Not long ago, this week’s announcement that airlines may further reduce the already small size of allowed carry-on bags would have filled us with dread. Today we just shrugged.
You see, we used to be a carry-on-only couple. It was an accomplishment we had worked hard to achieve. And it wasn’t easy either. Downsizing everything you need in life to fit into the space of a fourteen-inch square box is no small feat.
We didn’t get there overnight, for sure. It probably took years of weaning ourselves of various “necessities” so that we could travel for any length of time utilizing only the contents of our carry-on bags. And like most other travelers who manage to make do with small luggage we felt a certain amount of pride, and even a bit of superiority, in our abilities.
Oh, how we’d scoff at all the travel noobs struggling with their monstrous suitcases. What do they pack in those things anyway? Spare children?
But then one day, while running with bags bouncing off our backs to catch a connecting flight at what was naturally the farthest possible reaches of an impossibly long airport, our carry-on-only lifestyle started to feel a little less like an accomplishment and a bit more like a fetish.
Suddenly a question occurred to us that neither of us had thought of in a really long time. Why are we traveling like this anyway? No one could quite remember.
Sure, there are obvious reasons for packing small. It’s worth doing simply because carrying less crap is superior to carrying more. That’s especially true when your bus deliberately strands you outside of town in an attempt to coerce you into buying overpriced taxi rides. Having the freedom to walk past all the douchey drivers while waving a middle finger is worth every ounce of foregone gear.
Checked bag fees, the potential for lost luggage, and the fact that when your plane lands the only thing you want to do is head immediately to your destination are more good reasons for sticking with carry-ons.
So why have we been checking bags lately? A big reason is airport security.
Two years ago we finished our U.S. travels with a trip to Hawaii and Alaska. On that sojourn we took a total of seven flights in forty-five days. That meant dealing with airport security screening pretty much every week. Needless to say, buying and rebuying and then buying again, sunscreen, bug spray, and assorted other liquids and creams week in and week out got to be extremely irritating. Did I mention we hate to shop?
We would have had the same frustrations in South East Asia, a place where we found flying long distances often cheaper and always more convenient than taking the train. The only difference is that we finally wised up for our nine Asian flights and started checking our bags, normal-sized lotion bottles and all.
Imagine that, a whole 14 ounces of shampoo all for our very own. You have no idea how exciting that is unless you’ve tried to live out of a TSA approved toiletry bag for the past year. But more than reveling in the privilege of owning adult-sized bottles of skin cream, checking bags also allowed us to bring along other useful items that are routinely confiscated (corkscrew) or would land us in prison (sharp knife) if we tried to smuggle them through airport security.
Once we started checking our carry-on sized backpacks we made a surprising discovery: we’ve rarely had to wait for them at our destination.
These days our flights normally take us across international borders and land us in long immigration lines. By the time we get our passports stamped our backpacks are usually already waiting for us.
As a bonus, we get to spend less of our lives contorting into coach class seats. Because we no longer need to compete with every other airline passenger for limited overhead bin space we can wait until final boarding to get on the plane. Checking bags turns out to be a more comfortable and even a lower stress way to fly.
And those weren’t the only surprises. Walking through the airport unburdened by baggage was a revelation. Why didn’t we think of doing it sooner?