Understand the rules
So you scored a wicked deal on an ultra low-cost carrier such as Wow Air or Swoop. Unfortunately, that means you’ll have to pay for a standard size piece of carry-on luggage. What do you get for free? On Wow, it’s a single bag measuring 42-by-32-by-25 centimetres. On Swoop it’s even smaller: 41-by-15-by-33 cm. Once again, I repeat: You get that one single bag for free. Anything else will cost you – and the price goes up the longer you wait (i.e., you’ll pay the most if you get caught trying to cheat the system at the airport).
Pockets are your friends
The good news: Depending on the trip it is possible to make do. I spent 1 1/2 weeks in Britain in March and managed not to give Wow an extra cent – and I even packed hiking poles. For starters, you’re going to need a sweater or jacket for extra storage. I put my liquids bag in one coat pocket and my makeup pouch in the other. (I may be thrifty, but I still want to look good in my vacation photos.) Interior pockets work well for a passport and wallet.
Pick one pair of shoes you like because you’ll be wearing them a lot: In cooler weather, classic black boots work with trousers or jeans and give a chic edge to dresses and skirts. When it comes to clothes, don’t pack anything you can’t wear as part of multiple outfits. Buy a compression bag (the type where you roll out the air in case you don’t have access to a vacuum abroad) and accept you might have to do a wash at some point.
If you’re headed to a warm weather destination, this packing job is actually pretty easy, especially if you’re a fan of sundresses. But in fall and winter, you’re going to have to wear a few options at once. Tank top? Check. Long-sleeve shirt over that? Check. Sweater to finish it all off? Check! Listen, no one said being a skinflint is glamorous. On the bright side, if the plane is freezing you’re laughing, and if it’s hot you can take it (almost) all off once you’re onboard, ball it up and you’ve got yourself a pillow.
Buy duty free
Leaving Europe, most budget airlines allow you to also bring on one bag of duty free. So buy some overpriced gum, ask for a large sack and load that sucker up with the souvenirs you acquired along the way. It’s a bit of a sneaky trick but I’ve done it a few times and no one has ever asked to search my bag. I’m sure they know everyone is doing it.