may consider doing laundry while away. If this is the case, you might be able to pack even lighter knowing you can wash items, especially undergarments.

For example, if your trip is two weeks but you’ll have a washer and dryer in your AirBnB, you can get away with only packing one week’s worth of clothing!

Make Sacrifices

solo single tourist
Image Credit: Frantic00 and Depositphotos

We don’t want to sound negative, but packing light requires sacrifices. As mentioned, you might need to sacrifice toiletries and beauty products.

However, we also recommend forfeiting physical books in favor of tablets, skipping souvenirs, and bringing as few electronics as possible. If you’re unwilling to make these sacrifices, that’s okay, but packing light might not be feasible.

Try Different Folding Techniques

Man is folding and arranging the clothes on the bed after wash them.
Image Credit: Rachata Teyparsit and Shutterstock

There are abundant clothes folding techniques you can try for packing. Some work best with certain clothes or materials, while others are ideal for particular bags.

Some options include rolling your clothes, laying everything flat, using packing cubes, compressing everything, utilizing a vacuum sealer, and more. The perfect packing method depends on you, and it’s best to experiment with one or two. However, we have to say, we’re fans of the rolling method!

Use Every Inch of Space

concept of travel vacation trip and long weekend planning on wooden background.
Image Credit: Chutima Chaochaiya and Shutterstock

This might sound unnecessary, but we suggest you explore your carry-on bag before packing. Make sure you’re aware of any hidden pockets, zippers, and extra compartments.

When packing, utilize every inch of space. Put socks and other small items inside your shoes. Fold clothes inside larger items like jackets. Make sure you also use every nook and cranny inside your toiletry and makeup bags. If you still have space after optimizing your bag, maybe you can bring an extra top or buy a souvenir while away!

16 Frugal Habits That Don’t Make You Cheap

older couple happy grocery shopping vegetable aisle.
Image Credit: NDAB Creativity and Shutterstock

The concept of frugality often comes with negative connotations. Images of someone cheap or stingy quickly come to mind.

However, being frugal isn’t about being cheap or stingy. It’s about making smart financial choices that prioritize value and long-term goals over immediate gratification. Here are 16 frugal habits that don’t make you cheap.

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