[Rick Seaney is the CEO and cofounder of FareCompare, and columnist for Investopedia. The views expressed by columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Investopedia.]
On some airlines, if your bag weighs more than 50 lbs. you’ll pay from $100 to $200 in overweight charges, and up to $450 on certain Asian routes. Naturally, this is in addition to the regular baggage fees.
The moral here is pack right so you don’t have to worry about this. As far as I’m concerned, the real secret to perfect packing is all about what you leave behind.
Don’t Pack This
1. Nasty surprises
In the first couple of weeks of June, the TSA found 185 firearms in carry-on bags, including 170 loaded guns and 66 that had rounds chambered. They also found live smoke grenades, replica weapons, and all kinds of fireworks. In most cases, travelers said they forgot these items were in their bags.
Solution: Don’t forget what’s in your bag! And that goes for real pistols and realistic fakes like paperweight hand grenades and toy guns. If you are caught with any of these items, the time you spend explaining can make your miss your flight. Plus, if the offense is serious enough, you could be arrested and fined up to $13,333.
Tip: Always check your bag before you start tossing clothes into it and remove anything on the TSA’s no-no list (such as liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces).
2. Shoes you’ll never wear
If you have all the room in the world and don’t care how many hundreds you spend on bag fees, pack as many Manolo Blahniks as you like. But if you’ll be taking a carry-on (my preferred luggage of choice), pack one nice-looking, but totally comfortable, pair of shoes for walking—and something a little dressier for evening, if needed (simple flat sandals can fill the bill here, my wife tells me). If you’re traveling for a formal occasion like a wedding, you might have to add another pair, but the point is, less is more.
Tip: Pack your lightest shoes and wear your heavier ones on the plane.
3. Stuff it would kill you to lose
If you were gifted by a spouse or significant other with a meaningful piece of jewelry, leave it at home: ditto for anything else of value it would kill you to lose. When we travel, things get misplaced, lost, and sometimes stolen, but that will not happen if the item is back home.
Tip: If you must take along a certain jewelry item, consider not taking it off. A guy I know removed his wedding ring to wash his hands just before checking out of his hotel and, yep, forgot to put it back on. Needless to say, he is now sporting a shiny new band.
You don’t have to pack maps, books, movies, addresses, lists of restaurants to try, or even useful items like a flashlight. You already have all this; it’s called your phone. Now check out the "do pack" list and pay special attention to item one.
Do Pack This
1. Electronic device accessories
Accessories does not mean anything fancy, just the usual must-haves such as charger cords, a portable charger, earbuds, headphones and—if traveling outside the U.S.—an adaptor plug (but if you forgot that, don’t worry because many hotels have drawers-full of left-behind adaptors they’ll happily lend you).
Tip: Toss a few plastic bags (the zip-close kind) into your carry-on to help protect your phone in damp or rainy weather.
2. Helpful photos
If your bag goes missing, could you describe it? Take a picture of it so you can refer to it if you have to fill out a lost-bag form. Other useful photos: Driver’s license, passport, plane/train tickets, the prescription for your eyeglasses and/or contacts, and prescriptions for medications (take a picture of the pill bottle, too).
Tip: If you’ll be traveling in a foreign country, stick a couple of extra passport-sized photos of yourself in your bag. If you lose your passport, this can make the replacement process much speedier.
3. Mini medical kit
This can be assembled in about two minutes: a few adhesive bandages (and stick some in your wallet), aspirin or whatever you like for aches and pains, plus something for stomach issues (you know what I mean).
Tip: Sure, most of this stuff can be picked up anywhere but if you have a painful blister on your foot, it’s nice to be able to whip out a Band-Aid and fix the problem immediately.
You may get nothing on the plane, and you may not like what they have for sale, so bring something from home.
Tip: In addition to a standard sandwich, you might want to toss in a few energy bars. Some friends of mine like to eat free hotel breakfasts, followed by energy bars for lunch, then splurge big-time on dinner every night.