Saturday, June 15, 2013

More Than the Usual Packing Woes...Alaska Trip

I would consider myself a very seasoned traveler.  I have flown almost 350,000 miles on Continental Airlines, much of it work-related, and an indeterminate number of miles on TWA and Delta, back when I lived and worked near Boston and Atlanta.  In all those years and all those flight miles, I've watched the convenience of travel evolve, both for the good and for the bad.

The changes for the bad include the larger and larger airports with their ever-increasing distances from check-in to gates, and that maddeningly stressful check-in and security process with long lines, airport personnel pushing and shoving and rushing us through their bottlenecks and checkpoints.  And then there are those toiletries restrictions, and being limited to only two carry-on items, and worrying that our checked bags won't make it to our final destination because of flight delays and tight connections. 

The single greatest change for the good is the invention of rolling luggage.  I kid you not!  I'm not talking about those early wheeled monstrosities. You know, those hard-sided cases with that little flip-up pull handle that had minds of their own. It was like herding cats to get them to roll in the same direction as you, while you were bent over awkwardly, tugging it along, and trying to keep it from flopping over on its side. 

No, I'm not talking about those.  I'm talking about the hard-frame-soft-sided luggage with retractable handle and deliciously smooth rolling caster wheels.  Those of us old enough to remember what airport travel was like before these were invented can truly appreciate how much they've eased the "work" of traveling through airports.

So as I started packing for my trip to Alaska, keeping in mind the two carry-on limit, I fretted over which carry-on to take.  One carry-on will be the laptop, so I have to make the most of that 2nd carry-on.  That 2nd carry-on has to be the perfect compromise between spaciousness and compactness.   I was mindful of the fact that I'll be carrying it from the check-in counter to the gate (which could be a very long walk) and then, since I was changing planes in Seattle, from the arrival gate to the departure gate.

The biggest dilemma is that I want to carry my running shoes with me on the plane, not put them in my checked bag, just in case that checked bag goes missing.  Clothes are easy to replace, perfectly broken-in running shoes are not.  Add to that a change of clothes, lightweight fleece pullover (I always freeze when flying), race-day running outfit, socks, underwear, sleepwear, minimal toiletries, camera, and there's not much room left to stuff a purse in.  But having room for my purse is a must, given that two carry-on limit.

I own so many possibilities - luggage accumulated over years of travel - that I was driving myself crazy trying to puzzle it out.  There were seemingly endless possible combinations, given my choices, with the limiting factors being, 1) my purse must fit into either the laptop case or the carry-on case; and 2) the carry-on case can't be so heavy and bulky that I struggle to shoulder it through the airport.

I have a laptop backpack that is roomy enough to also hold the contents of my purse (I could pack my empty purse into my checked bag).  This would allow me to use a smaller carry-on in addition.   But, really, did I want to be stuck schlepping through airports with a backpack??

I have a larger carry-on bag that my purse will also fit into once packed, but a "test pack" showed me that it's going to be heavy and unwieldy, hanging off my shoulder and bouncing against my hip.  I use this particular bag a lot, but only when I'm traveling by car and don't have to walk far with it.  My smaller carry-on, and the one that has been my faithful, go-to flight bag, is too small to hold all that I need, once the running shoes are packed.

I even briefly considered not taking my laptop.  I could bring my tablet instead.  But I quickly talked myself out of that option.  I knew I'd want to take lots of photos, to get them uploaded to my SmugMug account, and to keep this blog updated.  I also knew I'd want access to my mapping software so that I could review my upcoming day trips and plan for other outings.  The tablet is just not up to doing all of that.

So a whole lot of blah, blah, blah, just to say that after spending all day yesterday and this morning packing, re-packing, organizing, re-organizing, I've come to realize that I really don't own the ideal solution.   And I really don't want to feel like a pack mule humping a heavy unwieldy shoulder-bag down long concourses in the airport.

In the past, I've looked at small wheeled carry-on luggage, but I've not made a move to buy one, always finding some fault or deal-breaker with the bag and then talking myself out of it.  But this morning's renewed efforts to rearrange my carry-on stuff into a better combination of luggage convinced me to give finding the perfect wheeled carry-on another go.  What's close to my house that might sell good quality luggage? 

I got on-line and searched the websites of stores that are nearby.  Target, JC Penney's, Kohl's, Walmart.  I found a couple of possibilities, one of which was at Walmart, a very nice-looking American Tourister Atmosphera 15" wheeled tote for only $39.  The website said they have a 'deliver to store' program with same day delivery.  But the nearest Walmart is only 3 miles away...maybe I'll drive over there and see if, by chance, they have it in-stock at the store.

American Tourister 15"
wheeled tote
I hurriedly got cleaned up and dressed and headed to Walmart.  It was early...about 9:30 the store wasn't yet crowded.  I found a parking spot close to the door and somehow magically walked right toward the luggage section, without having a clue where it would be.  A quick scan of the aisle.  Nope, that's not it.  Nope, that's not it, either.  Maybe they don't have it in stock at this store.  I got to the end of the aisle and then headed back down the row of luggage, scanning for a suitable alternative, and by golly!  There it was.  There was that American Tourister bag!  It was even better in person than in the photos on the website.  It's perfect!

I was excited when I drove home, eager to try it out.  I unpacked the other carry-on and packed the contents into this new bag.  It packs so easily and the design is brilliant!  It doesn't need to be laid flat to pack, it can be packed while sitting upright.  This design also makes it easy to partially unzip the bag to reach in and retrieve an item.  The running shoes fit flat on the "floor" of the upright bag, and everything else stacks neatly on top of the shoes, with the fleece on top for easy access.  My purse fits right on top and there's still room to tuck odds and ends in around the clothes. 

Now the real test:  will it piggy-back onto my larger 21" roller bag?  Absolutely!!   The new bag doesn't even look like a roller bag when the retracting handle is stowed.  It just looks like a very stylish tote bag.  I am going to love this new bag!  My days of humping a heavy non-wheeled tote bag through airports are over!!


  1. Great score on the new carry on bag. Don't you find it funny how our luggage seems to multiply over the years? We have a closet full of options. Of course due to airline baggage restrictions some airlines want a smaller carry on than others and we always try to comply so there are no surprises.

    Glad you found an option that works and that will save you hefting around a heavy bag.

  2. Love the trying to decide on a particular farkle