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Don’t Pay To Check Your Luggage: Fit Bulky Clothes in Your Carry-On This Way

So you can jet set with ease.


Summer vacations get all the hype, but winter travel has its perks. Sure, you can escape the cold weather and go somewhere sunny, but you could also lean into the cold and book a mountaintop cabin or hit the ski slopes. If you choose the latter, you’ll need bulky winter clothes like sweaters and jackets, which means more luggage — and more luggage means more luggage fees. Depending on the airline, checking a single bag can cost anywhere from $40 to $100. Multiply that by two people (and multiple bags if your vacation is more than a few days), and your baggage fees could cost as much as your actual flight.

There are ways to skip the suitcase surcharges, though; namely, packing your bulky winter clothes in your carry-on. Read the tips below to find out how to make it all fit.

Tip #1: Wear the bulkier items on your journey. 

If you’re struggling to find space for your puffer jacket and boots, consider wearing them while you travel so you don’t have to pack them, suggests lifestyle blog The Manual. Just don’t bundle up too much and render yourself unable to move your arms like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story — you want to remain comfortable. Saving even a few inches of space in your luggage can be seriously helpful. Plus, if you’re flying, planes tend to be pretty chilly anyway, so you might be grateful for the added warmth. 

Tip #2: Rock and roll

When you’re packing, use the Navy’s folding method. Travel experts Kristin Addis and Chris Elliot agree that using the Naval fold-and-roll method is a big space-saver. Want to try it? See these instructions from Mental Floss

For heavier pieces like sweaters: 

  1. With garment laid flat, fold sleeves behind back in an “X.”
  2. Fold garment vertically and roll tightly from top to bottom. 

For lighter pieces like T-Shirts: 

  1. With garment laid flat, visualize it sectioned into thirds. 
  2. Fold bottom third to the back. 
  3. Fold garment vertically, with right half over the left. 
  4. Fold left third to the middle, folding right third on top. 

For step-by-step instructions and photos, see this guide from the Naval History and Heritage Command

Tip #3: Pack strategically. 

When I travel, I tend to (heavily) err on the side of (unnecessary) caution. (Do I need to bring 13 pairs of socks and five different white blouses for a weekend trip? Probably not, but I don’t want to risk running out!) It’s better to pack fewer items that can all go together, says SheKnows. Bring neutral pieces — think timeless black sweaters, solid colored button-downs, and well-fitting slacks — that you can mix, match, and easily transition from day to night with the addition of fun shoes or a sparkly necklace. As for cold weather items, think about layers. Pieces like thermal underwear and knee socks, especially underneath the clothes you’re already wearing, bring a ton of warmth without taking up too much valuable suitcase real estate. And pare down on pants: Nobody will notice if you rewear the same jeans a few times. 

Tip #4: Invest in packing cubes. 

When you’re packing bulky clothes for winter travel, every inch of suitcase space counts. According to The Manual, compressing your clothes inside packing cubes — a.k.a. zipper bags made from nylon or mesh — is a surefire way to make more room. Packing cubes are worth the price; not only do they help you make more use of your limited space, but they also help keep you organized (Buy from Amazon, $19.99 for a set of 6). One cube can hold toiletries; another, unmentionables; another, shirts and sweaters, et cetera.

If you’re sans packing cubes, you can also roll your clothes up in rubber bands, travel blogger Michael Tieso tells SheKnows. And never underestimate the power of a vacuum sealed-bag (Buy on Amazon, $39.99 for a pack of 6). 

Tip #5: Use the right bag. 

If your suitcase itself is clunky, it won’t matter how light you packed. And when you’re packing heavy items for winter travel, every ounce counts: You don’t want to pay extra to check your luggage if you don’t have to. Travel blog Our Travel Mix makes the salient point that the lighter your suitcase, the heavier your packed items can be. So, instead of a duffel bag, which can be easily overstuffed and is hard to carry, opt for a lightweight, hard-shelled suitcase with wheels that can move 360 degrees. Our Travel Mix recommends the Samsonite Freeform (Buy from Amazon, $159.99). It’s pricey for luggage, but you’ll use it for years to come.

If you’re getting away for a winter vacay — lucky you! Remember to pack only what you need, and most importantly, have a blast. 

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