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Tips On Packing Lightly For Vacation

It's not unusual to see long lines of vacationers waiting to check in multiple pieces of luggage. But is this an efficient way to travel? Without knowing the intent of mounds of luggage for solo or group travelers, the answer is a resounding no. With rising airline costs for other services like additional luggage or change fees, it's not unusual to see a major airline provider profit billions of dollars from the American consumer on fees that were once complimentary. The solution, as hard as it may seem to some vacationers, is to pack lightly and leave nonessential items at home. For the first-time traveler hoping to avoid baggage fees to the experienced globetrotter, the following 10 tips will help teach you how to pack more efficiently and maybe even more safely.

Limit Packing To One Piece Of Luggage And One Carry-On Bag

More than one piece of luggage and a carry-on does not equate to packing lightly. One obvious reason for a single piece of luggage is baggage fees, even for the first checked bag, averaging $25 and rising for additional bags. The solution is ensuring the luggage size is FAA-approved for boarding, along with the carry-on bag. Another reason is minimizing risk, due to loss, theft or damage in checked baggage. Other tips to minimize screening time are to remove metal items like watches and glasses and place them in a coat pocket or in a plastic TSA bin.

Space Saving Bags (Credit, Randy Yagi)

Use Compression Bags Or Plastic Freezer Bags

When using luggage space efficiently, it's helpful to use a compression bag or even a large freezer bag, which also helps organize smaller items. A number of retailers sell compression bags, including Eagle Creek, Target and Ziploc. One drawback to compression bags is wrinkled clothing. The solution is to avoid overstuffing the bag, thereby minimizing its weight, or not use a bag at all and instead roll up clothing to minimize wrinkling.


Some travelers can make do with just one pair of shoes, but others require one pair of dress shoes and a pair of walking shoes. Anything else is unnecessary weight. Lightweight sandals are another option, particularly when visiting a destination with warm temperatures. Any walking shoe will lose support, stability and cushioning over time so if a pair of shoes are about six months old, they should be replaced. Walking with shoes lacking proper support can possibly result in increased leg fatigue and injuries like shin splints, knee tendonitis and ankle injuries.

Wash clothes in the sink (Credit, Randy Yagi)


Shoes, pants, shirts, socks, blouses and jackets can all be limited to help pack lightly. Some items, like jeans, are preferred by many travelers, but they're heavy and take longer to dry versus a pair of slacks. By carrying a travel-sized container of detergent, laundry chores can be performed in the guest room sink, allowing color-coordinated clothes to be used repeatedly. Also, most hotel rooms come equipped with an iron and ironing board. On warm weather trips, an extra pair of pants can also be substituted for a pair (or two) of shorts. Even if it's a little warm on the day of departure, it helps to wear heavier items like jackets on board and pack lighter items in luggage.

Keep Toiletries To A Minimum

The FAA recommends checking in luggage and carrying on less, with several reasons behind this: more time-efficient passenger loading, less to "lug" around, reduction of risk of injury when loading heavy luggage into the compartments and safety in the event of an emergency. But if it isn't practical to check in items, due to time constraints or otherwise, it's important to understand the TSA's 3-1-1 policy for carry-ons. The maximum size for liquids, aerosols and gels is 3.4 ounces (100 ml.) and they should be packed in a single, quart-sized clear, plastic zip-top bag. Packing only needed cosmetics will also help soften the weight of a carry-on. Reasonable accommodations are considered for individuals who require medications, baby formula, breast milk and food, but must be declared at the checkpoint. Some foods are now accepted on board and a complete list of acceptable items can be found here.

Electrical Products

In the digital world, it's difficult to leave behind a bevy of accessories and gadgets. However, some are essential, particularly for the travelers who need to work. A practical way to pack all electronic items, such as smart phone chargers, adapters, USB connectors, digital camera and batteries, etc., is to pack them in a clear, durable plastic bag. When traveling to international destinations, it's also very important to know what type of voltage is used and what type of adapter or converter to bring.

Related: International Trips You Can Do In A Weekend

Smart Phones, Tablets And Laptops

These devices require a section of their own. It seems as though everyone in America has a smartphone and due to its compactness, it is the easiest device when packing lightly. Travelers mixing business with vacation may insist on bringing along a laptop or tablet or both, but they will make the carry-on bag much heavier. A good solution is to choose between the need to bring a bulkier laptop vs. a lighter, more compact tablet. Choosing a tablet can also allow vacationers to leave books at home, instead relying on E-Books and travel apps. Additionally, a wide assortment of tablet accessories can help ease woes when leaving the laptop behind, such as Bluetooth keyboards, adapters for transferring photos from a digital camera to a cloud-based application and portable Wi-Fi extenders. Travelers going abroad should also determine whether purchasing a global phone makes sense.

Venice, Italy (Credit, Randy Yagi)

Don't Forget!

Traveling can become a nightmare if necessary precautions aren't made, especially when vacationing abroad. No one wants to endure losing a passport, but it happens more often than many travelers realize. The best plan is to secure the passport and bring a photocopy of the passport, driver's license or other valid ID and social security card for emergencies. If a passport is lost, stolen or mutilated, travelers should know where the American embassy or consulate is located and what steps to take. If precautions aren't made in advance, it could take up to two weeks to receive a new passport.

Other paperwork worth bringing is a list of medications, photocopies of credit/debit cards and a checklist of items to prepare in advance of the departure. If traveling to an unfamiliar country, travel guides and maps can be replaced by smart apps for use on either a smartphone or tablet and yes, a checklist can be transferred onto a tablet or smartphone. Another solution is to place digitized items onto a compact, USB flash drive.

Debit Cards, Credit Cards And Currency

Not every traveler has a debit or credit card, but currency is an absolute must for airport connections, food and other necessities. Travelers with credit cards might consider bringing a second credit card for emergencies. Credit cards should not be used to withdraw cash from an ATM due to additional bank charges. When visiting abroad, travelers should determine whether it's cheaper to purchase foreign currency prior to the trip or at an ATM or bank at the country visited. It's also important to determine what banks accept a particular credit or debit card. Currency apps like XE Currency can be used to track live rates for every world currency or calculate prices. American banks typically recommend purchasing traveler checks versus carrying large sums of money, but the pros and cons must be weighed before making a decision. One drawback is the possibility of paying an additional fee when using traveler checks.

What Not To Bring

Anything left behind means less weight for luggage and carry-ons. Excessive amounts of jewelry, valuables, unnecessary gadgets like electric toothbrushes, CDs, DVDs and books all contribute to overall weight and should be avoided if possible. Many travelers rely on money belts or pouches but can potentially make themselves an easy target for pickpockets. Camera bags are also an easy target for thieves, but can be more secure when kept in a safe bag.Related: Best Historic Vacations In The US

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on

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