My friend and I — and our wives — just got back from an 11 day European vacation. And none of us checked a bag.
Impossible, you say?
I’ll let you in on four secret packing tips that will save you money, time and the hassle of lugging too much stuff around on your vacation.
But first, let’s discuss all the reasons why you do NOT want to check luggage:
1. Checking a bag is expensive. Unless you are flying Southwest or you have elite Frequent Flyer privileges with the airline you are flying, you will have to pay to check a bag. Carry-ons are still free for most airlines.
2. Checking a bag is a waste of time. After a long flight, who wants to stand around at baggage claim for an extra 20-50 minutes when you could be out starting your vacation?
3. There is a very good chance your airline will lose your bag. Anyone who has traveled enough has experienced that sinking feeling…the luggage carousel going around and around — and your bag’s not on it. What follows are days of misery starting with standing in line, then paperwork, then shopping for new clothes and essentials…
…and days of waiting for someone to deliver your long lost luggage.
4. Overpacking limits your mobility. If your luggage is too big to fit in the overhead bin, how difficult is it going to be to drag it to and from the airport and all those quaint, historic hotels built before the age of elevators?
This is the primary reason I told my travel companions (and yes, wives included) to keep it to a carry-on. We had to fit everything in the back of a European station wagon and drag it all across medieval cobblestone streets.
Okay, so how did we pack for an 11 day European vacation with nothing but carry-ons?
Actually, it wasn’t that hard. I still had clothes left over after the trip I never even wore.
However, there are some key principles that must be followed.
SECRET PACKING TIP #1 Remember, you are allowed TWO carry-on bags.
Generally, this means one “roller” type carry-on plus what the airlines call a “personal item.”
For women, their purse counts as their “personal item,” no matter how big or small. So make it count.
My wife can pack a small village and all its possessions into her purse, which we simply refer to as “the tank.”
When I travel on business, my “personal item” is my briefcase which contains my laptop.
But guess what? I’m on vacation! No briefcase. No laptop.
That means I get an “extra” carry on. Sweet!
My personal item was an expandable backpack, which on the way over to Europe contained my travel guides, my trip notes, a book, my iPod and a light jacket.
On the way back, my “personal item” backpack was transformed into a mule for all my wife’s souvenirs.
Somehow in that same backpack I carried a giant hand painted Sicilian platter, three fragile souvenir tiles, two decorative bowls, a glass Christmas ornament, two prints of the Amalfi Coast, a pair of hand painted pasta forks, a few magnets, a wine bottle stopper, a large assortment of Modica chocolate, candy bars, almonds, lemon candies and orange gummies, plus a large bottle of Sambuca and two bottles of Limoncello bought post-security at Duty Free.
Thank goodness for expandable backpacks. My back still hurts two weeks later.
SECRET PACKING TIP #2 You are going to wear the same thing more than once.
Get over it.
I packed zero pairs of shoes.
Yes, ladies, you read that right. The shoes I wore on the plane were the shoes I walked the cobblestone streets of Europe in and went to dinner in and went to Easter Mass in.
Comfortable and versatile shoes.
One coat. One sweatshirt. Two pairs of jeans. One pair of khakis. A bunch of shirts, some long sleeve, some short sleeve.
It was plenty of clothes.
Really. It was.
Of course, it does take a bit of planning. You need to check the weather forecast and map out your itinerary with what you plan to wear in advance.
Just taking a bunch of stuff and hoping to give yourself clothing options when you get there isn’t going to work if you are trying to pack efficiently. Make those decisions BEFORE you pack.
SECRET PACKING TIP #3 The stupid liquids rule.
Okay, so this one isn’t really a packing tip, but it is important if you are taking only a carry-on. The TSA will not allow you take your normal sized shampoo or toothpaste in your carry-on bag.
Yes, the TSA thinks you are going to blow up the plane with your tube of toothpaste. Never mind the fact that you are a frequent flyer, have flown for decades and never once blown up a plane.
But apparently, that counts for nothing. (Yes, I am bitter about this subject. Don’t get me going about the TSA.)
Your liquids must be in 3.3 ounce containers and all fit in a quart-sized ziplock bag.
The little toothpastes they give you at the dentist work great. One of those will get you through a week, no problem.
Oh, don’t forget to pack some soap, shampoo, and conditioner (in a 3.3. ounce bottle). Most cheap European hotels only provide you with one tube of “body and hair wash”, whatever that is.
SECRET PACKING TIP #4 Okay, so how do I get my travel companion to go along with this?
This is probably the most important of all.
After all, even if you manage to pack all YOUR stuff into a carry-on bag, it will not spare you ANY of the ill effects of checked luggage if your wife isn’t on board with this plan too.
This is a travel website, not a marriage counseling website, so I’m not going to get too far over my skis on this one, so to speak. Let me just say this all depends upon your spouse and your skills of persuasion.
For me, my wife is extremely risk adverse.
I simply raised the distinct possibility that the airlines might lose her luggage and she will go days on vacation without any of her stuff.
A bit of exaggerated fearmongering, perhaps?
But it worked like a charm. She was discarding needless pairs of shoes instantly.
The bottom line is that less stuff to lug around on vacation equals less stress while on vacation.
Sure it takes a bit of advanced planning. But if my wife can do it, you can too.