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12 packing hacks for flying low-cost carriers

February 28 2021
7 min read
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It seemed like not paying for that checked bag was a good idea in theory... until you actually began packing. Your sunblock is more than 3 ounces, you can't bring all of your cute sandals and your jacket takes up over half of your carry-on.

If you've been affected by packing anxiety, especially when flying low-cost, you're not alone. The stress of squeezing everything into one small bag without going over weight and size requirements is enough to put a damper on travel, not to mention the other stressors that go along with flying low-cost, like long lines, limited personal space and unhelpful staff.

But following these tips will help make sure your packing experience is a little less overwhelming, especially when flying a low-cost carrier with strict baggage rules.

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1. Know the Requirements

(Photo by nortonrsx / Getty Images)
Airlines have different restrictions to luggage sizes so be sure to double check before you go. (Photo by nortonrsx / Getty Images)

Knowing exactly what you can bring onboard is half the battle. Note luggage restrictions when booking your ticket, and review them again before you begin to pack. The most important things to know are:

  • Amount of bags: Can you bring an additional personal item?
  • Bag size (be prepared to shove it in the luggage sizer if asked)
  • Bag weight

For a list of carry-on baggage rules for some of Europe's most popular low-cost carriers, see this post.

2. Utilize Your Personal Item Wisely

Many people bring a small purse or bag as their personal item. However, few airlines share their size requirement for your personal item, or have a vague explanation, such as it must fit under the seat or it must be a purse, backpack, laptop case, briefcase, etc.

Take advantage of your personal item, and make sure to bring one if allowed. Instead of a smaller purse, bring a backpack or a larger case if you need more space. Typically, personal items shouldn't be bags with wheels, but if you can sling it over your shoulder or carry it on your back, it shouldn't cause an issue, assuming the size is within reason. Just adhere to the general requirements, but try to utilize your extra space well.

3. Plan Ahead

Planning your outfits and packing in advance can ensure you’ll fit everything you want into just a carry-on. Knowing exactly what you'll be wearing means you won't pack extraneous items, and if you pack ahead, you have time to test the waters to see if everything you want to bring fits. If not, you can take things out and start over.

If you wait until the very last minute to pack, it's likely you'll be rushed. You may overpack or forget the essentials. With a little planning and organization, you'll be sure to bring everything you need, fitting it perfectly into your carry-on.

4. Use a Luggage Scale and Tape Measure

(Photo by doble-d / Getty Images)
Luggage scales can save you a lot of hassle at the airport. (Photo by doble-d / Getty Images)

Before even starting to pack your suitcase, measure it first to make sure it adheres to the sizing requirements. When done packing, weigh it to see if it goes over any weight requirements. If you frequently travel with the same airline, it may be worth purchasing a carry-on bag that fits its sizing requirements so you always know it works.

5. Get Packing Cubes

Packing cubes help save space and keep your luggage organized. Plus, if your bag gets opened at security (here's looking at you, London airports), your items won't spill out all over the place. Compression packing cubes can even help you fit more items in your bag, sucking the air out to make room for more things.

6. Manage Your Liquids

Liquids are some of the most annoying things to deal with when traveling with just a carry-on. Maximize the space in your clear baggie by thinking about what is really available at your destination or lodging. Most hotels provide shampoo, body wash, soap and conditioner. If you're staying at a home rental or at a B&B, check to see what is offered.

Buying a set of small clear bottles (test them first at home to make sure they don't leak) will help you bring all your favorite liquids on board even if they don't come in travel sizes.

If you're traveling and sharing accommodation with a partner or friend, combine forces and share — one of you can bring toothpaste, the other, contact solution.

Finally, if you must bring shampoo and conditioner, consider solid versions. You won't have to put them in your clear baggie, and they use less plastic and therefore are better for the environment, which is an added plus.

7. Use Samples

I store samples in a special box and save them for whenever I'm traveling. Often handed out at drugstores or beauty stores when you make a purchase, just a sample or two can replace having to take along a large bottle of moisturizer or makeup remover.

8. Check to See if Your Accommodation Has Laundry Facilities

(Photo by deepblue4you / Getty Images)
Doing laundry while traveling can save you from overpacking. (Photo by deepblue4you / Getty Images)

If you're staying at a home rental, check to see if there is a washing machine on site. If so, you can plan to pack less and do laundry. Although most hotels offer laundry options, it's typically expensive and priced per item, so it's best not to count on laundry services when staying in a hotel.

However, some destinations offer extremely cheap laundry services that charge less than a dollar per pound. Some countries where I've personally found many cheap options for laundry include Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru and Colombia.

9. Wear Your Heaviest Items

Wearing your largest shoes, heaviest jeans and thickest jacket will save you space in your suitcase — especially during the winter months when bulky sweaters and heavy boots can really monopolize your carry-on.

10. Actually, Wear All of Your Items

Pocket-heavy outerwear like the ScotteVest or the Baubax jacket can help save space in your carry-on as you can actually fit a variety of items in your jacket or vest. With pockets for things like phones, tablets — even special additions like an inflatable neck pillow, bottle opener or phone charger, it is actually possible to look fashionable while carrying some of your most important possessions on you.

11. Folding Vs. Rolling

(Photo by Tatomm / Getty Images)
Ask any seasoned traveler. They are either a folder or a roller.(Photo by Tatomm / Getty Images)

While many seasoned packers have strong opinions about rolling or folding, it's not an exact science. Rolling usually works best for lightweight items (your items may wrinkle less if you roll them too) but folding often works better for heavier/bulkier items like sweaters and jackets.

12.  Maximize Your Plugs and Cords

While cords don't necessarily take up heaps of space, your suitcase will be much more orderly if you store them all together so they don't get tangled or caught in zippers. I like to use a small amenity kit bag, but they also can fold up well in sunglasses cases or pencil cases. Having all the cords and adapters together will make them easier to find and use when you need them. The exceptions are my iPhone cord, Bluetooth earbuds and an external charger, which I place together inside my personal item bag for easy access during a flight.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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