Packing light used to be a handy skill. These days, it is a necessity.
As airlines are crippled by ash clouds, strike action and general financial meltdown, they have had to find alternative ways of making money. Enter "ancillary revenues", which basically means airlines charge passengers for anything they can get away with, including fees for checking your bags.
For example, the low-cost carrier Ryanair charges £15 each way for the privilege of stowing your luggage when you pay online, and the fee rises to a whopping £35 if you pay at the airport. (Tip: If you must travel with checked bags, always book in advance.) According to a recent survey by lastminute.com, 75% of flyers say they will travel with smaller bags in the future to avoid these fees.
Can you really travel with only carry-on luggage?
Yes you can - you just need to get clever with your packing.
First, check the hand-baggage dimensions permitted by your airline at www.seatguru.com. Limits vary by airline; generally it is around 56cm by 45cm by 25cm. Buy a bag that fits these dimensions and is not too heavy (a softer bag will be lighter and more pliable).
Next, consider your restricted contents. Check the rules before you fly, but currently, liquids must be carried in 100ml bottles and stored in a clear plastic bag that holds no more than one litre in total. Alternatively you can pack solid shampoo and soap bars (Lush has a good range, www.lush.co.uk), and remember to remove any extraneous packaging.
Vital medicines can generally be packed in your carry-on in larger quantities if accompanied by a letter from your doctor. Sharp items are not permitted so ditch the penknife and buy a cheap kitchen knife upon arrival (handy for picnic preparations/cutting ropes/prying off lids). You can use dental floss - non-minty - to slice cheese.
Off on a trip that requires lots of gear? Mountain climbing, camping or skiing maybe? Avoid baggage fees by buying or renting a specialist kit on arrival. Plus, it is good for the local economy. If you must take your own gear, pay to check it on the outward journey, then hook up with a local good cause via www.stuffyourrucksack.com and donate items to schools and orphanages on the ground rather than bringing them home.
Fitting it all in
Plan your packing list in advance and do not pack things "just in case". In this globalised world, you can buy most of the things you need at your destination. Do not take a whole library - take one book and swap it en route. Lonely Planet sells guidebooks by the chapter, so you do not need to carry sections you do not need. Shoes are bulkiest, so just take one pair, like a smart, multipurpose sneaker or boot. If you need two pairs, wear the biggest on the plane and use the packed pair to stuff shorts, socks and pants inside or use the cushioned interior to protect delicate items. Wear heavy items (coat, sweater) on the plane, or invest in a Scott E Vest (www.scottevest.com). Its range of jackets have up to 33 pockets, designed to hold iPods, books, even laptops.
Packing multi-purpose clothing is key. Trousers that zip off into shorts, fleeces that can be used as pillows, sarongs that can be worn as skirts, beach mats and shawls, sporks - which combine the functions of fork, knife and spoon in one - all optimise your bag's weight-to-usefulness ratio. Nomad Travel Store's Ultimate Travelwash (www.nomadtravel.co.uk) cleans everything - hair, body, clothes, pans - while its Trek & Travel Poncho is a budget waterproof item that will cover you and your rucksack and can be used as a groundsheet or makeshift shelter.
Pack clothes that are lightweight (Rohan has a good range, www.rohan.co.uk), dry quickly and match each other, to maximise your wardrobe options. Ladies, pack a pair of nice earrings, a Travalo (www.travalo.com) 50-squirt perfume atomiser and a light scarf for a quick dash of style (also good for mosque visits or sun-shielding). Men, buy travel shirts that do not crease and smarter-looking travel shoes that work equally well on safari or in good restaurants (try Brasher, www.brasher.co.uk).
The science of packing
Folding items individually into squares is the worst way to pack - it is space inefficient and increases creasing. Instead, roll clothes together. Lay jackets, shirts, trousers and T-shirts on top of each - in that order - alternating the thickest parts of the garment as you layer so you do not get an uneven bulge. Once piled, place a bag of socks or similar in the middle, and wrap each item round this core in turn. The website www.onebag.com has detailed instructions, and loads of helpful packing tips.
Other helpful tips
- Hand-held luggage scales could save you a fortune in excess charges; try the set from www.globalbagtag.com.
- Packing cubes and organiser pouches allow you to keep your bag tidy and condense contents. Made of nylon and mesh, they do not add much weight. Check out the ones at www.eaglecreek.com.
- Invest in a travel towel - these viscose sheets are a fraction of the size of regular towels. Lifeventure's range is antibacterial too (www.lifeventure.co.uk).
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article referred to Ryanair as "the United Kingdom low-cost carrier". Ryanair is an Irish carrier registered in Ireland.
The article 'A guide to travelling with only carry-on luggage' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.