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How to pack for plane travel: top tips for carry on and checked luggage

June 5, 2012
suitcase 3 zips

Friends tell me I take less for a year of travel than they take for a long weekend. So, what have I learnt that they haven’t?

Well usually I use a backpack and carrying that ensures I look after my back – I want to keep travelling so health is important. I also love a backpack as it leaves my hands free for everything else and there is no way it can be left unguarded as a suitcase can.

Sorting my carry-on bag .. electronics, valuables.

And, whether I take a case or backpack, my carry-on luggage is a small wheelie-backpack as that has all my valuable documents, medication, camera and electronic gear in it and fit airlines weight and size regulations.

However, even I make mistakes; this blog entry could be called ‘packing confessions of the kiwi travel writer’ as on a recent road trip to Northland, New Zealand I took many items I didn’t use!

  • Six pieces of clothing
  • 1 pair of shoes
  • 1 pair of aqua shoes
  • 1 x tripod

I have another 3-week trip very soon (a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest with Viking Cruises) and flying with Air New Zealand / Singapore Air so as today was wet, I had a practise-run with my checked-in bag(allowance 20kg/45lb) and carry on (Allowance 7kg/15lb)

What are my usual ‘rules’? First is “take less” – way less than you think you will need.

“I’m coming too” says Mista, “I don’t care that you have a cat-sitter arranged”

First in the bags are the non-negotiables – underwear, sleep-wear, toiletries, a pair of shoes to wear, and one to take.

I then lay all the possible clothes out – I cover my bed with a white sheet for this sorting process – and make sure there is a colour theme that will mix and match –and remove anything that doesn’t fit the theme.

Stop sorting – I know you are going to leave me – again!

Work on a good balance between dresses/ skirts/ pants and tops that are interchangeable for most of them.

Eliminate anything in your pile that’s there for ‘just in case’ – I find most of my just-in-case additions are rarely used.

Of course as a writer, I also need pen and paper – a journal for writing, and a tiny notebook for notes, plus a thick book to read (and my Kobo e-reader). Just have a few pieces of jewelery and cosmetics to decide on closer to the date, iron some of the clothes and I’m ready.

Depending on your destination, and the length of it, you may want to add a net bag for your laundry and a small cake of laundry soap and . .

  • Couple of zip-lock bags – one for receipts
  • Guidebook if necessary
  • Camera, laptop, phone, plus leads for electronic gear, batteries, and chargers
  • Passport and tickets are a given!

mesh bag for my long-haul in-flight needs

Don’t forget airline carry-on limits are for safety reasons (& when flying internationally, or using different airlines, check their webpages and take the one that allows the least so you don’t get caught with an overweight bag by one carrier.

As a travel writer, I get angry at other passengers AND the airlines who take/ allow overweight and extra bags on-board. I really hope that eventually someone will sue an airline (and the passenger) for taking an over-weight bag on board – the overhead lockers can spring open in turbulence, bags shift, and can hurt fellow passengers when they fall out.

Once that court-case happens travel will be better for all of us – no more heavy, or extra, bags being bought on board – and even better, we will all be able to put our bags in the locker directly above us – as often the area is full of bags that belong to someone a few seats away or across the aisle.

So, please be considerate when flying: I hope you sit beside someone as considerate as you!

Q. What travel packing tips would you add to this?

And when you get home check out these tips to cope with post-travel distress :)

YAY – they all fit, about 12kgs

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11 Comments
  1. April 1, 2013 4:31 AM

    I never seem to be able to get it right, either way to much or either to little but never manage to get the right amount of luggage with me.

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    • April 1, 2013 6:58 AM

      With all my travelling I still always have things I rarely use and other items I wish I had … but we get better every time huh! My trip to Borneo will be perfect packing-wise – I hope!

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  2. March 30, 2013 11:25 AM

    Love it!! I am fanatical about carryon only and I plan on making huge trims to my existing packing list so that my upcoming trips (rtw, 3 1/2 weeks, 9 flights), everything is as light as possible. Fun fact: when I did a packing list article, my cat photobombed it too! What is it about black cats and their curiosity! (My girl’s named Darywn – she is anti-travel, pro staying inside, plotting squirrel death). http://www.turnipseedtravel.com/1/post/2012/09/anywhere-in-the-world-withcarry-on.html

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    • March 30, 2013 11:56 AM

      Cats! I have just got my backpack from out of storage (ready for upcoming Borneo trip) and immediately Mista crawled into that too .. must post the pic. Have fun on your travels & make sure you know the carry-on weight on all your airlines as the lowest one is the one you need to pack for! :)

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  3. marilee campbell permalink
    March 29, 2013 5:16 PM

    Hi Heather, I think your travel spots have outstripped even Bob and Doris’. I just showed Amber the photo of your cat. She is amazed as her cat, ‘Mika’ is almost a twin sister! I’ll try to send you a photo of Mika. m

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  4. Catherine permalink
    June 12, 2012 4:29 PM

    I think you will find the court case did happen and made no difference. Can’t remember if he won or not.
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/music/news/article.cfm?c_id=264&objectid=10552499

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    • June 12, 2012 5:33 PM

      I think there will be more accidents and proving negligence: I suspect negligence; would cover allowing overweight carry-on luggage.

      so many take it as a badge of honour not to have checked luggage .. which is great , as long as within the limits :) http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/airplane-turbulence-flight-injuries-32405.html

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      • Catherine permalink
        June 12, 2012 6:33 PM

        It really made me sad to think about his injury. He was such an amazing percussionist. I can remember him performing for our school, he traveled all around New Zealand shearing his love of music (and travel) with school children. It was nice to hear he has a new amazing career but sad that he was lost to us here all because of a stupid bag falling out of an overhead bin. I know airlines need to have weight restrictions and why they have them but until they weigh the passengers as well as the on board luggage their charges for your bag being 1kg over weight are just a way for them to make a lot of money from their passengers who don’t have any other option but pay up.

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  5. June 7, 2012 9:09 AM

    Funny reading! Hope Mista doesn’t manage to get shut inside as he sure looks like he’s trying to!

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