Rule Of Thumb: Never Lose Sight Of Your Bag

I have learned through experience to avoid checking luggage at the airport. Too often, my luggage has been lost or I have discovered something missing from it. Plus I can be very impatient, especially when incompetence is involved (which, sorry airport employees, seems to be the norm when it comes to baggage handling)1. As such, I never check luggage unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

My most recent luggage experience comes courtesy of my trip to Hawaii. Specifically it was the return trip, where I was informed by two different airport employees (one of which worked the very gate that I was departing) that despite having 2 carry-on items, if I were to purchase a box of pineapples, it would be considered a free item. That is, an acceptable third carry-on. On arrival at the gate, one of these same employees who only moments before had informed me that I could in fact have an additional third carry-on (i.e., the box-o-pineapples), now informed me that no, in fact, I could not do this. And she looked rather annoyed with me for even considering bringing a, GASP, third item on board their precious little plane. Awesome. Now, if I’m in the wrong, I have no problem admitting it. But in this case, I had clearly done the correct thing by checking in with not one, but two airport employees. I guess I could have argued with her, but I’m also not a fan of airport asshattery. That is, I know the airport employees have to put up with far too many obnoxious passengers that have had one too many, or those that are a cross between ignorant and empowered. Due to this, I really don’t like making their lives worse (I know, I’m awesome that way). Plus, people tend to give me free things/upgrade me/whatever when I’m my normal, nice, chipper, awesome self. Seriously.

The box-o-pineapple deliciousness, also known as the cause of my luggage nightmare. Damn you pineapples. No, I take that back. I love you too much to damn you. Now get into my belly.

Reluctantly I gate-checked my largest piece of luggage and boarded the plane. Keep in mind, my largest piece of luggage is sized such that it fits more than comfortably within the standard carry-on restrictions set by most airlines.

On arrival to Toronto, I made my way to baggage claim along with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of other people. More than 40 minutes after arriving and several failed starts, the luggage finally started pouring onto the belt2. Except for mine. I patiently waited. Then I impatiently waited. I may have made several loud sighs in protest or disgust. I can’t be sure. All I know is that I continued to wait. And perhaps vent via the Twitter. Because I’m clearly all trendy and cool like that.

Finally my flight was removed from the queue of flights listed. And with that I knew that my luggage was once again MIA, thank you bag-checking-necessity. GAH. After another half hour or so of wandering the airport, filling out forms and whatnot, I made my way through customs – because my pineapples needed to be security checked – and then home. A special thanks to my brother Aidan for picking me up, very patiently waiting for me while I was waiting impatiently for luggage, and then taking me for a sushi feast. Best. Brother. Ever.

Tasty fish platter number 1. I
Tasty fish platter number 2. Don

Four – count ’em – four days later, my bag arrived. Thankfully it was full of summer clothes that I didn’t require, what with the winter wonderland that Ontario had become in my absence. Had it not been wintry outside, I might have been slightly more annoyed by the amount of time it took for AirCanada to return my bag. Regardless, I was just thankful I had my stuff back. To be safe, and in the case that I might need to make further claims, I checked that all the contents were still in the bag, and that they were undamaged. My bag contained:

  • 1 pair running shoes
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • 8 pairs of socks
  • 4 dress shirts
  • 4 pairs of shorts
  • 1 pair of running shorts
  • 1 running shirt
  • 1 pair dress pants
  • 11 t-shirts
  • 1 hoodie
  • 1 pull over sweater
  • 1 scarf
  • 1 electric toothbrush
  • deodorant and other bathroom related bric-a-brac
  • various souvenirs

All items present and accounted for. Good stuff. So this experience of MIA luggage wasn’t nearly half as bad as it could have been. Regardless, the take-away message is to NEVER CHECK YOUR LUGGAGE. Well, maybe that’s just the take-away message for me :).

But this leads me to the next portion of this post. How does one pack for a 2 week (or longer) adventure if they know that they are only taking carry-on luggage? I’ve been doing this for several years now, given my strong desire to not lose my luggage, and my even stronger desire to not stand around baggage claim waiting for a bag that might never arrive. As such, I have learned to pack rather efficiently. So much so, that people are often amazed that I manage to bring so much (as detailed in my list above) in just my carry-on bag.

My two carry-on bags. The top contained my computer, passport, an extra pair of shoes, and some of the winter gear I had worn to the airport (gloves, scarf, etc.). On top of that is my leather jacket, and I think Rick

The process of packing for a 2 week or longer vacation is definitely a trial and error sort of process. Expect to pack and unpack a few times until you figure out the best way to fit everything together. Think Tetris. If you include shoes, remember that they can be filled with socks, underwear, or other necessities. I tend to unfold my dress shirts and use them to line the suitcase, folding them over once the suitcase has been filled. T-shirts are either folded into tiny squares, spread out, or rolled into tiny logs. Pants are laid across the top, once everything else has been packed. I’ve even resorted to wearing multiple pants or shirts on the plane (taking layers off once in my seat). There’s no rule against this, as far as I know, and any extra items can be shoved under the seat in front of you or used as a makeshift pillow during flight.

Another shot of the carry-on bag that I was forced to gate-check in Honolulu. This picture gives a pretty good idea of size.

Additionally, you should travel with the following things in mind. First, you must not be afraid and should fully expect to hunt down a laundromat to do laundry while you are away. Depending on where you travel, a laundromat might offer full service; where you drop off all of your dirty clothes, they wash, press, and fold them, and you simply pick everything up the next day. In my experience, the cost has been worth it. And in a lot of cases, the cost has been insignificant considering the service provided, and the comfort of putting on fresh-from-the-dryer clothes. I remember doing this in Lima; if I recall correctly, I paid about $20 Canadian (including tip) to have all of my laundry cleaned, pressed, and folded. Second, you have to be able to do without certain things that are no longer allowed on flights, or be willing to buy them wherever you are going (think of the various lotions and potions you might use in the morning that are now contraband because they pose a security risk). Third, you can’t be afraid of wrinkles. The way I pack, wrinkles are standard fare. If you can accept these three major points, you are golden.

Anyway, after many years of travelling I have picked up several tricks (as described above). Most of these tricks are demonstrated in the following video which I found during an interweb perusing adventure a while ago. It inspires me to pack even more efficiently with every trip.

Finally, being a mathy sort of guy I have to note the following. As indicated on the AirCanada website, the standard carry-on bag should have dimensions no more than 23cm by 40cm by 55cm, or equivalently 9in by 15.5in by 21.5in. But are these really equivalent? The answer is obviously no. But how un-equivalent are they? Consider the following Google conversions:

  • 9.00 in = 22.86 cm
  • 15.50 in = 39.37 cm
  • 21.50 in = 54.61 cm

So, the Canadian volume of a carry-on bag would be

23.00cm*40.00cm*55.00cm=50, 600.00cm3,

whereas the American volume equivalent would be

22.86cm*39.37cm*54.61cm=49, 148.90cm3,

a difference of 1, 451.10cm3. That’s almost an extra 1.5 litres of space for Canadians (or for anyone that might follow the Metric system). For someone who packs like I do, that represents a lot of extra real estate. Moral of the story; make sure your suitcase is built to metric standards. You’ll be able to fit almost 1.5 litres more into your suitcase. And that’s not bad.

1 I’m sure if I knew what went on in the background of the airport, I wouldn’t think this way. That is, if I knew what airport employees were required to do, both in front of the public and behind the scenes, and what that work involved, I might be more forgiving when I was exposed to perceived incompetence. What I might perceive as incompetence might actually be necessary protocol for security or suchlike.

2 Seriously, why 40 minutes later? If I can walk the length of the airport in 10 minutes, I see no reason why baggage should take this long. Doesn’t it even have a fancy ride from plane to claim area? However, I defer to footnote 1 given that I have no idea what occurs between doors open and baggage claim. Based on the time delay, I can only assume that our bags must go through some sort of baggage game of survivor, where some are voted off the plane (hence lost) and others are allowed to pass safely back into the light of day and to the open arms of their owners. Or quite possibly they have to pass through Mordor on their way to destroy the one bag that rules them all. But I digress.


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