Browsing Posts tagged airline fees

how to pack with carry-on

All set for a 10-day trip in Portugal

When I travel these days, I’m doing it one of two ways: with my family for up to three weeks, or on a writing trip for a week to 10 days. I sometimes check a bag for the former (especially if I need to backpack with a real backpack), but usually get by with a carry-on for the latter. You get a free checked bag for international flights on all but the stingiest airlines (like Spirit Air), but if you’re leaving the airport city upon arrival, the last thing you want to deal with is lost luggage.

As the editor of Practical Travel Gear, I get loads of apparel, footwear, and gadgets to try out. I personally review close to 100 items a year and the three others who write for me there check out even more. So after all that, what are the best items to pack? Which ones really pull their weight and bulk?

Quick-dry clothing
This is the key factor in packing light. Sure, take a few cotton t-shirts if you want, but the bulk of what you carry needs to be items you can wash in a sink and have dry by morning. I’m a big fan of ExOfficio clothing as it holds up to a crazy number of washings and still looks good. But if you’re put off by the price, try similar alternatives from Colombia Sportswear or just browse the clearance racks, physically or at sites like Sierra Trading Post. A few companies are making polo shirts with built-in odor suppression, something you’ll also find in many wicking t-shirts meant for exercise. These are a nice alternative to the button-up ones.

For pants the usual lightweight tough nylon ones are great for warm places, but companies like ExOfficio, Craghoppers, and Sherpa Adventure are making “trekking pants” that are stretchier and thicker. They still dry fast though and resist a drizzle and stains. I’ve often worn these a week straight without washing them–like I did with the ones in that photo above.

If you’ll be someplace like Delhi, Rome, or Barcelona though that’s notorious for pickpockets, it’s good to invest in a pair of Pickpocket Proof Pants (also known as P^Cubed Pants) from Clothing Arts. They also make shorts and just released some nice lightweight travel shirts as well. It would take an incredibly determined thief and you being passed out for someone to get into these and steal your valuables.

Biom grip shoes

Double-duty shoes
Shoes are the adversary of the carry-on bag. Footwear takes up an inordinate amount of room and if not chosen carefully, can add a lot of weight. Fortunately shoes are getting lighter in general—even hiking boots—and more companies are making ones that pack down flat or close to it in your bag. Scroll through a few pages of travel shoes that the four of us at PTG have reviewed. We go through a lot of them looking for ones that can be worn in multiple travel situations.

Wear the heaviest, clunkiest pair on travel days to lighten your packing load.

Quick-dry underwear and socks
Cotton is not your friend in this area. Underwear and socks are the things you want to replace most often in your wardrobe, so bring at least a few pairs of travel underwear that use merino wool or synthetics. You can sink wash them anywhere and they’ll dry more quickly than cotton. Well-made hiking or running socks usually avoid cotton and will last for years of heavy usage.

Small toiletries
To carry on a bag, stay with small sizes. Hit the trial size aisle at your local drugstore or Target, save the little bottles from hotels, or buy small refillable bottles you can reuse. You can buy cool dry tabs from Sea to Summit that start working when you get them wet and I like shaving cream that comes in a tube as it takes up less space. I use a hanging toiletry kit for when counter space is tight.

Eagle creek pouch daypack

Pack-away jacket and bag
One of my secret weapons in getting by with a carry-on bag is to pack things that stuff down into a little pouch. I love my Eagle Creek packable daypack, for instance, and if I need a jacket where I’m going but sporadically, I’ll bring one that stuffs into a pouch when I’m not using it, like this Helium II windbreaker one from Outdoor Research or this warmer Powerfly Down one from Colombia.

SteriPen Water Purfier
If I’m going anywhere with dodgy water, which is most of the world, the SteriPen is an essential item. It saves the world from your personal mountain of disposable single-use plastic, but keeps you from getting sick from any bad drinking water.

Gadget chargers
I’m past telling anyone what gadgets to bring and how much to use them, but a lot of them have batteries that don’t last very long. I’ve used a Callpod Chargepod for six years now to avoid bringing along a bunch of cords. Then I carry a small charger from Innergie or Eton for times I can’t access an outlet. If I’m going off the grid for a while I might bring some kind of solar charger.

And then…
One belt, usually worn the day of travel.
One or two hats, including a sun hat for sunny places, a beanie for cold ones. Tilley ones are expensive but have a lifetime warranty.
A pair of good sunglasses, usually worn the day of travel.
A loaded Kindle or good book.
Magazines I can throw away or pass on as I read them, lightening the load as I go.

Many women carry some kind of shawl or multi-use scarf to change up their outfits.

Keep an eye on the colors you’re packing. Ideally most every bottom can go with most every top. You don’t want to have pieces that can only go with one other thing.

What about you? What carry-on items or tricks have you found worked best?

Allegiant airlinesOne travel perk of moving to Tampa for a couple years has been a big improvement in flight options. Besides having lots of airports within a 4-hour drive if needed, one 30 minutes away is a hub for Allegiant Air.

Never heard of them? I hadn’t either before moving here, but it’s a godsend for people living in small and mid-sized cities in the U.S. who want to get someplace warm and sunny in a hurry. If flies direct from St. Peterburg/Clearwater airport (with the yummy abbreviation of PIE) to all kinds of places with normally crappy air connections. Places like Lexington, KY; Roanoke, VA, Chattanooga, TN; Appleton, WI; Duluth, MN, Greenboro, NC. They also send lots of flights to Myrtle Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Orlando, plus you can get from Florida all the way up to Niagara Falls direct, which would be an easy way to get to Canada too. They have other hubs in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Meyers, and five cities out west. See the full route map here.

Their fares are routinely lower than anyone else’s by a wide margin, so besides the time factor, the price is enticing too. Just one problem though: you’ll pay for everything after that. Like Spirit and RyanAir, Allegiant looks at the airfare as a base. It’s the starting point from which they pile extra fees on top of to make the real money. So you’ll pay for anything to drink, a seat assignment, using your credit card, and even a carry-0n if you bring a bag.

Allegiant Bag Fee Blues

Is there any way to avoid all this? Well you can avoid eating/drinking in flight and take your chances on a seat upon arrival—probably ending up in the middle. You can use a debit card instead of a credit card. And you can pack lightly. Really lightly.

I’ve now done four flights on Allegiant without paying a bag fee. It wasn’t easy and when I head to a wedding in October where I have to dress up, I’ll pay up to bring a real suitcase. These two trips were just for a long weekend to hang out with my father though, leaving on a Friday, returning on a Monday. The photo here shows the back I packed and my secret weapon—a Scottevest.

baggage fees

Allegiant and Spirit Air both say to avoid baggage fees, your “personal item” must fit under the seat in front of you. Apparently Allegiant Air’s seats are smaller than Spirit’s because while the latter allows dimensions of 16 by 14 X 12 inches, Allegiant limits you to 16 X 15 X 7 inches. That’s a tad larger than the size of a laptop bag for those with a 15-inch screen or less.

Obviously there’s more height than 7 inches under the seat, but their rules are rules and they enforce them with vigor. Gate agents were slapping $35 fines, errr, baggage fees, on anyone who dared to carry two items of any size or had a bag larger than these dimensions. (Talk about a horrible job to get up for every day!)

Despite all the luggage  and bags I’ve reviewed at Practical Travel Gear, I had to resort to a trade show schwag bag to find something of this size. It held my laptop, laptop cord, and the following: one pair of Sanuk Rasta Pouch shoes, one extra pair of pants, a pair of shorts, two collared shirts, two t-shirts, three pairs of socks and underwear, and a small toiletry kit. In the outside pocket I had an inflatable travel pillow I ended up not using.

In my Scottevest went everything else not in my pants pockets: phone, iPod, earbuds, keys, portable charger, loose change, sunglasses, ticket, boarding pass, lip balm, etc. It could have held a lot more (like underwear or some toiletries) if I really wanted to push it.

Would I go through all this for a longer trip? No, even for a cheapskate like me who’s got plenty of lightweight travel clothing, it would be hard for a real vacation. But since my option was to pay $64 in fees or have $64 to spend with my dad over the weekend, it was worth it.

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…

I’m getting ready to hop on a plane to Eastern Europe, where I’ll soon be reporting on cheap travel in four countries there. I’ll be doing some stories for Perceptive Travel and writing chapters for the next edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations.

Meanwhile, here’s what this blog’s readers have been checking out the most over the past month:

10) Peru’s Salkantay Trek vs. the Inka Trail

9) Good & Bad Travel Gear Trends for 2012

8) Travel Safety in Perspective – USA vs. Mexico

7) Quit Your Job, See the World

6) Updates on the Cheapest Places to Travel, 2012

5) How Many Countries Have You Been to? (Spoiler alert—I don’t care.)

4) I Want to Move Abroad – Where Do I Start?

3) How to Get Around Spirit Air’s Baggage Extortion

2) 6 Places to Live for Super-cheap

1) The Cheapest Places to Live in the World – 2011

I’ll be doing a 2012 version of that last one in June. Stay tuned by signing up for the RSS feed (top right) or following me on Twitter (@timleffel).

Despite the millions airlines poured into lobbying against it, as of yesterday the U.S. Department of Transportation has mandated that all flights operating in the U.S. must display the entire airfare up front in the booking process. If an airline advertises a sale price, it must be the real total price, not “before taxes and fees.” Since it has become routine for flights to Europe to have as much or more in fuel “surcharges” as the price of the ticket, the D.O.T. could no longer ignore the flood of consumer complaints.

Read this excellent story from Consumer Traveler to get the details. It’s written by Charlie Leocha, whose Consumer Alliance group should get the bulk of the thanks for making this happen.

Besides the honest airfare disclosure, the companies also have to make it easy for you to figure out how much you’ll have to pay to check bags, depending on your flight. All that info now has to be on one easy-to-find page and at the start of the booking screens.

Most airlines and online travel agencies acted in a civil manner this week, sending e-mails to their customers explaining not to be alarmed by higher advertised costs, that they’re just seeing it all up front now instead of having surcharges added when booking. The airline that everyone loves to hate—Spirit Airlines—took a quite different tack though. I got an e-mail from them that looked like this:

In a bout of double-speak that would make George Orwell and Lenin both proud, the company claimed that this law was all a big conspiracy to somehow hide taxes from you so the government could keep raising them. I can’t imagine even the most delusional Tea Party faithful falling for that one since any airline can break out taxes as clearly as they’d like anywhere on their website. But instead of a link to any page explaining the new law, there was just a link to go complain to your congressperson. How bizarre!

As SmarterTravel said in an article about the company’s actions, “Spirit’s overblown reaction to the government’s passenger protection rules—first legal action and now a very public advertising campaign—underscores the carrier’s reliance on a steady stream of passenger surcharges.” Here’s a fuller explanation of what they were claiming and how far removed it was from actual facts.

There are plenty of others out there who look at the airfare as just a way to get you in the door and start doubling or tripling that amount with extra fees and this law won’t help you on foreign domestic flights. So if you’re flying on Spirit’s kindred souls, like RyanAir or Aerobus, you’ll still need to take every advertised fare for what it is: a bait-and-switch gimmick. Here though, the consumers won one over the big corporate campaign contributors.