I sat in my comfy leather seat, gripping the armrests nervously, trying not to sweat as the plane began to descend into New York. I had already unplugged my earbuds from the jack in the arm rest. I couldn’t concentrate on the TV screen in front of me any more. I looked around me at the other passengers, who seemed not to have a care in the world as they craned their necks to look out the tiny windows at the New York skyline. Does anyone else ever go through this? I wondered. Or is it just me?
Was it a fear of flying that was causing me such anxiety? Heck no. It was a fear of getting off the plane and forgetting my carry-on in the overhead bin.
Last year, I wrote a blog post weighing the pros and cons of checking one’s suitcase versus going carry-on only for flights. So many travel bloggers extol the virtues of being able to pack everything you need for a week or a month in a backpack or a carry-on before boarding a plane, so that they can avoid checked-bag fees, have their luggage with them at all times, and skip the trip to the baggage claim. It keeps them light and nimble, they say. Me, I like my big suitcase. I can fit everything I need in it–and then some–pass it off at the check-in counter and not have to worry about it again until my plane lands.
It’s just more convenient for me, since I generally have to catch a connecting flight at a hub airport. Have you ever had to run for a plane? I have. . .several times. Within thirty feet I’m huffing and puffing, my lungs burning, sure I am going to stroke out before I get anywhere near my departure gate. And that’s just with my backpack on my back. Imagine me trying to run with my backpack on my back, dragging my carry-on behind me. I’d miss my flight for sure.
“Traveling light” sounds good, but I’m a big believer in being prepared, too. That means packing a pair of shoes for every occasion, a virtual pharmacy in case I get sick, two changes of clothing for every day (casual for daytime and dressy for nighttime), plus an extra set of clothes in case I spill something on myself, an umbrella in case it rains, a sweater in case it’s cold. . .you get the picture.
But for my two trips this summer, one a 2-night trip and one a 3-night, 4-day trip, I decided to accept the challenge to go carry-on only, getting encouragement from carry-on advocates Janice Waugh (@solotraveler) and Robin Locker Lacey (@MyMelange). Janice even sent me several videos of different packing methods to try out. (I went with number five, since it seemed to solve the wrinkle problem better than the rolling method.)
Of course, having never gone carry-on only, I’ve also never used the overhead bins. My knapsack (stuffed full with camera gear, snacks, water, a change of clothing, something to read, travel documents, and my mp3 player) always goes under the seat in front of me. My biggest fear during these two trips was that I was going to exit the plane and head for baggage claim on “autopilot,” forgetting my suitcase in the overhead bin. Thankfully, I managed to escape that humiliation.
How did the experiment work for me? With mixed results. On the one hand, I was extremely proud that I did it! I actually fit everything I needed for a 4-day weekend into a carry-on. That packing method of layering everything before folding really works at squeezing things in without wrinkling them. See?
My carry-on is pretty tiny at 21″ x 13″ x 7.5″. It seemed to be one of the smaller carry-ons I saw in the overhead bins. Even using the rockin’ new folding method, I had to make some sacrifices. Since I was going to have to bear the weight of both my knapsack and my carry-on throughout the entire travel process, I didn’t want to overstuff my knapsack like I normally do, but not everything was going to fit in the carry-on, either. I decided not to pack my DSLR’s wide-angle lens, since I had my new point-and-shoot to take wide-angle photos. I only packed one pair of shorts instead of the two I wanted to pack and one fewer pair of shoes. I brought no reading material. Hardest of all was my decision to jettison my daily vitamins. But it didn’t kill me. It didn’t even give me the sniffles.
To save even more space, naturally, I bought travel sized versions of as many toiletries as I could. I also utilized some stackable MyTagAlongs containers I had received in the mail for free from a publicity agency. They were very handy for storing tiny amounts of things, like sleeping pills, ibuprofin, and earplugs.
I was able to avoid bringing a regular container of vaseline by scooping just what I needed to remove my eye makeup into one of these containers. The containers screw one on top of the other, making storage convenient. And cute, to boot.
So as experiments go, it was a success. I was able to do it. And yes, it was nice to bypass baggage claim at the airport. But did it change my mind about going carry-on only? No. Truth be told, I hated having my luggage with me in the airport. I feel like enough of a pack mule with my knapsack on my back; the last thing I need is to lug around a suitcase as well. I disliked the last-minute scramble to dig my ziploc bag of liquids out of my bag to show to security. I kept getting stuck in the door of the bathroom stall at the airport, because trying to squeeze me, my carry-on and my knapsack through at once was awkward and clumsy. When I had breakfast at an airport restaurant I couldn’t find anywhere to put the damn suitcase where people wouldn’t trip over it.
Most of all, I hated having to pack fewer clothes than usual. When my Monday night flight home was canceled, and I had to stay in the city an extra day, I had to re-wear an outfit I had already soaked with sweat in the sweltering heat of New York City that weekend. Yuck. Fortunately, the guy sitting next to me was in the same boat so we jokingly agreed to sit there and smell bad together.
Having to lift the carry-on over my head to stow it in the overhead bin also posed a problem. It wouldn’t have been a big deal for me a year ago. I’ve been lifting weights for years and had pretty good arm strength. But I injured my shoulder in January, which brought to the surface a whole host of chronic pain issues. I got a reprieve on that one flight home, when my sweaty seatmate gallantly retrieved it from the overhead bin for me. But on the other flights, I was on my own.
It’s now a moot point, since my orthopedist has pretty much told me no more lifting weights above my shoulders (forever). So I’ll be going back to checking my luggage in any case. To be honest, I’m not-so-secretly relieved. Yes, I’ll have to pay the checked bag fees whenever I fly select airlines, which my cheap little heart will hate with a passion. But to me, the convenience of being able to bring as much as I feel I need on a trip and have someone else tote it around from Point A to Point B is worth it, even if I have to pay extra for it.