Packing a bag to stay under airlines' weight limits and avoid fees

After a lifetime of traveling internationally and paying zillions of dollars for going over the weight limit, I have changed my gluttonous, overpacking ways. I am now Someone Who Packs Light.

To wit: I have been living for nearly three months out of a single, 28-inch soft-sided Samsonite that weighed in at Charles de Gaulle at just 26 kilos (57 pounds), 3 kilos (about 7 pounds) over the 23-kilogram limit, oui, but the nice Frenchman working behind the airline ticket counter didn't even mention it.

And now that some airlines are raising luggage rates (Alaska, to $25, at the end of October), it's even more important to try to pack lightly and carry on when you can — or at least not get assessed excess fees. How did I do it?

Not by adding a new pair of comfortable shoes to wear on vacation and a new this or that, but by removing more than I think I'll need on a particular journey. By limiting my options and simplifying what I'm wearing every day.

When I'm about to pack for a trip, I first lay out my clothes on the bed so I can figure out what will mix and match with what. If I can't wear something two ways — or for two different occasions, say a dinner and a day at the museums — I don't take it.

My regular, one-piece-of-luggage packing goes like this: My day-to-day color scheme is pretty straightforward. I tend toward solid blues, khaki green, white and gray, and all of these colors go together. Then it's just a matter of deciding which pieces I'll pack. I don't wear big jewelry but love scarves, so that's how I accessorize.

I use what I call "the power of two" for nearly everything. For example, in my big suitcase, I packed two of the following: pairs of dark jeans; short-sleeved tees (white and khaki green); long-sleeved striped French sailor tees in blue and white and red and blue; sweaters (one navy cardigan and one dark gray pullover); multicolored long and lightweight scarves; button-down shirts (one denim and one silk); T-shirt dresses in charcoal gray and light khaki; and low-heeled boots (black motorcycle and tan ankles), along with a pair of chocolate brown flip-flops that slip into the outside zip pocket. Easy.

Layering is key. In the morning, I wear a long-sleeved striped tee under a navy cardigan, with or without a scarf, depending on the day and what I'm doing. Add dark jeans and a pair of boots, and I'm ready to sightsee without looking like a tourist.

I love things with more than one purpose, and I've found that the more I travel, the more I rely on things that I can wear more than one way. It helps cut down on what I pack.

I always wear my heaviest boots on the plane and pack my poncho-scarf to use as a blanket on the long flights. Because I get cold on planes no matter what time of year it is, I always wear a thinner scarf too, and depending on where I'm going, I may also have either a light or heavy jacket, both easily crushable into my black duffel, which I've carried on for decades.

Perhaps most important: Take your time. Lynda Richey, general manager of the Container Store at Hulen Mall in Fort Worth says, "Plan your trip out, have the information about where you're going, and allow yourself plenty of time so you're not hurriedly throwing things into the bag. That's when overpacking happens."

And, she adds, keep your wardrobe simple. Think two outfits a day. "Dark pants and shorts and basic bottoms. Just switch out the tops."

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