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Traveling light

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, short

When I travel, I tend to over-pack. I bring an extra set of shoes, an extra sportcoat, a bunch of ties, at least one extra day’s worth of clothes, and so on and so forth. I also like big suitcases so that I have room to pick up something new and bring it back home [1]. Back when airlines allowed it, I’d have three carry-ons: a laptop bag for my laptop, a separate bag for my CPAP [2], and a small suitcase with one day’s worth of clothes on the off chance that the airline lost my luggage.

Recently, I chose to go in the opposite direction. For a three-day college exploration trip with youngest, I inadvertently booked Basic Economy fares on American and United. For those of you who don’t know, Basic Economy means let’s see how few amenities we can give you. Can you choose your seat? Nope. Can you know what seat you’re getting before you get to the airport? Maybe, but they can change their mind. Can you use the overhead bin? Nope. When do you board? Last. Can you check in in advance? It depends on the airline. American says Yes. United says Only if you’re planning to check a bag.

As you might guess, the expectation with basic economy is that you will check a bag. But I hate waiting for luggage if I don’t have to. And I’m a cheapskate. So I tried to see if I could fit everything in one backpack. What is everything for a three-day trip (plus one night of travel)?

  • One pair of pants.
  • Three shirts.
  • Four undershirts, underwear, and socks. (I like a spare.)
  • Four pairs of socks.
  • Toiletries [3].
  • Medicine [4].
  • My CPAP.
  • My computer.
  • Charging supplies.
  • A book to read [6].
  • A Kindle.
  • A few protein bars.

Amazingly, I could fit all of that into one backpack. It was a little tight and a little bigger than the desired size, but it fit. I also wore my sportcoat because it provides extra pockets and because I wasn’t sure about the weather on the other end.

Did the backpack fit? On American (my flight out), I needed to remove the Kindle and the book in order to cram it under the seat. My flight back on United was a worse experience; they seem to have less space and they don’t have separators between under-seat storage, so my slightly overpacked bag ended up competing with Youngest’s slightly overpacked bag. I had to remove the book, the Kindle, and the laptop to make it fit on my first United flight. On my second, much smaller, United flight, I needed to turn it into two personal items to fit into the designated space. They didn’t seem to mind.

One great thing about having such a tightly packed bag was that I was not tempted to buy anything, even when I visited the Computer Museum Gift Shop. I knew there wouldn’t be room. And, well, I don’t really need anything else.

I don’t think I’ll try that again. I’d rather have access to the overhead bins. I’d rather know that I’ll be seated near my family [8]. I’d rather not stress.

But it was nice to know that, if necessary, I can travel lighter than I normally do.

Postscript: It looks like I could arrange my stuff better for basic economy. United says that I can also bring assistive devices and medical devices. Does a CPAP count as an assistive device? It appears that they are, although that may only be ones that people need regularly. What about American? They say that Mobility and medical devices don’t count toward carry-on limits. These include … continuous positive airway pressure machines (CPAP).

[1] I particularly like accumulating conference swag when I attend conferences.

[2] I never send my CPAP through checked luggage if I can avoid it.

[3] I always bring a full-size hairbrush, which is the only one that seems to work with my hair. Also toothbrush, toothpaste, and antiperspirant.

[4] I may overpack on medicine. I bring ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, Benadryl [5], an allergy emergency kit with a variety of medicines, an inhaler, some band-aids, and a few more bottles whose purpose I currently forget.

[5] More likely a generic.

[6] I could have done without the book. But plane trips are one of my best opportunities to read and I wanted to read Grinnell’s new Common Read, Homegoing [7].

[7] I plan to muse about Homegoing at some point. But I’d like to reread it first and, because many of my summer students want to read it, it’s out on a sequence of loans

[8] I was generally seated next to Daniel or within a row or so. But they don’t guarantee it.

Version 1.0 of 2018-06-06.