This post is from staff writer April Dykman.

Most of us travel with a lot of stuff. Even the evangelists of light packing (like me) usually pack our carry-ons and handbags to the hilt. But what we pack (or don’t pack), and how we pack it, often directly affects our finances, especially now that checking baggage often comes with an added fee on most airlines.

Packing smart to save money doesn’t necessarily mean traveling around the world with no luggage like travel writer Rolf Potts. Obviously, it depends on who is going and where you’re headed. A college kid backpacking around the world has different needs than a family of four going to Disney World. (And some travelers simply don’t want to pack light. I had a coworker who had a thing for shoes, and she would’ve been unhappy traveling to Tuscany with less than five pairs in tow.)

But packing smart does mean really assessing your needs to lighten your load as much as you comfortably can and to still have your necessities for the trip—which avoid added fees and extra expenses.

The golden rule of travel
On one end of the packing spectrum, you have travelers who bring everything and the kitchen sink. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Jonathan Yevin, who hitched rides from Ecuador to Mexico with nothing but the clothes on his back, a passport, a credit card, $50 cash, a toothbrush, a small digital camera with extra battery, a Ziploc bag of vitamins, and a copy of The Kite Runner, “whose chapters I tore off as I read them,” he writes.

Crazy? Maybe. But consider the following:

  • Jonathan wouldn’t be as tempting a target for theft, damage, or loss because he didn’t have anything that looked appealing to thieves. No fancy luggage or expensive SLR camera — he probably looked (and he definitely smelled) a lot like a bum. He said this allowed him to hitch rides more easily.
  • He didn’t have to pay for bag fees while using public transportation (common in Latin America).
  • He didn’t have to tip a bellhop, since he had no bags to carry.

Jonathan admits he was stinky and that he raised suspicion for his lack of luggage. He writes, “An amused agent asked, ‘Vas a recorrer mi tierra desnudo?‘ (You gonna run around my country naked?) A valid point.”

As extreme as it may seem to you and me, it was an interesting experiment that showed how what we carry with us affects our finances. Most of us have seen airlines cut back on weight allowances and added fees for checked bags, so an obvious way that packing light can save you money is simply to not check any bags.

By taking only carry-on luggage, you save money on traveling expenses, reduce time at the airport waiting for your bags, and you won’t have the frustration and possible expense of dealing with lost luggage. After all, unless and until they find your lost bag, you’re going to have to buy basics like clothing, toiletries, and the like.

Collected from the archives of Budget Travel, the following are some of my favorite pack-light tips that can help eliminate the need for checked bags:

  • Split the load. When traveling with your significant other, do you both need to pack toothpaste and shampoo? If you can split the load, you’ll each carry less.
  • Choose two clothing colors that work together, and mix and match. You’ll need less clothes and shoes if everything goes with everything else.
  • Try rolling instead of folding. There seem to be two camps when it comes to packing clothes—the rollers and the folders. I’m a roller. I’ve repacked folded items using the rolling method and was able to fit more in the suitcase. I don’t recommend rolling a suit, but for t-shirts and jeans, it can save space.
  • Pack stuff inside of stuff. Small items, like a camera, can be stored in a shoe.
  • Look for multi-function products. Most shampoos can double as body wash and laundry detergent if you need to wash clothes in the sink. Moisturizers with sunscreen cover two needs.
  • When traveling with kids, the more organized, the better. Check out the app Baby Pack & Go, which supplies packing lists you can customize for each child (as well as reminders to help keep baby on his or her routine as much as possible).
  • Ship ahead. Sometimes you just have to have more stuff, for example, when you have a baby. One option to lighten the load is Babiestravellite.com, a service that delivers your baby supplies order to your hotel. For travelers wanting to ship bags domestically (it’s not advisable to ship bags if you’re traveling internationally), Luggage Free Economy will send your up-to-50-pound bag cross-country for about $70 (rate varies depending on the type of bags and itinerary).

Note that if you’re traveling domestically and your bag weighs more than 55 pounds, you’re better off checking it in at the airport.

Caution: Sometimes you set out to pack light, but things go wrong. If you decide to take only one carry-on, make sure your bag meets both the size and weight limits listed on the airline’s website. Make sure you can carry it and easily lift it above your head to stuff it into the overhead compartment. Your back and your fellow passengers will thank you.

Avoid the frustration (and expense) of lost luggage
If traveling with just a carry-on doesn’t work in your situation, make every effort to help your bag reach its destination. The following precautions will up your odds:

  • Put your name and a copy of your itinerary inside your bag in case the luggage tags are lost.
  • Take a picture of your bags and keep it in your carry-on. It’s easier to show the claims rep your luggage than to describe it.
  • Keep the bare essentials in a carry-on, so if your checked bags are lost, you won’t have to spend extra cash on things like a change of clothes and basic toiletries.

Also, be especially careful if you’re flying in or out of an airport known for lost luggage, such as Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport and Sydney International.

I’m sure many GRS readers are savvier packers and more seasoned travelers than I, so let’s hear your tips and tricks for packing that save money!

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