Budget travel: 5 tips for packing light to save money

Ever heard of packing cubes?

Stock photo: Bruce Mars/Pexels

Packing light is a refined skill that most travelers learn by trial and error.

But if you know how to do it, you can save money and travel on a tight budget. You won't have to pay extra for checked baggage, you can skip all the annoying check-in lines, and once you know all the best tips, you'll be shocked at how much you can fit in a small amount of space. Here's a guide.

1. Get a small and light carry-on suitcase.

Airlines often charge you extra to check in baggage. But if you get the most efficient carry-on suitcase, you won't have to factor that into your travel budget. Airlines have restrictions on the measurements and weight of your carry-on, but you can find plenty of options to fit the bill.

Look around travel stores, department stores and online for an appropriate carry-on suitcase. There are now many small carry-on suitcases designed to fit airline size restrictions as well as being extra light. These provide you with plenty of luggage space while still fitting within your free luggage allowance.

Another option is to use a large backpack. Although they aren't as sturdy as suitcases, these are usually much lighter and can fit a ton of stuff if you use the space efficiently. You might want to leave out large items like extra shoes, but you'll be surprised just how much you can fit.

2. Use packing cubes.

Another great way to get everything you need into a small carry-on is with packing cubes. When you stuff multiple pairs of jeans, a couple of jackets and all of your underwear into your luggage, you'll often run out of space quickly. However, packing cubes can seem like magic when it comes to saving you some space.

Packing cubes, also known as compression cubes, are small bags that you can compress your clothes and other travel essentials into before zipping them up. Not only do they keep your clothes organized, but they can also squeeze large items into a much smaller space.

You'll have to fold your clothes carefully to avoid creases, but even a relatively small packing cube can cut down the size of a few outfits into a tiny space. Use multiple cubes and you'll make efficient use of every inch of your carry-on bag. 

3. Make use of your personal item.

In addition to allowing you a carry-on bag, most airlines also allow you to take one small personal item. Although some airlines set size restrictions, you can usually get away with some fairly large items such as a rucksack or laptop backpack, which you can easily fit some extra items into.

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For instance, if you take a laptop backpack as your personal item and only have a small laptop, you can easily fit a few extra T-shirts, chargers and whatever else you need into the spare pockets. As long as it's compact enough to fit under your seat, most airlines won't have a problem with how much you stuff into your personal item.

Large handbags and even drawstring bags can also help quite a lot. You may even want to use an extra packing cube to pack a couple of extra outfits into your personal item. Although you'll still want to be wary of any airline restrictions on personal items, they're usually quite lenient when it comes to your personal item and it can be a godsend for light packers.

4. Put as much in your pockets as possible.

While you can fit plenty of clothes and other much-needed items into your carry-on bag and personal item, sometimes you need just a little extra space to take everything you need on your travels.

However, remember that you can also fly with whatever kind of clothes you want. With a jacket and a few extra pockets on your pants, you can easily take a few extra items.

While it's common sense to keep your passport, wallet, keys and phone in your pockets, it can also be a good place to carry essentials such as chargers and small electronics. Bear in mind that while airlines may weigh your carry-on baggage, they won't weigh your jacket and definitely won't weigh your trousers.

It can even help to have a set of clothes for flying. For instance, a pair of travel pants or cargo pants can provide you with plenty of pocket space, as can a utility jacket. If you really need some extra space, you might even want to consider a fanny pack or ankle wallet.

5. Share packing space with friends and family.

If you're ever in a situation where you've gone just above the weight or size limit with your luggage, sometimes traveling with friends or family can be your saving grace. Even if you've gone over your limit, you can always ask a friend or family member if they have some extra space.

Some people pack lighter than others, so if your friend has a little extra space in their backpack, they can take some of your load off until you get home. With all the different ways to pack light, your efficiency instantly increases the more people you travel with.

There are a couple of obvious concerns with this. Keep your valuables to yourself and make sure you don't forget what you gave them to carry. However, as a last-ditch resort when you're clean out of packing space, this method can come in clutch.

When you experience the joys of packing light, you might not want to go back to heavy suitcases. Not only can you skip the luggage check-in line, but you also won't have to wait around to get your luggage back when you land or worry about it getting lost. It's efficient, convenient and if you learn the expert skill of packing light, you can pack everything you need without requiring a lot of space.