I don’t travel carry-on only. There I’ve said it! I’m bucking the trend, all the accumulated advice of the dozens, maybe hundreds of travel blogs I’ve read. I have my reasons.
When I was growing up I spent wet, winter Sunday afternoons cuddled with my mom watching old black and white movies on TV…… Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, Bing Crosby et al – I mean can you imagine these folk traveling light? Even given the pure silk of those slinky evening gowns you still couldn’t stuff the entire travel wardrobe of one of those dames into a backpack – or want to!
So I had very definite ideas about my first travel experience, which was a school exchange visit to Germany in 1963. I happily took my dad’s old, leather suitcase…..with my tennis racket strapped to the outside! The case alone must have been the equivalent of today’s luggage allowance! We were going by train and ferry, so our journey began in my home town, Blackpool, and thence to Preston to get the overnight train to London (a journey which I think takes around two and half hours now!) It didn’t take me long to realize that perhaps travel wasn’t as glamorous as I’d imagined. We had to cross the station to get to another platform….which meant going over a bridge (still does)….and it was heavy! Luckily for me, when we got to London, and had to get from Euston to Victoria by Tube, the age of chivalry was still alive. There was always a kind and helpful guy around who helped carry my case, and I had no fear of them running off with it…..my, those were the days!
After that I thought perhaps I should endeavor to be more practical, although I don’t think the concept of traveling carry on only had yet dawned. In my head at least travel was still glamorous, by now I was more into Audrey Hepburn, and when I headed for Germany the second time, this time by air, I actually wore a hat. I mean, a genuine, Jackie K pillbox, which I thought was the biz. I really should find some pix of these trips! I also had a brand new Samsonite vanity case. The day of the square ones with all the dinky compartment for make up was just over, and this was the cool, new shape of the 60s. It likely held about as much as anyone traveling without luggage would carry these days!
My next trip was to Rome…..and by this time I was earning my first wage and all of it was going on clothes!…..I was still into the Audrey Hepburn look (but not sufficiently to diet myself into it properly!). Looking back at photos now I think I perhaps took my entire wardrobe. It was during the severe restrictions on how much money you could take abroad (can you imagine that now??) I think the limit was 50 pounds per week. Whatever, it was certainly low, and we certainly weren’t going to be swanning around luxury places which demanded a glam wardrobe…..however, in my defence I point out that it was the 60s!
After that, my days of traveling solo were numbered, and since my partner was an aspiring businessman, packing always included a little cocktail dress or something “just in case” —— really, right up to 1992, which I think was our last trip together – to Disney! So, no, we didn’t travel light!
I’ve been solo now since 1996, and in all that time I’ve struggled to fit the modern image of the pared-down, international traveler, but being an expat and living on an island kind of got in the way of my ambitions. It’s always a flight to get off the island, and then an onward flight. I usually go via UK so that I can stop off to visit friends or family en route, and that means baggage full of mojo, wine, turrón or other goodies from The Canary Islands. It also often means blueberries, magazines, coffee, teas, and half of Marks and Sparks coming back. It used to mean, literally, a caseful of books too, but thanks to the wonderful Amazon.com those days are long passed. Whilst my checked luggage isn’t huge, and still allows me to look snottily at the garish, over-stuffed, gigantic suitcases of tourists as I leave the island, it still needs to be checked.
What with American alarm about imported foodstuffs you can’t even get away with a packet of Smarties in your backpack, so all the cheese, mojo, candy and pie I’ve smuggled into the US of course had to go in checked luggage. I have had the odd flying visit, and managed with carry on, and, yes, felt smug breezing past the weary tourists waiting at the carousels, but, meh, not that much.
The fact is that in recent travel around Europe, with everyone stuffing their worldly goods into the overheads, thus less luggage on the carousel, the delays in collecting luggage are no longer what they were. Delays are now mainly caused by???? Yup, everyone trying to stuff their bags into the overhead….because they are always too big to go under the seat in front. And standing around looking lost or looking accusingly at the flight crew when there, literally, isn’t any room left. BTW flight crew hate this carry on only trend, like they don’t have enough to worry about in getting everyone boarded so that the flight doesn’t miss its slot. I can, actually, understand all the fuss in measuring your bag, much as we like to moan about it.
And, another thing, how do you travel light when you’re going to a cold or wet country? Packing for summer, or even spring, weather is a doddle, but if you’re going hiking in muddy fields, for instance (as two recent trips involved) how do you cope? Twice in the last year my boots have been way too dirty to travel back in, and had to go, well-wrapped, into my bag. Then there are the thick socks, waterproofs and spare sweaters, maybe even thermal undies! Plus, I mean, can you go hiking without a multi tool? If your trip also includes going out to dinner or a meeting, er, do you turn up in your muddy hiking pants? or what?
Hmm….no, not me, at least! Even a very short trip the other week had me stuffing the hiking gear into a gym bag, although I traveled out in my hiking boots simply because they were comfortable. The boots did get muddy, very muddy, so there was no chance I was wearing them home.
The thing which puzzles me greatly is that over the last few years the necessity to carry more gear has increased, I mean gear which you can’t trust to checked luggage, like laptops, cameras, hard drives, lenses, and such. I don’t carry nearly as much as some folk, but that stuff, plus the necessities (wipes, book, phone, a little make-up, keys, pens, neck cushion on a longer flight, and overnight kit “just in case”) and that’s my carry on allowance with most airlines.
I was delighted three years or so ago to find a Lowepro camera/laptop bag the sales. Up till then I’d been squidging my laptop into a normal daypack (to avoid looking as if I was carrying anything worth “pinching”), and whether everything was protected enough was a worry. I love the Lowepro bag. It’s black and inconspicuous and fulfills both those needs. However, it’s a trifle on the large side when I want to carry just the camera stuff on a day-to-day basis, which means taking another bag in my luggage for that. I’ve experimented with a small camera bag (camera protected – especially as it has a waterproof cover), cloth bags (weigh little and look inconspicuous but don’t protect your gear at all, and that old daypack – trouble with the latter was that it’s right now in London, at my son’s, because it was too much to stuff into my bag when I returned last time! If anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear from you!
I suppose that if I was a 5’2″ skinny thing then my stuff would weigh less, but even dropping down the size I need to, I’m still 5’8″ and so everything I own weighs more than if I was 5’2.” Besides, a big case comes in useful from time to time. I distinctly remember sitting on my case on more than one occasion waiting for a reluctant car or a check in to open. In fact I have learned to travel with less, much less than I used to (modern fabrics, and the trend to more casual dressing have helped), but I still need two bags! Perhaps I’m not now as extreme as I was but I still need to check baggage in, and I am determined to lose the guilt or embarrassment!