Travel Without Luggage

Avoid carry-on fees by leaving your bags at home.

By + More

Jonathan Yevin heads off on trips with just the shirt on his back and a toothbrush in his pocket. Traveling without bags, says the New York City-based travel writer, 33, gives him the freedom "to improvise spontaneously" and more opportunities to interact with locals when, say, borrowing toothpaste. He opts for dark clothes and pants with a secret pocket for money and passport. His smartphone acts as a notepad, music player, Internet connection, and camera; he picks up a local SIM card to text and make calls.

[For more tips and advice, get your copy of 50 Smart Money Moves today.]

It may be premature to call "minimalist" travel a full-fledged trend, but observers swear that baggage fees, which typically run $15 to $35 per checked bag on domestic flights and up to $75 for a second checked bag internationally, have given the movement life. This is "like people getting fuel-efficient cars when gas prices go up," says Rolf Potts, 41, a travel writer now living in Philadelphia who spent six weeks in 2010 country-hopping without luggage.

Marketers are offering bag-free travelers some clever clothing choices: There's the $100 Scottevest travel vest, for example ("With 22 pockets, it's like a bonus carry-on!"), and the $249.99 JakPak (the "world's first all-in-one waterproof jacket, tent and sleeping bag").

[See the Most Tax-Friendly Places to Retire Abroad.]

Obviously, packing strategically will be a more palatable option for many. The rules on carry-ons vary by airline (usually they can be around 22 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 8 inches deep and 40 pounds), so check before you pack. You can save money on domestic flights by choosing JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, which let you check one and two items, respectively, for free. And almost all airlines allow one free checked bag on international flights.