Have pock­ets, will travel

For­get checked bag­gage. The savvy glo­be­trot­ter has a trick (and maybe a hair dryer) up her sleeve.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY K. C. SUM­MERS

I don’t check lug­gage. Never have. Even be­fore the days of checked-bag fees, I re­fused to play trav­eler’s roulette with my be­long­ings. I’d rather pack ligh­tandwear the­same­black pants all­week than suf­fer dam­aged, stolen or lost lug­gage (at worst) or end­less waits at the bag­gage carousel (at best). If it doesn’t fit into my carry-on, it doesn’t get packed.

Hon­estly, though? Pack­ing light is a gi­ant pain. It re­quires tough de­ci­sions and a will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice both van­ity and dig­nity (see black pants, above). Car­ry­ing on is not for the weak.

Which is why, when get­ting ready for a lon­gawaited trip to France sev­eral months ago, I found my­self wa­ver­ing. It was just a 10-day vacation, but try as I might, I couldn’t fit ev­ery­thing I needed into my reg­u­la­tion 20-inch roll a board. City clothes, coun­try clothes, guide­books, hik­ing shoes, lap­top — none of these things was ex­pend­able. Yet I was com­mit­ted to fly­ing with the prover­bial one per­sonal item and one carry-on. What to do with all my ex­tra bag­gage? Reader, I wore it. I’d al­ways poked fun at those dorky trav­eler’s vests and jack­ets loaded down with all man­ner of pock­ets, snaps and zip­pers, but now I was des­per­ate. If the gar­ments could hold travel doc­u­ments, cam­eras and even iPads, as the ads touted, then why not an ex­tra pair of shoes, a bathrobe and a few nov­els?

Googling around for op­tions, I dis­cov­ered a world of out­er­wear that would do James Bond proud. Re­mov­able pant legs! Se­cret com­part­ments! Pock­ets within pock­ets! I started out small and or­dered L.L. Bean’s $79 travel vest, which boasted eight pock­ets and an out­doorsy vibe.

Then I stum­bled onto the Scot­tevest “sys­tem” of “gear man­age­ment cloth­ing.” With prod­ucts

rang­ing from a 33-pocket knee­length coat to a 13-pocket cot­ton hoodie, this com­pany turns pack­ing light into per­for­mance art. I ended up spring­ing for a 17-pocket wind­breaker for $75, choos­ing a drab green color so as not to at­tract too much at­ten­tion from air­line per­son­nel.

Gid­dily, I repacked my stuff. Out of my carry-on and into my vest went my cam­era, ex­tra bat­ter­ies, air­plane socks and a blind­fold, a mini-book­light, a money belt, an im­mer­sion heater, an elec­tri­cal adapter and a con­verter, noise-can­cel­ing head­phones and, hang­ing from a clip, my wa­ter bot­tle. So far, so good.

But the wind­breaker was the real rev­e­la­tion. I dis­cov­ered that in ad­di­tion to the 17 pock­ets, I could also fit things into the space be­tween the mesh liner and the back of the jacket. To wit: four guide­books two nov­els two pill or­ga­niz­ers corkscrew ex­tra tote bag folder with maps, print­outs, train tick­ets and other travel doc­u­ments big floppy hat flat­iron (I know, I know, but I was go­ing to Paris!)

Not sur­pris­ingly, the coat-as suit­case phe­nom­e­non has sparked con­tro­versy, es­pe­cially now that many air­lines have in­creased their checked-bag fees. Travel-gear com­pa­nies have rushed to em­brace the trend, with the Idaho-based Scot­tevest tak­ing an early lead as hid­den pocket champ. The com­pany made head­lines in Oc­to­ber when Delta’s in-flight mag­a­zine re­jected its ad tout­ing how to “ beat the sys­tem” and “avoid ex­tra bag­gage fees.” Scot­tevest founder and CEO Scott Jor­dan im­me­di­ately cried cen­sor­ship, al­though the air­line cited “cre­ative stan­dards.”

Delta Sky pub­lisher Mar­i­al­ice Har­wood said last week that the Scot­tevest ad was mis­lead­ing. Since it pic­tured a coat stuffed with an iPad, a cell­phone and im­por­tant doc­u­ments — all typ­i­cally car­ried onto the plane by pas­sen­gers, not placed in checked lug­gage — the ad might lead pas­sen­gers to be­lieve that the air­line charges for carry-on lug­gage, she said in an e-mail. “Delta Air Lines does not charge for carry-on bags, so we be­lieved that this con­tent was mis­lead­ing and could po­ten­tially cause con­fu­sion about Delta’s bag­gage poli­cies.”

“It got en­ter­tain­ing,” Jor­dan said of the ad brouhaha. “We saw a tremen­dous blip in [on­line] traf­fic af­ter that. We’ve had the best hol­i­day sea­son ever, by a long shot.”

Air­line touch­i­ness aside, is stuff­ing your coat with lug­gage okay with the feds? Asked to com­ment on the trend, Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion spokes­woman Sarah Horowitz said, some­what enig­mat­i­cally, “ The TSA doesn’t en­dorse or ap­prove any pack­ing prod­ucts. Ob­vi­ously when you go through se­cu­rity you need to re­move your jacket.”

I de­cided to take that as a ring­ing en­dorse­ment.

On the way to the air­port, Iwas feel­ing down­right smug, but once in the se­cu­rity line, I be­gan to get ner­vous. Turns out that when you wear half your lug­gage, the over­all ef­fect is a lit­tle . . . bulky. I looked like an ex­tra from the hippo scene in “Fan­ta­sia.” As the line inched along, I started to per­spire. Would the agents sin­gle me out for ex­tra screen­ing? Would air­line of­fi­cials cry foul? Nowhere in the rules does it say that you can’t stuff your pock­ets, but sud­denly I was los­ing my nerve.

I turned to my travel com­pan­ion. “Do I look nor­mal?” He as­sured me that I did. “You just look . . . full-bod­ied,” he said. “Like you’re go­ing abroad to have bariatric surgery.”

When my turn came, I ar­ranged my wind­breaker and vest ar­tis­ti­cally in the plas­tic bin, try­ing to hide the larger pro­tru­sions. I walked through the metal de­tec­tor and stood oh-so-ca­su­ally on the other side, wait­ing for my stuff to emerge from the X-ray ma­chine.

It emerged all right, but so did a se­cu­rity of­fi­cer. He ges­tured to the bin con­tain­ing my lumpy green wind­breaker. “ This yours?” “Yes, sir. Is any­thing wrong?” “I saw a cork screw in one of the pock­ets.”

“But . . . but . . . I thought corkscrews were okay?”

“Not when they have a knife at­tached.”

He be­gan to go through the pock­ets, pulling out my im­mer­sion heater . . . my money belt . . . my straw hat. It was like the clown car of wind­break­ers. Fi­nally he found the of­fend­ing cork screw and tossed it aside.

But he wasn’t done with me. Turn­ing the jacket over, he un­zipped the big back pocket and pulled out my spare tote bag, which was stuffed into its own lit­tle pouch. “I saw this on the screen,” he said. “What is it?”

“Col­lapsi­ble tote bag,” I said brightly. “You know, for bring­ing back sou­venirs?”

He looked at me for a long minute. “You’ve got a lot of stuff.” “I know,” I said. “Okay,” he said. So I was free — for the time be­ing. I still had to make it past the gate agent. Don­ning my lug­gage again, I tried to zip up the wind­breaker, but it wouldn’t close over the vest — which was now soaked through with sweat. I thrust my board­ing pass at the agent and kept mov­ing. I al­most made it past her, then felt a tug on my sleeve. Oh God. “Ma’am? Don’t you want your board­ing pass back, so you know where to sit?” Uh, sure. So, I beat the sys­tem. Was it worth it? Let’s just say that I de­cided to check my bags on my re­turn flight from Charles de Gaulle. I couldn’t take the strain.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY THE WASHINGTON POST; WIND­BREAKER: SCOT­TEVEST

MARTIN A. CEASER

You can take your lumps at bag­gage claim or you can take them with you in your travel vest: The author at Dulles Air­port.

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