Cultural Experience | South Africa

Why I Avoid Checking Bags When Flying and How I Do It.

How 1 Aerospace Engineering Student Packs for a 2 week winter trip to South Africa.

Everyone’s heard – and some have experienced – those travel horror stories of a traveller’s bags not making it to their destination or being lost forever. To be honest, this is probably one of my biggest travel fears and that’s why I try to avoid checking bags as much as I possibly can.

Despite never having lost a bag, checking bags always stresses me out. It’s even worse if I have to switch planes during a layover. In my opinion, checking bags just adds a new level of stress to travel that can easily be avoided.

It wasn’t until last year that I really transitioned to this way of travel, but it was one of the greatest and oddly fulfilling things I did. In fact, I used to be one of the worst over-packers ever, not even going through half of what I packed. I had seen all of the videos of people only packing in carry-ons or backpackers only using one bag, and wished I could do that. I wanted to be that world traveller, but I always found myself bringing so much stuff I thought I’d need and never did. When preparing for two weeks in South Africa, all of that changed with one little challenge.

As we were packing everything for the mission trip and safari, I did the quick math and realized that we might not even have enough checked baggage for everything. So, I told my parents that I wouldn’t need one. Well aware of my overpacking habits, they thought I was crazy and told me I wouldn’t be able to do that. Challenge accepted and challenge accomplished.

Now, any time I travel I have two bags. That’s it. I have a backpack and a rolling carry-on. I only check a bag if I have my snowboard equipment with me or if there’s a more expensive carry-on fee with that airline. In my carry-on I pack all of my clothes, shoes, hygiene and medical products. In my backpack, I keep one spare outfit (in case I have to check my bag at the gate), my electronics, and my personal items (ID, Passport, wallet, sunglasses, etc).

For those of you wondering how I pack like this, here’s how. (For a sample list of what I usually pack, see the end.)

Note: I personally choose to lay everything out before it ever goes into my backpack or suitcase. Then, I sort through it a couple of times to limit what I bring even more.

Carry-on:

First thing’s first, think about how long you’re staying and if you’ll have access to laundry services. If you can do laundry, then you’ll need even less. If not, or simply if you just aren’t going to, you’ll probably need a little more. I usually pack expecting that I won’t be able to do any laundry.

Second, weather weather weather. I can’t preach this enough, but know what to expect. Get an idea of the normal climate in that area and begin by prepping for that. Then, add an item for any unexpected weather.

Third, think about any activities you might be doing. I usually try to do some sort of exercise when I travel, so that automatically adds additional shirts and shorts, and, as a rule-of-thumb, I always pack at least one nice outfit for if I go out.

Finally, personal hygiene and medical products. As far as hygiene products go, I err on the side of packing too little. I usually just bring some travel shampoo and conditioner, a brush, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and some lotion. If I need anything else, I’ll go buy some. As for medical products, I have a pretty solid kit that includes bandages, medicine, and precautionary supplements.

Personal Item (Backpack):

My backpack mainly consists of any electronics I bring. I do, however, pack a spare outfit in this bag that consists of a pair of sweatpants, a t-shirt, one pair of socks, and underwear. I roll this up and it hardly takes up any space.

When packing your personal bag, be sure to think about what you’re going to want in order to get through your flight. Everyone goes through flights differently. I usually either listen to music, read, film, or work on my laptop. Because of this, I keep my laptop, headphones, camera, and a book all in my bag. I also keep a water bottle in my bag at all times so I don’t get dehydrated. My backpack is always under the seat in front of me so it’s easily accessible.

Additionally, because your personal bag is probably going to be the easiest for you to get in and out of, I find it’s best to keep your travel documents in it.

Airport Outfit:

When I travel, I try to stay as comfortable as possible. If I’m being honest, I usually wear sweats and a t-shirt. I always bring a light jacket or pullover because a lot of flights can be pretty chilly and I also hang some sort of addition jacket from my backpack. This saves a little space in either of my bags.

My Packing Technique:

When everything is laid out, I plan how I’m going to pack it. Rolling your clothes definitely saves you space when packing. Unfortunately, I’ve found that when it comes to sweatpants, sweatshirts, or any cold weather gear, it actually doesn’t help that much. Because of this I recommend packing in an alternating fold-roll technique. Most of my clothes are of pretty thin materials, so I fold them as small as I can and play a little tetris to pack them. I pack pants and shirts at the base, then follow with clothes that are a little thicker. I fill any gaps with rolled clothes (usually my workout gear) and continue this pattern until I get to my jackets/sweatshirts. Those, I fold like normal and lay them flat on top. Finally, I pack my shoes on top of those.

If I am travelling with my board bag, I keep one pair of my boarding gear and my goggles with me, while the rest stays in the bag to save space in my carry on. 

Below is a packing list from my trip to South Africa for two weeks in the winter.

Packing List

Short Sleeves – 6
Long Sleeves – 2
Compression Long Sleeves – 2
Leggings/Compression Pants – 1
Sliders – 3
Shorts – 3
Sweatpants – 3
Pajama Pants – 1
Jeans – 1
‘Nice’ Shirt – 1
Undergarments – 5
Socks – 5 pairs
Gloves – 1 pair
Towel – 1 microfiber
Winter Coat – 1
Sweatshirt/Pullover – 2
Shoes – 2 (gym shoes and Vans)
Change of Clothes
Laptop and Charger
Phone and Charger
Camera and Charger
GoPro and Charger
Headphones
Portable Hard Drive
Converters
Book
Passport/Travel Documents
Writing Utensil
Wallet (ID and money)
Medical and Hygiene Products
3DS and Charger

Limiting yourself to only carry-ons might seem like a daunting task, but I challenge you to try it for a short trip. Initially it will feel like you don’t have enough to get through, but you’d be surprised. There are so many benefits to it. You don’t have to pay for a checked bag, no extra time waiting for bags at baggage claim, no extra worry in the back of your head, and everything is always with you. Additionally, it is quite fun to see people’s reactions when you show up with so little. “That’s all you have?!” Yes. Yes it is.

 

Alexandra Thul

University of Cincinnati | 1 story

Alexandra (Alli) Thul is a second year Aerospace Engineering student from Cincinnati, Ohio. Athlete-turned-traveller, she is determined to see the world. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @APThul.


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