The drag factor determines how much we pack for a trip. The older we get, the less drag we want.
Take our trip to England last year, for example. The roller on one of the suitcases failed to roll just as we began dragging it from Heathrow airport to the train, up the stairs, to the bus and down the street to our room. A fairly easy transition, but that particular day major route changes were happening. We could not take the tube. We had to take the bus. We stacked and strapped the luggage. The full-sized computer bag could be tied onto a rolling suitcase for a few steps before it slipped and dangled beneath the handle. The large dufflebag would not stay stacked and the large camera bag alternated between shoulder and stack.
The excitement of seeing London energized my husband the day we landed – he barely noticed the wheel problem or the drag factor. By the end of the week, though, he looked at all that luggage: two large suitcases, two quite full carry-on bags and a couple of rather large personal items and his shoulders sagged.
Hefting my own suitcase and carry-ons, I collapsed halfway up that mountain of stairs to the train. I could not lift that monster another step. Kind strangers hauled it the last flight of stairs.
At the airport I found a luggage cart. My husband’s smile made him look 20 years younger. No more drag, just push a well oiled, rolling cart.
He looked almost as thrilled the day I found a replacement large suitcase at a yard sale with not two, but four working rollers. It did not just drag, it rolled. He did not even care that it came in bright red. It rolled smoothly.
He has used that suitcase ever since – even when he did not need that much space. The drag factor matters that much.
Of course, the drag factor has to be computed with the time variable to determine how much we can take: How long will we be gone? Where are we going? And will we be flying or driving?
Driving to see family usually means time with babies, grade school kids, teenagers and new parents. There is not much of a drag element, but lots of entertainment to factor into packing. We can load our van in our garage and unload it at our destination. Short distance hauling we can handle.
I want to take everything. I settle on books for preschoolers, books for the teenagers and a couple of novels for myself. I sit on the floor of my sewing room packing a large tub with fabric, thread, measuring devices and a sewing machine or two because some grandchild or their mother might want to sew with me. Games, gifts and gadgets get tossed in on top.
For the miles and hours on the road, I pull out the ice chest, drop in a couple of frozen jugs of water, an assortment of fruits and vegetables, sandwich fixings and munchies – just in case we feel a bit peckish. I spend way more time packing all the extras than I ever do my suitcase. An overnight bag always holds the basics. All I have to do is add enough shirts, slacks and socks for each day we are gone. If anyone notices that everything does not match they don’t say anything.
The mini-van overflows as I tuck in audio books for the road, a couple of hand sewing projects I might want to do, a computer, a few books and magazines I might want to read. My husband takes his keys. He’s driving. He does not have time to do anything else.
Last month as we packed to fly to Mexico for a week, my husband (obviously remembering the mule train event of last summer) said, “Let’s put everything we can in the suitcases, and not have any carry-ons this time.”
I heard what he said, but I still prefer to have a few extra things – just in case our luggage is lost.
Still, as we left I could not help but mentally note that all my books and magazines had been reduced to a thin, light-weight, electronic reader. Also, since the London trip our camera was stolen and the computer crashed. We purchased much smaller, lighter replacements.
My compulsion to sew shrank into one small cross stitch kit that fit inside the computer bag. With one suitcase each to check and very small carry-ons, we had discovered lighter traveling. Almost too light. Just before he checked his suitcase to the belly of the plane, my husband slid the sheaf of papers detailing our itinerary into the front pouch of his red suitcase. I asked if he didn’t need to carry the contact information with him. He did a double take, grabbed the papers and never said a word about how much it added to his drag factor.
(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and Other Columns from the El Dorado News-Times.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org)