All Carry-On, All the Way

Given the fact that travel is much more of a chaotic pain in the ass than it used to be, I figure anything I can do to streamline the process is probably a good idea.
Publish date:
March 21, 2012
travel, air travel, packing

When I fly, I only pack carry-on luggage, and I will defend my right to jam my carry-on into the overhead bin to the death1 while wedging my laptop under the seat in front of me, pockets packed to the gills. There may be a two-bag carry-on limit, but they didn’t say anything about those bags looking all neat and tidy, is what I say.

There are a lot of reasons why I only fly with carry-on, a practice that seems mystifying to some people. They’re always factoring “dealing with luggage” into exit time at the airport, and I’m like, dude, as soon as that door is open, I’m bolting down the jetway for freedom, do not pass go, do not collect $200. And you’d better be at the curb waiting for me or I’m going to wander off and get lost in the restricted area like I did that one time in Jersey.

So, number one, there’s the whole efficiency thing when you don’t check luggage. I don’t have to deal with the airline counter when I fly out, and I don’t have to wait for my luggage to get spat out at the other end of my flight. Furthermore, I can rest confident that if anything’s lost, broken, damaged or stolen while in transit, it’s entirely my fault, because my bag is within sight at all times. Also, if the TSA has something to say about the contents of my bag (and they sometimes do), they have to say it to my face instead of being chickens and writing it on the little “we searched your luggage!” tag.

There’s also the whole thing that I really can’t afford to lose any of the things I own, and when I travel, I don’t want to end up without needed medications, clothes or equipment. One of my worst nightmares is going through medication withdrawal in a strange city (or country) with no realistic way of accessing a prescription. Thus, carry-on is the way to go, because the only way my luggage and I are getting separated is in an accident2, in which case I figure I’ll probably have bigger things to deal with, like being dead.

I also just like traveling light. The more crap I drag around with me, the more weight I have to carry, and the more likely it is that I will lose something. This way, when I leave a hotel room, it’s easy to figure out that I must have left something behind, because it’s easy for me to quickly inventory my bag. At this point, I have packing down to a science, and often just leave my luggage partially packed with the basics so I just have to throw a few things in and I’m good to go. Much like a member of a special forces team, I am always ready for action.

This means that I tend to shuffle outfits around when I leave for more than a few days, and I can usually only carry one lens for my camera, but I feel like this is an acceptable tradeoff for not dealing with the hassle of checked luggage. If I’m going somewhere long enough that the need for more outfits is going to be an issue, I’ll probably be able to access laundry services at some point so I can get that problem squared away. For everything else, there’s deodorant.

I notice that other members of the carry-on only crowd tend to be frequent travelers. We nod at each other in line at the airport while we dive into our easy access pouches for Ziplocked bags of fluids in regulation-size containers and heave our shoes up onto the belt. Given the fact that travel is much more of a chaotic pain in the ass than it used to be, I figure anything I can do to streamline the process is probably a good idea.

I don’t even dedicate that much time to making my packing super neat and efficient, beyond strategically arranging things so they will actually fit, because I know exactly how this is going to end, since it ends the same way every time. I will be pulled out of the line for closer scrutiny, which means my bags will be swabbed for residue and then they will be searched, while other passengers gaze curiously at me and I stare indifferently off into the distance.

The TSA agent will look nervously at me while she paws through my bag with her gloved little hands, and after it has been disemboweled and the contents are splayed out for everyone to see, I will quietly shove them back in again and make my way to the gate.

At small airports, this means that everyone knows I’m the person with Sex and Disability wedged into the hot-pink carry-on bag.

1. I feel entirely justified in doing this given that my squashy carry-on bag is much, much smaller than those horrid rigid rolly things that obviously don’t fit, but people seem to think they should bring onto the plane to try anyway, just in case. Honey, that thing ain’t going in the overhead bin on a Bombardier Q400 and we both know it. Return

2. For the record, my luggage and I have always been reunited in the end in all of my previous bad plane experiences. Return