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Traveling man, pack what I can

Bob Schwartz is a syndicated humor writer whose essays have appeared in over 150 magazines and newspapers. Bob authored the popular humorous book on running, I Run, Therefore I Am Nuts! His latest book is a hysterical look at parenting: ...

A couple of times a year I have my own Olympic event that challenges not only the boundaries of my athleticism and competitive fires, but my ingenuity as well. I'm my sole rival as I become confronted by Ghosts of Vacations Past.

My personal challenge begins when packing for the family vacation officially starts. Once that first piece of Samsonite hits the bedroom floor my Olympic flame is a blazing and I'm shouting out my proud preamble of "Let the packing begin!"

My wife then ceremoniously shakes her head, swiftly scoops up the children and hurriedly exits the bedroom for the safety of the hallway as stray socks, tank tops and bathing suits begin whizzing through the air. Each year, I'm trying to better my packing results from the prior family vacation. I'm a major packing minimalist, the self-anointed King of Clothing Conservation.

For those traveling with children, every family vacation has the potential to resemble the over laden Okies traveling west along Route 66. I appreciate that others may have lofty personal goals, but my life's challenge is very basic. My aspiration is to go on a weeklong family vacation and be able to fit everything I need into a nice hefty size Ziploc bag. Inflatable beach chair included.

Now on the other side of the valise, my wife leads the way in parental preparedness. When she packed for the initial family trip with our first child, I surveyed the amount of luggage placed by the front door and was firmly convinced she'd forgotten to inform me were actually moving to another house for good. There were more suitcases, duffel bags, backpacks etc. than the hotel lobby where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was checking in for an extended family reunion.

Her vacationing level of comfort is measured by being fully operational for anything that has the unlikely possibility of evenly remotely arising. Rest assured our children would be clothing equipped if a snowstorm engulfs Orlando while we're vacationing there in August or a monsoon were to strike Chicago in January.

There is though an incomparable advantage to traveling with young children and it's more than just getting those free airplane wings for your lapel collection. It's words that are music to parental ears. Namely -- "Anyone traveling with small children may pre-board the airplane now." In debating whether we should have a third child, that phrase was at the top of my list for reasons why we should. Anything for a few more years of getting the first crack at finding space in the ever crowded overhead compartments and the opportunity to take aboard one more carry-on item. No more having to try and sneak that fifth backpack under my baseball cap.

Although my packing challenge is to see how little I can bring without having to resort to wearing my wife's clothing on vacation, our family was tested in another way recently when checking our luggage in at the airport for our trip back home.

An aggressive airline employee chose to enact the seemingly little used rule of 50 pounds maximum per suitcase or pay for the extra freight. Little did that worker know what she'd just gotten herself into. She had just snarled up the zipper of the wrong expanded luggage passenger.

My wife initially stared at her incredulously. The gauntlet, signifying the reassembling of luggage contents challenge, had been tossed our way. Within seconds, each of our five suitcases was completely opened and their contents began to be strewn amongst the floor of the terminal. It no longer mattered that we were violating all family packing principles as dirty and clean laundry were now being forcibly integrated, carefully ironed clothes were sacrificed and firmly stuffed into small air pockets of duffel bags while pants on hangers were removed as the weight of the extra aluminum was carefully calculated. The message was clear. This family was going to make weight come hell or high stockings.

Ultimately, each of the five suitcases came in within a maximum of 6.5 ounces of the hefty suitcase weight division limitation. And we only had to discard two fairly old sweatshirts, a half empty shampoo bottle, one tacky sombrero hat, 12 unused diapers, a pair of frayed shorts and a free t-shirt that read One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor! Of course my wife hadn't needed to worry about the weight of my luggage, since everything I'd brought was nicely occupied in a small gym bag weighing in at slightly less than our 9-month-old baby.

Now I may indeed have my suitcase packing quirks, but the experience of each family vacation brings me a bit closer to achieving that Ziploc baggage goal of all packing minimalists.

Suitcase Packing Hall of Fame, here I come!

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