I’m a certain calibre of traveller that people loathe.
The kind who gets sized up by everyone else as they stand in the line, many unable to fathom how I’ve been allowed to get this far – or hoping I’ll be swiftly reprimanded.
No I’m not an ill-ill-disciplined child. Nor am I a drunkard or snorer.
My name is Ashleigh Stewart and I’m a cabin luggage over-packer.
You know the kind – the ones who roll up to the gate with bags fit to bursting, clutching several other bags to lessen the main load. Those who elicit a roll of the eye and maybe a sigh as people stand, backed up in the aisle, during boarding.
But whilst it might be a slight hindrance to you, let me tell you – it’s a bloody art form to me. For years I’ve been forgoing premium carriers such as Emirates and Etihad (not by choice, of course – have you ever flown an A380’s Business Class?! I would live there) and their opulent 21kg-30kg baggage allowances. But in saving hundreds of dirhams in air fare, you inevitably lose quite a lot of those add-ons, meaning you’re confined to carry-on if you’re prepared to go anywhere near the likes of Wizz Air, Pegasus, or Ryan Air.
And because I’m also the thriftiest of fliers (I did just out myself as a particularly frugal flight booker too, which really is doing nothing for my street cred), I’ve also long been dodging those abhorrent price tags to check in luggage on said airlines (50 euro for a few extra warm clothes? I’d rather mild hypothermia).
I’ve not yet fallen foul of the carry-on law – and I’ve become pretty well-versed in lugging many kilograms over my weight limit from country to country. In fact, I’ve just got home from two weeks of traversing four countries with wildly different climates. On Ryan Air, I smuggled on 12kg over two bags (limit: one bag, 10kg max); on Pegasus I reckon I had about 14kg over three bags (Limit: 8kg, one bag max) and on Wizz I had three bags that totalled about 13kg (one bag, 10kg max). And just when you thought I couldn’t impress you anymore, I with enough clothes to see me through a temperate Turkish spring and a freezing European one, with a CamelBak (marathon training, bleuch), and managed to stock up on six pairs of shoes in my first three days of being away.
Yes I basically wore two different sets of clothes for two weeks. But, I digress.
And despite the fact that by writing this I can only assume all aforementioned airlines will issue a circular about me and I’ll certainly be a target next time I attempt it – I’m going to share all my best, frugal tips so you can piss everyone off next time you fly budget.
1. Use a small bag to deceive airline staff
I know, I know: it’s literally the first rule most airlines ask you to adhere to, having ONE small bag in the cabin. But they’re not going to rattle you for a tiny little H&M bag; it looks like you’ve just picked up some socks on the way to the airport.
Little do they know that hidden in that bad boy is several kilograms of Cadbury’s and some glassware you simply could not tell your mother you have no space for.
2. Place all your super heavy items in that small bag
Do not even think about putting clothes or easy things to carry in that little bag – now is not the time for common sense, people. I’m going to need you to throw in your laptop, that tea set you bought in Sri Lanka, and any granola you bought because it’s $1.56 in the UK and $15 in Dubai.
Think about things that weigh a lot but don’t take up too much space – and shove it all in that unsturdy shopping bag that will probably tear through at any second.
3. It’s all about what you hold in your hands
Following on from points #1 and #2, make sure you’ve expertly spread your two+ bags across your two hands as you approach the check-in counter. Do not put it your sneaky bag on the floor with your main bag!
When the attendant asks to see or weigh your cabin bag, given them the main one. They don’t need to know that you have another firmly in your grasp, just out of sight. And when you walk away, having successfully secured a cabin sticker on your main one – it’ll be too late, you’ll already be stalking off towards security control with one arm raised in the air like Judd Nelson at the end of Breakfast Club.
But actually, on second thoughts, they can just call you back so perhaps don’t celebrate so freely. Scuttle off with your smaller bag discreetly.
4. Walk with confidence
Perhaps the most important rule of carry-on etiquette: don’t attempt to dupe the staff by attempting to shield your bag with a coat, or walking with your arms extended, or averting eye contact. Airline staff are like bears – they can smell fear. Instead, walk up to your check-in counter, or boarding gate, with confidence – carry that bag like it’s a featherlight bag full of cotton wool.
If you’re not struggling under those 14 kilograms of souvenir ceramics and new Le Creuset stoneware from a kick-ass sale at TK Maxx, no one will know that one of your arms is red raw and you lost blood flow several travelators ago.
5. Your carry-on should be a soft, lightweight bag
My friend once used a carry-on suitcase that weighed 1.5 kilograms. Idiot.
6. Duffel bags are best
…because their shape moves and you’re not constricted by those pissy little trundler suitcases that barely hold a couple of pairs of shoes. Duffel bags can be stretched to their limits and can take on almost any shape or form – meaning yes, if you want to, you can take Settlers of Catan on your beach holiday.
7. Stuff things into unexpected places
If you’ve ever used an actual laptop bag – you’ll know that those things are absurdly sized, with enough room to house about four laptops, should you require. But if, like most people, you just have one – why not use all that vacant space to pack in bits from your main bag? No one is ever going to weigh your laptop bag – and if they do, just point to the sign that says you’re allowed a small laptop bag, an allowance that never seems to have a weight limit.
8. Wear several layers
I don’t care if you’re going to Ibiza – if you need to take a jacket and a jumper, you best believe you’re wearing both on the plane.
9. Leave your bags with a pal while you go to the check-in desk
I’m not actually going to advocate for this one too strongly as it’s not exactly fool-proof (you still could be thwarted by a check at the gate…) but I did it one time and it worked. My travelling and companion and I simply checked I separately so one of us could hold the oversized carry-on – but you could have whoever is seeing you off at the airport doing it too. Again though, it’s not the smartest ruse in the book – because if you are simply harbouring goods for someone and you’re both getting on the same plane, you’ve still gotta get it past the eagle-eyed people at the gate…TBD on this one.
And that, my friends, is how you go to quite a lot of effort, just to avoid paying about 10 euro.