World Travel with a Twist of Zen - Fields of Indulgence  
 
Over the last two years we’ve taken 26 flights, of which 18 charge for checking baggage over 10kg (for some as low as 7kg). Yet with careful planning and a bit of bravado, we never paid for a single checked bag on our trip around the world. We’ve gone back and looked at each airline’s baggage fees and calculated that by not checking bags, we saved $1,182. That’s a lot of sushi rolls, plates of Pad Thai, or bowls of curry! So what’s the secret to spending money on YOUR travel and not the travel of your bags? 

PictureNeda's Porter still looks good after 2 years!
The Bag – Your Life in 22” x 14” x 9” Nylon Shell

The first step is getting the perfect luggage for a traveling vagabond. For us the research distilled down to the Osprey Porter, an amazing travel pack for several reasons. Firstly, it is the exact dimensions for carry-on luggage around the world. To help with making sure the pack fits into the little metal measuring cage the airline check-in staff sometimes make you put it in, the Porter is equipped with two compression straps. The straps have two settings for either mild compression or for full compression. We found that when “fully compressed” we could not only fit the bags into any plane, but often just threw them overhead onto buses as well. This was particularly nice in places like India where we had our packs inside the bus while other travelers had to tie their packs onto the roof!   

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This is where you don't want you pack!
Courtesy of http://www.tryanythingonceblog.com/tag/packing
The Porter can easily serve as a weekend duffle because the shoulder straps hide behind a back panel. For our purposes, we almost always carried it on the back, and found the straps to be amply comfortable for up to about an hour or so of walking. This isn’t the ideal pack if you plan on walking the Camino de Santiago, but for walking around town to find your hotel, it’s no problem and its smaller size encourages you to take less in the first place! Still, we found the spacious main compartment large enough to fit all of our travel gear, with some deliberate planning. 
PictureOur Pack Set-Up
Become a Packrat

A good packing system perfectly complements the layout of the Porter and will have you breezing through airports. We used one folder and one half cube of the Eagle Creek “Pack-It” system. The folders vary in size (we used the 15” inch size for Neda, who is a fairly small girl, and the 18” size for Jeff who is 6’2”), and neatly fit jeans, shirts, sweaters, and the like.

The cube fits all the small stuff like underwear and socks. On top of the cube there was room to put a small zipping bag (my mom had gotten it from a make-up promotion) where we kept computer charger, phone charger, and other small electronic stuff. Next to the half-cube we put a deluxe size REI toiletry bag. While it looks like that isn’t available on their website any longer, this one http://www.rei.com/product/834727/rei-grande-shower-kit, seems similar.

Once you’ve got all that in your pack, there is still room to put a pair of sandals and a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, which were a perfect travel sized athletic shoe. We could run, snorkel, and hike in the five fingers all while carrying around only 14oz of weight for Jeff and 7.5oz for Neda! Finally, on top of the shoes we squeezed our Osprey Daylight Daypack, which we used for our day hikes and trips around the cities. The pack is supposed to be able to “add-on” to the back of other larger Osprey packs, but we found that for the porter we could just stuff it in on top of everything else and it would work just fine. We only used one daypack as Neda usually carried a pursue with more secure things inside.

Osprey Pack
Look how small my pack is!?
To recap, if you want to be an “ultra-lite” traveler, there isn’t room for many extras. My wardrobe while traveling consisted of 5 shirts (one of which doubled as a workout T and backup when everything else was dirty), one pair of shorts, one pair of jeans, a fleece (for cold weather destinations) and a jacket. It’s not much, but it makes picking your outfit pretty easy!

Scott eVesteVest packed to the brim
on our way to Tokyo.
Making Weight – the Scott Evest

We’ve talked above about the size of your luggage, but these days it’s not just the dimensions that have to work to be able to carry-on, it’s the weight as well. Most airlines allowed us 10kg, though on discount carriers that did not include a “personal item.” So the old trick of stuffing the purse wouldn't work. All 10kg have to be in one bag. Some of the worst airlines only allowed 7kg per person!  We usually would wear our heaviest clothes like jeans and walking shoes on travel days no matter how hot it was outside. But our secret weapon in making weight was the Scott Evest. The jacket is designed with 20 sturdy pockets that can fit all kinds of things inside. On one side, there is a big pocket where I would put our netbook; on the other side, the bag filled with chargers.

PictureCan you see the sandals in the
pocket on the back?
In the back there is an extra pocket where the jacket can fold into itself and become a pillow (great for long bus rides!). But I used it to store my leather sandals, since they weigh a little over a kilo. Other pockets would hold heavier knick-knacks like our travel locks or my electric shaver. With one of those flights that limited us to seven kilos, the travel-vest managed to carry along the other five without being noticed by airline staff! Beyond its usefulness in the airport, I thought the jacket looked pretty snazzy and managed to keep me pretty warm even in chilly environments. It’s an all around great piece of travel gear, though it does come in at a rather steep $135 for the standard version I had. Which brings me to the next point of order…my family got us a bunch of different gifts to support us along our travels and we used all of them, but in the end the travel vest has to win the award for most useful. Thanks Dan for all the research (and cash) you put into it. You were with us in spirit the whole time! 

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Travel Vest in Action - this pic is street art in Melbourne.
Also note the small daypack on my back
Travel gearAll of our clothes and toiletries
Psychological Warfare – Passing the various checkpoints and getting onto the plane
O.k., so you’ve got all your fancy gear and you’re packed up and ready to go. Only with the extra souvenirs you bought, you realize that your pack is 12 kilos even with the E-vest loaded to the brim! What to do? It’s happened to us a few times and here were our strategies for getting through the airport:

* Wear layers – I would wear a shirt, the fleece, and the evest to keep the pack’s profile down. Not the most comfortable, but sometimes necessary

* Do a “counter drop” – when Neda & I would walk up to the counter to check in, she would let her purse drop to the floor and I would be carrying the daypack (with the extra weight in it) in my hand and also drop it. Usually the staff don’t see the bag since it’s not in their line of sight. Then, when they ask us to put the bags on the scale to be weighed we can make weight. 90% of the time the only weight check is at that counter, so if you can do a successful counter drop even when you know you are over weight, you’ll have a good chance of getting through. It's a bit sneaky, but so is charging us 30 euros for an extra two kilos! 

* Wear the packs on your back – you’ll probably do this anyway, but we found that when most airline staff glanced at the packs they never even asked us to weigh them – they look more like school backpacks than luggage!

* Be ready for other checkpoints – a few times I took my fleece and jacket off and carried the computer in my hand since it can get hot to wear all that stuff. Once, right before security, they did another weight check. Luckily the computer was hidden under the fleece so it looked like I was only holding my jacket (which they don't make you weight) because I only passed that check by .3 kilos! 

Lighten Up
So there you have it folks – the gear and the strategy for saying goodbye to airline baggage fees forever. If you hadn’t noticed, it does require a certain commitment to the ultra-lite traveling lifestyle. Simply bring less stuff when you travel and make everything you have count. The longer we traveled, the more grateful we were for that decision and with each leg we found we brought less and less. It’s liberating to be able to fit everything into such a small space and gives you so much flexibility when riding buses, taking taxis, and walking around town. Though we used this gear for world travel, we are committed to using it whenever we travel from here on out. So get to it and have a great time! Happy trails!



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