It’s In The Bag

I’ve had a bit of an attachment to the Ziplock bag since I started traveling for business, but it has nothing to do with those stupid TSA requirements.

The most disorganized thing you can find in an overhead compartment is the engineer’s computer bag. Miles of cable, handfuls of batteries and dozens of odd adapters lurk under those unsuspecting shoulder straps. Finding the exact item you need at 36,000 feet can be difficult.

Your friends at SkyMall have a number of overpriced solutions for this problem. If you’re not a frequent flyer, or have the forethought to bring your own reading materials onto a flight, you may not be familiar with SkyMall. This is a complementary catalog lurking behind the flight safety information you neglected to read, even though that nice lady in the safety video asked you to (tisk, tisk). SkyMall is like a portable version of Brookstone, full of overpriced gadgets that look great when you’re browsing but seem out of place when they actually arrive at your house.

Fortunately the answer to travel organization is as close as your pantry. I present to you the humble plastic sandwich bag, complete with zipper-style closure. These are associated with a popular trademark, but I hesitate to use it too often without a promise of corporate sponsorship.

The humble quart size plastic food storage bag has a number of advantages over its more expensive brethren in the organizer category. It’s cheap, see through, water resistant and completely expendable. Unless you want to hide what’s in your travel kit (sorry Trojan Man), our little lunch companion is great for the small stuff that would normally settle to the bottom of the bag.

Here’s the sort of stuff a Gold Medallion traveller stashes in sandwich baggies when he flies the friendly skies …

DRUGS – no, not the illegal kind. I mean basic stuff like cold medicine, antacids and pain pills. Shopping for cold medicine in a country where you don’t speak the language is not a good idea. Neither is digging through your bag on a 13 hour flight and being unable to find that prescription medication you take twice a day. Pill boxes are a good alternative, but they have a habit of coming open mid trip and shedding their contents into your eReader. A baggie full of pill bottles is pretty easy to deal with.

PHONES & SIM CARDS – never underestimate the power of an unlocked Nokia GSM handset. Your cell phone company will happily activate international calling, but you’ll be very unhappy with the price. Plus your colleagues will be unhappy calling an international number just to ask what you want for dinner. If you don’t have an unlocked phone, pick up one on the cheap and buy a pre-paid SIM to go with it. When you get home keep the SIM card, phone, charger and manuals in the same bag … don’t forget the receipt for the SIM card in case you need customer service.

COUNTRY BAGS – of course, if you travel like me, you will end up with more than one SIM card. That’s because you end up in more than one country. Often. Often enough that you want to remember restaurants, hotels and interesting places the concierge scribbled onto a card for the taxi driver. I solve this by building a bag for each country (note: this requires a few extra pennies to get the bags featuring write-on labels). These bags contain all of the local business flyers, taxi cards, phone SIM cards and leftover currency (what passes for pocket change in the US is real money in other countries). Now I’m a discount version of Jason Bourne, ready to hit the ground running without fear of CIA surveillance (I hope).

FOOD – Primary rule of travel: never count on the airlines to properly feed or entertain you. This lowering of expectations makes you appreciate any bad movie or bits of poorly cooked eggs you do receive, but it prepares you for the day that they break the entertainment system or drop your special meal on the floor. As you search for your dog-eared paperback book, grab an energy bar or piece of candy from that sandwich bag labeled “CHINA AIRLINES STILL CAN’T PROPERLY COOK EGGS”.

ADAPTERS AND HEADPHONES – I’m traveling with any number of gadgets … cell phone(s), iPad, iPod, digital camera, laptop(s). These always have some associated adapters for recharging or connectivity (hello funky little USB cables). These go in the bag along with my USB thumb drives, earbud headphones and a set of the free headphones I get from Delta on international flights (they include that stupid two-pronged adapter you need for older aircraft).

So the next time you’re packing for that business trip, skip SkyMall and head to the grocery store. Your clear plastic travel organizers are next to the trash bags and aluminum foil. They’re not just for toothpaste anymore.

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