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.
Good one, Eileen. A friend in Indiana just shipped me a care package, but half the stuff she’d bought didn’t fit in or the lady at the pack ‘n ship place was too rule-oriented to try and ship it. So, my friend is left with stuff she can’t send me.
I’m talking about bags of coffee, tea, makeup, vitamins, etc. Nothing contraband, just stuff that’s difficult or impossible to find here.
I’ll be “going back,” probably in December. Will take your suggestions under advisement.
Weird that she wouldn’t ship it. Maybe your (generous) friend could just pack it up herself? Shipping to Chile is very expensive, I’ve only seldom gotten anything in the mail. Speaking of coffee, that’s one thing I bring that is heavy. So much cheaper in the states than here, especially since I went decaf, and am somewhat picky about coffee.
Hope you get some fun stuff in the mail!
Hey Eileen, great pointers. These days I pack as light as possible cause I’ve got baby under one arm. My advice is to put all those things they make you take out of your bag at security – keys, phone, anti-bac gel, etc – into a zip lock bag for easy access. And don’t bother wearing a belt.
But I hear you on the expat goodies – a must for any trip back home! If it came down to clothes vs vegemite and a pack of tim tams in my suitcase, I know what would win 🙂
I thought of you at my conference in Vancouver because they were giving out TimTams. I had one, and it was delicious. And yes, no belts, no watch, nothing complicated. I actually don’t bring any liquids as carry on, except my toothpaste, which on occasion I will leave in the bag and nothing terrible happens. And with the baby, you trump all packing confusion I’ve ever had. I don’t need nappies, wipes, toys, accessories, any of it! Maybe that’s the last tip? Make your partner carry the baby?
Great tips. I’m considering not taking my laptop home with me this time. It’s super heavy and last time I was home I used it maybe 3 times. Plus it’d be good to disconnect for awhile, right?
Last time I went home (in LAN) they took away my wheely carryon suitcase at the gate because it was “too big”. The same suitcase I’ve used on countless trips and that is the same exact size of all the wheely carryons in my house. And in the states I saw those getting taken away left and right at the gate because of the checked luggage fees and lack of room in the overhead bins.
Did they charge you for it? Also, if it’s not too big, I’d argue. I have a new giant backpack (courtesy of my brother in law) that is wheely-suitcase sized and of course, it fit. I’d be annoyed at the take-away, and of course, in my case it’d be packed with technology, which I’d have to pull out piece by piece. Ugh, what a hassle!
This is one advantage to sitting at the back of the plane. Since they load you first, there is always carry-on luggage space available! Also, I got stung once by Lan on overweight carryon luggage, and that’s why I’m insane about it now!
Abby – I never bring my laptop home and it is absolutely glorious!! Everyone I know in the US has a computer and everyone in Chile knows Im regaloneando, so hopping on every few days at a friends house to check in at work is no big deal.
I check as much as possible and usually just bring a large purse/tote bag as my carry on because I hate having to lug stuff around during the layover.
I agree with you Alessandra. It would be great not to carry a laptop. Unfortunately, for work, I really need to have access to my files and pictures. I could probably be more organized with my info on an external drive or cloud somewhere, but with two routine online gigs it just feels easier to have my computer on me. I would love it if I could leave mine home though! (home being Santiago!)
I’ve never had a problem with weight or quantity regarding carry-ons and I tend to travel like an ekeko. I guess I’m just lucky.
second ekeko comment of the week! you win! (errr, something!). I never had problems until recently, with LAN and from JFK. Might be a problem that is limited in scope. Next time you come back from the states I’m asking you to bring all my heavy stuff with you! Also, coffee/tea/something sometime next week?
we have SOOO been there, we sold everything and moved to El Salvador. We spent DAYS trying to balance out our few bags to fit on. ON return trips we pack duffles inside suitcases which works great for sure.
I have a vast amount of stuff here in Chile. I can’t even imagine what I would do if I thought I was going to leave here. Most likely get a container, or hire LAN cargo.
What kind of stuff do you bring back from the states to El Salvador? Just out of curiousity!
3, 4, and 5? Yeah, those are me. We’ve also slowly but surely brought more of my old sports duffels to Chile as we use them for all our new purchases, so that would be a twist on number 1. I think you’ve got the bases covered!
Duffels are a lifesaver. You look like a ragamuffin, but I’ll choose that over weight-overages every time. Well, I don’t mean you specifically look like a ragamuffin, but you know…
A couple of pointers:
1. It is cheaper to pay for extra bags before getting to check in. I always do that when traveling to Chile and coming back to Europe.
2. If you have a lot of stuff to transport it is way cheaper to use a shipping company. Don’t ask UPS or Fedex because they will charge you a lot (because they only ship by plane). Ask moving companies that ship things using … ships … you might wait for one month but you will save a lot of money.
3. Don’t trust customs waiting times. Last time I changed country (moving from the US to Norway), my stuff spent a month in customs before it was available for pickup.
4. For airlines, print the luggage regulations and have them handy when checking in. That way you will have a proof of what you are saying.
5. Finally, be careful with shared code flights! For instance, AirFrance and KLM are technically the same company although they operate as shared codes. In AirFrance you can transport your ski equipment without paying extra while in KLM you have to pay extra. So, for instance if your flight is operated by Air France you have no problems, but if your return flight is operated by KLM then you have to pay €60 that you had not considered….
Wow Carlos, that’s a lot of good info. I don’t know that LAN allows you to pay before getting to the airport, but I’ll look into it. I agree that Fedex and UPS are crazy expensive. I have had friends have stuff get stuck in customs using shipping companies, but it still seems like the better option, even if you have to wait. And good tip on the code-sharing. I hadn’t even thought of it!
I don’t know about Lan either (they don’t fly to Norway). What I’m saying is that is much cheaper to pay for extra luggage allowance than for luggage overweight. At check in, airlines will charge you luggage overweight, which is per kilo and usually very expensive. Instead of doing that, increase your luggage allowance (i.e. having the right to check in more bags), that is waaaaaay cheaper than paying for overweight.
ah, that’s not how LAN works. They charge you one price for overweight up to 12 kilos over, and then another price up to 23 kilos over. We don’t pay per kilo, precisely. For LAN, from the US to Chile, the first level is 90 US, the second level is 180 US. One extra piece of baggage is 180 US. It used to be $25 for overage and $100 for an extra bag. My how times have changed!
Well, I found the explanation: http://www.lan.com/es_cl/sitio_personas/planifica_tu_vuelo/todo_sobre_equipaje/exceso_equipaje.html
Basically (and if I understand this correctly), you will have to pay US$120 per extra piece of luggage (23kgs) between US and Chile and US$100 between Chile and the US.
I suggest to call them to confirm. The sweet spot seems to be when having 2 pieces of luggage and one of them with more than 23kgs but less than 32kgs, because you will pay only one cargo unit. Otherwise it is cheaper to pay for a new piece of luggage (2 cargo units).
It’s $180 for an extra bag on LAN from the US to Chile. Ideally, weigh your bags carefully, and pay nothing!
Finally made it back to Stgo after waiting it out for an extra week due to ash cloud airspace mayhem over oz and NZ. And I had an extra week to weigh, re-weigh, using both your described methods, [I feel less paranoid now I know I am not the only one that ‘double weighs’] all in readiness for the evil Qantas robots that would be checking me in for my ‘codeshare’ flight with LAN. It is wise to read all the fine print about excess baggage and the prepurchase options available now. I was going to bring an extra bag back and pay the fairly reasonable Qantas rates [$100]YET the small print declared me ineligible due to codeshare and the LAN rates are almost twice that. Not worth it for the extra tea/books/coffee/felafel mix/stockcubes etc. Pre-departure I used what turned out to be an extremely accurate handheld Salter luggage scale. It was exactly the same as the airport scales. So my Timtams made it back safe and didn’t need to be scoffed all at once before boarding plane…
though timtam scoffage would have been delicious, I’m glad you made it back okay. I have friends waiting to fly to Buenos Aires until later in teh week, and they have their fingers crossed re: ash. I think we could prbably make a good felafel with just raw ingredients, though it might take a while. Maybe that can be our first project?!
excellent idea. felafels followed by tim tam slams…
blurgh, my aching stomach! I owe you an email, and yes! let’s get together and eat delicious food!