A professional travel writer who can’t get her crap together in a carry on suitcase? I get why you’re confused. To most, a slim bag on wheels represents spontaneity, editing, a sense of pride in doing more with less.
My bag, which weighs as much as a healthy first grader, is the portrait of indecision and neuroses. No Instagram feed has idyllic shots of a checked bag delicately overflowing with fifty-five pounds of ponchos, ziplocks and emergency Tylenol; when you’re hustling in bulk and worrying about an unexpected cold front instead of styling Montauk-worthy looks, it’s straight unsexy.
The pressure to pack lightly is everywhere we look, and why, because the airlines say we should? Nab the right credit card and checking a bag is completely free; there’s no excuse for buying a dollhouse-sized collection of personal care items so your bag can stay by your side. Spare me the lifetime of rolling techniques, essential wardrobes and convertible freaking dresses, let’s topple the patriarchy with our single bag allowances!
If you think it’s hard to be a woman, try being one who needs to subsist on a fingernail’s worth of curl cream.
If you don’t think the pressure to carry less comes with a twinge of sexism, think again; more often than not it’s my skincare regimen, defrizzing hair goops, and makeup removers pulling that tiny plastic TSA-approved bag to its seams. I still fill an entire cabinet in my house with Sephora samples organized by category on the off chance I’ll be gone for less than three days and need to pack for the plane. If you think it’s hard to be a woman, try being one who needs to subsist on a fingernail’s worth of curl cream.
As much as I’m standing here today, proclaiming my love for arriving to the airport 25 minutes earlier to wave goodbye to my earthly possessions, I’m the first to admit a big ol’ bag is a silent form of failure. My first business trip involved being told outright I needed a carry on otherwise I’d be left behind; my family rewards the Herculean task of cramming everything into a miniature box above all else. After guilt-crying for not being able to pack a small bag for a week-long international trip last fall, I sat my husband down for a talk. Parental emotional baggage, be damned: we were going to be checked luggage family.
Like discovering the joy of a fanny pack at music festivals, life is so blissful when you can function hands-free.
People think I’m crazy for giving in to over packing, but you bag-dragging zombies are the psychotic ones. Like discovering the joy of a fanny pack at music festivals, life is so blissful when you can function hands-free. Do you even remember what it feels like to enter an airport bathroom without pushing the door, yourself, and the suitcase in succession until you’ve all needlessly brushed against the toilet? I no longer have to rush to the gate when boarding starts, play the “oh, I didn’t see you there!” cutting game, panic about limited overhead storage or sweat through my clothes as I hoist a forty pound suitcase above my head like a failed Crossfit enthusiast. Now, I waltz on the plane holding a coffee like a damn aristocrat, tossing a simple tote from my shoulder below my seat like the streamlined power broad not even Marie Kondo could convince me to be.
In case it wasn’t clear, I’m far from minimalist (to be totally honest, I travel the world with a stuffed monkey). Travel lore teaches that the more time one spends flying, the easier it is to whittle down their belongings, but au contraire. As a theme park journalist who is constantly on the road, traveling is no longer a few days spent somewhere new, but a large chunk of my existence. Instead of paring down to just the essentials, I’ve found myself craving the feeling of home when afar, thus replicating a miniature version of my life inside the parameters of a massive box with a perennial “Caution: Heavy!” tag attached.
I strive to match my reality as much as possible when on the road, and thus prepare for every sore tooth and midnight craving that may arise. I stretch daily on a travel-sized foam roller, bring makeup duplicates to leave in my purse and carry a Roku stick to watch odd familial sitcoms while sending late-night emails. I pack Larabars for breakfasts, chocolate granola for dessert and enough almond butter packets to instantly deem me chief shall a “Lost”-style “Lord of the Flies” crash scene emerge. I’ve got everything from umbrellas to UTI medicines in there, equally prepared for any unexpected sinus infection or impending rainstorm.
Carry ons are the real work.
Carry on people put up with so much, and for what? To get to the taxi line seven minutes sooner? Carry-ons are the real work. There’s no universe in which I am shoving a winter coat into the overhead compartment, suffering for the next week as I plunge my face into fibers that exude that stale, hospital-like stench of recycled air. Or, better yet, never again am I facing the dreaded bag sizer. Away has thankfully eradicated that terror from its end of the travel universe, but god damn, after I unwillingly shrunk my expandable bag down to the basics for an international flight, that thing still defeated me, destroying the start of my trip.
And hey, let’s talk souvenirs. While the rest of the world can’t spare a second item or shoves a shopping bag above their seat, I simply toss my weird worldly finds in the extra duffel I always bring along. Wooden trays shaped like watermelons from Haiti, tiny bottles of beaver-topped Austrian schnapps, even majestic fairytale cottage votive holders from Budapest have made their way back home thanks to my overpacking. Read that and weep business travelers—I got two suitcases and ya damn sure I know how to use them.
I carry way too much with me, sure, but I’m never too cold or too warm on vacation; with a checked bag stocked with turtlenecks, HotHands and hand-held fans, it’s always alright. It’s tricky to shove my hefty bag into an Uber’s trunk, but it somehow always makes it in. Am I the only travel writer in the game dirtying the knees on all my pants from repacking my overweight suitcase on the dirty terminal floor while in line at customer service? Oh, you betchya.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Illustration by Ping Zhu.