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Tips for Packing Light

Want to lighten your load? Here are 5 bright ideas.

These days, it costs a lot of money to check bags on a flight — even just one bag. Check two or more, and you can easily start racking up fees that are half the price of a plane ticket. Plus, as many international travelers find, that huge suitcase on wheels that rolls effortlessly through airport hallways suddenly becomes a major hassle and backache on uneven cobblestone streets, in tiny taxi cabs, or in utterly charming 17th-century hotels with no working elevators.

Luggage woes

But sometimes it’s tough to break the overpacking habit.

Here are five ideas, ranging from easy-peasy to unconventional, that can save you money and help you travel light(er):

Always think “multi-use.” It’s tempting sometimes to just pack that one extra sweater because it’s so great. But are you going to wear that sweater more than once? Does it go with the pants you’ve packed, or the skirts? Does it work with the shoes you’re bringing? What inevitably happens is that you wind up packing other things to go with that one extra thing — and that’s how overpacking starts.

Make a list. Find tops, bottoms, and shoes that are versatile and that you can easily mix, match, and layer. Accessorize with light, easy-to-pack things: scarves, neckties, fabric belts.

If you have to bring bulky things, don’t pack them — wear them. While this can be an admittedly uncomfortable option if you’re traveling between two very different climates — it still is easier than overpacking for one outfit. The bulky jacket, the long sweater, men’s dress shoes, the knee-high boots, the shoes with chunky heels, the big purse, the hiking boots — these are great candidates for wearing rather than packing. They take up a lot of room in a suitcase, they’re unusually heavy, and they’re not worth the extra heft and money.

Laundry on vacation

Wash or hit the thrift. Rather than packing a separate outfit for each day, consider bringing a few ounces of laundry soap and washing a load for a second round. Depending on the trip, this could allow you to even get all your clothes packed into a carry on.

Another option: if you’re heading to a cool city, get the skinny on the best thrift stores in the area, and find something that can serve as a boost to your traveling wardrobe and a unique souvenir of your visit. (The money you save on over-limit fees can go a long way to having a wonderful piece from your destination!) Donate something you brought with you and take home something new-to-you. Of course, depending on your budget, you might prefer a boutique to a second-hand store — but the idea is still the same. Arrive light, leave light. And every time you put on your great find, you can remember the fun you had on your trip.

Use technology to your advantage. You likely know that you can bring a library’s worth of books and magazines on an e-reader or iPad.

But a tablet can also house handy travel apps that can make your trip more efficient and can store vital information. For example, you can scan copies of your driver’s license, passport, or credit cards and securely email those images to yourself, for easy access in case they are lost or stolen. There are apps for reservation and flight information, train schedules, best gas prices in your area, best food where you’ll be staying — all right at your fingertips, which can save you the weight and hassle of hard-copy documents and folders.

Before you pack, you can check out a site like com, which allows you to check the forecast of your destination and can help you plan what to pack based on the temperature and conditions that might await you upon arrival.

Mail your stuff to and from your hotel. This might sound like a pretty kooky suggestion, but if you’re going to be staying in one place for a while — say, 10 days at a resort or something like that — consider what Caroline Costello from points out: “It costs $39 to ship a 15-pound package from Boston to Los Angeles if you use an Express Mail Flat Rate Box from U.S.P.S. Comparatively, a third checked bag on a domestic flight can cost as much as $150.”

If you plan ahead and just use simple ground shipping, you could save even more money. Pack a few essentials in your carry-on, and you can easily be set for a week.

What are your secrets for avoiding over-packing? How do you keep it lean and light? And when you get to save yourself the extra fees — what do you spend the money on instead? We’d love to hear your great ideas!