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5 Holiday Packing Tips for Travelers

Learn genius hacks for packing light and staying stress-free this season.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Holiday Packing Tips for Travelers

Open suitcase on bed with camera and photographs

Avoid paying a hefty extra baggage fee or holding up the TSA security line with a few savvy tricks.(Getty Images)

You don't have to own a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 to know that what you carry aboard an airplane matters. Whether you're planning to fly or drive, it's a smart idea to pack strategically. Before you map out items to place into your suitcase, use these tips to ensure you comply with ever-changing TSA airport security rules, take advantage of the latest luggage inventions and add some cheer – and comfort – to your holiday travels.

Get Smart on Carry-on and Checked Bag Regulations

Once you've booked your holiday vacation, plan for the journey. In the case of Samsung, the FAA banned the transport of original and replacement devices as "forbidden hazardous materials." Before your trip, brush up on what else the FAA considers hazardous. While many items might seem obvious, dangerous substances can be found in common items. For instance, the rubber cement kids like to use to make glitter Christmas cards, old camping stoves and aerosol spray starches for ironing holiday outfits are all banned items. And kids can carry scooters aboard, but drones will be disallowed – even in checked luggage – if they contain a lithium ion battery that is 100Wh or above. Also keep in mind at present, pies, cakes and turkeys are OK to carry on, but cranberry sauce, dips, jams and gravy must be checked. Unfortunately, the TSA has a different TSA Prohibited Items list. Make sure to stay up to date on the latest regulations by visiting TSA.gov/travel on packing day.

Given the TSA's constantly changing rules, it's a wise idea to avoid gift-wrapping things that might need to be hand inspected. During the holidays, several hubs, including Heathrow Airport, LaGuardia Airport and San Diego International Airport provide gift wrap after security, either free of charge or with nominal fees that benefit charity. Alternatively, carry decorative folding gift bags with you.

Carry Your Luggage Aboard

In 2016, the Department of Transportation reported six checked bags were lost for every 1,000 passengers – a number that's declining thanks to self-checking bag kiosks, but a holiday nightmare if it happens to you. U.S. airlines have reduced the number of carry-ons customers are allowed to take on board because plane cabins have become smaller and fuller, translating to less overhead bin space. American Airlines is currently testing tall bins to accommodate rollaboards stored on their sides, but until that becomes standard, 21-inch and smaller carry-ons are your best bet.

Pack Lightly

Consider which items are essential to travel with, and learn how to fit everything into a smaller bag before your trip with a how-to packing guide, that includes how to best fold garments, and prepare for a variety of climates and scenarios. Also keep in mind, with the rise of extended stay hotel brands like Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, many hotels now have on-site laundry facilities, so you don't need to pack excessive clothing. Laundry facilities are becoming more readily available on cruise ships, too.

Avoid Checking Two Bags

To lighten your load, consider investing in clothing full of handy pockets from Scottevest.com. A stylish Women's Trench Coat (available for $195) has 18 pockets that can be used for a tablet, smartphone, water bottle, cosmetics and more. Pair it with Margaux Cargaux travel pants (available for $95) and you may not need that second suitcase. Meanwhile, the men's Off the Grid Jacket (available for $215) has 29 pockets to hold your laptop or iPad, an RFID-blocking pocket to secure your passport and space to fold in clothes.

If all else fails and you must check more than one bag, avoid paying hefty baggage fees by asking a travel companion to check it, because second bag fees are exponentially higher than first bag fees with most major airlines. Alternatively, if you're carrying an overweight suitcase, consider shipping your luggage. Services like SendMyBag.com and the free Shyp app (an online marketplace for consumers looking to ship at a low cost) can be much cheaper than paying a steep fee for a second bag.

Take Advantage of Luggage Innovations

If you haven't upgraded your luggage in the past three years, it's time to gift yourself – and everyone on your list – with a new suitcase. The latest models offer extra space, along with durable materials, a lightweight style, wheels and added mobility. But keep in mind bag models (and prices) can vary widely, so make sure to read customer reviews and do your homework before purchasing.

Multi-level Oregami Luggage (available $179), whose innovative design was crowd funded through Indiegogo, never has to be unpacked. Contained within a rugged fabric case on spinner wheels, the bag features foldout trays that enable you to organize your gear and display it for easy access. Meanwhile, the LS Magnetousa (available for $147) is a three-wheeled scooter that's a conventional hard-sided, 23-inch rollaboard suitcase. It's a kick scooter which folds down from the frame so you can scoot through the terminal, and is a TSA-friendly trolley that holds other bags. Ideal for families, scooter suitcases are at Toys "R" Us, Target and other stores selling kids' versions themed to "Star Wars," cartoon characters and more.

Another high-tech option is the motorized Modobag (available $1,095). This battery-powered suitcase travels up to 8 miles (at up to 8 miles per hour) on one charge, and is easily steered with a touch control dashboard. An added bonus: two USB charging ports to top up your own devices, and GPRS-GSM real-time tracking that allows you to find the bag with an app. And at 22 inches, it fits in most overhead bins.

If you're traveling with youngsters in tow, consider investing in the Buddy Ball (available for $19.99), a cuddly plush teddy bear that folds into a soft-sided ball that little ones can safely play with in a hotel. Bears come in a variety of colors, and feature a zippered pocket that's ideal for storing a few toddler essentials.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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