The Dangers of Packing

Paris Hilton's Luggage
Why I don't let Paris Hilton travel with The Catholic Traveler

Let us first go over some of the dangers of packing, I’ll discuss the art of packing on a future post where I will detail exactly how I am able to pack for a trip (of any length!) in my small carry-on ZucaPro. I’ll even include a video so you can see how organized I am!

Consider your itinerary

Most of you are flying from Point A to JFK with checked luggage – which could get lost. You will need to collect your luggage at JFK – keep in mind that if your flight is delayed, waiting for your luggage could also mean being late for, or missing, the international leg. If your connecting flight is with Delta, they may be able to check you all the way through, which could help with not having to collect your luggage at JFK, but doesn’t guarantee its on-time arrival in Rome!

You are flying from JFK to Rome with checked luggage – which could get lost. You are only in Rome for one night, meaning that Delta will have just one shot to get any luggage lost at JFK to Rome before you leave for Athens.

You are flying from Rome to Athens with checked luggage – which could get lost. You are only in Athens for 10 hours before your five day, four night cruise. There is no way luggage lost in Rome will arrive in time for the cruise.

So, if your luggage is lost you probably will not see it again until the last two nights in Athens.

If your luggage is lost

Let me preface by saying that several hundred people have traveled with me in the past few years, and less than ten of those have lost luggage.

Here are just a few examples of what happened…

Example 1
Believe it or not, I checked a suitcase as recently as two years ago! I had been carrying on for years, but thought I would go hands-free for a flight. I was flying non-stop from Atlanta to Rome and there was no urgency when I landed as I was arriving a full five days before my group. I figured I was safe. Wrong!

I waited by the luggage carousel for well over an hour, and I was not alone. After the carousel was empty, and the flight number switched, a small group of us went to the help counter. We must have been the patient ones because there were about 50 people in front of us. Being Italy, there was just one person working. Being bureaucratic, each person had to individually explain to the woman their problem and fill out a lost luggage report form with the flight information, despite us ALL being on the same flight. Being Italy, the woman took her lunch break without warning or explanation, simply closing the blinds to her window as the next person walked up to tell her what flight he was on. One hour later – still without explanation – the blinds opened back up and she continued asking for flight numbers. When it was finally my turn to tell her my flight number, she said said that my luggage should be on the next KLM flight from Amsterdam as a large portion of the luggage was mis-routed from Atlanta.

Several KLM flights later, still no luggage. Not for me. Not for anyone.

After six hours at the Rome airport, and no more KLM flights scheduled for the day, I went to my hotel.

My luggage arrived FOUR days later! The best part was that it was never re-routed to Amsterdam, but at home in Atlanta the whole time. It just took them three days to find it and fly it over.

Never again.

Example 2
My very first group trip, a lovely woman checked two suitcases. Again, a non-stop flight from Atlanta to Rome. Both were lost! She spent her first full day in Rome working with the airline and the airport to find her luggage. The rest of the group toured the Vatican Museums and had Mass at Saint Mary Major. The next day she spent hours on the phone while everyone else toured Rome. Each day she checked in with the airline. Her luggage arrived at our hotel eight days later, as we were boarding the bus for the airport to return home.

She traveled with me to Greece the following year, with just a carry-on!

Example 3
A gentleman checked a suitcase on a Lufthansa flight to Rome with a layover in Frankfurt. His suitcase was lost. Lucky for him, with the frequency of flights between Frankfurt and Rome, he received a call the same evening he arrived in Rome telling him that his luggage was found. Unfortunately for him, we only flew into Rome, the trip actually began several hours north in Assisi, followed by a few nights in Florence before finally ending in Rome. So, he had to travel for four days with no luggage, knowing that it was just a few hours away at our hotel in Rome.

You are responsible for your luggage

There are no porters!

This means you are the one who will be lugging your luggage:

  • from the luggage carousel at the Rome airport to the bus
  • from the bus to your hotel room
  • from your hotel room to the bus
  • from the bus to the luggage check at the Rome airport
  • from the luggage carousel at the Athens airport to the bus
  • from the bus to your hotel room
  • from your hotel room to the bus
  • from the bus to the cruise luggage check – they will deliver it to your cabin!
  • from the luggage carousel at the port to the bus
  • from the bus to your hotel room
  • from your hotel room to the bus
  • from the bus to the luggage check at the Athens airport

Packing and unpacking is a real pain

Unless you are like me and truly enjoy the logistics of travel and actually have fun packing, then packing for an eight day trip is a pain.

You think of every possible scenario:

  • What if it rains? I should bring an umbrella, maybe two so I can be the goto guy/gal, and a rain jacket! Rain boots too! Just in case.
  • What if my shoes get dirty? I should bring another pair! Maybe I should bring seven pair of shoes! – someone did once!
  • What if Leonardo DiCaprio is on my flight? He does fly commercial on Delta! I should bring my collector’s edition Growing Pains DVD box set for him to sign!

While these scenarios run through your head, it gets easier and easier to justify packing for them if you have a big suitcase. It’s true, the bigger your suitcase, the more likely you are to cram it full of things you don’t need.

Overpacking leads to a heavy suitcase and more importantly, an unorganized suitcase.

And if you pack a lot of stuff, you start to think of excuses not to unpack all your stuff – for example, only staying in a hotel for one or two nights.

If you start thinking unpacking is a pain, then you start quite literally living out of the suitcase. When that happens, you are in real trouble! Things don’t get folded and put away properly, small things fall to the bottom making them difficult to find. When things are out of place, things tend to get lost. I’ve had messy packers lose passports, blessed souvenirs and even shoes.

“A frustrated packer, is an unhappy traveler!” — Click here to Tweet this!

Consider others (and yourself)

I’ve had many trips where no one checked luggage. The groups were through customs and on the bus 15 – 20 minutes after the flight landed.

With checked luggage, it’s usually around 90 minutes and sometimes up to two hours before we are out of the airport!

If you are lucky enough to have your suitcase off the plane first, no problem. But if you are unfortunate enough to be the last one out… instant hazing from the rest of the group! All in good fun, of course!

Is that additional shirt worth losing an extra hour of seeing the sights of Rome?

My final take…

I do not condemn those who check. I understand that it can be difficult to take that leap of faith and trust that you can get by with just one pair of shoes on a four country trek. I understand that the thought of rinsing out your socks in the sink can be scary. I understand that not having a backup hairdryer can terrify some into not traveling at all.

I know that those who are dead set on checking will check and nothing I can say will change that. But, perhaps you will at least consider bringing less?

For those on the fence, trust your instincts. If you are on the fence, then you already know you can do carry-on, it’s the fear holding you back. I say ‘Be not afraid’ and carry-on!

Think of me as the concerned parent. I’ve seen the suffering that comes with lost luggage. I’ve seen the suffering that comes with disorganized luggage. I’ve seen the suffering of those battling cobblestone streets with heavy, wheeled luggage.

What I have never seen is someone regretting leaving behind that Growing Pains box set and the peace of mind that comes with an organized and lightly packed suitcase.