Traveling Light: Getting More Out of Less Carry-on Luggage

Many airlines have imposed more baggage restrictions on carry-on luggage. They are allowing fewer bags and in some instances are restricting bag size even further; so the luggage you used to use as a “roll-aboard” no longer qualifies as carry-on. Inexperienced travelers find these restrictions increasingly frustrating and even seasoned “road warriors” are finding it more challenging to travel with just a carry-on. TSA restrictions and dealing with airport security checks is yet another incentive to limit the amount of luggage you take with you on the airplane.

There are new strategies to address the challenges of traveling light, in spite of new airline restrictions. You have to consider what you really need when you travel, and what compromises you are willing to make about what goes with you.

First, consider your packing strategy. When I travel, I break my packing list into “travel essentials” and “nice to haves.” I have lost my luggage lost once or twice, so I make sure that any toiletries and essentials that I might need go with me on the plane. You don’t have to go overboard on how you define “essentials.” Remember that you can always pick up a disposable razor or a toothbrush, but you will find it harder to renew prescriptions on the road. If you pack a briefcase or travel bag, you probably have room to pack extra undies and clean socks along with your toothbrush.

I also like to travel dressed for work. I have observed the devolution of travel dress over the years. We have all read news stories about passengers being ejected for inappropriate attire. Traveling in shorts or pajamas may be comfortable, but it’s not necessarily practical if you lose your luggage, and it says something about you to your fellow travelers. If I wear a sport coat and even a tie when I travel (or for the ladies, a skirt and comfortable blouse with sensible shoes – no flip-flops or sandals) then I am ready for anything upon arrival. A side benefit is that I often get better service from the airlines; they would still prefer to give a business class upgrade to those dressed for the part.

When you choose a carry-on bag, you want to select something light, compact and with easy access to the stuff you need. Consider a smaller carry-on with a wider zip-out opening to give you easy access to the contents of the bag. Be sure there are pockets on the outside to accommodate things like tickets, your itinerary, a passport and anything else you might need on short notice. Be sure the pockets have zippers to make it more difficult for anyone to lift something from your bag. You might even consider something with lockable zippers, just in case.

I would recommend you avoid bags with large outside pockets that can be stuffed with clothing. These are very difficult to access when you have your bag opened up flat in your hotel room, and typically when you use these outer pockets, the back will no longer fit in the overhead bin. You don’t want to find yourself standing in the aisle holding up traffic trying to stuff your bulging bag in the bin because a flight attendant will come to force you to check it.

Of course, there are those extreme “road warriors” who travel extremely light, with just a briefcase or even hands-free. I have been fascinated by the concept of the travel vest, and the notion that you can travel without a carry-on. The Scottevest has been touted in the travel magazines as the “road warrior’s armor.” This garment boasts 22 pockets and is supposed to be able to accommodate everything from your iPad to hidden earphones. L.L. Bean and other catalog stores have similar options. The advantage, of course, is that everything you need fits in your pockets, and to get through security all you have to do is put your jacket or vest through the scanner. There are some folks who have taken this concept to the max and even traveled around the world armed only with a travel vest, but that’s a little extreme.

So when packing for your next trip, remember that less is more. The more thought you put into packing, the fewer problems you will have at the airport and when you reach your final destination.

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