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Packing in the new security age
Owen N. Wild, FastCompany.com | January 05, 2007
For road warriors who had perfected the art of micro-packing a carry-on and taking just that for short business trips, the TSA's liquids ban is a true test of travel savvy. The TSA says liquids must be stored in three-ounce containers inside a single, clear-plastic one-quart zip-top bag. The easy out is to simply transferring your liquids from your carry-on to your checked baggage.
I call that the "anti-strategy." Reverting to checking your bags to meet TSA rules violates several road warrior rules. First, it guarantees you'll be spending more time than ever at the airport -- waiting to check your bag at the start of your trip and waiting at the baggage carousel at the end of your trip. (That's on top of the wait time for going through security and being at the gate at least one-half hour before departure.) Second, and more important, checking your bag makes it prey to the "vicissitudes" of airport baggage systems.
Dedicated road warriors can do better. After all, it's our business to be adaptable. Airports are already adapting to help, with many gate-area stores stocking liquids too large to take through the screening process. Because these stores are on the post-security side of the terminal, you can stow newly purchased liquids -- like bottled water, shampoo, and so on -- in your carry-on.
Whichever way you decide to divvy up what goes into your carry-on (vs. what goes into your checked baggage), keep your essentials close just in case your checked bag gets delayed -- a possibility, by the way, that has become more likely because the TSA's new rules have led more travelers to overwhelm the airlines' already rickety baggage systems with more checked bags!
Some travelers simply don't take toiletries. That's because they've taken a hard look at it and established a realistic minimum of what they actually need (and use) on a business trip. If they don't need it -- if they never use it, they leave it behind. I like this strategy the best because it just simplifies my life.
For example, while it might seem a nice idea to try that new hair gel on my trip, if I didn't find the time to try it today, I'm darned sure I'm not going to find time on the road. On the other hand, if I packed too light and left a key item behind, there invariably will be a hotel gift shop or pharmacy at my destination.
Most of us have at one time or another had to request the complimentary toothbrush, mouthwash, or shaving cream from their hotel. In today's liquid-leery world, some road warriors have come to depend upon that source. Still, some hotels are more accommodating than others -- so play it safe and call ahead to see exactly which toiletry amenities you can count on your hotel for.
If you cannot part from your favorite cologne or dental rinse yet, and hate to see it impounded because the bottle is too large, seriously consider shipping valued items ahead to your hotel. In fact, several specialized services, such as Virtual Bellhop, Luggage Forward, Luggage Free, Sports Express, and Luggage Concierge, have popped up to fill the gap in shipping bags fast and reliably; most of these shippers even pick up. Just be sure to get a tracking number.
These services are especially useful for business travelers who need to bring bulky booth materials, from a stapler to brochures to a meeting center.
If you cannot leave it behind or ship it ahead, or buy satisfactory substitutes at your destination, your next best move is to slim down to the three-ounce limit.
One tactic is to "sample-size it." You'd be surprised at the selection in the trial-size aisle at your local pharmacy. Or, next time you're in the market for a new bottle of perfume or cologne, just ask for a free sample size.
Whichever tactic you choose, store these in a toiletries "ready bag" that's kept always up-to-date and ready at a moment's notice to stash in your carry-on.
Perhaps the most overlooked tactic is to ferret out nonliquid options to your favorite toiletries. For example, instead of a bottle of hand sanitizer, use sanitizing hand wipes. These come individually wrapped, so, even if you put them in your quart-sized plastic bag, they lie flat leaving room for other items.
Some road warriors are the belt-and-suspenders type and prefer the "Project Apollo" approach -- redundancy being the operative word. Translation: You know you'll have what you need if you create two identical ready bags -- one that goes into your carry-on, the other into your checked baggage.
Just realize that the airlines are enforcing the 50-pound limit rule, too, and overweight fees can be hefty! Having an inexpensive postal scale at home is an investment that would pay dividends in your quest to pack tight and light.
As we adapt to new rules, as we did to the ones calling for metal to come out, shoes to come off, and laptops to come open, we need to have patience and give ourselves more time. With time, we'll adjust. But for the time being, keep in mind all of your fellow travelers who haven't yet learned the art of flying dry.