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Frugal Traveling: 10 Carry-On Tips

Posted on 3/6/2012 10:13 EST

What seems like a cheap air ticket can turn into a much more expensive one after you've checked your bags. Most airlines charge anywhere from $15 to $35 for the first bag and as much for the second bag -- each way.

Photo by sxc.hu/seekmee
It may seem impossible to pack well enough to avoid check-in fees, but with the right pack and a little traveler's ingenuity, you can pack for a month-long trip and carry your bag on board. Here are 10 carry-on tips to show you how.

1. Know the rules.

Read the TSA guidance on packing liquids and food, size limitations, and other related matters before you get started. For example, the site notes that 3.4 ounces is the maximum for all liquids and gels (and that means items such as cranberry sauce, lotion, and snowglobes).

2. Research what's waiting for you.

Call the hotel where you'll be staying and confirm that shampoo and soap are provided. They almost always are, so you won't have to worry about packing lotion, soap, shampoo, or conditioner. Towels will be provided, and if there's a pool or spa you can usually count on pool towels as well.

3. Clip your nails and tweeze your eyebrows.

Before you go, perform grooming maintenance on yourself to avoid packing sharp metal objects in your carry-on. Consider buying disposable razors at your destination, or remove the blade from the body of your razor and purchase new blades once you arrive.

4. Strategize your luggage.

Travelers are generally allowed two carry-on items: a bag and a purse or laptop case. For your main bag, consider an expandable wheeled suitcase, and then a large-ish tote bag (preferably one that has a loop for attaching to the handle of your wheeled bag). If you have a laptop, it should fit in your tote. A small backpack for day trips, like the REI Flashpack, can be rolled up in your luggage. A fancier purse, clutch, or document portfolio will also fit.

5. Strategize your wardrobe.

Make sure every item in your carry-on can be mixed and matched with other items. A scarf can dress things up and add color, while a sarong (if you're going on a beach holiday) can act as a beach blanket, a swimsuit wrap, a towel or a pashmina. Business travelers should start with a base wardrobe and add accessories such as jackets and scarves or ties.

6. Think shoes.

You really only need three pairs of shoes: the ones you exercise in, business/dressy shoes, and a pair of flip flops or sandals. Wear the bulkiest pair on your flight and stuff socks and underwear in the others.

7. Divide and conquer.

After you've assembled all the items, divide the pile in half. It's hard to do, so start by removing a third of what you're intending to pack. Then, one by one, remove the superfluous accessories, socks, and whatever else you can leave behind. You won't miss it.

8. Roll it up.

Invest in a few packing cubes that keep things organized and compact, such as the ones from Eagle Creek. Buy several different colors and separate your clothes into color-coded categories. Roll each item tightly to maximize space. Your clothes might get a bit wrinkled so make sure you unpack and air them out as soon as you arrive.

Photo by sxc.hu/adamci

9. Consider collapsible water bottles.

You can't carry water through security and bottled water is expensive and wasteful, so consider purchasing a small water pouch. It takes up very little room in your tote when empty, and you can fill it at the drinking fountain on the other side of security. One good option is the 1L Platypus Platy PlusBottle.

10. Go mobile.

No need for large computers, CDs, or even books and magazines. Traveling with an e-book reader is one of the biggest space-savers for travelers. You can store PDFs, guidebooks, magazine articles, and personal documents all in one tiny device.

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