P-cubed pantsAfter three weeks across the Atlantic and some office time back at home, I’m off to Latin America again to check out Nicaragua.

I wanted to travel down to Nicaragua in the cheapest way possible, which meant a flight on Spirit Air. This is the airline everyone loves to hate, in no small part due to their baggage fee policy, where it takes a herculean effort to travel without paying extra bag fees—on top of the money they ding you for to make any seat reservation. They, along with Allegiant Air, charge you for any bag that won’t fit under your seat, even a small one to put in the overhead bin. I’ve got a whole closet full of bags I’ve reviewed for Practical Travel Gear, but have you ever gotten a tape measure out to see what matches the following specs?

“Personal items (e.g. purse, small backpack, briefcase, etc.) must fit underneath the seat, so the dimensions must not exceed 16 x 14 x 12 inches (40 x 35 x 30 cm).”

If you do, you’ll find that these dimensions bear almost no resemblance to anything you’ve got in your closet—or most anything you’ll find in a luggage store except those ones the airline workers carry. Even a lot of laptop bags are larger than this: to accommodate a standard 15.6-inch screen with space to spare puts them over 16 inches.

So the editor of the leading travel gear blog is traveling to Nicaragua with…a free trade show schwag bag. It’s basically a big compartment with one zipper and two handles. (Looks like I’ll be advertising Viking River Cruises along the way since they’re printed on the side.)

Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of experience in packing light, plus I’ve got my Sea to Summit duffel bag that compacts down to a size small enough to fit in my palm. I’ll put that inside and then expand my baggage on the other end, like one of those little foam dinosaurs you put into water and they get bigger. I’ve also got this Eagle Creek backpack that folds up into a little pouch. That’ll expand on the other end to be my daypack.

My other secret weapon is a pair of P^Cubed business pants that are not only pickpocket proof, but are also treated with Teflon. So for a week of travel, I’m wearing those on the plane and bringing one other pair of pants (same color, for matching) that’s convertible so I’ll have shorts along as well. A bathing suit, another pair of shoes, quick-dry shirts that can be sink-washed, ExOfficio underwear, and compact cosmetics in a small toiletry kit. Laptop because I’m working—if this were vacation I’d probably leave it behind—music player, phone, notebook, guidebook, Callpod charger, and camera. A tight squeeze, but doable.

The $70 I’m saving on baggage fees will go a loooonnng way in Nicaragua. With that amount I could buy about 18 lunches, a week’s hostel lodging, or 10 bottles of 7-year Flor de Cana rum…