Booking a basic economy flight can be a smart way to save money if you’re traveling light. But if you’re planning on taking an extended vacation or a long trip home for the holidays, it could end up costing you more in the long run. Some airlines limit basic economy fliers to one personal item that fits under their seat, which means if you show up to the airport with a full-sized carry-on, you’ll have to pay to check it. That shouldn’t be an excuse to skip the cheapest options when shopping for plane tickets. We spoke to some travel experts, who explained how to pack everything you need for a long trip into one personal bag.
1. Choose the right bag.
For a basic economy flight, you need to start with the right bag before deciding what to pack and how to pack it. Most regular-size luggage won’t fit under an airplane seat, so look for a quality purse or backpack instead. Size is an important factor, but according to Matthew Kepnes of the travel site Nomadic Matt, you should also find a bag that helps you stay organized. “Bring something flexible and with lots of pockets so you can better organize your things,” he tells Mental Floss. “Ideally, your bag will also have outer pockets so you can take advantage of the space outside your bags for things like flip-flops or a water bottle.”
2. Wear your bulkiest items on the plane.
Bringing heavy clothing on a trip is necessary if you’re traveling someplace cold for the holidays. Instead of wasting valuable real estate in your bag, set aside the items that would take up the most space and slip them on before heading to the airport. “I try to wear my bulkiest items—the heaviest shoes, a coat, chunky sweater,” Palepu tells Mental Floss. And if you start to get hot beneath all those heavy clothes, you can always strip off a layer and use it as a pillow on your flight.
3. Take a minimalist approach.
When packing for basic economy flight, look at each item before putting it in your bag and ask yourself if you really need it. If you hesitate, set it aside and move on to the next thing. Having a minimalist attitude is the only way to leave the house with a personal bag you can fully zip closed. “We often get overzealous when it comes to packing for your trip, thinking we will need this and that when the truth is, we usually don't,” Kepnes says. “Don't plan for every contingency and bring your whole wardrobe. Keep it simple.”
4. Pack your most versatile wardrobe staples.
Instead of sacrificing your personal style on your next trip, stick to a few basic clothing pieces that are able to do a lot of work. According to Kepnes, versatility is key. “Bring clothes that all go well together so you can make up more outfits and not only have specific clothing combinations,” he says. “Just try to get the most mileage from each item.”
5. Plan to re-wear clothes.
There’s no trick that will help you fit two weeks' worth of clothing beneath your seat. The only choice is to pack as much clothing as you can fit and plan to re-wear those items—which, according to Kepnes, isn’t the end of the world. “You can always do laundry at your destination, too, so don't worry about running out of clothes,” he says.
In order to stretch her travel wardrobe as far as possible, Palepu packs essential oils so she can refresh pieces between wears. You can also fill a tiny travel-size spray bottle with Downy Wrinkle Releaser to smooth and freshen your clothes before and after wearing them.
6. Don't waste money on vacuum-sealed bags.
Using a space-saving vacuum bag may seem like an appealing option if you’re struggling to fit all your stuff in your backpack, but both Kepnes and Palepu say not to bother. “If you're careful about what you pack, you don't need a vacuum sealer or packing cubes to conserve space,” Palepu says. Instead of a special folding strategy, she’s conserves space by being mindful of the order she packs her items in. “When I pack, I pack the heaviest and bulkiest items first and my smallest, most flexible items last so I can fit them in the small nooks and crannies left by the bigger items.”
Kepnes also doesn’t endorse any special folding methods, but he sometimes uses packing cubes to stay organized. “If you still don't have enough room in your backpack, that just means you've got too much stuff!” he says. (He recommends his favorite backpacks here.)
7. Buy what you can at your destination.
There’s no reason to buy travel toiletries and gifts for your host on the way to the airport. If you need something that you’ll only be using at your destination, wait until you arrive to pick it up. “Keep your packing to a minimum and just aim to buy a few things upon arrival,” Palepu says. “That will keep you within the size limits but still allow you to have everything you need for your trip.”