One Simple Trick for Quicker, Cheaper, Less Stressful Air Travel

Before I started traveling a lot, I used to pack everything but the kitchen sink when I took a vacation for a week or two. I filled both a carry-on bag and a checked bag with too many shoes, a library worth of books, and outfits that would never see the light of day—all because I was afraid of not having something I might need.

But the more I traveled, the more I realized that not only was I doing my back an injustice lugging all of that extra weight to and from the airport, I was spending money I could have better used to enjoy my vacation.

That’s why these days, I choose to bring just a carry-on bag with me, with an empty beach bag packed inside, and then only pay for a checked bag on my return flight.

This trick has a number of benefits.

Firstly, it allows me to check-in online before I arrive at the airport and to get through the airport quickly on the flight out. No more waiting in lines and stressing out before my vacation has even begun.

Secondly, it helps me to keep my costs low. All across Europe, when you book an airline seat on a flight traveling within Europe, you only get the cost of a carry-on bag and one additional bag (say a purse or laptop bag) included in the cost of your seat. For any other luggage, you pay extra—and on the budget airlines, checking a bag each way on a round-trip can eat into any savings you’ve made by going for a low-cost carrier.

So, these days I’ve learned to get everything I’ll need for my vacation into one carry-on bag. It means that when I get to my destination, I can move easily and quickly around while everyone around me is struggling to drag hulking big suitcases behind them.

Then, while I’m on vacation, I can shop to my heart’s delight, picking up souvenirs and mementoes of my travels at a fraction of what they would cost back home. On my most recent trip, that included a couple of bottles of local wine, some handcrafts, new clothes from boutique stores, and artwork.

Once I’m done shopping on my trip, I transfer my purchases into the beach bag I packed in my carry-on.

This trick has worked well for me most recently on trips to Portugal’s Algarve and the Spanish island of Lanzarote, off the coast of Morocco. I’ve brought home some spectacular gifts and pieces for my house that I would never have managed to fit into my luggage when I was traveling with a full checked suitcase each way.

But I’ve decided to hone this trick further to save even more money.

When I traveled back from Lanzarote, it looked like disaster had struck: I had underestimated just how much of a weight allowance I would need for my checked bag. I had paid for 15 kilograms in advance but when I arrived to check in my bag, I discovered it weighed closer to 25 kilograms.

The check-in attendant said I would have to pay €70 at the desk to account for the increased weight. Instead, I stepped out of line, pulled up the airline’s app on my phone and paid for a 25-kilogram bag. It cost me €35 to add that bag—half of what the airline would have charged me at the desk.

Next time I do this, I won’t add a checked bag until I get to the airport for my homebound flight. With most airlines, you can add a bag using their app one to two hours before boarding (you should check your airline’s rules before you do this). That way, I’ll be able to weigh my bag when I get to the airport and choose the right baggage allowance I need and not waste money on a weight allowance that’s too high or too low.

And, I’ll continue filling my bag with special souvenirs and one-off mementoes I previously would have had to leave behind.

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