Tag Archives: packing

LA, Chapter One: George Clooney Is Handsome And Helpful.

The Hollywood La Brea Gateway. A dramatic steel gazebo in which the four columns are life-sized statues of four legendary screen women.

The Hollywood La Brea Gateway. A dramatic steel gazebo in which the four columns are life-sized statues of four legendary screen women: Mae West, Dolores Del Rio, Anna Mae Wong, and Dorothy Dandridge. With concrete spikes driven through their skulls.

I never seem to get around to blogging about my trips and I don’t really know why. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I try to pack a lot of livin’ into those two to seven days. And when I’m not livin’, I still usually have to do a lot of writin’. Then there’s sleepin’. Bloggin’ seems to land buttered-side down.

Particularly because I sometimes make the mistake of taking it too seriously. So I’m going to try an experiment. I’ve set a ten-minute countdown timer here on my iPhone. I can write about as many topics as I want, but I have to abort after ten minutes on each.

Okay? Strap in. Go!!!

Chapter One: George Clooney Is Both Very Handsome And Quite Helpful.

Speaking of experiments: I decided to go full-out and commit to the idea of packing light. $25 for a checked bag? Each way? $15 was my Grumble But Play Along price. For $25, I was willing to modify my behavior.

A five or six day trip is normally the worst packing situation imaginable. I’m right at that margin. Usually, I can fit everything in one carryon if I throw some important things out, or I have to take the larger bag and resign myself to spending all that money for a half-empty piece of luggage.

This time, I was determined: under no circumstances would I take more than my one hardsided rollerbag and my laptop bag. The only non-negotiable items were socks and underpants, of which one really must have one set for every morning. Other than that: if there was any doubt about taking (n) or (n-1) copies of any item, I would favor (n-1).

I also did something that’s always seemed absolutely insane: I rolled up every last article of clothing into tight individual tubes. Even the dress shirt that needed to stay nice. I’ve seen demos of Master Packers who insist that you can travel for two weeks out of one carryon by using this technique. I imagined them spending that whole time looking like their outfits had been designed by someone who’d spent most of his life working with accordions.

Well, gorblimey: it all worked out great. Despite the fact that I needed to pack a tripod in there as well, despite the fact that I had to wear business-formal to a special club later in the week. It all fit in nicely and the lid closed cleanly. I didn’t even need to undo the zipper on my laptop case that doubles its capacity. It was like I was headed out for a weekend, instead of the better part of a week.

So that’s the new mission rule: one bag, period. I think it’s encouraged by the fact that now, it seems less like an inconvenience and more like a logic puzzle. It’s like playing Tetris with your clothing. The big advantage of rolling your clothes, as I see it, is that it allows you to form a dense two-story layer of solid clothing at the bottom of your suitcase which fills every nook and cranny. When you combine this with a motivation to “win the packing game” by asking yourself the hard questions (“How about just two shirts?” “I should wear this v-neck sweater on the plane instead of packing it; it’s thick cotton”), miracles can happen.

Also helpful: seeing “Up In The Air” three or four times on HBO in the past month. George Clooney’s character travels 350 days out of the year and there’s a marvelous scene in which we just see how efficiently he packs. And then there’s a second scene in which he scolds a newbie for her gramma-style American Tourister and mercilessly “edits” her selections to fit into a brand-new rollerbag.

I reiterate that George Clooney is a very handsome man and as such, he can be trusted to know what he’s talking about.

It also made me think slightly more favorably about these new baggage restrictions. Before the airlines tacked $50 onto the cost of every ticket, I tended to overpack. Why take just two extra shirts when three would offer me some more alternatives? A big monetary disincentive forced me to be more careful. That’s probably the only real way that we as a country are ever going to move away from oil. Would I drive my car as frequently if there were a 100% surcharge on every gallon of gas? Probably not. I’d rightly say that the added price was insane and and outrage…but ultimately I bet I’d realize how much room there was for me to cut back.

Done! With 30 seconds left on the clock. I like how this is working out.

The Apple Tablet Trip: A Little Light Packing.

Minimal Packing.jpg

I’m off to San Francisco. On Wednesday, I will enter an auditorium at Yerba Buena Gardens and sit down. Apple will then say things to me and a few hundred of my closest friends.

This ends the factual portion of my pre-event coverage. Everything else (I must remind myself) is mere Speculation. Though if Apple doesn’t plan to announce their rumored Tablet at the event, our first tipoff will be the protective floor-to-ceiling wall of chicken wire that’s been erected between the stage and the audience.

But I’m sure that Apple is well aware that we’re hauling our butts alllll the way out there for just one reason: to hear Steve Jobs sing the theme from “Rawhide.” If it turns out that the biggest news to come from the whole Event is a new blackish-purplish color for the iPod Nano…?

No, that’s not going to happen. I felt pretty safe when booking my flight well a few weeks ago because of the nature of the January 27 Event rumors. They certainly had all of the ineffable earmarks of a managed leak rather than random speculation.

And I should (gratefully) point out that this will be the cheapest trip to San Francisco in Team Ihnatko’s league franchise history. I had two different offers of guest rooms to sleep in, so I decided to play “chicken” with the various travel sites to see how desperate hotels get as the clock ticks down. I was hoping to get a four-star hotel next to the convention center for $8 a night. Instead, on the day before my flight I got a 3.5-star hotel a 15-minute walk away for $75. I learned that the “butter zone” — at least for this trip — seemed to be about a week before check-in reservation. That’s when the best hotels released their rooms to the deep-discounters.

(I’m exceptionally skeptical when I read people’s Tweets about fantastic room rates for Macworld Expo and the like. $149 is no bargain in San Francisco. I’ll pay $100 a night if I’m desperate; otherwise, I know I can find something very good for under $90 by performing a little due diligence.)

I’ll soitenly have much more to say about the event and my time in San Francisco as the week progresses. For now, I’m wrestling with a self-imposed challenge:

I am determined to make this my very first Carryon Luggage-Only trip to San Francisco.

Companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to calculate the exact dollar amount that will suddenly cause consumers to revolt and decide that their product, service, or pill-popping lead singer just isn’t worth it. Apple’s certainly wrestling with that question as they choose the right price for their (rumored!) Tablet.

It’s unpredictable. We’re a fickle marketplace. I can only say that when airlines instituted new fees for checked bags, I sighed and accepted that airlines define success as “we lost way less money than our closest competitor last year.” I didn’t think they were totally out of line to ask for a small fee for each checked bag. When the fees started to creep up, I didn’t really flinch.

Okay. But with the latest round of increases, those fees are now $25 a bag. Each way. One suitcase adds fifty dollars to the price of a ticket!

No. No, no…NO. I’ve reached my limit. I’ve finally had that moment when I feel like a sucker for disassociating those fees from the cost of my airfare. And I feel like a lazy spendthrift for not getting myself in the habit of being thrifty about the things I take with me on trips.

American Airline’s luggage increase doesn’t take effect until February. But there’s no time like the present. This relatively short trip — which includes only one real “business” day — will be a good initial test of discipline.

I’ve instituted a new mission rule:

I will not check a bag unless it’s absolutely the cheapest way to get absolutely indispensable things to my destination.

The two key words being “cheapest” and “indispensable.” If I’m flying somewhere for a formal event, checking a full-size garment bag for my tuxedo is a permissible option. But only if “rent a tux when I get there,” “ship the tux ahead of me via UPS” or “stuff the tux in a carryon and have it cleaned and pressed before the event” are all more expensive than checking the bag.

I have just the thing to help me in this campaign: Pelican’s 1510 Laptop Overnight Case. It meets the maximum FAA definition of overhead-stowable luggage, which is very good. What makes it very great is the fact that it’s made with the same materials and engineering that Pelican uses when designing a case that can protect a 24″ CRT from baggage handlers.

That was a big concern for me. I’m usually assigned to the boarding group that’s technically numbered “4 or higher” but which a more forthright industry would simply announce with “Okay, all the riff-raff we barely give two ****s about can grab now grab their live chickens or whatever and board the plane. Whoops! Sorry, I think you people refer to it as the ‘sky trailer’, don’t you?” By the time I board, the overheads might be full. That’s a bad time to realize that you packed that thin nylon rollerbag with the expectation that you’d be carrying it personally to its destination.

Mind you, I’ll still be packing anything valuable or fragile in my laptop bag. But that hardsider will give me a little piece of mind. It utter intolerance of your desire to overstuff it will also enforce the aforementioned new self-discipline.

(Another bonus of its built-like-a-tank-ness: during my trip this weekend, I used the Pelican as an laptop table while I waited for the train to New York and then as a seat when I waited for my train back home. This thing is bloody sturdy.)

It’s nicely fitted-out inside, with a big zippered compartment for clothes and accessories and custom-fitted bags for your laptop and cables that Velcro in place, right inside the lid.

Choosing a bag was easy. Deciding what to pack will be a challenge. The “one pair of undies per day” rule is a sensible one and will remain. Everything else is open for discussion. Tonight I found myself going through my socks and wondering if I shouldn’t favor the thin ones over the thick, comfortable hiking kind I normally wear.

I want to pack my black blazer. Can I afford it? Or should I take the unstructured “hybrid” shirt/jacket that fills many of the same duties but takes up less space?

It’s the selection of tech gear that’s causing me the most angst. I travel with an SLR. That’s usually not a question. But can I absolutely count on being able to wear it on board like a big black medallion? Or should I take the pocket Nikon instead, just for safety?

At least I have an “free” carryon option for the SLR. What about my netbook? I have the nagging feeling that I’ll have to leave it behind.

Which would be a damned, damned shame. A netbook is a godsend during a conference or an event I need to cover. All I need is something with a keyboard and system resources that’ll let me take some notes, do a little research, and post a few things. The MacBook Pro is Captain Overkill; it’s a hell of a lot to be carrying around a convention hall. I can’t count on the battery lasting through a 90-minute keynote with furious typing and WiFi action, and a 15″ laptop is a pretty big thing to take into a keynote hall where you’re all going to be packed in, kneecap to kneecap.

So. Hmm. Under this new self-imposed restriction, can I afford the luxury of bringing two computers?

Or can I do something as daft as leave the MacBook at home? It’s not the processing power I’d miss…it’s the fact that it’s my entire creative universe, with every tool, project, and scrap of research I work with every single day back at the office.

Damn. A side-goal is to avoid relying on my laptop bag as an Equalizer, packing it to the gills. Otherwise, there’d be plenty of room for both.

Well, I’m sure it’ll work out. It’s an experiment. Initial failures can be expected.

New York was a very minor test-run, to re-familiarize myself with the bag. It was just an overnight, so the packing was simple and even my laptop bag was very light on my shoulder. It was a bit of a thrill, I must confess. I felt like…well, like a normal traveler. You know, those people who seem to have taken just the essentials and who can glide onto a train or an airplane effortlessly, instead of looking like a stevedore trying to manhandle four casks of molasses onto a clipper ship in one go.

So overall, I think this new Mission Rule will be good for the soul. Limitations and restrictions build muscles: after all, the only way to succeed with greater restrictions is through greater thinking.

All I know is that I’ll probably have fewer incidents where I’m unpacking my bag in a hotel and discover that I’ve just taken the 13.5 volt charger for a portable hard drive I haven’t used in a year on a little 3,000-mile vacation away from the office. I’m looking forward to that.

You’ll have to excuse me now. I’ve just remembered that I need to find an 8″ plastic baggie for my toiletries, none of which may contain more than 3 ounces of liquid.