The most appealing part of having your own kayak or surfboard – or any type of adventure gear really – is to be able to bring it with you wherever you go and use it wherever you’d like, anywhere in the world. Of course, that means having to fly with it first, which for most means some agonizing parts of travel planning.
While traveling with your own kayak sure means you won’t ever be able to pack your bags just 30-mins before hopping onto a flight, it really isn’t all that difficult to have a smooth traveling experience with a little know-how and preparation (and some experience).
After traveling to 4 countries and 8 cities with the TRAK 2.0, and hopping on countless flights with it, I’ve gathered some tips and tricks to share with you:
Oversize vs Overweight
If you travel with any piece of sports equipment at all, you usually have to declare it to your airline while purchasing your ticket or upon checking in at the counter. Most airlines provide you with further classification of your equipment (ie. Golf equipment, Surfboard, Bicycle, …), but the options there are quite limited and usually don’t include “foldable kayak”. And as we know – a foldable kayak is not comparable with a normal kayak when it comes to transportation.
If you take a foldable kayak, in my case the TRAK 2.0, you’ll likely have it in a large bag which will definitely be oversized. Oversize? Yes. Oversize is pretty much every item that is not transportable via a normal luggage belt during check in (dimensions vary per airline). Usually, that’s not a big deal, as long as you stay within the weight limits – usually 23kg per item for long haul flights. You simply have to go to a different area to drop it off.
Putting things into perspective: as long as you are able to breakdown and distribute the weights of different parts of your kayak, you’re most likely able to repack it into two separate bags within the limit of 23kg each and drop them off at oversized luggage without any issues. This is also where knowing the estimated weights of each of your gear can be useful in helping you pack.
Overweight, is a different but related issue. It is definitely worth a closer look into how your airline handles overweight and oversized luggage. Here are three different scenarios I’ve encountered:
- If your bag is oversized or overweight, and you pay just one extra fee: Again, always read the fineprint! When I flew Alaska Airlines, it turned out that if you hit any one category (oversized or overweight), you have to pay a fee – for me that meant I could pretty much fall into the other category as well, without paying anything additional. So, since my TRAK bag was naturally oversized, and I already had to pay the 100USD fee, I could also then pack it as full as possible and without having to worry about keeping within the 23kg limit.
- Less ideal are those airlines that make you pay for each category you fall into: While there is always the mandatory fee for overweight bags, some airlines also charge an extra fee if your bag is oversized. The difference to e.g. Alaska Airlines scenario is that they make you pay for each category you hit, which can become really expensive, fast. That’s where planning and researching your airlines oversized limits beforehand and repacking your gear into smaller bags come in handy.
- Avoid extra fees by keeping within oversized allowance: A lot of airlines still don’t charge for oversized items (within certain length restrictions), as long as your bag is within normal weight limits. So if you have a choice of different airlines to travel with, it’s worth looking into the details right away and choosing these ones for sure!
Extra Tips for Traveling via airplane
Adequate preparation, research, and packing is usually half the battle won. Here are a few more tips that can also help ensure that your travels with your gear is that much more smooth-sailing:
1. Insure your kayak!
There are some great insurances out there for general damage and travelling. I’m using hepster boat insurance for this reason.
2. Call your luggage “expedition gear”
Since some airlines categorically shut out kayaks these days – no matter if they are actually foldable or in a normal-sized bag or not – always say that it is expedition gear when asked. As much as it doesn’t make sense, bureaucracy always wins (unfortunately).
3. Plan extra time for checking in
No matter how well-prepared you are, some issues might still crop up at the airport. From long check-in lines to poorly labeled airports or hidden oversized drop-off counters, it pays to pad in some extra time for check in just for peace of mind. 4. Fortune favors the bold
There was an occasion where in my sleep-deprived state and slight tardiness, I was confronted with a super long line for luggage drop-off, for which I already knew they’d just send me to the oversized counter after. In a bid to avoid that line, I printed out my luggage tags from the automated check-in machines and headed directly to the oversized drop-off counter – essentially skipping a step in the check-in process. As luck would have it, the guys just took my bags, cross-checked my tags with my passports, and told me I was all set. This meant that my bags weren’t weighed, nor was I charged the extra fees (if any). But that’s a personal risk you just have to think about taking for yourself.