Monday, May 3, 2010

Resourceful Traveling - Baggage

We don't live near family so we frequently travel to spend time with them. Often that travel includes flying and packing suitcases for both long and short visits. Over time the airlines have created more stringent baggage policies and we have made adjustments to keep costs low.

When we were first married each ticket holder was allowed 2 checked bags, 2 carry on bags, and one personal item. The only fee was for a bag over 50 pounds or additional checked bags. At that time we could also buy a seat at half price for a child under age 2. We also frequently were able to use an empty seat for an infant car seat if the flight wasn't full.

Now we aren't allowed any checked bags without a fee, and can carry on only one small bag and one personal item. We also have to pay full price for any seat, so small children remain lap babies for us until their second birthday. There are almost never empty seats on flights anymore, so lap babies are truly lap babies.

We try to travel without checking any bags. Because we buy four seats, we take four carry on bags and four personal items onto the plane. Most airlines don't charge to check car seats and strollers so that is a big relief for us! At the beginning of this year we only had one bag that was small enough to be considered a carry on. My aunt gave us a small suitcase that was in her garage sale pile and we borrowed two from my folks that gave us a total of 4 bags. Since then both of those borrowed bags have been given to our family so we have 4 of our own carry on sized bags. Praise the Lord for providing for our needs!

Here's how we divide up the luggage:
  • Bag 1 - Eve's clothes & shoes in half and Joanna's clothes & shoes in the other half.
  • Bag 2 - Naomi's clothes & shoes in half and toys, games, and kid gear in the other half.
  • Bag 3 - DH & my clothes. Shoes if they fit.
  • Bag 4 - Books, food, toiletries, and anything else that doesn't fit in the other bags.
  • Stroller & carseats checked for free - Use any pockets to tuck additional items.

Carry on bags:

  • Bag 1 - Eve's backpack with toys & snacks for the airplane and the girls' sippy cups
  • Bag 2 - Naomi's much smaller backpack with a few toys for the airplane
  • Bag 3 - Ed's laptop backpack (his most useful Microsoft team gift) with his and my reading material.
  • Bag 4 - Baby backpack with all baby gear, changes of clothes, and yet more toys & snacks.

Carry-on bags are tricky because security keeps you from taking many items in the cabin of the plane. That's where the car seats & stroller come in handy. Nail clippers and DH's beard scissors aren't allowed through security. Liquids over 3 oz aren't allowed through security. For this trip we put our sunscreens, hair products, medicines, and clippers & scissors in the pack'n'play bag. Another great option is to tuck those items into any stroller pockets (ours velcro closed) or a small ziploc with shampoo or sunscreen can be attached to a car seat. The car seats & strollers usually go in those big plastic bags so if anything comes loose it'll still be contained in the bags. Using your car seat and/or stroller is a great strategy to avoid buying sunscreen & shampoos when you arrive at your destination.

We used to travel with a lot of baby gear, but that is no longer possible. We check with the hotel or timeshare where we plan to stay about borrowing or renting cribs and/or high chairs. We also ask about laundry facilities either on site or nearby. On this trip we found out that a crib could be rented for one week at a cost of $25. The timeshare provides a highchair and laundry facilities at no additional cost. Alaska, our usual airline, charges $15 for a checked bag each way. We decided to spend the additional $5 and take our pack'n'play. This allowed us to tuck some additional things into the side pocket of the pack'n'play bag and gave us peace of mind knowing Joanna would be in a familiar, safe bed and not trusting our luck that the timeshare would provide a safe, clean, & reliable bed. Imagine our delight when the baggage agent told us there was no charge for a pack'n'play! We may end up paying on the way home, but still a big Praise God for a saved $15 at least.

Sometimes it makes sense to check one bag. My brother, for example, has two kids and a wife who has a hard time packing light. They have one huge bag that they pack to capacity and work hard to keep the weight just at 50 pounds. Then they carry on other bags. Different airlines have different fees for checked bags, but most are $25 or less. On United you can check-in online and pre-pay for checked baggage with a $2 discount per bag. When we used to travel with a huge bag we could fit a collapsible booster seat and would take much larger toys with us (like a collapsed baby gym). If you just can't pack light because of kids or because you won't have access to laundry facilities, consider checking one really big bag. Borrow one from a friend or use a duffel.

Here's how we get through the airport:

  • Eve - Carries her backpack and wears her tennis shoes and coat (so they don't have to fit in carry on bags)
  • Naomi - Carries her backpack and wears her tennis shoes and coat
  • Joanna - Gets a ride in the big stroller with the smallest carry on tucked underneath. All 3 girls' baby blankets also get draped on the stroller.
  • Myself - Carries baby backpack & purse. Pushes Joanna's stroller and pulls a carry on. Sometimes one of the big girls will pull the carry on for me. Wearing jacket & tennis shoes. Gate check Joanna's stroller.
  • DH - Carries laptop backpack and pulls two carry ons. Wearing jacket & tennis shoes.

We check the car seats immediately when we walk in so we don't have to lug those far. This also goes for the big girls' stroller and a pack'n'play if we're taking those items.

When we get to the plane we always try to get early boarding. DH hurries on board with the big girls and two carry on bags & his laptop. I wait in the gangway with Joanna, the stroller, and two other carry ons. DH quickly stows the two carry ons he has, seats the girls, and hurries back out. Hopefully there aren't tons of other people getting on yet. Meanwhile I have sent the blankets with the big girls, removed the smaller carry on from the stroller, and collapsed the stroller for its gate check. DH then take the last two carry ons and I follow him onto the plane with the baby, the backpack, and my purse. We get settled and stow things under the seat while other passengers are boarding. We do not take the car seats on the plane - it's just too much work to get them through the airport and the girls do better if they can move around.

Do you have any other tips for keeping baggage costs down? Or other tricks for packing light? I am always looking for new ways to pack more efficiently.



  1. I've flown Southwest the last couple of times and they don't charge you for a checked bag as long it's under 50 pounds. And I've brought the carseat on board each time (round trip with Gwen as a 3 month old and it was free because there were extra seats), and bought her a ticket last time (22 months) and she slept on the plane. They get used to sleeping in those car seats!

  2. Southwest is one of the few that still allow checked bags with the price of the ticket. My SIL used them a lot and it's awesome! Yep, I agree the kids get used to sleeping in the car seats - too bad out flight was so full! Maybe on the way home . . .

    Also United has great perks for people who rack up a lot of miles. My Dad gets 4 checked bags up to 70 pounds for free and any companions get 3 checked bags up to 70 pounds. Pretty awesome.


So, what do you think?