Super Light Packing For Budget Airlines
Why We Booked on a Budget Airline
We recently booked a trip to Iceland on Wow Airlines (no longer in service, sadly). The price was cheap, less than $200 per person round trip. It is not often you see prices like this. We jumped on it. To be able to fly a family of five at this price is a steal.
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Following the booking came the additional prices. First it was seats. It is not necessary to book seats, but if you don’t you will be assigned a seat. We did not want to be split up as a family; with young children, prefer to have them next to us.
There are four choices for seat selection: Wow Standard, a standard seat towards the back; Wow Plus, a standard seat located closer to the front of the plane; Wow Comfy, which offers fliers extra leg room; and Wow Premium, a big seat included when you book a ticket through premium plan. You can also buy these larger seats for extra.
We paid close to $7.00 for the seat assignments. Our flight was now creeping up to the $200 mark per ticket.
The weather in Iceland is cold in Iceland in October. It hovers around 42 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and dips to the 30’s in the evening. Knowing this means we have to pack layers of clothes to keep warm. With five of us, that’s a lot of clothes to pack.
Baggage is an additional cost on many of the budget airlines. Checked luggage can cost upwards of $49.00 extra for one bag, $98.00 for two each way. That’s if you pre-book luggage online. The price goes up if you pay for it at the airport. I figured we could all easily fit in a carry on, as the trip was only 4 days. But carry-ons are also an additional cost. One bag is $39.00 each way if you book online. So, if each of us took our own carry-on, it would add an additional $400 total, for both ways, to our travel budget.
On principle (and pocketbook), we chose to pack in daypacks that would fit under the seat and not pay for checked or carry on luggage.
Under the seat bags are free (woot woot!). But wait: there’s a catch: Bags under the seat cannot be more than 42x32x25cm/ 17x13x10in (10kg/22 lbs). Wow is strict. If they notice (they do), that you haven’t checked or paid for any luggage, they will check your bag size and weight before getting on the flight.
Packing For Four Days in Iceland Only Using A Small Daypack
We were determined not to pay baggage fees for our flight. We all pulled out daypacks that fit the correct measurements and started deliberating on how we would fit in enough cold weather clothes, cameras, snacks, and electronics.
We would have to travel with layers in order to stay warm.
Long-underwear are essential for layering. We brought 2 pairs, as one could be used for pajamas as well. Don’t buy cotton; it’s a poor insulator, will drain heat dangerously when wet, and takes forever to dry when you wash it. Go with synthetic, wool, or silk. Wool has the advantage of not smelling (it’s magic in that respect). Synthetic is light, packs easy, and washes easy. We are fans of both SmartWool for wool, and Patagonia Capilene for synthetic, among the many excellent choices out there.
We made sure we all had quick dry material (again, wool or synthetic), in case we had to do a wash in a sink or got wet from all of the waterfalls. Two t-shirts would be packed, plus the one we were wearing there. Total of three, easily foldable t-shirts. My husband loves his SmartWool 150 T-shirt but the weight and feel isn’t for everyone. The rest of us wore UnderArmour and NorthFace synthetic shirts.
The ones we wore on our bodies were the ones that carried us through the entire 4 days. We all wore hiking pants, made of synthetic material. Quick drying when wet on the trail or washed at the end of the day, non-wrinkling, and easy. My husband is obsessed with his Prana Stretch Zion pants, which he believes are the best all-around travel and hiking pants ever.
were quick-dry wool socks and we wore one and packed two. We use both SmartWool and Icebreaker merino wool socks . Again–wool won’t stink, washes easy, and insulates even when wet. We used them with trail shoes and were comfortable across a wide range of temperatures.
We packed lightweight, synthetic mid layers. Think fleece, but thinner. These were worn as sweaters, over the t-shirts or over the long underwear base layer, depending on the temperature.
We wore them on the plane. We approach outerwear in two parts. The first is a lightweight, insulating layer. This can be worn by itself or combined with a waterproof shell. Many favor down for this layer (sometimes also billed as “down sweaters”), but we are partial to synthetic. These insulate when wet, and are more durable. These can also pack down into their pockets to be about the size of soda cans, so they pack easy in day bags as well. Our family is split up between Patagonia Nanopuff wearers and NorthFace Thermoball. The other jacket is a rain layer. In warmer weather this can be worn by itself as a windbreaker or rain jacket. In cooler weather, it was combined with the insulating layer to make a warm combination against cold, wind, and rain. These were easy to roll up and place in our backpacks. Tip: lay the jacket out flat. Fold over the sleeves and outer thirds of the jacket inward, and then roll from the bottom up, flipping the rolled jacket into the hood for storage. Stays compact and easy to find in your bag. A few different types of rain jackets in the family, with us gravitating towards the balance of performance and price in the Marmot Precip jackets.
Hardly any. Toothbrush, 2 small travel toothpastes for all of us to share, deodorant, and a hairbrush. The hair brush broke right away and our daughter and I struggled to use the bristles without the base of the brush. We made it work. The AirBnB provided soap and shampoo, as did the horse farm. All the hot springs provide soap and shampoo in their changing rooms, as well.
I packed single use laundry detergent packets. Fortunately our first Airbnb had a washer/dryer. Had it not, these single use packets are essential for washing clothes in the sink or tub.
Making It All Fit
The true test was how we would make it all fit into our small daypacks. We didn't want to get flagged at boarding (and--like I said--they do check). We laid out all of our clothing and started rolling. Rolling will get your clothes more compact than folding. Try it, and you'll see.
Once rolled, they were easily stackable at the bottom of the backpack. Now we could stack any other necessities like our balled up rain jackets on top, cameras, protein bars, books, electronics, hats and gloves.
How We Dressed For The Flight
Figuring that our bag could only be a specific size, we all bundled up for the flight. We wore our one pair of pants and hiking shoes. We had on our inner layer (t-shirt made of synthetic material), a mid layer providing us with insulation. We wore our insulating layers over that as we got on the flight. We kept our shell layers (the raincoats) rolled up in balls in the backpacks, to be used when we arrive.
It was still warm on the East Coast of the USA and the kids pointed this out many times while we were waiting for our flight. However, the moment they walked out of the airport in Iceland, they understood the reasons for all of the layers. We were blasted with a cold wind that ripped through us in the 38 degree Fahrenheit cold.
Will We Pack This Way For Future Trips?
Short answer, YES! Packing light was so liberating. Not having to worry about lugging loads of luggage around for five. Moreover, we realized quickly, we just didn't need the stuff. Need more information on what to pack for backpacking in Europe? Try this Europe packing list, to get you around on your adventure with only a daypack. We were fine with just a couple of changes. What helped was having a washer dryer to keep us clean or even a sink to hand wash.