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Trip Report Packing Light Luggage Review: Lucas 21" Expandable; Scottevest; Baglette

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As a traveler dedicated to carry-on luggage for well over ten years, I thought I knew just about every trick in the book to getting luggage onto an airplane. I was stymied, however, by weight and number of item restrictions on an Air New Zealand flight from LAX to Auckland: one item only; 15-lbs weight limit. I thought, "We've sprung for Business Premiere. Surely there is an extra allowance there." Called Air NZ. Nope. One item only from LAX to AKL and back. I asked if I could have one non-wheeled back plus a collapsible cart. Answer: No--that would be two items. Ei-yi-yi.

Had my travel been leisure only, this weight limit would not have been any problem. I routinely pack light socks, light underwear, very light tops and slacks, all meant to be layered to adjust to any temperature. I routinely carry dimestore gloves, stocking cap and long underwear, so heavy clothing isn't on my packing list.

Unfortunately, we were going on a biking trip that began with a string of one-night stays with little opportunity for laundry. My blow-up hangers and clothesline would be fine for washing my quick-dry biking tops, but biking shorts just don't dry overnight and I had to pack four of them in order to begin any day's bike (average--40 miles) stink free. For those who don't bike, biking shorts with gel seats weigh a ton. In addition, we would need specialized, extra tough rain gear. The rain shells weren't heavy; the waterproof gloves and socks are pretty heavy.

Conversely, if we were only biking, the weight limit would have been OK. But we did need dress-up stuff, plus we were adding a golfing and beach vacation leg onto the end of the trip there. My current body shape requires a bathing suit similar to a coat of armor.

Obviously, if carry-on were to work, the key would be to find the lightest possible luggage, and for the first time in years, I had to consider things other than roll-on. I looked at Rick Steves' backpacks, ebags' versions, but I kept seeing wide variation in how much all of those weighed.

So I bought a hand luggage scale and set off to local stores, both high end and discount, weighing every possible type of luggage. Some of the hard-case luggage (Hayes, etc) was much lighter than I assumed it would be, so I can see that in the future, I just might be able to use those. Unfortunately, most were slightly beyond the outside dimmension limits of Air New Zealand (45 linear in/115 cm length + width + height).

Under a stack of mixed items in TJMaxx, I unearthered two Lucas 21" Expandable bags (http://www.luggageguru.com/images/LuggageGuru/English/products/standard/L1841-21TT_black-yellow_m.jpg) that cost around $29.99 before tax. At the store, they weighed less than 3 pounds. I brought them home, and then took off all the price tags, Lucas attachments, etc on one of them. Weight?: less than 2 lbs. It was a good start to lowering my total luggage weight. I bought one more on sale at ebags for around $40 on sale.

Poster Mike Oetting on the flyertalk.com forum had made a valuable modification to his Lucas bag--he had attached two D quick links to diagonally opposing handle loops, to which he had affixed a high quality shoulder strap (http://lh4.ggpht.com/_JM4hpA1USkA/TM7mmu8Pl5I/AAAAAAAADF4/xSh7aJU5VgU/s800/P1020762.JPG). I followed his example and was quite pleased with how that worked out.

The D-links added a bit of weight, but to counteract that small weight addition, I made my own featherweight luggage tags using Publisher software, card stock, packing tap and a hole punch.

One of the things I did worry about was the bag's lack of structure. These bags unstuffed are just a flat shell. In fact, I think they should be named "Lucas 21" Expandable/Collapsible Carry-ons." An obvious solution, using packing organizers, would provide structure but would also add more weight. To my surprise, a dry-run pack revealed that there were no issues with the structure. I simply laid shoes plus my ziplocked undies and socks etc on the bottom of the interior restraining strap side, layered my clothes over folded into "suitcase shape", cinched the restraining straps and could easily zip the luggage closed. Since I never had to use the expanding zippers,the bag filled out to an almost perfect suitcase shape.

My packing strategy also involved the wearing of Scottevests(http://www.scottevest.com/media/img/p_lvestw-black-lava.jpg) for all electronics, documentation, our quart bags of liquids, and money. Before we approached any luggage weigh-in, we simply removed our Lucas bag shoulder straps and tucked them into our vests' large back pockets.

One other purchase for the trip, a spur-of-the-moment decision, was an Ameribag Healthy Back Bag "Baglette" (http://www.ameribag.com/images/W/Baglett_black.jpg). The small purse could be shoved into one of the Scottevest hand pockets in an instant, but it was large enough to hold my passport, camera and phone whenever I was touring throughout our trip.

Did we make the weight limit? No.

OK. We could have done so had we been willing to look as though we were 9 months pregnant.

Layering ourselves with our heaviest shoes, heaviest pants, fleece jacket, Scottevest packed to the brim, and Gore-Tex rain jacket with full pockets, yeah, we got the luggage down to 15 lbs. But we decided we'd chance checking ONE item of luggage each for the LAX-AUK connections rather than look completely idiotic (semi idiotic in a partially packed Scottevest was OK).

At the last minute, we voted to pack a small backpack as a personal item, knowing that as Star Alliance Gold, we would be able to carry-on two items--the bag and small pack--on all other flight legs of the trip.

So was it worth all our trouble? You bet. It turned out that the LAX check-in people took a look at our two items and said, "You're fine." And our biking guides LOVED our luggage strategy. The Lucas bags could literally be thrown or squeezed into the luggage van. The shoulder straps meant that the guys could load all three Lucas pieces onto their bodies as they hustled to get everyone off.

Did we ever check the bags? How did they hold up?

We did check the Lucas bags on our final leg when we were more or less gathering other luggage from drop-off points in our travels. By then, we had no fears that the bags, as flimsy as they seemed in appearance, would make it through the system. We had seen trunk-size luggage lying on top of them, and those zippers held beautifully.

Storage of the Lucas bag is smaller than any duffle we've owned. My daughter took hers back to her college dorm. Normally, she has to take luggage to an offside storage center. She simply dropped her empty Lucas luggage bag behind her wall-facing desk where I assume it will gather dust nicely until she needs it again.

The other items:
--I loved my Healthy Bag "Baglette"--I have been carrying light purses for the past three years now and this thing fits the bill for daily use at home.

--The Scottevest will not be part of my daily apparel, but I do have to admit that it was great to be able to carry all my electronics on my person during all flight legs. I am a devoted Kindle user, so always having it just a pocket away was great.

I guess the final word is that even if we had checked our luggage for each leg, packing with the INTENTION of just doing carry-on is always worthwhile. On the move every darn day, we never wasted time digging through things we didn't need or would not wear. And the weight restriction actually made us pack much, much better, even though we are pretty darn good at packing light. As others who pack light know, it's still possible to overpack with just carry-on. The weight restriction meant that only item I did not wear on this trip was my suit-of-armor bathing suit.

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