Be your own suitcase
The Washington Post August 22, 2023
Buying plane tickets is one of life's rich little pleasures, like a bite of baklava or another bite of baklava. Rising through the clouds, into the big blue sky and thinking "See ya, suckers!" is a joy that never gets old.
That thrill was compounded when I scored an $86 round-trip fare for a trip from Orlando to St. Louis to visit a friend for a few days. Of course, it was with a budget airline where they charge you for a seat and think you're going to pay $3.50 for a Diet Coke that doesn't have a shot in it. It's not just low-cost carriers either these days; basic economy fares (the most restrictive) on most airlines ban you from bringing more than a personal item and charge you for a checked bag.
I wasn't surprised. My expectations of most things are low, and during this booking process, mainly the baggage allowance part, they were met.
The cost to check a bag was $64 "per passenger, per direction," which would mean my luggage's ticket cost more than my own. Forget that, I thought; all I need is a carry-on, which I'm used to getting for free. All I'd be allowed was a purse, essentially.
A purse? I felt just like Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Earnest" saying "A handbag?" with exactly the indignant confusion I was feeling.
The dimensions of the freebie were limited roughly to the usual "can fit under the seat in front of you" dimensions, so I got a tape measure and excavated numerous totes and backpacks from my closet, feeling stressed by the "Buy Bags Now!" reminders and "Don't forget, bags are more expensive at the airport," making you feel like you'd need a co-signer if you messed up something this simple.
The enduring joy of the ticket-buying process was beginning to sour. How could I carry everything and nothing?
There was only one way I could see to solve this.
I got in that plane wearing four tops, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks and sneakers. My computer bag, crammed with a laptop, toiletries and clothing, was bulging and misshapen - but it was free as a summer breeze.
Normally I bring nice clothes to travel, but this time I brought my worst, things I could chuck in the trash - where they belonged three years ago. Having Marie Kondo'd these rags, I had more room in my bag and could either dress normally en route home, or carry all the souvenirs I'd buy with the $128 I saved being my own suitcase.
This layering isn't a hack for everyone or every trip, but it's catching on. Chelsea Dickenson, who runs the Cheap Holiday Expert blog, posted how she wore a fishing vest stuffed with her possessions for a flight. The key is you have to be cool with looking like you're escaping a disaster. It helped to have access to a free washer and dryer, which allowed me to rewear the few nice things I'd brought.
For both flights, at the gate, I saw travelers repacking their bags, trying to get within the scant allowance they had. Behind me in line for the return flight were three women, one of whom was trying to consolidate their belongings.
"Stressful, isn't it?" I said to one. "I'm wearing three shirts."
"I'm wearing two," she said, nodding.
I was glad to land in St. Louis and be done with my goofy, successful experiment.
I hope to never need it again, but knowing I can wear the layered look is money in the bank. I may use it to buy a fishing vest.