Dan Conradt: Check your bags at the door
I looked at the pile on the bed and thought, "It'll never fit."
Then I read the fine print again, and vowed to make it fit:
• First checked bag at counter: $45.
• First checked bag at gate: $100.
The airline tickets already were purchased … the not-so-fine print reminded us that they were non-refundable … and I called an emergency family meeting over dinner.
"We're NOT going to pay to check our bags," I announced. "First, they stopped serving meals. Now, they want a hundred bucks for checked bags! Next thing you know, they'll charge for those little bags of pretzels or to use the bathroom!"
Steven did the eye-roll that means "Dad's on one of his rants."
"So, here's what we're going to do: We're each going to take one backpack, and everything we need for the week is going to have to fit into it."
If Rick Steves can spend 25 years knocking around Europe with just a backpack, we should be able to do it for one week in a place where a "three piece suit" is swim trunks and a pair of flip-flops.
I pulled a backpack out of the hall closet. It had been there since the last day of school, and once I emptied it of half-a-dozen notebooks, two 3-ring binders, a pencil box, a pocket dictionary and half a sandwich, it seemed pretty spacious.
Besides, I take a guy's approach to clothes: three pairs of pants, a dozen shirts that match the pants and two pairs of shoes make a perfectly good wardrobe. Add a couple pairs of socks and a toothbrush and I could spend a month with Rick Steves.
It was good in theory, but once I started laying everything out on the bed, the collection grew unexpectedly: I probably should take some underwear. Since I'm prone to spilling, seven days could require eight shirts, just to be safe. Bright white tennis shoes might be fine on the beach, but they'd look nerdy with dark blue jeans, so I'd better take a pair of loafers. A spare pair of glasses. Suntan lotion. A book to read on the plane.
Suddenly, the idea of paying a hundred bucks to have a baggage handler take out his aggression on a refrigerator-sized suitcase-on-wheels didn't seem like such a bad idea.
I had an inspiration that sent me back to the fine print.
Aha! A loophole!
While there were limits to how much you could CARRY onto the plane, the fine print said nothing about how much you could WEAR onto the plane!
What if …
I pulled on two T-shirts and slipped a polo shirt over them.
I put on two pairs of socks, tugged my jeans up over my swimsuit and stepped in front of the mirror.
Granted, I could tell a difference, but a stranger might just see me as another guy who's spent too much time in a buffet line.
If I didn't mind looking like the Michelin man, I might not even need the backpack!
Then again, the last thing I wanted to do was look suspicious in front of an already overworked TSA guy and invite a strip search.
I took off the extra layers and put them back on the pile on the bed.
It was still too much, but I always overpack when I go on a trip, and come back with half of it unused.
There only was one way to make it all fit in a backpack: I put half the pile back in the closet, and felt a surge of optimism.
Besides, I told myself, I can always rinse out used socks in the bathroom sink! If I exhaust my supply, I always could buy a neon-pink shirt with big yellow hibiscus blossoms on it! The underwear … well, there are some things you just don't compromise on.
I rolled my shirts into a tight bundle ("rolling" is a departure from my usual packing method of "mashing") and filled the gaps with socks, shorts and suntan lotion.
The backpack was bulging at the seams, but everything fit.
And my tape measure told me it was still within the guidelines that would avoid the hundred dollar "oversized carry-on" surcharge they warned about in the fine print.
As it turned out I packed just enough, and even had room for my new hibiscus shirt.
I still got on the plane wearing two pairs of socks, with my fingers crossed I wouldn't walk past a security guy with his heart set on a strip search.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.