Our recent journey to Portugal included A LOT of luggage!! We had 2 adults + 4 kids + 1 small dog traveling to another country for an extended stay. We ended up with 12 (yes, twelve!) pieces of checked luggage plus 6 carry-on suitcases plus 6 backpacks plus a guitar plus one pet carrier and a bag for the pet's items. In total, we had a staggering 27 "bags" that we had to keep track of. Read on for some tips on luggage for air travel and to see how we managed to successfully arrive at our destination with all of our items while keeping our sanity.
Familiarize Yourself with Airline Restrictions
Before embarking on an international trip, it's crucial to thoroughly understand the luggage allowances specific to your airline and ticket class. Each airline and destination may have varying restrictions. For instance, our recent trip to TAP airlines from Boston to Lisbon allowed for one piece of checked luggage, one carry-on, and one personal item per ticket. Additional fees applied for traveling with our pet and Sérgio's guitar.
Understanding Weight and Size Restrictions
The weight and size restrictions for luggage can also vary by ticket class. For our "Classic" tickets with TAP, the weight limit for our checked bags was 50 pounds, whereas the higher-tier tickets allowed up to 70 pounds. It's worth considering upgrading your ticket class if you anticipate bringing extra checked luggage.
The limits for our trip were:
- Checked luggage – max. 62 inches and 50 pounds
- Carry-on bag – max. 45 inches and 22 pounds – Our personal experience is that when leaving the US, the airline may allow the carry-on bags to be checked (for free!) if the flight is fully booked. While we were prepared to lug our carry-ons around the airport with us if necessary, we've had great luck in being able to check them, allowing us to bring more items without additional fees and hassle. We haven't had the same experience when traveling back to the US. Thankfully, we brought less luggage back with us since a few of the duffel bags stayed in Portugal with beach items, bath towels, blankets, etc.
- Personal item – In addition to one piece of hand baggage (carry-on luggage), you can take a personal item of up to 4.4 pounds in the cabin. Some examples of this include a handbag, computer case, shoulder bag, or backpack. The bag should measure no more than 16 x 12 x 5 inches.
- Musical instrument - Musical instruments can be brought along, but guidelines and fees vary based on size and weight. In some cases, you may need to book an extra seat to accommodate larger instruments in the cabin. Alternatively, you can transport instruments in the hold. It's important to adhere to the permitted weight and size limits. Musical instruments can be included in the free baggage allowance, as long as they're within the permitted weight and size limits. Sérgio's guitar, however, is too big and we have to pay an additional fee for it.
- Pet carrier – We were able to bring our pup, Belle, in the cabin with us since she's a small dog (under 8kg). Specific requirements apply for the type of carrier allowed in the cabin. It must be a malleable container (rigid containers have to go in the hold) no larger than 40 x 33 x 17 cm and no heavier than 8 kg / 17 lb for the pet and carrier. This is the carrier that we use and we highly recommend it!
NOTE: We knew that we'd have more than the allowed number of bags, but we weren't sure how many until everything was packed. We were able to add the extra luggage to our tickets through the TAP website or mobile app. It was cheaper to do it this way rather than at the airport. However, we had to be sure to complete the online purchase prior to the on-line check-in opening when the prices increase. The price may also be more at the airport, so it's definitely better for your budget to get everything packed and weighed at least 24 hours before your flight. (*Note: the prices are different based on low or high season as well.)
Choosing the right luggage
Selecting luggage that complies with your airline's size and weight restrictions while being durable enough to withstand the rigors of air travel is essential. Opting for a hard-shell suitcase is recommended for a standard trip. For longer stays, we've had great success with lightweight duffel bags, as they allow for more flexibility and space. In fact, packing additional items in duffel bags proved more cost-effective than purchasing new items at our destination.
Here's an insider tip: Consider bringing a duffel bag when traveling to a location where you might bring back a lot of souvenirs. Pack your clothes in the duffel bag and reserve the hard-sided suitcase for extra items and souvenirs on your return journey. You can fold and store the duffel bag in the front pocket of your luggage for the outbound flight, and you'll only have to pay for the extra piece of luggage for the return flight. With a duffel bag costing less than $10 and the cost of the extra piece of luggage for the return flight generally around $120, it would be quite a bit cheaper (and MUCH faster) than shipping through a postal service!
Pack Smart and Efficiently
To maximize space and minimize wrinkles, rolling clothes and utilizing packing cubes or compression bags can be incredibly helpful. Arrange heavy items at the bottom of your suitcase and place breakable belongings in the middle for added protection. We also recommend using vacuum bags, which can be a game-changer when it comes to saving space.
Label your luggage
It's important to attach a name tag with your contact information on the outside of each bag. Additionally, placing a tag inside your suitcase can be a big help if your luggage gets lost. Remember, if you forget to label your luggage at home, most airports provide the option to do it there. However, completing this step beforehand significantly reduces stress and streamlines the process, especially when traveling with kids or pets.
Keep essentials accessible
Prepare a small bag within your carry-on luggage that contains essential items like passports, travel documents, and medications. This ensures easy access in case your checked luggage is lost or delated during the journey.
By following these tips, you can ensure that your luggage is well-prepared for your next flight, and that your trip is as comfortable and stress-free as possible.
*We do our best to keep all information up to date, but things can change and we highly recommend verifying all information with your airline.
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