Seasoned budget travelers know that to make budget airlines work for them there are a few key strategies to make sure they pay the advertised price, and not get dinged for additional charges. If you follow these tips, you can fly like a bargain shopping professional

packing wisely

1. Choose a uniform
It goes without saying that if you’re planning to fly with a small backpack (the size of the one “personal item” you can bring on board with you free of charge), that you’re going to have to downsize the wardrobe choices. Make sure anything you bring can be worn with the other clothing items in your bag and are wrinkle-resistant and (preferably) versatile (merino t-shirts are known for folding down into tiny packets, keeping you warm when it’s cold and covered when you need sun protection). For a weekend away, we suggest one pair of pants/shorts and two shirts for men, and one dress, one pair of pants/shorts and a blouse or tank for women. People on holiday generally dress casual these days. If you’re going somewhere to relax, keep the clothes choices relaxed as well. You can always pick up a fun item or two once you get there if necessary.

2. Keep the accessories to a minimum
You should be wearing one pair of comfortable shoes on your flight that can work for walking/hiking. If you’re bringing a hat for sun shade, it should be on your head when you board or compact enough to stow in the bottom of your bag. A sun hat is another fun items you can pick up from a beach vendor or local shop in any beach town for next to nothing so we often forgo it on the flight. Ladies, if you absolutely must bring one lightweight pair of sandals we’ll allow it. On the other hand, if the weather could be variable, you’ll also want to have a light jacket with you. Wear that onto the flight as well. You can roll it up and stow it under your seat as soon as you board or spread it over your knees as a temporary blanket on the flight. Multitask!

3. Don’t skimp on the essentials
You’ll need a pair of underwear for each day as well as a pair of socks. Some packing veterans say two of each at a maximum, and plan to wash out your skivvies in the hotel sink each night. We think this is taking things a bit too far unless you’re going to be on the road for more than a week. Just pack what you need and roll them up tightly. Roll, you say?

4. Weather matters
When you’re going to Miami to lie on a beach for 4 days, throwing a bikini and a sarong into a bag really might be the best plan. If you’re going for a ski weekend, don’t assume you can fly without checking a bag or two.

5. Roll your clothes
This is a classic packing technique for good reason. It saves room in your bag for other necessary items and it helps keep a tiny streamlined wardrobe tidy and unwrinkled. If you did bring a pair of shoes or a hat, stow your inexpensive jewelry (don’t bring fancy stuff) inside a small Ziploc and then that Ziploc inside the toe of one of your shoes. This video is a great demonstration of the rolling/bundling technique. Watch it. Learn it. Love it.

6. Don’t forget your meds
This may seem like a no brainer, but many a vacation has been delayed or ruined by someone who forgot to pack that medication that they can’t miss. The last thing you want to do is land and have to put the fun on hold while you try to find a pharmacy that will fill your prescription over a long weekend.

woman packing

7. Take a break from your high-maintenance tendencies
Yes, we said that. Whatever wellness routine you’re in at home – if you want to travel light, you’re going to have to put it on pause for this flight. Often, reminding yourself that you’re on your way to unplug and relax can help you keep things simple. If you’re the kind of traveler who must bring their hair straightener, blow dryer, sound machine, purse dog, yoga mat and aromatherapy candles with you everywhere you go, Spirit is not going to be for you. No judgment here AT ALL. We’re just pretty sure this no frills, bare bones experience is going to be to your liking anyway.

8. Limit yourself to one travel diversion
I used to pack four to five books every time I traveled, because I’m a bookish person and I like to have choices. Though I still prefer a book that I can hold in my hand, I’ve managed in recent years to streamline things and now, when I go on vacation, I have learned to embrace the e-reader. You can read as many books as you like on your phone or iPad, and listen to podcasts and music on the flight as well. Variety is the spice of life, after all!

9. Toiletries – who needs ‘em?
Again, if you’re married to your moisturizer or favorite shampoo, you can always bring very small (less than 3 oz.) bottles in your bag. But you can also wait until you get to your destination and use the hotel’s shampoo, body wash, razors, toothpaste, etc. When traveling light, we actually do the research to find out what amenities they have (most of the time you can find the details online), and plan accordingly. When you’re trying to fly as lean as you can, this can save some space. Why not?

10. Leave the beach and bath towels at home
Unless you’re going to be staying in hostels or going on a camping trip, even the most basic accommodation will have remarkably clean and soft towels for your use. Don’t spend time packing things that are just not necessary. Remember. You’re traveling light now.

One quick caveat – this “tips” list should easily work for most travelers on a weekend getaway, and for seasoned, low maintenance travelers on longer trips. You should exercise caution when trying to pull it off for much more than one-week journey. We recommend this as a trial balloon to see if you can tolerate “light travel” on a shorter getaway – if it works for you, make the jump to a longer trip.

If you are traveling for longer, you should consider that the most economical way to travel with a bag on Frontier is to pay for a checked bag at checkout (that’s when you are buying your tickets, not at the airport). It will run you $25 online, $38 if you decide later that you can’t get everything into your carry-on and you purchase online up to 24 hours prior to your departure. You will then pay $45 at the airport and if you (for some reason) decide to check that same bag at the gate you’ll be ponying up $60 (this is usually what befalls folks trying to game the system with a bigger bag than is allowed as a carry-on.) Do not let this happen to you. They are relentlessly strict about the carry-on size (24″H, 16″W, 10″D) and the bag must not weigh more than 35 pounds.

You could also spring for a carry-on, but the size requirements are smaller and you will pay a bit of a premium for the convenience of avoiding baggage claim ($30 if you buy at checkout).

That’s it! Once you make the commitment to traveling light, we find most people find it liberating. You may never go back to lugging large bags around airports, onto taxis and through cities again. For other helpful hints check out How to Fly Frontier and Win.

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  1. Your comments about not to bring toiletries is bad if you are traveling international! I just went to Punta Cana last month and the resort don’t give you toothbrush , toothpaste, razors for free instead a tiny tube of toothpaste is $1.99 , toothbrush $3.99 and razors $9.99 all in US dollars! So if you are traveling international bring all your toiletries!

  2. Not worth it to me to fly these garbage airlines in my opinion. Many don’t go daily and I want to fly when I want to go, not when they want to. Glad I burned my 200,000 miles before Frontier got this way.

    • Yes, this trend has even infiltrated the legacy airlines. Its a bit of a frustrating time for travelers. Hopefully, the airlines will get the message and consider customer concerns. At the moment, there are just a handful of airlines not buying into the a la carte model.

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