Packing for Savings and Safety: Airline charges for carry-on bags has made for a real battle of the wills. Many passengers find the only solution is to overstuff their one “personal” item if they are to save.
I was shocked on a 17 day trip to SE Asia that the flight to China only allowed 11 pounds no matter the dimensions of the bag. Since roller bags have some weight in their metal wheels and handle, it is hard to make that work.
To make matters worse, when more economical regional jets are used, even small bags may end up being scooped up to be “gate checked”. Waiting in the jet way for a plane full of luggage can mean that close connections are missed.
Besides the excess charges of checking bags, a second reason to pack light is to make for a better trip. If a passenger manages to make it over all the hurtles in today’s air travel, hoisting roller bags in overhead bins can require a virtual weight lifter or finding help. When faced with this feat during my last European flight, a flight crew member informed me that they could not assist as they are prohibited from lifting the bags overhead themselves. In the US, apparently there is not such a uniform restriction. However, in a crowded flight, passengers needing assistance may still have to look for a hearty “volunteer”. For trips via train or subway, you may find that not every station has an escalator or elevator. Lifting bags up and down steps when you are racing for a train can make for a long day!
Lastly, even in some of the world’s busiest airports, flights may not stop at a gate but out on the runway. Both in Beijing and Frankfurt, Germany, I had this happen. It meant making it up and down 10 or 20 steps to the aircraft with a roller bag and “one personal item” in tow.
Besides the inconvenience and the cost, there is a third reason that it is important to travel light. It is one of real safety. Even small bags can make it hard to get away to find help in an emergency. On return from India, long lines for Immigration and Customs in Newark Airport caused me to miss the last flight that night back home to Washington, DC. The only option to flying out at 6 AM the next day was to dash to a largely empty train station to catch the last train that night to DC. To be sure I didn’t miss the train I went directly to the waiting area at the track. As a female solo traveler standing for some time alone at 10:30 PM on a deserted platform, this was not very safe. While I was traveling light, if I had needed to get away fast, it would not have worked.
Packing for Savings and Safety-The Right Tools:
Invest in a spinner with a snap on/slip on tote. For years, I struggled with a conventional roller bag. However, as the aisles in even large planes shrank, I had to twist the bag sideways to get to my seat. Last year I invested in a spinner and was amazed at how easily it goes through the narrowest aisles since it rotates on four wheels not just two.
One “personal” item. The tote works better if bought as part of a set to fit securely on top of a spinner/rollerbag. However, for longer trips when I want to take both, I have found that my matching tote is too tall to fit under the seat in front of me.
A word about choosing a tote: I have often had the handle break off of my (overstuffed?!) tote. In the Bangkok airport, I found what works well when I need a tote other than the matching one that came with my luggage. Get a tote where the handle is not sewn on as an attachment but is part of one continuous piece of fabric from which the tote is made.
If you opt for a fabric tote bag, try to get one with a zipper in the top. I found one at an airport gift shop. It’s a good way to prevent your items falling out and rolling down the airplane aisles.
Packing for Savings and Safety-Size Matters/So Does Weather:
Be sure before each flight you check both the dimensions and weight of allowed carry on’s.
If you are going on a cruise or river cruise, think about taking a smaller bag. Why? In a standard cabin, there can be small spaces for storing luggage. I also found on a Yangtze River cruise, that the entry to the ship was a steep climb down and hard even with a roller bag. As luck would have it, for a small tip, there were lots of helpers.
Compare weather reports from several sources. When I spent a pre-Christmas holiday this year in the Czech Republic, I had followed reports carefully at home. Although Europe has been warm this year, the projections were for winter days 10 degrees lower than Washington. I arrived in a heavy coat and two bulky sweaters. Not only did it mean my “light” bag was not so light, but that I was too warmly dressed most days.
When you check weather, be sure to consider humidity, rain or snow. I have taken two adventure tours during the rainy season, one upriver on the Brazilian Amazon and the other to India during the monsoons. The trick is that if you pack to stay dry in the tropics, you may be way too hot. I found the best bet was a $5 poncho from the drug store. It worked well as opposed to a zip-up or other rain slicker. Think about what you have planned. For example, an umbrella could work if you are touring museums but not if you will be in a small open canoe. In a cold climate that is damp, this can be tricky. In one of my 7 trips to Quebec City, I arrived in my best après-ski boots on a beautiful sunny winter day. Unfortunately, the snow melted so fast my boots were soaked in 30+ degree weather. My first stop on my solo vacation tour was to buy a pair of waterproof Canadian boots!
Unless it is the dead of winter, pack only washable clothes that you can hang up to dry over the shower rack. (One Jan. in Siberia, I found the old radiators from the Soviet period were just right for drying out my clothes.)
Even if you don’t swim, pack a swimsuit. Why? If you find there is a Jacuzzi or other hot tub, you will need your suit.
Packing for Savings and Safety: What to Take and What to Leave Behind
Shoes are “space stealers” so leave your favorite designer pairs at home. They will fit better if you separate them. Then stuff socks and other small items in each. To save more space, place a single shoe on the outer edges of your bag. Wear your bulkiest pairs. Pack a good walking pair and one for dress-up. For day to evening, I take gold flats for dressing up. I also wear flats, not sneakers, on tours in cities abroad. While you may not be rock climbing in the world’s popular capitals, making your way up and down hilly, cobblestone streets can be a challenge. I found this to be true in Lisbon, Portugal. In the heart of the city, when it started to rain, I went sliding up and down every side street. (If you are looking for a quick solution in such a case, stop into a minimart and buy a pack of bubble gum. It will do wonders for the sole of your shoes!)
I am a great believer in packing pods. You can buy them online or in stores. You can also use the free zipper bags that come with pillow and sheets. The last pod to pack should be the one you need for your first night. Place it on top. A second pod can be used for athletic/sightseeing clothes. Pack a third pod for city tours and nights out.
Unless you are going to a very cold climate, wear a jacket not a long coat. Jackets are much easier to stow overhead on the plane and easier to travel with.
Pack a large scarf to use as a belt, to dress up an outfit and even to hide a money belt. They are great, too, when air conditioners are set to an arctic chill.
Pack to conform with local customs. Even in warm climates, shorts and tee shirts may be way too bare. In the Middle East, South Asia and SE Asia, you will need more coverage, especially when you tour special venues, like temples and palaces. Before leaving home for such spots, I bought Indian style kurti shirts/tunics in bright cottons and silk fabrics. If you aren’t traveling to India, you can find them on the Internet for a wide range of budgets. Their light weight fabrics work in hot climates, provide coverage and for fashionistas can be very chic.
A second solution once you arrive at your destination is to shop locally in shops or at street markets. When I arrived in India, I found my slacks brought from home were too heavy and would barely allow me to bend my knees making touring and hiking hard. My “finds” were light weight slacks made for tourists. I am now the proud owner of not one but three pairs of slacks covered in elephants! You can keep your purchases for sleep/sports wear at home or donate them to a charity in-country or at home.
As a female solo traveler, I always wear a referee whistle on a wristlet when I travel abroad. Its shrill sound would attract attention in an emergency so you don’t have to try to figure out how to say “help” in multiple languages!
When you pack your electronics, do password protect them. They carry lots of data which could lead to months of identity theft. (Cyber “kidnappers” have also benefitted from lost phones. Calling family and friends demanding ransom has worked in some cases when the “victim” was safely going on his/her way unaware that the phone had been taken hostage.)
In this world of fast shrinking approved carry-on bags, take your luggage for a walk around your house or apartment before leaving home. This will give you a good idea of whether you are taking too much. You may find that you really can discard much of what you packed. It will still be waiting for you when you get home!
Use our Solo Sherpa, free app. (Available at the app store and for android devices at the Google Play Store.) Solo Sherpa gives you an easy way to begin. It has 20+ tips based on our 50 years of solo travel. The first step is to take a look at our tips and then review our six separate lists. You can add and delete items to work best for your type and length of trip. You can save your customized list to use now and to modify it for your next travel.
We would love to hear your tips as well. Send us an email via our Contacts page so we can share them.
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