6 Tips for Avoiding the Nightmare of Excess Baggage Fees

Your dream trip is planned, your accommodation is booked, you’re imagining the sights, sounds, and smells ahead, and you’re counting down the days until you go. Suddenly, your greatest hopes and dreams come crashing down around you. It comes time to pack, and, no matter how much you sit on your luggage, you just can’t get it to zip! Or you arrive at the airport and are informed by the airline that your check-in bag is two pounds overweight! Or you fail to sneak your carry-on past the gate and not even the strength of a thousand men could cram it into that discount airline’s minuscule bag check device!

Defenestration of Prague

Get that excess luggage out of here! (That time we reenacted the Defenestration – of backpacks – of Prague from our Prague hostel room)

Excess baggage is a tragic nightmare that many of today’s travelers must cope with, but you can breathe a sigh of relief. There is help out there. Whether you’re stuffing your entire life into one carry-on or fighting the epic battle of a checked bag’s weight limit, here are six tips for avoiding those excess baggage fees.

Thoroughly research your baggage allowance

Never make any assumptions about what baggage you’ll be allowed on a flight! Airlines’ rules vary quite a bit, and even a single airline’s restrictions will vary from route to route. Always check out the airline’s website before flying, and, if you have any questions, call them up. What is the maximum size and weight for checked bags? How much will they charge if you go over the limit? (Hint: often quite a bit!) How big can carry-ons be? Can you bring a personal item in addition to your carry-on, or will you be limited to one item? Make sure you know all of this before traveling so you aren’t caught with any surprise fees.

Pack light

This may sound like the world’s most obvious suggestion, but it’s easier said than done. Have a real think about what you could possibly leave behind. Do you really need all those items? Can you bring laundry detergent and wash clothes as you go so you can re-wear them? Can you use space-savers like vacuum bags or all-in-one chargers? What can you buy on the road? It’s tempting to bring everything you could possibly imagine needing, but the fewer items, the happier (and richer!) you’ll be!

Hvar, Croatia

If you observe my travel photos over the last 6-7 years, you may or may not spot me wearing this same dress 55 times per trip to save luggage space.

Make use of a luggage scale

My luggage scale may be the handiest travel-related item I own. Getting everything under 50 pounds/23 kilos – especially when I’m packing my life up and moving abroad – can be a major struggle, and this allows me to add and remove items from my luggage while at home so I’m not biting my nails in line for the check-in desk. Plus, because these scales are small and light, you can take them with you to re-weigh even after changing the contents of your baggage on your travels. I’ve found that many airlines don’t weigh carry-ons even if they have a weight restriction, but some do, and the scale is definitely always handy for checked bags.


If you’re a discount airline veteran, you may be all too familiar with the practice of wearing approximately 300 layers of clothing to bypass strict luggage limits. Over the years, I have to admit I’ve become a total pro at this. What are you looking at, people? It’s totally normal to wear three shirts and a winter coat in 95 degree heat. This Scottish boy band singer became my spirit animal when it was reported that he passed out on an easyJet flight because he was wearing twelve layers of clothing. Mad respect. Perhaps avoid putting your health in jeopardy, but, hey, you can consider it a personal challenge!

Invest in a travel vest

Take the idea of wearing everything one step further and purchase yourself a travel vest. You may look ridiculous, but, hey, technically you’re not “carrying” all of this stuff on. Carryology has a great round-up of some of the travel vests out there…and some actually look pretty inconspicuous!

Stuffa travel vest - save luggage space

This one from Stuffa has 12 secret pockets and looks pretty decent!

Ship your luggage  to your destination

If there’s no chance of limiting the amount of baggage you have, consider shipping it to your destination instead of carrying it with you on your flight. This is especially useful if you’re planning to travel for a while and need to send belongings home but don’t want to lug them from destination to destination. If you’re based in or traveling either to or from Australia, World Baggage offers secure excess baggage shipping. Their website will calculate the shipping cost based on destination, quantity, size, and weight, which will allow you to choose your smartest and most economical plan of action. They also provide real-time baggage tracking.

Never fear, dear travelers. Say goodbye to losing nights of sleep worrying if you’ll sneak your bag past airline staff. No longer will you have to lose those hard-earned dollars on airline pedantry when you could instead devote it to four extra nights in a hostel or entrance fees to six museums or even an additional international flight. ¡Sí se puede!

Disclaimer: This post was in collaboration with World Baggage, but all opinions are entirely my own, as always!

15 Responses

  1. Erica says:

    Great tips. I believe in wearing the heaviest items too! Boots, sweater, etc– saves a lot of space!

  2. Marta says:

    I am absolutely obsessed with packing light and overpacking fees can definitely be steep! I didn’t know you could get nice looking travel vests but the one in the photo looks good: I am always cold so it might come in handy in more ways than one 😉

  3. Nancy says:

    Like Marta, I’m obsessed with traveling light also to the point I will wear the same clothes for days. I figure I’ll probably never see the people around me again so who cares if they see me wearing the same outfits. Quite a change from 10 years ago when it used to be the more the better and the largest suitcase you could find. Your tip on researching baggage allowance is so important, not all airlines have the same rules.

  4. Sean says:

    Great tips! We always have that moment at check-in when we wait nervously, hoping they don’t notice our overstuffed carryon backpack. I’ve found if you’re actually wearing it, they don’t usually question it. Good idea about the wearable luggage!

    • Thanks, Sean! I’ve pulled clothes from my carry-on and put them on right in front of them (or even stuffed objects into pockets), and they usually don’t care, so they’re clearly just obeying the rules they’ve been given without worrying too much!

  5. Bigfatheads says:

    A lot of airlines allow a carry on bag and a personal item such as a handbag or laptop bag. I have a lightweight, folds flat large handbag that I take as an extra carry on. I pack it up and put it inside my main bag till the airport for easy transport and then take a carry on rucksack and a handbag if I need to. You can get a lot of heavy stuff in a handbag.

    Also in South America a lot of the internal flights have fewer restrictions on what you can put in your hand luggage

    • It’s SO much easier being able to bring a personal item after a lot of experience with discount airlines that limited it to one (although I think Ryanair has since changed their policies). I definitely take full advantage of my handbags now!

  6. Alexandrea says:

    I always try to research mine before hand as I’m often traveling carry on style

  7. Laura Lynch says:

    I am the queen of packing light. I’m extremely judicious of the things I pack and if I don’t think I really super need them, they stay home. 2 pairs of shoes max!

  1. April 17, 2018

    […] Don’t get caught out by carrying extra weight in your suitcase – if you can’t purchase your own luggage scale, at least find a normal scale to weigh your luggage before you leave for the airport. This will allow you plenty of time to repack your luggage, distribute weight to other cases, and maybe ditch some things you don’t absolutely need. You’d be surprised at how quickly the costs mount when you start paying extra fees for baggage. […]

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