It was agony!  For three days I had been deciding, sorting, weighing, arranging, downsizing, rearranging and weighing again, all the travel pouches that were destined to accompany me on my next trip.  The pile of pouches just would not shrink, no matter how much I tried.  It wasn’t the length of the trip, it was the weather that caused the problem.  In China it was still cool and rainy, in Tibet there would be warm days, cool nights, and snow on some of the treks, and in Nepal the hot and dusty summer would give way to the monsoon shortly. 

Aside from all the necessities for each climate, I needed just the one or two fun and comfy outfits, right?  And what about a few gadgets for the “you never know” situations?  Not to mention my camera, computer, external hard drive, charging gear and batteries, weighing in close to 20 pounds.  And a few snacks had to come along — that’s how you make friends on the road.  And for comfort at least one jar of Nutella — that’s how you stay grounded after a difficult day.  And some disposable items will come in handy and eventually make room for souvenirs.  And what about book(s)?   

Just picture the shoe decision alone…!

Think like the Polish backpackers, was Celibeth’s advise.  Of all people, Celibeth, who travels with no less than 6 pairs of shoes!   But she had a point.  We had encountered a Polish couple in Cuba that had been on the road for a year with all their belongings on their backs.  I did that years ago when my brother Andreas and I took off on our hitchhiking adventure to the Soviet Union, in 1982.  We each had over 20 kg on our backs, sleeping bags and tent included.  It was way too heavy then and there is no way I could handle this now.  I have become the “rolling luggage” type.  But why can’t they make luggage any lighter these days?  My duffel bag rolls in with 13 pounds without even anything in it!  Check-in allowance is 50 pounds.  Carry-on is supposed to be 15 pounds.  I kept weighing and shedding to no avail.

Strangely enough, all this packing and arranging felt rather soothing.  I know every little thing in my pack now, neatly listed everything on my note pad, and recorded which pouch it was packed in.  I color-coded as much as possible the various parts of the trip or the nature of the content, and found the perfect spot for each pouch in my big drop-bottom duffel bag.  This is when packing becomes Zen.  And yes, this is my OCD streak rearing its ugly little head.  But this system comes in handy when you have to pack and unpack every few days.   

I decided to take a chance.  Once in a rare while you get some mercy from the people behind the counter at the airport especially on long trips overseas.  My pack was 10 pounds above the allotted 50, and my carry-on 5 pounds over the allotted 15. Perhaps this would be my lucky day and I would get away with it? 

No prisa, no prisa!  That was our motto in Cuba.  No hurry.  It is travel rule #1 for me.  For a 9 AM departure I set the alarm at 4 AM.  A leisure shower, a nice breakfast, tea time, and ample time for David to drive through the nasty rain to get me to the airport 2 hours ahead of time for a domestic flight.  The United Airline counter was still deserted.  It was and it was not, my lucky day.  For 10 pounds over limit on the check-in, the lady behind the counter wanted $200. The nerve!   I tried to rationalize the situation:  I could easily load 10 pounds into a second bag and take it on board, but what would we accomplish?  Extra space in the cabin was needed and the duffel bag would not be an inch smaller.  But this was not about being rational, it was about rules on one hand and about not drawing too much attention to the final weight of the carry-on.  I had to comply.  It broke my heart to ruin the marvelous packing job I had done, but I grabbed some of the heavier pouches until the scale displayed the required 50.  Now I had 30 pounds to carry.

On to the TSA check.  Most likely, you all have come across ads for TSA Pre-Check verification by now.  You choose an office near you, make an appointment, bring the required documents and for $85 (or if you have miles or bonus points with some airlines you may substitute those), you will be TSA cleared for five years.  The charm of it:  shorter lines, no removal of belts or shoes, no displaying your computer.  And best of all:  when you come back into the country, faster immigration services. In January, I had gone through the process.  It worked like a charm.  Except that now, one of my bags was pulled aside; the one containing my excess weight.  What had slipped in there, that was not right for carry-on, but my Nutella jar!  It would have never occurred to me that it could be considered to be a “liquid”.   But TSA calls the shots.  It is a liquid. 

Once, a long time ago, my friend Maria in New York had given me a wonderful bottle of lemon liqueur as a gift.  Neither one of us had anticipated that it would be confiscated when I tried to board my flight.  But then as now, I had been early.  And I was not about to ditch that liqueur.  Instead, I headed back out into the waiting area and found some adventurous  people with time on their hands, and we had a spontaneous lemon liqueur party polishing off that bottle together.  At 7 AM with hardly anyone around and only a Nutella jar to offer, that did not seem to be a good option.  I had set my heart on that Nutella! 

Celibeth had just played out a similar scenario on our return trip from Cuba.  She had purchased two jars of honey.  They were not allowed on board.  This was not just any old honey.  It was honey from Cuba and she was going to fight for it.  She was escorted out by a TSA officer back to the airline.  She got a small carton into which the honey was placed and checked as fragile cargo.  It seemed a miracle to me that this little package could made it through.  But it did.  And what was there to lose?  At least the honey had a chance.  I was going to give my Nutella a chance, too.  And indeed, a TSA officer escorted me back out.  I returned to the airline stating the utmost important of this article and asked for a box.  The ladies shook their heads…  No box?  But I “need” this!

It was still early.  My bag had only left the belt a few minutes ago.  The ladies called it back!  Deep down in the basement of the airport, behind the maze of luggage belts I had to find an obscure door from where my pack was to re-emerge.  After 10 minutes of waiting, time ticking, and nobody around to ask if I was even in the right spot, I doubted the wisdom of this decision.  Would I jeopardize the arrival of my luggage in China by making it come back out?  But now I was stuck.  Eventually, the bag came.  I exchanged the Nutella jar for a pound of clothing as I knew the ladies up there would not budge.  Soon thereafter, the luggage was back on the belt and I sent off a little prayer to Ganesh.  My journey had begun.

Thanks for reading. 

Thanks for going on yet another journey with me.

*** The title is a take-off on the infamous Zen or the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

5 comments so far

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  1. Instead of pouches, I use gallon size ziplocks. Less weight, and if any inspectors need to go through my underwear, at least they don’t touch it! Have a great trip! Just starting the blog!

  2. You’re off…shoes but no Nutella…

  3. What?..only five pairs of shoes? how lame.

  4. yikes. there are cheap clothes to buy everywhere. what are in these pouches?? boots? we need to talk…. 🙂

    it is too early to have falafal at 9am so the class and I decided on “DONUT DAY”
    I HAD lots of fun teaching this class.

    • Haha, but I hate cheap clothes. In those pouches aside from clothes, is a medical kit, German bread, treats to share, lots of travel gadgets, books, camera and computer equipment and only three pairs of shoes. 🙂