With the recent news that many airlines are increasing their checked baggage fee (from $25 a bag to $30), a family of four will now be spending $120 or more if each person checks a suitcase. The quickest way to save that money? Only bring carry-on luggage.
I’ve been a travel writer for more than 20 years, often traveling one to two times a month, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve checked luggage. Now that I travel with my husband and two kids, I have implemented the same rule: no checked bags. In fact, we only have carry-on luggage, so if it doesn’t fit in the suitcase, it doesn’t get brought on the trip.
How to Pack a Carry-On Bag Only
Use All The Space
If your kids are little (and thus their clothes are little), parents can use some of the extra space in the kids’ bags for the parents clothes. Or if you have two kids that are close in age (like mine), pack one set of clothes and have them share. If you run out, you can find a laundromat just about anywhere — even cruise ships.
Mix and Match
Lay out all the clothes before you pack them and make sure they mix and match easily. If they don’t, then put them back — you should ideally be packing more neutral colored clothing. For adults, this often means shades of black, white and gray. Also, once you lay out all the clothes (for you and the kids), take a good, long look and see if you can put 25 to 50 percent back. Do you really need to pack three sweatshirts for a trip to the Caribbean? One should suffice (and your child can tie it around his waist so it doesn’t take up any room in the carry-on).
Roll, Don’t Fold
Roll (don’t fold) your clothes. This is a big one that many a seasoned travel swears by. Rolling takes up less space and often, you can get more in your suitcase.
Pack It In The Backpack
Carry a backpack in addition to your carry-on. In the backpack, put bulky items (like a travel pillow, collapsible water bottle, or favorite stuffed animal), as well as liquids (easy access for TSA checks) and your laptop and other electronics. Suddenly, it’s like you have two carry-on bags and plenty of space for everything.
Less Shoes Equals More Space
Limit the shoes to two pairs. Rarely do you need more than two pairs of shoes when you travel. For kids, often you can get away with just packing sneakers (dress codes tend to be lax for the junior set). For parents, a casual pair and a dressier pair for night should suffice.
Related: 8 Best Travel Sneakers for Moms
Best Carry-On Bags
One of the best ways to avoid overpacking? Use a carry-on bag that doesn’t allow for expansion. Away Travel’s “The Carry-On” bag is made with the brand’s signature unbreakable German polycarbonate, a lightweight and ultra-durable material that is designed with a little flex so it bends, but doesn’t break even under pressure.
Not only is the luggage the perfect size, but it has added features that are great for traveling with kids, including the eject-able battery that can charge your phone up to five times over; an interior organizer that features a compression pad that buckles down to make more space; a hidden laundry bag that separates dirty clothes from clean; the 360-degree Hinomoto spinner wheels, ideal for all kinds of rolling (think cobblestone streets or bumpy stairs); and a built-in TSA-approved combination lock to keep everything safe and contained. Plus, the company offers a 100-day trial—you can return it for any reason, no questions asked, after you buy the suitcase. If you keep it, there’s a lifetime warranty–if anything breaks (and with kids, you never know), the company will fix or replace it for free.
Another way to fit everything in your suitcase is to invest in travel packing cubes. I resisted for a long time, and now I won’t travel without them. Two good options are the EZPacking Starter Set and eBags Ultralight Packing Cubes – Ultimate Packer 7pc Set.
For the EZPacking Starter kit, it’s made specifically for carry-on bags and can fit a week’s worth of clothes. It comes with a large cube for jeans and heavier times, a medium cube for T-shirts, lightweight sundresses and kids’ clothes; and a small cube for socks and underwear. There is an extra-small cube for toiletries, too.
For the e-Bags Ultralight Packing Cubes, they are super lightweight and literally have no bulk. The nylon mesh is super resilient and flexible, so you can stuff a lot in each cube and yet it doesn’t break or change the shape. The seven-piece eBags starter kit makes for a beautiful game of travel Tetris—you can stack and arrange each cube in a variety of configurations for how you need it most. Each family can get their own color and it’s easy to unpack the cubes (and keep things organized) once you get to the hotel.
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