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The Carry-On Challenge: a new way to pack travel clothes
photo by Elliot Margolies

The last time I packed for a trip to Europe I was going to Italy to attend a writers conference in Positano. Traveling there from New Jersey would necessitate a flight to Rome and another to Naples, then a drive down the steep, winding, breathtaking roadways to Positano.

Before my trip, the very mention of the word Naples elicited quite a flurry of advice. “Oh dear, the crime,” “be careful of the pick pockets,” “say ciao to your luggage.” Under no circumstance should I check my luggage on a plane to Italy, I was told. They have the highest “lost” luggage rate in the world.

If I decided to heed this advice I’d have to pack a carry-on with two weeks’ worth of clothing, since after the weeklong conference, my family would meet me for a week of traveling.

I was up for the challenge. I laid my clothes on the bed to see how many outfits I could make with the least number of components. All my pieces worked beautifully together. Leggings worn on the plane could become pajamas if I was cold, or yoga wear or thrown under a tunic for dinner. A cosmetic bag could become a clutch purse. A mini dress could become a tunic to be paired with the pajamas−I mean, leggings!

I couldn’t believe I actually zipped that suitcase closed.

I sauntered up to the Alitalia counter to check in. A lovely Italian woman greeted me warmly and asked for my passport. She told me to place my suitcase on the scale.

“Oh, no,” I said, “I’m taking it on the plane. I’m not checking it–it’s a carry-on.”

Don’t they have the greatest accents?

“You stilla hava to weight it.”

Oh. Why would that be? Shouldn’t a carry-on be more about volume than weight?

Regardless, I did what she said and put it on the scale. I must admit it was difficult to heave up there. They really should build the scale into the floor so you don’t have to pull your back out.

The lovely lady with the accent said, “Signora, you have to check this suitcase. It is too-a heavy.” She reached for a luggage tag for me to fill out.

“No, no, I can’t.” My hand went up. “I have to take it with me.” Then I lowered my voice. I’ve been advised not to check bags to Italy. No offense, but I can’t risk it getting ‘lost.’”

I shouldn’t have added the air quotes, in retrospect.

“Then-a you have to remove 4.5 kilos,” she said without her usual warmth.

4.5 kilos, well, that’s easy. I yanked at the suitcase and let it drop to the floor. I couldn’t believe we were quibbling about a mere 4.5 kilos. I pulled a few things out and put them in my tote bag (my one personal item). My dopp kit was first. That thing must’ve been at least 4.5 kilos, but just for good measure I grabbed my round brush too, with the solid wood handle, that had to amount to something. Then back on the scale.

I should point out that when I lifted it back onto the scale, I was not impressed by how light it had become. I smiled in spite of that.

She smiled back. We were friends, again! I understood her boundaries, she understood mine. Everything was buono!

“3.5 more kilos,” she said stone-faced.

“What? How can that be? What’s that in pounds?”

“8 pounds.”

8 pounds! 8 pounds! I yanked the suitcase back and threw it on the floor. And by “threw” I mean “kicked.” For obvious reasons.

“You-a will have to move to the side now, senora.” She waved me off, so she could help the next passenger. She was moving on. Without me.

“Fine.” I went through the bag. I wish I could tell you it was the last time. But it wasn’t. She sent me back twice more. Okay! I don’t know how much the fat lady at the fair weighs either! The last time she sent me away with a big plastic bag, into which I could fit my tote bag and my dopp it, my round brush, my jewelry bag and two pairs of shoes. Ironic that this was my new “personal” item.

When I finally worked it down to the acceptable weight I was wearing about 30% my clothes. I put a dress on over my “travel” outfit and over that, two sweaters. I cinched that gorgeous ensemble with two belts. I wore a scarf and a few necklaces, chunky bangles, and I switched into my boots. I took out my manuscript and carried it close to my chest−which wasn’t very close since my actual chest was four inches away.

I held my head high as I walked through security. At least all my pieces worked beautifully together.   


18 Comment count
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very funny Jane! can you

very funny Jane! can you believe that happens often enough that the airlines has guidelines? crazy... thanks for stopping by!

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You've made me laugh out loud

You've made me laugh out loud - AGAIN! Great piece, Eva. It is always a challenge, isn't it? I am going to NY next month and bringing an empty bag with me, actually two. Looking forward to doing 'some' shopping. Can you suggest any amazing bargain places to rummage through? mx

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New York?!?! Where, when?

New York?!?! Where, when? This is exciting! Well, of course I can give you some shopping suggestions. What is it you'll be shopping for? There are marvelous thrift shops called Housing Works, several of them all over the city, so perhaps one close to where you'll be. All the posh ladies who can't wear their posh garments more than once, and God forbid passed the season it was purchased in, donate their things. Fabulous!!!! They also sell housewares etc. Let me know what part of town and if you plan to buy or just browse, because there are fabulous stores that I treat as museums, if you know what I mean. I will be doing a public relations event in NY in Oct. it would be so fabulous to see you on the street!

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We will be staying close to

We will be staying close to Central Park!  Housing Works sounds great. I love interesting clothes - anything other than High Street please! Thanks for the tip, Eva. I will check it out, this is the stuff you do not find in the Guide books. mx

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Hmm... That's such a U.S.

Hmm... That's such a U.S. prejudice about Italy and Mediterranean countries in general.  One that I often come across, sadly.  

I have never had problems with Alitalia.  The one time an airline misplaced my luggage, it was GO (formerly the British Airways cheaper brand).  

Funny and, as usual, brilliant writing.

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yes, of course I knew it was

yes, of course I knew it was a gross generalization, which of course I have little tolerance for. But there I was packing a carry-on...

I've never heard of GO. But these airlines keep switching around and frankly, sometimes you don't even know what you're flying because of the "partnering" of airlines. You may buy your ticket from British Air, as I did recently, and then I found out it was really a United flight.

Thanks for stopping by Katia, always good to see you!

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Am still laughing!  This was

Am still laughing!  This was such a great piece and am sure you looked fabulous. . .  J :)

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Thanks Judee, I'm glad you

Thanks Judee, I'm glad you enjoyed it. But I can assure you I did not look fabulous!

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Loved this piece Eva. No

Loved this piece Eva. No matter which airline or what country you are traveling to, everyone has a nightmare story about luggage!














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Thanks Annette. I must admit

Thanks Annette. I must admit I've been pretty lucky with my luggage, I hope I don't regret saying that out loud...

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Carry-on as a Business

You wrote with Italian sprit, verve and bravado about your strategy----which backfired.  Good Try, though!  Witty writing!  Here's an alert for your next attempt:  Read the New York Times article, October 11, "The Airlines Cash In on Every Inch. . . ."  Bon Voyage???? I doubt it.

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Thanks for the NYTimes

Thanks for the NYTimes article, Lily! Very funny, loved the part about the chocolate salesman - he might have a hard time finding carry-on space for his samples, but I'm sure he has no trouble in the dating department! Thanks for stopping by and your lovely comment. Hope to see you again soon!

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Relate all too well

I laughed when I read this, Eva, because I've done this too, with three children! Thanks for sharing. M

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Okay, Moni, now that you've

Okay, Moni, now that you've confessed, got any photos? It's no easy task to travel with 3 kids, especially if you're trying to negotiate carry-on luggage. Nice work!

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Hi Eva,Loved this piece. 

Hi Eva,

Loved this piece.  Found it amusing and yet it reminded me of the novel The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.  They, too, were overloaded in their luggage so they ended up wearing and carrying so much. 

My husband and I have an upcoming trip to New Zealand, and I am sure that I am going to have all these issues as well. Already I am trying to figure out how to dual-duty all of my clothing.  Thanks for the tips as to how to do it, too.  ~nan


PS.  We even looked at a carry-on vest, the Scottie (I think it is called?).


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That's so funny, I have heard

That's so funny, I have heard of it, the carry-on vest! It's very practical. You might be glad you invested in it. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful trip!