Step Down to Carry On: Max Packer to Moderate Checker

Jessie Beck

At Tortuga, we talk a lot about packing light, and traveling with nothing more than a carry on is the ideal for most of us. But, over the past year, my friends and family have made me realize traveling that light isn’t necessarily a desire, or possibility, for everyone.

Some travelers like ditching their bag at the check-in counter and wandering freely through the airport. Some have kids and like packing a few more “just in case items.” I get that — airlines have this service for a reason.

However, max packers — or, travelers who usually bring two checked bags, a carry on, and a personal item — usually express an interest in lightening their loads. The problem is, they’re often not sure how.

Not to worry! Over the next few weeks, I’ll be covering the step down process for going from max packer to carry on only packer. In this first post, I’ll show you how to pack lighter, traveling with only one checked bag and one full sized carry on.

Why Should You Pack Lighter?

I won’t waste too much time on this. If you’re interested in packing lighter, you have your reasons. However, if you’re in need of a little extra motivation, think about this:

Still with me? Then let’s get to the real bulk of the article: how you can get from two checked bags to one without sacrificing preparedness, or comfort. You won’t be ditching the checked bags just yet. Just like eating lighter, packing lighter requires taking baby steps. This is simply the first step away from max packing towards carry on only.

Step 1: Change Bag Size & Ditch One Checked Bag

I’m a big believer in the rule that, “If your bag is smaller, you’ll pack less.” Smaller bags force you to think more carefully about what you put in them.

Part of this is definitely a mental exercise — you need to demonstrate restraint from reaching for that second suitcase — and it’s a hard habit to break. It’s like going on a diet and not allowing yourself that second slice of chocolate cake. You don’t want to resist, but you can do it!

So, for someone who still wants to get down from one checked bag to two, the first step to packing lighter is changing your luggage to:

1. A Full Sized Backpack for Your Carry On

tortuga-travel-backpack-45-degrees-right_grande

Something like the Tortuga, which is a good sized backpack, is more than enough to fit all your in-transit items and an extra days worth of clothes just in case your suitcase gets lost.

2. A Very Small Bag as a Personal Item

“I like to bring a small purse I can tuck in my carry on tote,” says frequent business traveler, Melissa Wolpert. Personally, I like this tactic because it saves me from having to rummage around in my large carry on while in transit.

Another great option is a foldable daypack. This will allow you to use it if you must, but tuck it away if you don’t need it. A safety net, and another step down.

3. Checked: A Large Roller Duffle or Suitcase

I’d recommend an expandable bag, but try to force yourself not to expand it until you’re on your way home (that way, you’ll always have a little extra souvenir space).

With this combination, you — in a way — have the space of two full-sized pieces of luggage. And, you’re sneakily eliminating your carry on and personal item. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Step 2: Limit “Just in Case” Items

“I always overpack and think I’ll be sorry if I don’t bring extra items ‘just in case’,” says 28-year-old Amanda Christensen.

As someone who has tried to communicate, “I NEED A BANDAID” in a foreign language multiple times, I definitely see the value in having just in case items. Still, there’s no need to prepare for every possible scenario, so limit (rather than eliminate) your just in case items — especially since they tend to be the reason most packers go from stuffed, to overstuffed.

Some tips for limiting just in case items:

Step 3: Maximize the Usefulness of What You Bring

Keep an eye out for items that are more useful and versatile than others. For example, a solid t-shirt that matches all of your pants is better than three t-shirts that each match only one. Sneakers that double as hiking shoes are better than having a pair of hiking shoes and a pair of sneakers.

Try to reduce your electronics if you’re bringing one for each function (i.e. a phone, kindle, camera, and laptop) and don’t forget about all the freebies and amenities you’ll have while in hotels. If all of your hotels come with a blow dryer, leave the travel blowdryer at home.

Step 4: Pack Two Days in Advance

It’s easy to pack too much when you’re packing in a rush. Before every trip, pack all (or most) of your bag 2-3 days in advance. Then, the day before leaving open your bag and take out 1/4th of your items. Whatever you were on the fence about, ditch it.

Especially if you tend to overpack, being able to take a second look at your bag before you leave, rather than in the middle of your journey, will help you note thing things you don’t really need.

Step 5: Organize Your Bags

There are two reasons to do this: first, you’ll be more aware of what you’re packing (oops! I have how many pairs of socks??) by grouping like items together.

Second, you’ll be able to get up to 30% more space without actually packing less (just, resist the urge to fill that extra space with more stuff).

A couple of tricks for saving space:

Step 6: Save Time Like a Carry-On Only Packer

One reason that I don’t like checking bags is because it takes time. However, most airlines now offer you the ability to check in, and pay for your bags, online before you arrive at the airport. Take advantage of this to save time (and, it often saves you money).

Also, make sure you keep your laptop and any liquids in your carry on are easily accessible so you can get through security faster.

Want to really speed up things? Consider investing in TSA pre-check. It’s an $85 fee and valid for five years — which is especially worth it if you spend a lot of time traveling.

Tip: if you travel for business, ask if your company will cover it.

Bonus: Keeping Track of Your Checked Bag

One headache that anyone who checks their bags dreads is losing your bag en route. Though this section won’t necessarily help you pack lighter, it will help you keep all of your stuff together — our bonus section of travel-savvy tips for bag-checkers.

Prevent Lost Luggage

Baggage claim

The following tips are thanks to the Caroline Costello of SmarterTraveler:

Following these rules will minimize the possibility of a lost bag and will help make your bag easier to retrieve if the worst happens.

Coping With Lost Luggage

Cope with lost luggage before it’s even lost. Make sure you have all your essentials and important items (especially electronics) in your carry on. That way you’ll be okay for a day if your bag has to catch up with you. Follow the above tips so you can approach the airline armed with the appropriate information to help them to retrieve your bag. If lost, Business Insider has a fantastic guide on how to deal with lost luggage. Some key takeaways:

If it’s really lost, you may be able to file a claim and get insurance money from your credit card, home owners insurance, or travelers insurance.

TL;DR

If you’re a max packer and want to take your first step towards traveling with carry on only, start small. To go from two checked bags, a personal item, and a carry on to just a carry on and one checked bag:

Once you’ve mastered this step, then, maybe you’d be open to packing even less? Yes? Then stay posted for our second segment of step down to carry on.

Image: Princesscccc (Flickr)