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7 tips for single-bag travel

Some strategic and creative packing means you'll never have to pay a checked-bag fee.

By Karen Datko Oct 6, 2010 8:45AM

This post comes from Kentin Waits at partner blog Wise Bread.


The airlines are always finding new and novel ways to squeeze our wallets. An extra charge for checked baggage was only the beginning in what has fast become a textbook example of how to nickel-and-dime consumers. Blankets, pillows, headphones and -- believe it or not -- bathroom access are all potential profit centers now. Welcome to the great fleecing at 30,000 feet.

After my usual airfare comparison shopping, the one fee I feel I have some control over is the checked-baggage fee. After 9/11, for the sake of shear convenience and (relative) speed, I became a single-bag traveler. Now, regardless of the distance or duration of the trip, I pack strategically and fit every item I need into a well-designed and well-packed carry-on bag. If it won't fit in a reasonably sized carry-on, it stays behind.


Here are seven tips to become a single-bag traveler yourself:


Choose the right bag. Just because you're traveling with one bag doesn't mean that bag should push the limits of reason. A modified steamer trunk on wheels defeats the purpose. Shop around and choose something that's road-worthy, versatile, easy to carry, and easy to stow. I chose a black soft-sided shoulder bag that's about twice the size of a standard gym bag. It's made of durable nylon and has a comfortable strap and a few outside pockets. The dark color camouflages scuffs and dirt, the soft sides help it squeeze into those overhead bins on crowded flights, and the outside pockets keep my boarding pass and other quick-grab items handy.

Embrace essentialism. Travel, especially when it's for pleasure, can inspire us to pack everything we love and figure out the rest when we land. Without a serious attempt to resist this temptation, single-bag travel will never be in your future. Decide which items you'll reasonably need on your trip based upon weather forecasts, activities, events, contingencies, etc.


If you want to get really specific, plan out your wardrobe on 3-by-5-inch note cards for each day of your journey and pack accordingly. It may sound extreme, but this method ensures there won't be a single nonessential item taking up precious real estate in your bag. Realize that it's OK to wear clothes more than once. Choose items wisely and focus on comfort, versatility and practicality.


Use your body as your second carry-on. What you wear for your flight is part of your travel wardrobe. Choose these clothes strategically: Maybe those boots you want to pack will take up too much room in your luggage, but they're fine to wear on the flight. Maybe your gym shoes or that hoodie would be fine to wear for a long day of travel and serve as workout gear once you arrive.


Go small. We're all operating under the TSA's 3.4-ounce rule for liquids, so grab a ziplock bag and consciously consider what you'll need for this part of the luggage puzzle. For guys, there are finally smaller shaving cream tubes on the market. For other items that don't come in trial sizes, buy some good travel bottles and get creative.


Reset standards. Let's face it: Americans (especially) have a thing about hygiene. Socks, underwear, even jeans can't be worn more than once without inspiring a look of slight disgust. It's hard to argue with such embedded social standards, but I can't help but wonder what we're doing to get so dirty. Unless a trip involves daylong hikes or fossil-digging, our bodies (and, in turn, our clothing) are probably staying fairly clean. Thanks to some new high-tech fabrics, underwear can be washed in the sink and hung to dry quickly. Rethink some of those conditioned expectations and realize that they aren't universal.

Use the Russian nesting doll method. Packing is an art and a science. The method that I find works best is to lay out everything on my bed, excluding the clothes I'll be wearing on the flight. Then, see how the items can work together. Rolled up socks and underwear can fit inside shoes. Folded jeans can protect ties; a rolled-up T-shirt can provide extra protection for a digital camera or sunglasses. On top of everything goes the laptop case, the ziplock toiletry kit (for easy access at security) and a third "breakaway" bag. The breakaway bag is a small separate case (about 8 by 6 inches) that holds a good book, an MP3 player, any medication I might need, earplugs, an energy bar and aspirin -- anything I might need midflight. This bag saves me time rummaging through the carry-on once I've boarded.


Drop shopping. Remember, you have to pack to come home too. Travel often means shopping or picking up a few souvenirs along the way. If you can't avoid the temptation to accumulate new items on your trip, make sure they will safely fit in your carry-on or consider shipping them before your return flight. Otherwise, skip the snow globe and send a postcard instead.


Many folks might find the concept of traveling with only a carry-on much too limiting. After years of perfecting the science of single-bag travel, I can't imagine going any other way. Packing a single bag smartly will allow you focus on the purpose of your trip and not get bogged down with "inventory management."


Imagine: No more long lines to check bags, no more wondering if your luggage will get lost along the way, no more waiting in line at baggage-claim areas, no more keeping track of large bags and small bags, and no more fees.


More from Wise Bread and MSN Money:

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