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luggage full and ready to travelAirfare, by in large, is expensive. Adding a bag? On an international flight? Yeah… Here are some tips to getting the most out of your suitcase.

Know the rules.

Every airline has a size restriction for carry on bags. Know it, and as difficult as it may seem, stick to it. If you wind up having to gate check your bag, you may save a few bucks but you’re increasing your risk of never seeing that bag (or some of its contents) again.

Be realistic.

If you’re going on a four country, five city vacation using the train, hauling a large suitcase is going to be a pain no matter how many wheels are on that thing. You don’t need fifteen outfits for a five day trip. You don’t need siz pair of shoes. Really. But if you do, budget for extra bags and plan on lost bags. While statistically rare, 26 million — MILLION — bags are “misdirected” each year. Of those bags, 1 million are never located and the rest take an average of 2 days to locate and return to the rightful owner. (More info here.) Are you only going to be at your hotel 2 days then moving on? Perhaps checking isn’t for you. Be sure to give the airline your full itinerary; you’ll want that bag when they find it.

How to pack

There are a lot of philosophies on how to best pack a suitcase. Perhaps you’re a ‘roller,’ neatly rolling every piece of clothing into a tube to stack inside your back. Maybe your a ‘toss and stuff,’ just hoping all of your necessities make it inside the zipper. I myself use compression zip bags, where you add your clothes, then roll the bag to get all the air out.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received about packing for travel was to only pack items in the same color family. Black. Navy. White. Brown. Whatever color tones you choose, keep them all the same. Think Geranimals. If everything matches, you’ll be able to mix and match for more outfit choices and less boredom.

What to bring, what to leave

I’ve never regretted having comfortable walking shoes, no matter how “American” they are. I rarely use my workout clothes, despite a fairly serious routine at home. When I went to Hawaii in 2010, I wore half of the clothes I brought. The issue was that the other clothes smelled of mildew when I returned home from all the humidity. Sure, a pile of tank tops and skirts don’t take up a lot of room, but I didn’t need to haul them around the world only to return them to my wash pile. Take the clothes you know you’ll wear, not the ones you hope to wear.

Planning for lost luggage

No one wants to lose their luggage. Fact. But someone will, and it could be you.  Whether it’s a sundress or a pair of shorts, have two outfits in your carry on. Whatever you can’t replace reasonably at a local pharmacy or hotel gift shop should not be in your checked bag. If you can’t afford to lose it, and you can’t carry it on… just leave it at home.

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