Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tips for Traveling on the Cheap: Luggage and Packing

Another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar...

This time of year, a lot of people are traveling. Some people are going a few hours away by car. Others are hopping on a plane to head halfway around the world.

I’m pretty good about saving money. But, I do have a major spending vice: travel. I was born with a gypsy heart, and if I go too long without a trip I start to get really restless. So, we travel quite a bit.

Over the years we’ve learned how to trim our travel budget down, and then down again, so that we spend less on each trip (and, as a result, can take more trips).

I got the idea today to run a series of posts on cheap travel tips. I wanted to share some of my favorite tips for traveling on the cheap because so many of us are planning vacations. And, of course, I would love to hear your tips for saving money while you’re on an adventure!

Today I’m focusing on luggage and packing. Think this has nothing to do with saving money? Think again.

Cheap Travel Tip #1: Invest in the Right Suitcase

What does the right suitcase have to do with travelling on the cheap?

Well these days, everything.

Now that airlines are charging, on average, $30 per bag each way, checking luggage can raise your travel costs fast. For a family of 4 traveling round trip, this is $240 in checked luggage (if everyone has their own bag).

Plus, think about how awful it is to lug multiple bags through the airport, up and down subway stairs, into cabs, down the street…few things will sap your enthusiasm and energy faster than lugging around a bunch of bags.

You can avoid all this simply by taking one bag.

Andrew and I each take just one carryon apiece. That’s it. Even if we’ll be gone for two weeks in a foreign country. Rule #1 is NO CHECKED BAGGAGE.

Sounds impossible, right? It’s not. It all depends on your clothing choices, and the bag you’re using. But first, let’s tackle bags.

Let me introduce you to my own travelling companion, The GoLite TraveLite Carryon.

This bag is amazing because you can fit a lot of clothing into it, and yet it’s still “carry on legal”. In fact you can fit so much in here that when Andrew and I go away for a week or less, we share this thing. No kidding.

This bag is loaded with pockets and zippered compartments. I’m telling you, it’s astonishing what you can put in here.

You can also carry it three ways: as a backpack, shoulder bag, or using the handle. And since it’s so lightweight, it’s not dragging you down while you schlep through the airport.

The best part?

It’s made out of recycled soda bottles.

Thanks to this bag, and our strategic packing, we never, ever have to pay bag fees.

I think that many of us have gotten used to having a huge wardrobe and endless options for dressing ourselves. So when we travel, we feel like we have to pack tons of clothes for our journey.

The truth is that we simply don’t need that much to be completely comfortable.

Cheap Travel Tip #2: Pack Strategically

When we went to Spain last fall, we didn’t yet have our awesome GoLite bag. We packed our clothes in bags smaller than many women’s handbags. We were gone 2 weeks, and we did just fine. So, it can be done! But it did take some planning.

First, it’s important to fully understand the climate you’re travelling to. Unless you’re going to sub-Saharan Africa, chances are you’ll need at least one sleeve (even if it’s just for chilly restaurants). So, factor that in.

Next, pack clothes that all look good together. That is, every shirt you pack should look good with the one sleeve you packed. And all the pants you’re packing will look good with the shoes you have on your feet. And so on.

Your initial packing session might result in more clothes than you really need. Keep trimming! Remember, pants and shorts can usually go awhile without being washed. Plus they’re bulky, so go light on these.

You can also reduce space by reusing t-shirts and tops. Keep the gross-factor down by packing really light, thin tank-tops. These roll up really small, and can be worn under your shirts to keep them fresher longer. To me, even though I’m technically packing more items with these tank tops, I’m getting “longer wear” out of my tops. And again, tank tops roll up so small that you hardly notice them.

I usually pack more underwear and socks than anything else when I travel, but this takes up quite a bit of valuable space. For our next trip I think I’m going to invest in some of Ex Officio’s underwear. Why? Well, check it out…

Think about it…not having cotton underwear means you could wash it in your hotel room every evening. It’d be dry when you woke up. Plus, you can only imagine how small and lightweight these garments must be.


Tip: Folding

When it comes to getting all your clothes to fit into your small bag, the secret lies with how you fold it. Think small, tight rolls, NOT how you fold things to put in your dresser.

For instance, here’s how I fold a t-shirt:

1. Lay the t-shirt flat

2. Fold it in half length-wise

3. Fold in the short sleeves so you’re looking at a rectangle

4. Starting from the bottom, start rolling up the shirt very tightly, just like you would a toothpaste tube

You won’t believe how small your clothes will get once you get the hang of this.

Cheap Travel Tip #3: Use the Laundromat

Eventually you’re going to run out of clothes. So before you leave, make sure you know where the nearest laundromat is from where you’re staying (many hotels now have their own pay-as-you-go washers and dryers, which is incredibly handy).

If you have any handy dandy packing and travel tips to save money, I’d love to hear them!

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