I’m a light packer. Other than a short period of time when traveling alone with two children both needing car seats, and that OTHER time (read here)I haven’t checked a bag in 16 years. Why? I’m competitive to an unhealthy degree although I’ve learned to mask this illness in order not to scare small children and dogs. Too busy raising the Offspring to engage in healthy and creative ways for expressing this blue ribbon seeking behavior, my competitiveness manifests itself in unusual ways- like not checking bags.
I like to be first. I want to be first in line, first off the plane, first through customs, first to the cab line. I want to be ahead of the person in front of me, once I pass that person, I would like to be in front of the next person. My mother recognized this behavior early. She is a good mother most of the time and tried to manage this tendency toward “front of the classroom” tendencies. Against all social norms in the South at the time dictating that ladies don’t sweat, she enrolled me in a new and unheard of game called soccer. I shined. And got a lot of red cards. In the traveling scenario, I admit the lack of risk to being caught being less than sportsman-like has occasionally led to a thrown elbow, misplaced foot, or a hurled ninja star in the path of someone who might potentially have overtaken me in my quest for coveted overhead compartment space. I do have my scruples and draw the line at a mom with a stroller. I’ve seen elite frequent flyers literally upturn a stroller with a baby in it to pass a struggling mom. For shame!
Spouse and I are cut from the same cloth. His true colors are seen in the International terminals. Case in point, our first trip in to Narita Airport in Tokyo. Spouse and I quickly gauged our way to the front of the herd. Spouse ran blindly in the direction of pointing arrows not reading the signage below. The Japanese are a competitive lot – they followed closely behind. Soon Spouse and a plane load of Japanese were all running in the wrong direction. When it comes to directions I usually follow blindly behind Spouse, however, I noticed the guards were not standing where we were all running. I actually stopped to read the signs.
“Honey- we need to go this way.” I called to him as he ran in the wrong direction.
No response from Spouse- he just turned and ran in my direction- his eyes glazed. The herd started to stampede my way. I turned and ran. Fortuitous that we only had carry ons so we could get out-of-the-way- the mad stampede eventually stopped, sweating, breathing heavy, heads sagging, at the baggage carousel. Spouse and I trotted on to the customs corral. We took our pick of customs officials just waiting for business.
The Offspring? They’re getting used to the bizarre transformation that occurs in family travel situations. No longer fearful when their parents mutate upon entry to an airport from easy-going, relaxed parents to the back biting, crowd jumping, sprinters that refuse to stop for the bathroom. The Offspring have witnessed Spouse revert to his college days when after a particularly long trip to Disneyland he was overcome with a longing for home and broke in to a full speed 100m sprint through the packed LAX airport, all 6’4″ of him, heading in to the stricken crowd as he hurdled bags, small children, the elderly and anyone else not swift enough to get out of the way, his bag dragging like a trail leg. I watched in admiration and adoration.
My sisters complain about this “issue.” “Slow down- this isn’t a race” It isn’t? It is. There might be something of value ahead for which we need to be in good position to beat the crowd. When one of us reaches a certain milestone birthday, that sister picks a place in the world to visit. Only the sisters go- it would be far too nerve grating for anyone else to attend. We have earned nicknames along the way:
Ouiser-Me- the Oldest- from the movie “Steel Magnolias.” The character is cantankerous, off-putting, easily annoyed and annoying, impatient.
The Nose– Middle Sister. The Nose can pick up the scent of good food and sniff out all locations in any city through out the globe. One look at a map combined with a whiff of the wind and it’s firmly implanted in her olfactory glands- from thereafter the Nose need not refer to it again. We follow her blindly. It is an impossibility for the Nose to become lost.
The Tourist– The Youngest Sister. Affable, happy, smiling at everything and everyone, white sunscreen on her nose, sensible shoes, camera and binoculars always slapping against her chest, we force her to leave the fanny pack at home. Voted “most likely to get mugged” her purse always hangs limply open on her arm. She’s a shining beacon to dishonest Roman cab drivers.
I became militant about my packing after our trip to London. The Tourist knocked over every passenger in customs carrying her military issue body bag over her shoulder. For every passenger she knocked over, she took out two more as she smiled, apologized and bent over to help the first one pick up their scattered belongings. Given that I had only one carry on, that meant I was free to schlep her other 2 bags each weighing 50 lbs. One for shoes. I mean, I want to look my best but we’re not in the fashion business. By the time we sorted out who would carry what, the line through customs was an hour-long. For our next trip to Italy, Ouiser declared it to be a “Carry On Only” trip. Period.
“We will save at least an hour in customs, no waiting in lines on either end, we will be riding trains to get our hotel- we’ll need to be able to carry our luggage. No one will know we’re Americans.”
This post is difficult to write. The actual purpose of this post is to teach those of you who care to know how to pack lightly. Why? Atonement. I must atone for my travel related sins. If I pass along my tips, perhaps, all the wrongs I’ve committed against other fellow travelers will somehow be forgiven.
Other travelers gaining a competitive advantage once my secrets are shared in cyberspace has stopped my fingers mid sentence- could one of you be headed along the same path where we might be sharing air or train space? Disastrous. But I must forge on.
I’ve heard it all before- it can’t be done, I can’t do it. I’ll be gone 7 whole days or longer. Blah blah blah. Of course you can do it- the question is why wouldn’t you want to do it? Do you want to stand in lines to manage your baggage? Do you want to pay additional fees for the privilege of checking your bags? Are you afraid you will get to your destination and not have that critical sweater that you just can’t get dressed without? Fear not, all the solutions to your fears can be managed. So naysayers- let’s assume a winter trip to New York city.
1) Equipment: The starting point- everything must fit in to one carry on bag and another bag that fits under the seat. One must be wheeled- not strapped to a wheeled apparatus or a sophisticated oversized Hermes (or look-alike) which fully loaded is too heavy to carry. The other which will go under the seat must be soft sided and large enough to carry a purse if you are female.
2) List of what goes in the Wheeled Bag
1 dress or skirt- jersey material (Men this would be a pair of Khaki or dress pants) This outfit is for any dressy occasions. If men need a jacket, I’d suggest wearing it on the plane or packing in a dry cleaning bag. (below)
One pair of shoes in addition to the ones worn on the journey
Underwear, bathing suit, socks, pj’s, gloves, etc.
On Shoes. I have found a wonderful solution to the problem of wearing shoes that are comfortable but look like they are. I call them the loafer wedge. The secret of the loafer wedge is the comfort. Everyone from EZ Spirit to Stuart Weitzman and Donald Pliner makes a version. (Click here for an example of a pair from Naturalizer)I get a new pair every 2 years or so and wear them year round everywhere. I credit mine for the Italians asking me directions while in Italy. If I’d worn any other shoes, I’d have been easily identified as a tourist. Plus a couple of inches melts away pounds, adds leg length and just does a body good. Men- any good pair of loafers are fine. You’re lucky.
3) What to Wear on the Plane
I don’t wear sweats on an airplane. I wear an outfit that is too bulky to fit in my suitcase, or will be worn in other circumstances in the journey. For instance, I suggest that men and women wear some sort of jacket that will be worn through out the trip. Jackets take up a lot of room in a suitcase and they are easy to put in the overhead compartment.
If traveling during winter, I’ll wear a winter jacket and a sweater on the airplane which leaves room for another sweater in the wheeled suitcase.
All these items must match each other. Other than the jacket or dress, maybe shirts for men, none should be dry clean only. You should be able to hand wash if need be.
All clothes should be in the same color scheme, black, white, grey, red whatever. That way, all the clothes match each other. No one will see you so it doesn’t matter if one wears the same outfit every 2-3 days. If it’s your family- they don’t really care do they? If one brings the same color scheme, you’ll be able to mix thus one won’t be wearing the same outfit anyway. No worries. I’ve been known to wear an outfit that’s a favorite every day- yep. No one knows.
4) Dry Cleaning Bags
One of life’s great mysteries is why clothes don’t wrinkle when encased in a dry cleaning bag, wadded up, and stuffed in a suitcase. I discovered this miracle when I traveled for work. I don’t know how or why- but it works.
5) How to Pack the Clothes
Roll them all like a sausage. Tight little sausages. Looks strange but you’ll get twice the amount of clothes in the bag.
In the end, my bag is packed. In the bag are 3 pants, 1 dress, underwear, jammies, socks, 3 shirts, make up bag, hair product, razor etc and 3.5 extra inches without stretching the zipper on the bag. For the exercisers- there’s the room for the running shoes and extra work out clothes. I never carry a hair dryer since most places supply one. Anything else can be bought when I arrive.
The final product:
My plane outfit provides me with an additional pair of pants, scarf, and shirt. My total potential outfits without repeating, doing calculus to figure the exact number, or a significant laundry load is at least 11. (Let’s say I wear each shirt twice- I can hand wash and hang dry if I need to)
The soft sided bag contains my purse which I sneak on the plane in order to comply with the 2 piece rule. This gives me extra space for my favorite must have gadget- don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I got a middle seat from Japan to LA and didn’t feel a thing with this miraculous invention.
But What About…:
1) Equipment Trips– Skis, Snowboards, Dive Equipment etc.- Usually we ship our equipment ahead of time. I put pants, heavy jackets, boots, gloves, undergarments etc in the snowboard covers and carry on the remaining clothes. Same for dive equipment.
2) Shipping Bags-Shipping costs vary depending on location. In Japan, shipping costs are usually about $100 roundtrip. The airlines don’t charge for checked luggage. In the US, checking oversize luggage can vary between $50-100 each way depending on the airline, and the judgement of the person who actually checks in the bags. Fed Ex can ship bags for around $50 each way with insurance.
I like this as an alternative to checking bags if the cost is equal. Given that you will probably not get the actual value of the items if insured through the airline, insuring and shipping through FedEx seems to be a good alternative. I haven’t done this myself but my friend Kimmy Choo does this for all her trips.
3) I’m going to buy lots of stuff on my trip- Here it depends on what you’re buying. France – clothes shopping- want to claim it all duty-free? Then maybe bring a giant suitcase with lots of room so you can open it at the airport to show the officials. And check it. If buying gifts for children, put those in the soft-sided bag that goes under the seat. I usually buy kids different candies and snacks from trips- they’re always entertained by what other people eat and it doesn’t take much room in a suitcase. Alcohol is best shipped by the place from whom it was bought for two reasons- prevents breakage and avoids import issues.
SO – there you have it. On our recent trip to Hokkaido, I broke down and did the unthinkable. I had to ask Offspring #2 if there was room in her bag for a pair of jeans. My heart jumped out of my chest when she said “yes” and presented me with 4 extra inches in her bag. Now that is parenting success at its height.
I would love to hear tips on traveling light- of course- if you’re willing to share…..