How To Stay Within The Baggage Allowance and Still Carry A Few Luxury Items (Packing Tips for a South East Asia Tour)

Call me crazy, call me impractical, but I like to be prepared when I travel. That being said, the airlines make it difficult to bring everything I might want to bring on a trip. (Truth is, Baggage Allowances are my saving grace.) But some rules are just super hard to comply with, such as new carry-on restrictions on most Asian carriers (we’ll get to that in a minute).

Let’s start with the (not so) standard 2 pieces 50 lb. each for checked baggage rule. I say “not so” standard because this rule only applies to flights originating in the USA an some Latin American countries (for flights originating in the rest of the world, the limit is 66 lbs. for one piece of luggage total). This sounds like an over packers dream, but in actuality it really is excessive and won’t work if you are taking domestic flights within Asia that are not in conjunction with your International Flight. Why? Because those airlines have more restrictive baggage allowances. There are some ways to pre-purchase extra weight by joining Membership Programs for each airline you intend to fly, and in some cases, like on Bangkok Airways, purchasing extra kilos when you book your ticket online. NO ONE, even me the overpacker, needs to bring two bags on a trip. That being said, the two piece rule does come in handy for return flights when you want to bring an extra piece of luggage home with some bulky souvenirs (and purchasing luggage or duffle bags in Asia is inexpensive and easy to do; they are sold at every market on every corner).

Carry-on restrictions very on International Flights and Domestic Flights as well, and Asian carriers are getting very strict on what travelers bring (weight wise) on board a plane. I fly a lot on Eva Air and their carry on limit is 15 lbs. on International Flights. There is no way to pack a 22 inch spinner carry on to meet that regulation, especially with cameras and the technical (aka fragile) equipment I put in my carry on - that is, until I started planning my packing very carefully. It is an art. (Keep in mind that if your are flying on small Asian carriers - many times with props - within Asia, the carry on size is usually smaller, and the 22 inch spinners will cause you a few headaches, so think hard before bringing one on your trip to Asia.)

Tips for making the best out of these restrictions (my Hacks):

+ Book an Open Jaw or “multi city” Ticket: An Open Jaw is a travel industry term for flying into one city and home from another. For example, you are traveling to Thailand and want to see many places within the country. Book your ticket to fly into a city at one end of the country, say Chiang Mai and then book your return from another end of the country, say Phuket. This will save you money on at least one Domestic Flight. In some cases the International Ticket may cost a bit more,than say a round trip ticket to Bangkok, but here is where you benefit. Aside from saving on one or two Domestic Thailand Tickets, you benefit from getting the International Flight rules for your baggage. So if you end up in Phuket, you get to bring your second check in bag on the plane home (even if you fly home through Bangkok) at no extra cost. A shopper’s delight! ALWAYS book an Open Jaw when you can.

+ Purchase your checked luggage carefully. I have a bag that I love but it is 14 lbs. empty. This takes away from a lot of what I want to bring with me, or bring home. On my next trip, I am trying out a different piece that is only 9 lbs. saving me 5 lbs. so I can back a book or two or sneakers - two things I often have to take out of my bag after packing and weighing my luggage. I find that one 27” or 28” hard sided suitcase is ample room for any female traveler going on a two week trip to South East Asia. (with room for souvenirs inside). That being said, I am shooting for a 25” hard sided Spinner Bag on my next trip (but will likely be purchasing a duffle bag for souvenirs). I also like the  backpacks or duffels that have wheels. While they weigh a bit more, they are great for getting around from mini van or bus or cab to hotel room and visa versa.

+ Don’t forget packing packing cubes These are crucial to keeping you organized while traveling and help to reduce the amount of clothes you actually decide to bring (I find that if all my T-shirt’s don’t fit in one tiny cube, I take some out instead of bringing a second cube or using a larger cube). Remember, in South East Asia, getting your laundry done is quick and inexpensive.

+  Pouches. I use pouches in addition to packing cubes. These are all different colors and/or clear or mesh. These hold everything that is not in a cube, so there is almost nothing in my bag that is not inside something. Pouches are great for organizing, like the cubes. I have pouches for my chargers and cables. I have one for sunscreen and another for first aid supplies. My toiletry bag is a flat-style, hanging pouch. My papers and folders about the tour go in a Tom Bihn fabric document pouch, and so on.

+ Shower cap shoe holders. I use plastic shower caps to hold my shoes. I realize this goes against my “say no to plastic” mantra, however, I do reuse them, dozens of times. I got the ones I have now at Daiso (there were plenty in a pack for all the shoes I could think of fitting and they all cost under $2).

+ Think carefully about your carry-on choices. Remember you are allowed one carry-on (typically 15 lbs. for all flights purchased in conjunction with your International Flight) and one “personal item.” I’ll be honest, I push it, but not more that a kilo or two and I make up for it by making sure my checked bag is under weight by that amount. My cameras are heavy and I do like to bring at least one book. I like my (heavy) spinner carry-on because I need my comfort items on the plane and it is convenient to pack them in the spinner and attach my personal item (tote or backpack) on top as I make my way around the airport for three hours before my flight (and during my layover I Taipei or Seoul). Since my heavy DSLR and point-and-shoot Canon are in there, there is not a lot of room, weight wise, for my blanket and pillow (those add up the weight, too). So I am very careful when I wheel up to the counter. Never let an airline staffer see you struggle with a carry on. Keep the personal item on (backpacks are best for doing this) and let them weigh your carry on. If it goes over, explain that it holds your change of shoes and your “camera equipment.” this usually works perfectly. I am liking both of these short "under the seat" rolling carry-ons by Kensie and Aerolite for cameras more and more, but never store it under the seat in front of you on a long haul flight - that is for stretching out your legs for goodness sakes!

The main thing to remember is that you need to be aware of all of the rules and restrictions for your airline before arriving at the airport. Use your scale to weigh your items while packing. Pre purchase kilos when you can, it shows airline staff that you are not trying to get away with something. Don’t be that person. The rules are there for a reason (usually so the airline can sell some of its cargo area to companies shipping their goods, which seems unfair when you are at home pulling out your comport items), but rules are rules!

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