Flying Unburdened

Today I’m taking a plane flight without luggage.  I’ll have my faithful black satchel to carry my laptop and a few books, but that’s it.  Today, I’ll have no carry-on bags to stuff into the overhead bins.

hqdefaultIt’s amazing how different a trip without suitcases feels.  Yesterday I didn’t worry about getting checked in precisely 24 hours before my flight is to depart, to make sure that I get an early boarding assignment so I can be sure to have overhead bin space.  I also don’t have to fret about whether my bag would exceed weight allowances, or be too big to fit overhead.  I know from hundreds of trips that my satchel will fit comfortably beneath the seat in front of me.

And when I arrive back home, I’ll be able to grab my little bag and zip off the plane without having to wrangle a suitcase from the bin space and worry about clobbering the little old lady across the aisle.  I won’t have to be part of the scrum of travelers clustering in the jetway to get their gate-checked bags — a process that inevitably leaves me in a foul mood about the grace and patience of my fellow human beings — nor will I have to wonder whether my bag will be the last one to come tumbling out onto the baggage claim carousel.

When you think about it, a lot of the angst in travel is directly attributable to our being weighted down by concerns about the possessions we’re carting around in our luggage.  I’m looking forward to enjoying a luggage-free trip for a change.


Prodigious Purses On Planes

The other day I was waiting at a gate area for my flight when the gate agent made the familiar announcement about how passengers would only be permitted to board with one piece of carry-on luggage and “a small, personal item, such as a purse.”

mary-poppins-bag-600x345And I thought:  a purse is a “small, personal item”?  Since when?

As I looked around at the women waiting to board, I saw nothing “small” about the prodigious purses they were lugging around.  The gate agent, and the airlines, clearly have missed the explosive growth of purses into storage devices of colossal proportions and have never sat next to a fellow passenger who is struggling to jam her sprawling, bulging “small, personal item” — i.e., her purse — into the available space under the seat in the row ahead.

The days of “clutches” and dainty “handbags” that could house a tube of lipstick and compact mirror and be placed on a restaurant table next to the glass of wine are gone.  Now “purses” tend to be capacious, multi-compartment sacks carried over the shoulder and used to store laptops, wallets, cell phones, pens, appointment books, food, bottled water, articles of clothing, make-up items, toys and snacks to keep young children quiet, and other assorted paraphernalia, besides.  They’re like Mary Poppins’ magic bag, capable of carrying just about anything.  And forget about expressing wonder at the notion of “purse dogs” — you could probably fit a Great Dane into some of the stupendous purses of the modern era.

I don’t begrudge modern women their enormous purses; when I go on the road, I always carry an over-the-shoulder bag because it’s handy.  But can we please stop with the reference to “small, personal items”?  The “purses” of the modern world really aren’t purses, they’re luggage.

Cleaning Out The Super Satchel

About 20 years ago, we bought a set of black luggage — hanging bag, enormous suitcase, smaller suitcase . . . and a little carry bag.  Two decades later, only the little bag is still be used.  And used, and used, and used.

IMG_4242I suppose you could call it a man-purse, but I call it a satchel.  It is the perfect travel accessory, and has been my faithful companion on countless journeys.  It’s made of some kind of nylon material that would have been called a miracle fabric back in the ’60s.  It’s light and ridiculously durable, capable of being stuffed to bursting with a laptop, books, files, stray documents, an iPad, or all of the above.  You can drop it, plop it, and toss it, without any damage or tearing.  It has a large main zipper section, a smaller zipper section that adequately carries pens, a collapsible umbrella, plug-in cords, aspirin packets, and other items, a side zipper pocket where you can stash your plane tickets, travel itinerary, and other papers, and a pouch where you can put the morning newspaper you get at most hotels.  With a shoulder strap and handles for hand carrying, it’s versatile and easy to carry even when you have your hands full.

It’s been so dependable for 20 years that I don’t even think about it.  And, as a result, it’s slowly accumulated random debris that has made a lightweight bag into a middleweight.  Today I decided to clean it out, and here is a partial list of what I found:  More than 35 pens of various shapes, sizes, and functionality, including the kind that helpfully explode when experiencing the pressure changes that occur on airplanes.  Two pen caps that have lost their mate.  A made in China “shoe mitt” provided by a defunct hotel chain.  An “Off!” Deep Woods towelettes packet that has undergone some kind of internal chemical reaction and swelled to the point it looks like a pillow.  Four tickets from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum dates June 30, 2005.  A “calling card” from the early days of the Bush Administration issued by a company that was acquired by a competitor in 2007.  A business card from a person I have no recollection of ever meeting.

All of this has been removed and pitched.  The satchel now feels feather light.  It’s ready to serve for another 20 years . . . at least.

Traveling Light

We’re on the road today, and I’m testing my latest travel vow.

IMG_3916I’m an over-packer.  It’s embarrassing, because it shows indecisiveness.  You can’t quite figure out what you need, so you end up taking everything.  Your suitcase is crammed full on the trip out.  You can hardly close it.  It weighs a ton as you’re lugging it through the airport and hoisting it into the trunk of the taxi.  And, of course, your clothing doesn’t fit quite so neatly into the bag for the trip home.

Today I made a conscious effort not to over-pack.  No need to anticipate three clothing changes a day or the kind of bowel-related disasters that might require you to carry two extra pairs of underwear.  No taking three hardback biographies that couldn’t be completed even if I read 24 hours a day.  No extra pair of shorts, or spare socks just in case, or extra t-shirt.  I’ll try to make do without them all.

And, today, as I walked through the airport, pulling my feather-light luggage behind me, I felt a welling sense of pride.

Fellow over-packers, join me!  Cast off the bungee cords you use to close your bulging bag!  Don’t pull that special zipper that gives you even more room to store useless stuff!  Don’t risk paying the over-50-pound-fee at the baggage check station or engaging in the humiliating, out-in-public-in-front-of-the-check-in-desk clothing transfer to try to get under that already generous 50-pound limit!

It’s time to fly light, my friends!

My Rules Of The Road

Having done some traveling recently, I’ve been thinking about the rules I would enforce if I were king.  Although there are many, five come readily to mind:

1.  Don’t bring luggage you can’t lift.  Saturday I saw a common sight:  a petite woman struggling with a monster bag on the baggage carousel.  She grabbed the bag, could not lift it off the conveyor, didn’t let go, and plowed into the people next to her until someone helped out.  This will no longer be tolerated!  If you are going to check a bag, do a test at home and confirm that can actually lift it come  baggage claim time.  If it is a carry-on, be sure that you can lift it overhead without it falling and knocking out an innocent fellow passenger.

2.  Respect my baggage claim space.  Nothing bugs me more than finding a place around the baggage claim carousel that provides good sight lines, then having multiple johnny-come-latelys wedge in front of me and block my view so that I can’t see my bag until it appears, in motion, in the tiny gap right in front of me.  To quote Moe Howard of Three Stooges fame, when it comes to baggage claim, “Spread out!”

3.  You must take a long, hot shower before you travel by air.  Let’s be reasonable.  You are going to be in very close proximity to total strangers, so let’s respect their interest in not being assaulted by your unseemly body odors.  I don’t care if you felt that you had to get in a workout right before the flight.  And the penalty for violating this rule would be tripled on a trans-Atlantic flight.

4.  No abrupt stopping is permitted when you are walking through airports.  Unless you are in the gate seating area, recognize that everyone around you is in motion.  If everyone maintains their pace, the traveler rushing to get to their gate can calculate gaps, adjust their gait accordingly, and weave through the traffic.  But if a family walking four across suddenly stops in the middle of traffic, havoc ensues.  Treat the walkway areas like an interstate.  If you must stop, first move off to the side.

5.  Keep your charming kids to yourself.  I like kids, I really do.  I just don’t enjoy misbehaving rug rats in the gate area when I am waiting for my flight after a tiring day.  On Saturday I was plugged into a charging station when a five-year-old came over to examine things in the uncomfortable, up-close-and-personal, touchy way that is common to five-year-olds.  Give me a break!  No one wants some hyped-up kid bugging them or racing around the gate area, shrieking while they play a game.  I can tolerate crying kids — everyone knows that happens to overtired youngsters — but what really gripes my cookies is inattentive parents who don’t make their kids sit down or get up themselves and walk around with a child who has ants in his pants and can’t sit still.