Q: I’m taking a vacation soon and need some tips on traveling a little lighter, but I’m not quite ready to give up my checked luggage. Help!

A: Checked baggage fees range from $5 to $25 for the first item, and the rate goes up for additional bags. With those rising rates, even Kimora Lee Simmons should consider packing a few less Louis Vuitton suitcases. Unless you have an entourage to carry all that stuff, it’s time to downsize. If aircraft carriers can shed pounds by ditching magazine racks and reconfiguring seats to save jet fuel, surely you can find a way to lug less of that excess baggage. Here is a flight plan to help lighten your load:

  • Do your homework: Before your trip, research carry-on size requirements for the airline you typically use. According to the FAA, most airlines allow a maximum of 45 linear inches in height, width and depth. Keep in mind that those measurements apply to stuffed bags. Don’t start with a 45-inch carry-on or you’ll end up checking it at the gate.
  • Invest in a sturdy carry-on bag: Form truly follows function. Consider a rolling bag with inset wheels, a collapsible handle and deep exterior pockets that offer easy access to magazines or toiletries.
  • Coordinate outfits: Start with the classics: a little black dress for the ladies, along with a white button-down, a colorful scarf for the plane, cargo pants, khakis, jeans and comfy shoes. Add items based on the destination, and stick with complementary colors so it’s easy to mix and match. Each top, bottom and pair of shoes should match multiple items.
  • Pack with purpose. Wear the bulkiest outfit to and from your destination. Rolling clothing truly can maximize space. Place clothes on a flat surface and roll from the shortest to the widest end, pulling and stretching the item as you roll. It works! I just traveled to Bulgaria with four pairs of pants, eight shirts, underwear, two pairs of shoes, toiletries and other necessities in a carryon bag. Storing items in shoes also maximizes space. Don’t forget to save room for souvenirs because bulging bags won’t fit into the overhead compartment.
  • Edit your list of necessities. It’s a vacation; no need to pack up all your toiletries. Think minimalism. Think easy. Think, "these people will never see me again." Leave your fancy ionic hairdryer at home when traveling within the United States; most hotels provide decent versions. Overseas, you will need a small but powerful portable hairdryer as well as an international plug adapter for European outlets. Edit your list of clothes to ensure you are taking what you really need, and focus on low-maintenance outfits. After all, you are on vacation.
  • Minimize, minimize, minimize. The Transportation Security Administration has a 3-1-1 rule for liquids stored in carry-on luggage. Bottles of lotion, perfume or other products should be in 3.4-ounce containers that are stored in one quart-sized zip-top plastic bag. The rule is one bag per person. Buy the travel-size versions of your favorite items and recycle the containers when you return home. If you are a frequent traveler, it’s worth investing in clear plastic bottles that you can refill for each trip. Next time you stock up on more perfume or cologne, ask for samples that can be stowed away to avoid travel funk.
  • Leave the gear at home. Hitting the slopes? Consider renting the ski gear or other bulky items at your destination. It saves time, space and headaches at the baggage carousel.
  • Redefine your concept of souvenirs. Does your aunt really need another T-shirt? If friends and family really want an authentic Parisian experience, they will travel to the City of Lights on their own. No need to lug home miniature Eiffel Towers or other cheap knickknacks. Try gifting others with photos from your trip instead. Focus on souvenirs that truly capture the spirit of the city or country.
  • Clean out your purse or travel bag. Remnants from previous trips do one thing: Occupy space. Instead, make sure you have easy access to essentials such as your itinerary, passport, money, credit cards, digital camera and medication.
  • Shed as you go. Everyone loves a good book during a long vacation. But that doesn’t mean you have to tote War and Peace around the whole time. Get a paperback version of your must-read, and leave it as a gift for the next traveler. Consider it a donation to the green bank of good karma.
Got a question? Submit a question to Mother Nature and one of our many experts will track down the answer. Plus: Visit our advice archives to see if your question has already been tackled.

Photo: gelsomina /iStockPhoto