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By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As people enter the holiday rush and head to their vacations, odds are they are laden with multiple heavy bags. And you know what that means: Get the credit card ready for some cruel and unusual punishment.

Virtually every airline now charges for checked bags on domestic flights – usually $25 for the first one, $35 for the next, with additional fees for baggage that exceeds weight limits. Even JetBlue finally caved.

The only way to game the system nowadays is to adopt a carry-on only lifestyle. Learn to pack light, and you could save hundreds of dollars a year.

To do that right, you will need to talk to Alexandra Jimenez. The Los Angeles native and author of “Pack Light Stylishly” (http://TravelFashionGirl.com) has been traveling the world for years – Reuters reached her on the phone in Mexico – with nothing but a carry-on.

Here are her best tips for downsizing your life, and saving a ton of money in the process:

Q: How did you become such a guru on the issue of packing light?
A: I have been on the road since 2008, and I just got tired of lugging around heavy bags all the time. I became obsessed with the idea of packing as light as possible. When I saw other travelers with small bags, I would interview them about how they did it.

Q: What is one of your secrets?
A: The most effective one is the use of packing cubes. They are organizational tools that are used to compress your stuff, kind of like sleeping-bag cases do. They take big bulky things and make them smaller, so they are the first step in minimizing your suitcase.

Q: What about reducing volume overall?
A: The next step is to downsize your weight as well as your size. To do that, you need to pack the right kind of fabrics. Especially in winter, most people pack big, chunky clothing items that take up most of a suitcase. But these days, there are thin, lightweight materials that can be just as warm or warmer. Fitness-type fabrics, like the kind that runners wear, are great for that. Savvy travelers also wear a lot of merino wool, which is very thin but a terrific insulator.

Q: What do hardcore travelers know about packing that the rest of us do not?
A: One of our biggest secrets is that we re-wear clothing. If you are going on a weeklong trip, you don’t need seven tops and seven bottoms. You just need a few items that are extremely versatile and don’t need to be constantly washed. Jeans are great for that.

Q: What are a few things most travelers get wrong about packing?
A: For women, it’s shoes. You don’t need 10 pairs; you need three pairs at most, which go with everything. People also go crazy with toiletries, bringing things like Costco-sized shampoo bottles. Just bring small-size travel containers that conform to federal travel regulations. People also forget to simply check the weather forecast at their destinations. You don’t have to pack for five different climates if it is going to be the same weather all week.
Finally, people tend to pack according to some travel fantasy about what they think they will do, rather than what they actually do. So they pack outfits for multiple five-star dinners in Paris, when in reality they just wear their favorite comfortable outfit all week long.

Q: How much money can people save if they learn these skills?
A: Even occasional travelers could save hundreds a year, and frequent travelers even more than that. After all, it defeats the purpose of finding amazing flight deals, if you are going spend $50 or more on checked bags every single time.
But packing light is not just about avoiding baggage fees. It actually makes your trip much more enjoyable, because you aren’t dragging around all these heavy bags anymore. It changed my life.

(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Andrew Hay)

Photo: Travelers are pictured inside Manhattan Penn Station in New York, November 24, 2015. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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