Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Traveling Vanities

After I wrote about my two Kipling bags, I merrily packed them, tossed them in my car and headed to The Farm for a long writing encampment. YAY! But once I got here, I had to carry my largest bag up 20 steps. That was up, in case you missed it.

The gasping incident got me to thinking about something I said (hear the happy chirp in my voice?), which was that I can always stuff one more thing into those bags. However, is that the Good News or the Bad News? Today, my back tells me it's the latter.

Let's consider the pros and cons of all expandable bags.

  • can accommodate vacation souvenirs
  • one more book fits down the edge
  • one more rolled pair of jeans tucks into a corner
  • one more anything, really, always fits
  • one more anything always fits
And still, for this trip, even though I continuously added one more item to my ab-fab bag, I forgot to bring a few necessary items with me. Yet, I also stuffed in several more items than I need. That's the way it is with me and packing and expandable bags. When I'm off my carry-on only style packing, I'm often off my good sense.

The Good News is that when we forget something, we can almost always buy what we forgot and pack it in the expandable bag. Then hope we don't have to carry it up any stairs, or that it now doesn't fit in the overhead bin. (How often have you witnessed that?) The Bad News is that we can also saddle ourselves with exhaustion--especially if it's a multi-legged trip.

Let's consider a new point of view: finite space. If, when packing for a business trip, (fill-in-the-blank) doesn't fit and we choose not to swap it out for something else, we can usually make do without it for a trip. No shopping. Packing multi-purpose items is smart. A lipstick serves as a blush. We can dress up jeans with the right top, sports jacket and/or accessories. Toothpaste cleans my jewelry and plugs nail holes in walls. (I'm just saying ...) Socks and underwear can be washed, or, if desperate enough, worn again. I realize we have the euwwww factor there, but I'm talking desperate and efficient, not Hygiene 101.

And let's face it, when I get on an airplane or climb behind the wheel, I am dressed in at least one of everything I need to proclaim decency. If I forgot to pack a second whatever, it's not the end of the world. In cash-strapped times such as these, I ask: is "having to shop" to maintain appearances for one trip really necessary, or is it a vanity? Unless, of course, you're the best man at a wedding and wearing Bermuda shorts. Then again, no matter what anyone is wearing, vows can still be taken, right? Lifelong commitments don't depend upon decorum, no matter what the wedding photographer says. And in the world of business, contracts can still be signed, deals negotiated and widgets sold. To show up and admit your clothes don't match because you are human and forgot to pack something might even tip the scales in your favor. Honesty and humor don't take up any space in a suitcase, and they might even help seal the deal.

If I take myself to my own bottom line, the only thing I truly can't live without on any given trip is my medications. (Even when I once ran out of meds on an extended trip, Walgreen's bailed me out.)

I can already hear you saying, "But Charlene, what about phones and laptops?" Come on, people! They're all around us. Do I want to travel without them? No. But I could. My speaking notes? Can I talk for an hour without them? You betcha! Would I be coherent? Maybe. My winter coat during January? Can I not layer enough other stuff? Don't I usually just scurry from the airport to the hotel room to the venue anyway? Hey! I used to live on a farm. I can tough it out for a day or two, can't I? Sunscreen? Bet I could borrow some, or pay somebody for a squirt of theirs. Money? Got my credit cards.

So I ask you, what could you absolutely not do without? Or better yet, what could you leave behind that you always lug along, yet almost never use? Seriously, I'm asking.

As for me and my bags, I'm thinking expandable can be abused, and finite space can be tricky. But given the choice, I'd pick traveling lighter--and with someone who brings a giant expandable bag.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bag Lady

My Class of '63 high school graduation gift from my parents was a set of luggage. My favorite piece: the cosmetic case--the item that, should I actually fly anywhere, stayed with me, making me feel utterly grown up. It was a beige, vinyl, hard-shell, double snap-lock rectangular case, complete with a "vanity mirror" built into the lid.

Although it hasn't traveled with me for nearly 40 years, it remains with me, serving as official Keeper of the G.I. Joe body parts (not a single soldier remains in tact, long ago blown to bits), hand gernades, and other miscellaneous weaponry and camo/combat clothing. My sons, now 44 and 38, occasionally take a look-see and relive an explosion or two.

Over time, I've worked my way through several more versions of what I imagined to be the perfect catch-all carry-on, until I used it/them. They've ranged the gambit of color (including polka dots), material, size and handiness--or not. I've tested wheels vs. no wheels. (For the record, one of my 2 carry-ons must have wheels. End of story.) The jumbo vs. how-small-can-you-live-with versions (the more regional jets we're forced to fly, the smaller the bag). Then there's the "pockets are a good thing"; why don't I ever look in the right pocket first?!

I never discard the older bags since one never knows which one might best serve an upcoming trip, or one day become a kind of morgue for sundry items. Sometimes I drag one out and think, "What was wrong with this?" By the time I'm home, I remember. Back in the corner it goes, waiting for the next time I forget.

But sometimes, that oldie bag serves just the right purpose for "such a trip as this." You know what I mean. While one journey requires three changes of clothing, the next only needs a clean pair of underwear. Some gigs need props, notebooks, laptop and an odd assortment of shoes, while the next works best with two pair of bluejeans and a bulky sweater. Different bags for different strokes.

But I have to admit that this red Kipling bag (comes in many colors) has been traveling with me for several years now, and it still looks like new. So far, I've had no desire to swap it out. I discovered Kipling bags in an airport during one of those loooong layovers. I bet I opened, closed, zipped, unzipped and pretended I was packing at least a dozen different sizes.

Some of my favorite things about this awesome Sherpa:

  • When empty, it weighs almost nothing.
  • When I'm not using it, it wads up for easy storage.
  • I can always manage to cram one more thing into it.
  • It's sort of waterproof.
  • The interior is beige, which makes it easy to explore. (I've sworn off black interiors, including in hand bags.)
  • The exterior pouch pockets hold just the right amount of stuff.
  • The long exterior zipper compartment offers all types of slots for all types of organizing of all types of little things.
  • The zippers and snaps are incredibly strong and easy to work.
  • It has both hand grips and a shoulder strap, the latter which I never use.
  • It easily rides on top of a wheeled bag, and in fact has a sleeve to slip over the handle of same--although the grip on the handle of my favorite Briggs and Riley wheelie (mine looks likes this, but doesn't have this type of handle, so I'm not sure ...) is too wide to fit through the sleeve, and that's the one I usually couple it with.
  • Thankfully, the thumb-sucking gorilla geegaw (for real) that comes with it is detachable.
  • Items can be rearranged within the bag so as to I'LL MAKE IT FIT! into some of the small stowaway compartments.

I own another of these Kipling bags, a big one. Again, I can always stuff one more thing into it, and it weighs nearly nothing when empty. When stuffed, I have to check it (although when not over packed, it can schmoosh into the overhead bin), but when I travel back and forth to The Farm, where I go hide to write (new website, so check it out), it's awesome! Socks in one end zipper compartment, undies on the other (easy to find), and everything else in either the exterior zipper compartment or the generous duffel.

I went a Googling so I could tell you exactly which model of that large bag I have. Although I couldn't find either on the actual Kipling site (could just be me), I did manage to locate the smaller one on Of course as with all things (wallets, bras, toilet paper ...), my favorites never seem to stick around long, so I was glad to find at least the Sherpa still going strong. (Check out the awful gorilla hanging on the left side in that photo.)

While I was toodling around, looking at other Kipling bags, I heard myself think, "Oh, that new bag looks even more perfect!"

Charlene, DO NOT FALL FOR IT! Reread your own post. You have the perfect bag!

What about you? What's your favorite carry-on, get-the-job-done bag? Or, do you, too, have a gem of a retired oldie you're using for special storage? Please, let us know about it by posting your comment here, under--duh--COMMENTS!