YOU'VE HEARD about the $15 fee that American Airlines begins charging later this month for your first checked bag and you're determined to avoid paying. Instead, you'll just cram so much into your carry-on luggage that the airline will wish it never dared you to bring it on.
Stop. Take deep breaths. Now let's start again.
Isn't this a great opportunity to lighten your load? To travel as freely as you've always wanted?
Even if American ends up doing away with the new fees because other carriers are too smart to follow their lead, this could be the moment you've been waiting for to get rid of some excess baggage.
The one thing you'll keep: a carry-on bag. Properly picked and efficiently packed, this set of wheels may be the solution to easing your summer travel hassles.
But first, travelers who routinely sit on their suitcases to make them close must be willing to approach packing in a more restrained way.
"You must let go of the idea that you can wear a different outfit every day," says packing expert Susan Foster, author of the book Smart Packing for Today's Traveler (smart packing.com). "Keep telling yourself that this suitcase is not your closet."
With most airlines limiting carry-on bags to a slim 45 linear inches, the space in your suitcase is much more precious than any closet. It's more like prime real estate: subdividing and making every inch count will yield the best profit.
Let's start with how to pick the right carry-on for your trip. You'll need a 21-inch or 22-inch bag to maximize space, says Karen Schiefler, senior manager at Delsey Luggage, based in Elkridge.
"You want to get something lightweight -- it's easier to maneuver," Schiefler says. "Also, make sure there's a good warranty, and be able to tell your bag from someone else's."
A lightweight bag is one that's under 10 pounds, according to Schiefler, who adds that, while there are more carry-on options available to today's traveler, some luggage makers have removed valuable features to get down to that weight class.
"Much luggage has been downsized to be made skinnier or smaller," Schiefler says. "It's an illusion really, but it's not fully featured -- it (doesn't) have a lining, zippered pockets or a suit hanger."
That's why before buying, she recommends travelers really check the luggage over -- does the handle work, do the wheels turn, does the material feel good and strong?
The Maryland-based company's most popular line of luggage is its Helium Fusion series, which features a lightweight fiberglass graphite frame, a material similar to what you might find in golf clubs or tennis rackets. By the fall, Delsey plans to introduce Helium HyperLite, a series including a carry-on that weighs less than 7 pounds.
"You can lift it with your finger," says Schiefler.
But by the time most travelers are done cramming their carry-ons with everything they think they need, it may not matter how light the bag is. That's why Foster, the packing expert, says it's important for travelers to know some of the tricks of the trade. It's also important to use restraint.
"I take the same amount for a week as I do for a month," says Foster. "I choose clothes that work together and interchange for variety."
Foster advises taking your favorite clothes, that way you won't tire of them. Bring accessories to change the look of an outfit -- a scarf or jewelry for women or a tie or colorful shirt for men. If it's a longer trip, simply plan to do laundry.
"Who knows that I'm wearing the same black pants that I had on last night," Foster says.
And while she is partial to black and neutrals, Foster says pack whatever color is your favorite. "If someone's favorite color is red, then travel with a basic wardrobe of red items you like," she says.
And whether you like it or not, limit shoes to no more than two pairs for men and three pairs for women, including the pair that's on your feet.
"Two things that are real killers for any bag: shoes and toiletries," says Foster. "They are both bulky and weigh a lot."
As for toiletries, she suggests downsizing to travel-size products, available from minimusbiz.com or using refillable travel size bottles from Magellan's, a travel retailer and catalog.
Foster also downsizes on underwear, bringing as few as three pairs of underwear -- one to wear, one to wash and a spare -- no matter how long the trip.
"You can buy wicking underwear or socks. They will wash out in the bathroom sink and dry overnight." If you're not prepared to travel that lightly, pack those extra underwear into the bottom of your suitcase, in the space between the two handle support bars, Foster says.
"This is called using every inch of your real estate."
For a Q&A on packing for your summer trip, go to baltimoresun. com / packing
PACKING ADVICE FROM THE EXPERTS
Here are some tips from the pros: