Traveling Light is a Heavy Task

I’ve always been one of those “travel light” snobs. Nothing beats that free feeling of weaving briskly through airports with a dainty spinner grip in one hand, and a feathery boarding pass in the other.

Pre-flight, I always notice overburdened pilgrims lined up at the check-in cattle pens. They stand there, motionless, waiting to weigh in their Samsonite beasts. I glance over, a little judge-y, wondering why they prefer walk-in closets on wheels.

Post-flight, when I breeze by baggage claim on my way to ground transportation, I am reminded again of the albatross crowd. I dash by the carousels with my stealthy “personal item” hooked to my sleek carry on. With nothing to claim but lightness, I glance at the heavy bags emerging from rubber curtains, tumbling onto moaning conveyor belts. I think, “Holy sciatica. Good luck getting THAT steamer trunk off the merry-go-round.”

Correction. That’s how I used to think. Now I’m not so sure the light way is the right way. I recently had a packing epiphany.

When my college son was preparing for a summer study abroad course, he was determined to travel light. (Genetics.) He figured the residence would have laundry facilities anyway, so his goal was to cross an ocean without checking in a suitcase. I think it crossed his mind he didn’t want to lose luggage due to tight connections. He had one of those “not recommended for overseas” short layovers.

He told me, “I just want a backpack under the seat, and a carry on above my head. That’s it.”

Imagine going to Europe for six weeks with just a carry on. What a challenge. Lucky for him, he’s related to the Small Suitcase Sensei.

So, per my advice, the kid spent a lot of effort strategizing what would go in his small bags. A week before the trip, he did a mock packing test for his overhead compartment suitcase. How many shorts? How many shirts? One or two dress slacks? What room was left for books, electronics and other necessary flotsam?

Both of us spent hours gathering tiny, foldable, bendable necessities. A few days before departure, college boy set up a staging area for his small spinner case and backpack. There was an absolutely necessary pile. A yes pile. A maybe pile. He folded, refolded, triaged and re-triaged. Not a molecule of oxygen was left in either bag. It was a scientific victory.

On departure day, he arrived at the airport with his compressed belongings and an expanded sense of pride. But the international flight was full. Guess what: The airline made him check-in his carry-on bag. How could they? Didn’t they know he had a special sham-wow-like towel and a collapsible toothbrush? This was a travesty.

In retrospect, he could have thrown his entire wardrobe, a commercial computer printer and a bowling ball into a Winnebago-sized suitcase in about 10 seconds flat. His small spinner valise made the close connection through Paris, so obviously a 50-pound monster on wheels would have as well. The kid had been burdened with a time-consuming compacting strategy, and for what?

Now I know. Effort-wise, if you travel heavy or light, all luggage is baggage.