It’s no secret that airline travel is becoming more expensive in every way. Since I typically travel on a strict budget, I tend to begin planning well in advance to save the most. These days, this includes how and what I pack in my luggage.

In the past, I've often felt like I had to choose between lightweight items and stylish items, but now I know how to pack in such a way that I can look good and still save on baggage fees!

Extra luggage charges to avoid

Airlines have become quite strict about luggage weight and size for both carry-on and checked bags. They won't hesitate to charge you if you arrive at the airport without checking restrictions first!

  • Carry-on baggage: Weight restrictions can kick in starting at just 15 pounds, especially for international flights. Overweight carry-ons will need to be checked (and paid for!).
  • Checked baggage: Weight restrictions begin to kick in around 40-50 pounds, with extra charges assessed. Expect to pay anywhere from $25-$75 more for overweight bags—per bag!

6 Key tips to travel in lightweight style

Use these tips to look great at your destination without paying extra for the privilege!

1. Pack lightweight synthetics over bulkier natural fibers.

I’ll never forget my trip to Israel more than a decade ago. I flew in with a suitcase that weighed more than I did. One day I headed into the Old City to shop for souvenirs. I ended up in a clothing store and walked out with four pairs of pants. They were made of synthetic fibers and polyester.

I proceeded to wear them for the next three weeks, washing them out nightly in my hotel sink. They dried in 10 minutes, never wrinkled, and never faded. I've been hooked on synthetics ever since!

Savings advantages with synthetics:

  • They’re hand-washable and dry quickly (i.e., no pricey hotel dry cleaning costs!).
  • They don't wrinkle (i.e., you don't have to iron or steam them).
  • They fold and take up very little space.
  • They’re extremely lightweight.

2. Choose one base outfit color theme with accents.

In my first job out of college, I traveled nearly 100% of the time. I would return, road-weary, and barely have any time at all to unpack, sleep, and repack for the next trip. This was when I learned to pack on a color theme.

To this day, my base color theme still revolves around darker colors like navy blue or basic black. Then I pack smaller articles—jewelry, accessories, scarves—in various bright accent colors to liven up my basics.

3. Wear the heaviest thing(s) you plan to bring.

If you do plan to bring a heavier sweater, jacket or pair of shoes, wear that item onto the plane with you. That way it won't add any weight to your luggage.

4. Be mindful of your luggage weight and space.

Certain luggage brands just weigh more, as do certain bag styles. The newest "ultra-light" bags weigh in at just 4-5 pounds when completely empty! But here you also risk sacrificing durability in the name of less weight, so instead of focusing solely on weight, look for a happy medium between a lightweight bag and a bag that can hold a LOT.

  • Highly recommended brands: TravelPro, Samsonite, Victorinox, and Delsey all get high marks for lower weight AND ultra-efficient packing space.

5. Learn how to pack for maximum space usage.

Packing experts claim you can pack for months in just one small carry-on wheeled bag! Part of the trick here is not just WHAT you pack but HOW you pack it.

Also, sometimes you can actually save space by using a series of smaller optimized travel organizers (Baggalini makes some great ones) for organizing your undergarments and toiletries instead of the ones that come with your luggage.

6. Choose items that can pull double duty.

Many travelers today are very fond of pants that zip off at the knee to become shorts. Today, you can buy skirts that feature the same—a long skirt that zips off at the knee to become a short skirt. Talk about a great, lightweight, 2-in-1 way to vary your wardrobe!

Two more great ideas: A hooded windbreaker that can double as a waterproof raincoat, and a lightweight down jacket that has zip-off arms to become a vest for warmer days.

Also, consider bringing along jeggings (jeans+leggings) instead of true jeans—they’re much lighter in weight, and can come in handy for hiking and workouts. Plus, they’re much easier to wash and faster to dry!

For undergarments, consider moisture wicking or natural (chemical free) merino wool socks. You can often get 2-3 times the wear out of these socks before you have to wash them—and they won't smell! Same goes for your shirts—natural merino wool or wicking synthetics like polyester will dry quickly, take up little space, and wear twice as well for twice as long before washing.

Related article: Why You May Save More By Buying New Luggage