Special to USA TODAY
When it comes to carry-on luggage, less is more. Bulky is out – and small is in.
At least that’s the consensus of experts and travelers who are working harder than ever to reduce the size of their bags.
“I’ve changed my whole packing strategy,” says Jean Warneke, owner of JB Journeys, an adventure travel company based in Utopia, Texas. Among other things, she switched from checking multiple bags to compressing everything into a 20″ Lucas ultralight, a spinner that she can easily lift.
“It fits easily overhead and holds enough for me to travel for a month,” says Warneke.
What’s behind the change? Travel companies, and particularly airlines, are squeezing more passengers into less space. But the minimalism movement is also gaining momentum, as evidenced by the popularity of TV shows such as Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
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“Space is a top commodity in travel,” says Michele Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Association, a trade group of luggage manufacturers. “Luggage manufacturers have responded with efficient, condensed bags to streamline travel and eliminate or reduce baggage fees.”
Travelers are buying smaller luggage, packing less and doing more with the space they have. If you’re headed somewhere this summer, you’ll want to know how they do it.
Why smaller luggage is better
As airlines try to squeeze more passengers on their flights – and as more passengers try to fit their belongings into a single carry-on to avoid baggage fees – space is getting tighter. More passengers are swapping out their regulation-size 22-inch carry-on for something smaller – preferably a spinner or backpack that fits under the seat in front of them.
Dawn Vandermillen, a real estate agent and frequent traveler from Des Moines, Iowa, is partial to Genius Pack‘s smaller luggage. It offers both an elegant backpack and a commuter backpack, either of which can slide into the smallest spaces. She says Genius Pack’s luggage withstands the rigors of travel, but also has a thoughtful design that allows her to carry everything she needs on board.
“I carry on my baggage for the most part, unless I am traveling to an event that I need lots of clothing options and shoes,” she says.
Smaller luggage is superior for a few other reasons. If you fly, you may book one of the ultra-low-cost carriers such as Allegiant, Frontier or Spirit that charge extra not only for checked bags, but for carry-on bags. But you don’t pay for a “personal” item that fits under your seat. You’d be surprised by how much you can fit under a seat, especially if you choose the right bag.
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Try a shipping service or apps
The dedication to travel minimalism is getting a little extreme. Andy Abramson, a frequent air traveler who runs a communication firm in Los Angeles, started downsizing his luggage long before airlines began charging for checked bags. “I always only check what’s required,” he says. “My rolling backpack has everything for a few days: medications, tech gear, change of clothes.” Everything else gets shipped to his final destination through a luggage service like Luggage Forward.
Passengers aren’t the only ones downsizing. European airline EasyJet recently teamed up with Travelport, a travel commerce platform, to develop a new app for passengers. The program uses augmented reality to allow users to scan their luggage via smartphone and determine if it fits within carry-on restrictions.
How to fit more into less space
Other than buying a small bag, there’s one proven way to reduce the size of your carry-on: packing cubes.
“Packing cubes are one of the best travel accessories,” says Barbara Howell, a retired nurse from Carpinteria, Calif. “It keeps things together. I put each group of items of clothing in a different cube. No searching, no ruffling through the suitcase to find a special item and messing the whole bunch up.”
Plus, a cube can compress a lot of stuff into a small space. For example, when I recommended my teenage daughter switch from a traditional 22-inch carry-on to the much smaller Travelpro Platinum Elite, she declared that there wasn’t enough space. Then I suggested she try Travelpro’s luggage cubes. And voilà! All of her belongings squeezed neatly into the two cubes, leaving enough room for her electronics.
When it comes to travel – and especially air travel – smaller really is better. By embracing minimalism, you’re less likely to get drawn into an argument about overhead bin space. You’ll also pay less for your flight by avoiding luggage fees. And after a few flights, your smaller luggage will pay for itself.
Find a smarter cube: The latest packing cubes, such as Peak Design’s compressible packing cubes ($29.99), are made of durable material that’s almost impossible to rip. Result: You can squeeze a lot into a tiny space. If you need a little more protection, try something like the RunOff Waterproof Large Packing Cube ($54.99), an airtight cube that’s great for sealing up messes.
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Put your luggage on a diet: Instead of trying to fill the maximum allowable space, consider a smaller bag like Hook & Albert’s Garment Weekender Bag ($395). It weighs only 2.9 pounds and can comfortably accommodate two suits and a pair of shoes. If you go for wheeled luggage, consider downsizing into something like the LiteGear Rolling Mobile Pro 2.0 ($129.95)
Learn to pack like a pro: Whether you roll, fold or stuff, you need a method for packing. Check out “How to Pack for Any Trip” (Lonely Planet) from your local library or find an app like the free Packr to help you get organized.
The top carry-on luggage brands
Here are the most popular brands for carry-on luggage, according to SEMrush, a global marketing data and trends provider. The ranking is based on web searches.
6. American Tourister
8. Briggs and Riley
10. Eagle Creek
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