As you put the final touches on your summer vacation budget, don’t forget one often overlooked line item: airline baggage fees.
Unless you're an airline credit card holder or a frequent flier with elite status, which may grant you a pass on those fees, it will cost you—usually at least $25 each way—to get your luggage on the plane. And that can add up.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Last year, U.S. airlines made a whopping $3.35 billion in checked bag fees, according to a report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. One surefire way to avoid these pesky surcharges? Stash your luggage in the overhead compartment. You’ll save cash—and time at the airport.
We know what you’re thinking: You’re a notorious overpacker, and there’s no way you could stuff everything you need into a bag small enough to fit in an overhead bin.
To prove it can be done, we asked organization and travel pros to share their smart packing tips for any vacation—from a big city sojourn to a getaway in the great outdoors. The consensus among our packing experts: It’s as easy as picking (and mixing and matching) just a few key items.
Meet Our Panel of Packing Pros
Although much of your packing list will vary based on your destination, our travel veterans agree on a few hard-and-fast rules that are applicable to all vacationers.
For starters, choose one basic color to pack around. “I’m a big fan of monochromatics—blacks, beiges, grays—when you’re traveling,” says stylist Anna Akbari, founder of Sociology of Style. “You never have to think about whether or not anything matches, and it always looks chic and sophisticated.”
Anne McAlpin, whose organized approach to packing has earned her the moniker “The Packing Expert,” takes an average of 25 flights per month—so she's had plenty of time to optimize her methods. Her top tip? Stick to a maximum of three pairs of shoes: sneakers, sandals and dressy shoes. “Wear one and pack two,” she says.
Bona fide frequent flier Brandon Presser, the author of more than 40 travel guidebooks, says his best packing advice can be summed up in just two words: Ziploc bags. “I guarantee you'll want to separate out something in your luggage at some point,” he says, such as a sweaty hiking shirt or a wet bathing suit.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, check out these carry-on packing lists—for men and women—that are custom curated for five different types of trips.
Quick-drying materials are key for multiuse items for men, like bathing trunks that can double as shorts or workout gear.
Fee-Free Packing for ... a Beach Vacation
Perhaps the most critical item for your sandy getaway is sunscreen—which also happens to be a big reason why people bound for sunny locales end up checking a bag. To avoid having to pay that luggage fee, transfer the liquid into a few TSA-friendly bottles (3.4 ounces or less)—ideally one with SPF sunscreen of at least 50 for your body, an SPF 30 sunblock for your face.
Packing picks for women Since bathing suits don’t take up a lot of room, Akbari recommends taking two and alternating them. As for footwear, she likes to pack one pair of sandals that are casual enough for the pool but fancy enough for dinner, along with a pair of sneakers and some wedges.
McAlpin advises bringing a white long-sleeve button-down that can do double duty as a beach cover-up, a sarong that can also be used as a wrap for breezy nights, and a maxidress that can easily transition from beach to bar to dinner.
Other essentials: a tank top or two, jean cutoffs that can be dressed up with a belt, and a packable sunhat.
Packing picks for men McAlpin and Presser agree that quick-drying materials are key for multiuse items for men, like bathing trunks that can double as shorts or workout gear. Added tip: If you're planning to pack sneakers, stuff your socks inside to save space.
Rather than pack several dinner outfits, bring a range of lightweight tees and then dress them up with an unstructured blazer and neutral-hued pants. As for shoes, sandals (leather thongs work well) can easily take you from beach to dinner.
Fee-Free Packing for ... a City Getaway
If you’re Europe-bound, McAlpin and Presser suggest skipping shorts in favor of more versatile (and dinner-appropriate) slim-cut cotton pants or white jeans.
City trips often involve a lot of walking, so “you’re also going to need a really comfortable shoe,” Presser says. He prefers Palladiums, which are rugged enough for serious pavement-pounding but also nice enough for an evening out.
Packing picks for women Opt for a silk top and a button-down that you can wear during the day—and then pair with a blazer come nighttime. And go ahead and pack a pair of heels to dress up a monochromatic knit dress for dinner—as well as a few brightly colored scarves to add a different splash of color each night.
Packing picks for men “A charcoal blazer is surprisingly versatile,” says Presser, who recently spent a week in France relying on just one jacket and a few button-downs to pair with it.
He also recommends packing a half-zip merino sweater that will keep you warm on cooler days, plus it's suitable for evenings out. Black socks and a leather belt can be tucked inside your shoes, and a skinny knit tie is always a dapper add to any outfit.
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A spa weekend is all about getting undressed and letting someone knead the tension out of your shoulders. So pack accordingly by opting for loose-fitting, comfy clothes.
Fee-Free Packing for ... a Spa Trip
A spa weekend is all about getting undressed and letting someone knead the tension out of your shoulders. So pack accordingly by opting for loose-fitting, comfy clothes. Your favorite linen lounge pants paired with a cozy sweater and a pair of Toms kicks? Perfectly acceptable.
Packing picks for women For morning walks or yoga, pair a quick-wicking top with capris and a pair of lightweight sneakers. At some spas, swimsuits are optional, but you should bring one just in case you want to take advantage of unisex or outdoor relaxation spots.
McAlpin's top tip: Leave the diamonds at home, opting instead for natural jewelry that feels more appropriate in a spa environment. For example, a chunky lapis lazuli necklace will add a bit of elegance to a simple, wrinkle-free dress and sandals.
Packing picks for men Quick-wicking bathing trunks and performance tees can be worn to the pool or the gym. And don't forget to stuff your workout socks into your sneakers to save space. As for dinner, a white polo shirt can easily go from day to night when paired with an unstructured blazer and slip-on loafers.
Fee-Free Packing for ... an Outdoorsy Escape
According to Presser, there's one cardinal rule of hiking: “Cotton is killer.” While the breathable fabric is fine for other destinations, it will absorb your sweat instead of wicking it away when you're hitting the trails. A better option? Lightweight wool, which is ideal for just about everything, including hiking socks, a long-sleeve base layer shirt and a zip-up mid-layer.
As for hiking boots, go lightweight to ease your load on the plane—and your feet. After a day spent blazing those forest paths, the first thing you’ll want to do is change into sandals. Aim for something sporty and quick-drying, like Tevas, suggests McAlpin.
And don't forget to pack a first aid kit stocked with insect repellent, sunblock, Band-Aids, sanitizing wipes, antibiotic ointment and ibuprofen. Another just-in-case must: a wind-resistant, waterproof jacket.
Packing picks for women You’ll want a sports bra or two, a one-piece bathing suit, quick-drying shorts and tees and a hiking skirt—it's not only functional, but it looks cute too.
Packing picks for men In addition to the unisex basics already covered above, two other great outdoors essentials to consider: zip-off pants and a technical button-down. Pack it all up in a lightweight backpack and you’re mountain-ready.
“Cruises aren’t as dressy as they once were. But most dining rooms still have a no-jeans policy, so aim to bring one nice outfit."
Fee-Free Packing for ... a Cruise
When you book a cruise, you often have to fly to your point of departure. Translation: You’re not exempt from potential baggage fees on this vacation, either.
The good news? “Cruises aren’t as dressy as they once were,” McAlpin says. “But most dining rooms still have a no-jeans policy, so aim to bring one nice outfit. Otherwise, you can get away with more casual wear."
Packing picks for women Akbari suggests a black skirt and a few sparkly tops—"they take up so little space!"—for dressier cruise dinners. Her tip for an easy way to spice up a little black dress: Pack a couple of metallic chains—one chunky and one thin—and wear them individually or together.
Other seaworthy essentials: a bathing suit or two, a pair of white jeans, a couple of tees and a pair of nicer sandals for dinner.
Packing picks for men Back in the day, if you wanted to dress to impress on the high seas, you had to bring a tux, says McAlpin. Today's more modern solution? Mix and match a casual blazer, khaki pants and a couple collared shirts.
Sandals and swim trunks are fine for the pool deck and daytime exploring, but be sure to pack a decent pair of shoes for dinner. And, adds Akbari, a nice over-the-shoulder bag in leather or high-quality canvas is useful for toting around your laptop, iPad and other gear on deck—as well as during off-boat, port-of-call excursions.