Travelin' Light

This post originally appeared February 10, 2018, on the Chile Today Hot Tamale! website. (

We have returned from the 38th Annual North Carolina Jazz Festival,, and we had our usual excellent time. If you love traditional jazz, this is the festival for you. Many of the jazz festivals I have attended over the years have folded, but this one continues with strength.

Don’t worry. Despite the fact that I’ve used the Young/Mundy/Mercer tune made famous by Billie Holiday as the title for this piece, I am not writing about music. These reflections, though, were inspired by the recent trip.

My very first commercial airline flight came relatively late in life. I was 25 years of age, and graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with a PhD. It was time to go on job interviews, and that involved flying. My very first flight was from Raleigh-Durham Airport to Washington National. I checked my suitcase, and was pleasantly surprised to find it the first one on the luggage carousel when I arrived in DC. The return trip, however, didn’t quite work that well. I checked my suitcase, and it arrived the day after I did. It occurred to me that, had Eastern Airlines misplaced my luggage on the front end of that trip, my job interview might not have gone very well. This was the origin of my prejudice against checking bags.

In 1989 I moved to the Atlanta area, from the mountains of Virginia. At that time I had flown perhaps a grand total of 6 flights on Delta Airlines. Ten years later, I achieved Million Miler status with Delta, and am now a lifetime Medallion passenger. I averaged 100,000 miles per year for 10 years with Delta Airlines alone. Many of my destinations were not served by Delta, so my total air mileage is a good bit greater than a million miles. I believe I qualify as an experienced traveler.

And any experienced traveler will tell you not to check bags. Although my job periodically required me to check pieces of equipment I needed to do my work, I tried, whenever possible, to live with just a carry-on and a briefcase. Of course, that didn’t always work out. Once, flying from Charleston, SC to Roanoke, VA, I tried to carry-on an aluminum tee-ball bat that I bought for my kids. US Air freaked out and forced me to check it: something to do with its potential as a weapon. Still, I am proud to say that I haven’t checked a bag since late in 2007, on a return trip from Australia. So that means the two week trip to Hawaii, the two week honeymoon out west, the trips to Taiwan and Puerto Rico and other destinations, all were accomplished with a small gym bag and a briefcase. No checked bags.

(Until very recently I used a thin, hard-wall briefcase given to me in the 1980s. I overheard the following conversation about my briefcase in the Honolulu airport: TSA1: “What's that?” TSA2: “That's a briefcase. But, man, that's old school!” I have since upgraded to one manufactured this century.)

The secret to no checked baggage is intelligent packing. It is rare that I pack a pair of shoes other than the ones I wear to the airport. On long trips (one week or more) I seldom pack enough clothes. I generally end up doing laundry sometime during the trip. Thanks to TSA, liquids in my shaving kit are restricted to 3.5 ounces or less, but still there are opportunities to save space. For example, on the road I use the free tube of conditioner that most hotels give out as shaving cream. It works very well: try it sometime.

Which leads me back to the recently concluded 2018 NC Jazz Festival. We didn’t fly as it was only a five-hour drive. Still, I followed my rule: one gym bag and one briefcase. Kathy, on the other hand . . .

Four bags, a hanging garment bag, and a cooler. For three nights! This list does not include her suitcase-sized purse. I’m sure I’m missing something, but I recall these six items as part of her trousseau.

One of the reasons that business travelers generally travel light is that they have to schlep all their luggage themselves from airplane to car or taxi to hotel. One of the reasons wives do not travel light is that they have husbands to do their schlepping. At least, they have their husbands to do the schlepping until the husbands collapse and die from a severe case of pack mule-itis.

Oh, well, what can you do?