My wife and I have been traveling abroad since 2006 when we moved from North American to Asia. Since her mother was a flight attendant, she's always had a lot of great tips about how to pack while traveling. Every airline has got different rules and regulations, but most of them are similar. These are our tips that helped us save hundreds of dollars in excess baggages fees.
1. Roll Up Your Clothes
The easiest way to save space in a suitcase is to roll-up your clothes. This takes up less space than if you just fold them. Also, if you wear a lot of tech clothing, the quick-drying kind from sport manufacturers and camping shops, you'll find that these clothes are easier to pack than cotton. I don't pack many cotton clothes when I travel, because they can get quite heavy if they are damp or humid. This can easily skew a scale.
2. Pack All Your Tech In Your Carry-On Bag
While most airlines have rules and regulations when it comes to carry-on luggage, if you bag passes a cursory visual exam, most airlines won't check the weight of the carry-on bag or the exact size. A lot of people don't know exactly how many things you can take onto the plane. This also stops you from worrying too much about having your tech stolen from your checked luggage. International airlines tend to be less anal about this than domestic ones.
I've packed two laptops, a 17-inch and a 13.3-inch, an Xbox 360, a Nikon D200 DSLR with three lenses, chargers, cell phones, and more in one medium-sized backpack (Oakley Kitchen Sink). My carry-on roller is usually packed with the most heavy clothes, like hiking boots, thick jeans, wool clothes, anything that might get heavier when it's damp. In the end, my carry-on roller weighed more than my big suitcase that I checked.
3. Pack Any Books In Your Carry-On Roller
Most airlines will let you take a backpack, camera bag, and a small-sized rolling suitcase with you on the plane. I've seen people pack a lot more, but you don't want to overdo it. If you do, there are chances that you'll have to end up checking it and then paying an extra baggage fee. If you are packing any books, pack them in this bag. Books weigh a ton and it's easy to forget how much they weigh until you see them on a scale. Any papers or documents should also go in here.
4. Arrive Early For Check-In
While some people like to cut it close, I like to arrive early for international flights. I arrive 3 to 4 hours in advance. Why? There are basically no lines for check-in. You can take your time. The people at the check-in counter are also under less stress and will be more lenient with you. If you are in a rush, things can get hectic and the airline employees will tend to be less forgiving when it comes to your suitcase weight.
5. Arrive Early For Extra-Large Items
If you are traveling with your bike, which has happened to me, make sure that you arrive early, especially on international flights. People usually think that traveling with a bike is a hassle, but once you're at the airport, it's pretty easy. If you're calm, collected, and head to the large baggage check-in, you'll have no problems. All airlines have different costs, but I paid $50 to ship my bike from North America to Asia. The airline clerks have a lot of discretion when it comes to how much they charge you, and I've found that since I dress like a student and look like a student (which I actually am!), they tend to be very nice to me. That means that it's possible for them to charge you less than what it says in the airline regulations.
[all photos by Range]