Every time I go to the United States, I have the same issue. Sure, I go with one bag inside another, but between the fact that Mamaj is moving, and I’m trying to get my last remaining stuff out of her basement, and the fact that many items are either cheaper or just plain available in the states, by the end of the trip I’m weighing my bags and considering whether it really makes sense to buy those Tasty Bite Indian food envelopes (sadly, this time, no).
For LAN Chile, the limit in coach class from the US is 2 bags per passenger, each weighing 23 kilos and one eight kilo carry on plus a personal item. The personal item can be a purse or a laptop, but depending on who is doing the accounting, not both. For those of you who are travelling long term, you probably don’t have this problem often, but for the expat crowd, who is slowly moving wonderfully luxurious items like shoes that fit and sentimental backpacks (don’t ask, or at least don’t ask now), the weight restrictions can seem just restrictive.
So here are some tricks to bring back all the goodies you desire, withough running afoul of restrictive weight requirements, and without paying those pesky fees. The current overweight fee for LAN (which is the airline I normally fly) is $90 US whether it’s in your carry on or your checked luggage, and that’s for the first 25 pounds over. If it’s more than that, you’ll pay double which is also what you’ll pay if you just bring an extra bag. My goodness LAN, that’s steep. So here’s some advice:
1. Pack a bag inside a bag on your way there.
This is old school, easy peasy. However, I have determined that even the lightest suitcases (and I’m not talking about those four wheel pushme pullme contraptions) weigh on the order of 5 or so pounds, some as many as 6 or even 8. A decent duffelbag, which is larger in volume than your largest suitcase (and which packs a down quilt quite nicely), weighs less, but everything will end up mashed up and hodgepodged. If you don’t mind mashy and hodgepodgy (and I don’t), make your second bag a duffel. You might end up paying $5 for a smart carte to get it to the TSA checkpoint, but it will gain you many pounds in luggage allowance.
2. Pack your laptop separately, or be able to take it out (in a bag) at the airport.
Here’s the thing: As a traveller, you believe that having the smallest number of bags is wisest. Easiest to control, less chance of loss or theft. And while this may be true, your laptop probably weighs several pounds, and if it’s in your carryon, it will be counted towards your allowance. You might think just slipping it out of your bag is the wise choice. Not so. You see, I use a Mac, and the powercord with its giant square box in the middle is also heavy. By putting it in a bag by itself, I can discount both the laptop and the heavy cord. You may even be able to sneak a couple of small accessories into this bag. I don’t carry a special laptop bag (heavy, and also not necessary for my lifestyle), but carry a thinnish nylon shoulder bag with the laptop and weighty cord together inside my carry on and take it out at the counter. It turned out this time to be counted as my purse as my actual purse (with minicam, cellphone, wallet, kindle and a few other items) fit inside. That means all of this stuff came with me without getting weighed. Again, this is LAN and at JFK, different airlines may have different requirements.
3. Weigh your luggage, and weigh it again.
Mamaj has a couple of those hook-style scales, but unless it has the kind where one needle stays at the maximum weight after you’ve picked up your bag with it, and set it down again, it’s not terribly useful (trying to get a slowly turning bag to face you and the needle to stay put while holding a 50 pound bg off the ground is no easy feat). I have also found that these scales vary in accuracy, so I recommend a bathroom scale, weighing the bag by itself or holding it while you weigh yourself, and saying to yourself, wow, I hope I never weigh 50.2 pounds more than I do right now. (or is that just me?)
4. Wear it on the plane.
When I’m planning out what to wear on the plane, I’ve got comfort, but also weight in mind. I will put on a winter jacket and boots in June, if it means they don’t have to go into my luggage. The plane tends to be cool anyway, and when I come back to Chile at that time of year it’s always freezing, so it’s not so strange. Pick out your heaviest clothing and layer it on. You can also take a page from Dan and Audrey’s book, and load up your pockets with heavy items, and hope they don’t hassle you about that at security. You can see the full story, as told by Audrey on the bearshapedsphere facebook page. Like me while you’re there, if you like.
5. Don’t judge
And before you go making fun of my excessive non-minimalist travel lifestyle, know that I’ve got a healthy legion of gringas, all of whom do the same thing, laying in luxury provisions like books in English and maple syrup and peanut butter. We’re not proud. But we’re well-read and well-fed. And $90 richer for our cleverness.