With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

Lesson 1: Pack Light. No, Lighter. LIGHTER.

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 7, 2017

March 30th – 31st, 2017

I pride myself on being a light packer. You might not know this about me, but I travel a lot. I have tons of practice packing light for trips. The key is to pack like you’re going away for a few days and then just do laundry when you run out of clothes. You should bring the same amount of stuff whether you’re going for 5 days or 50 days.

Well, that’s the idea at least. I just could not keep that in mind when packing for this one-year trip. I started to think, “What if I get cold?” So I packed a travel blanket. “What if I get sick?” So, I packed over the counter medication for every ailment I could think of. “What if I get invited to a fancy dress party?” So, I packed a ball gown; just one.

The heart of my problem was that I wasn’t just leaving stuff behind that I would come back to once the trip was over. There is no going back. What I didn’t take, I had to dump. There were some things I just found too hard to throw away.

My backpack did get lighter and light the closer we got to the departure date. When Mark and I rolled up to Hiroshima Airport, I was confident that I had packed as light as I could. We found the Hong Kong Express check-in counter and headed towards it. But, first we had to pass a luggage scanner first.

The lady at the machine asked if my bag was going to be checked-in. Offended, I told her, “no.” “Lady,” I thought, “can’t you not tell how light I packed? This is a carry-on.” Mark and I then walked through the zigzagged line to get to the ticket agent.

The agent told us to put our bags on the scale. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re bags are too big. You must check them in and paid the fee.”

“Even my bag?” I asked. I looked at my pack. To me, it was small.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s too big for our plane.”

Mark and I had to sheepishly walk back through the zigzagged line and put our packs through the scanning machine.

Not packing light enough cost us time and money. Our cheap airfare had 2 layovers, one in Hong Kong and one in Kuala Lumpur. To cut down on cost, there are very few baggage handlers. The ones they do have only put bags on the plane or take them off. They do not transfer luggage.

This means that at each stop we had to go through passport control then pick up our bags for the carousel. We then had to check them in again, where we paid each time to re-check the carry-ons. If we had lighter bag, all we would have had to do after landing was find the gate for the next flight.

In Hong Kong, our first layover, when we checked our bags in, the lady there told me my bag was small enough to fit in the overhead compartment. Mark, on the other hand, had to check his bag. His pack is an 80 liter pack compared to my 45 liter bag.

He had to pay his fee in Hong Kong dollars. While he went off to change his yen into HK dollars, I lighten my load a bit more by shoving half the contents of my pack into his. Since it was going to get checked anyway, I might as well.

Once we sent Mark backpack down the shoot (or up the shoot, however it goes) Mark took my bag and we headed to the gate. I felt validated. I did pack light after all. It was just that Hong Kong Express had planes with unusually tiny overhead compartments.

We had to go through everything again in Kuala Lumpur. We got through passport control, found the luggage carousel, and picked up Mark’s bag. We walked to the check-in area and I found

Once in Kuala Lumpur we went through passport control, found Mark’s backpack, and picked it up. Then we headed to the check-in counter at the departure section of the airport to drop off Mark’s bag at the check-in counter.

I found a prompter that told us to go to P21 for the flight to Hanoi. Mark saw a sign leading the way to sections P and Q. He followed the sign and I followed him.

Every airport does things slightly differently. So, I didn’t think anything was off when I had to scan my baggage. People in uniform at airports are always asking to see my passport, so it didn’t bother me when some guy asked to see my passport.

No, it wasn’t until I saw an official stamp my passport that I realized that Mark and I were past the security check and he hadn’t checked in his bag yet. He bag was officially “too big” for the overhead compartment. We stopped a uniformed officer and asked her what to do. She told us to go to some other officer.

We went there. That officer told us to go to another security station and ask them. We went there. They did the same thing. We went from security station to security station, but no one could tell us how to get out once our passports had been stamped with an exit stamp.

Walking around with my backpack was a nightmare. The last time it got weighed was at the Hiroshima airport and it came up to 9kg. I had since put some of its contents into Mark’s bag, but carrying it and my day pack was too much for me. The day before this flight I had a slight stomach ache. My stomach was now in a rage. My little tummy ache had graduated under the strain of the pack.

Eventually our security station hopping took us back to the first station where we got our passports stamped. We asked them again and ended up doing this loop one more time. At the end of the second go round I looked at my watch. It was 4:00AM Japan time and 3:00 in Malaysia. “Forget it! It’s a carry-on now,” Mark declared. “Let’s find our gate.”

At the gate, Mark removed my stuff from his pack. “I have to make this thing look smaller.” He tightened all the straps and fasten all the snaps. It looked like a fat person who had been squeezed into an outfit 3 sizes too small. He sat his pack next to mine. Mine was clearly a lot smaller. His bag looked HUGE. “Whatever,” he huffed.

When it was time to board the plane, he picked up his pack and walked proudly onto the plane as if there were nothing wrong. No one stopped him. “You mean we could have done this in Hong Kong!?”

Looking back now I think about what we should have done. Here in Hanoi, there are many shops that sell inexpensive easy-to-wear tourist clothes. We should have packed only underwear, swimsuits, and one change of clothes. Once in Hanoi, We could have gone to some shops and bought new clothes with less than half the money Mark and I paid for extra baggage fee.

Live and learn I guess.

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