Best Bag to Pack? An Empty One

by  Paul Eisenberg | Aug 22, 2012
Traveler with luggage
Traveler with luggage /

Several years ago my family was about ten minutes into a bus ride through New Jersey when my younger daughter puked. The cause was likely a bad meal choice beforehand, not the Garden State.

The point is, it was only luck that led me to pack a gallon Ziploc bag in my knapsack earlier that morning. While my daughter caught the first second of puke in her hands, I was able to reach over her seat in time so that most of the vomit ended up in the bag.

Thanks to kind strangers handing over paper napkins, my wife and I were able to contain the damage. And thanks to the Ziploc bag, I was able to largely contain the smell and mess for the duration of the ride. My daughter, of course, felt much better after throwing up.

Every parent has a vomit travel story, and from ours we learned that we must always deliberately pack that empty gallon Ziploc bag (along with a few paper towels for good measure). Another thing I’ve figured out from years on the road is that empty bags are good for more than puke. Here are a few more ideas.

Bring an extra gallon Ziploc for the seat pocket in front of you. Amid buckling up and jamming your ear buds into place, one of your routine pre-flight moves ought to be sliding a gallon Ziploc into your seat pocket, essentially using the bag as a liner. That way you can shove your ear buds, book, trail mix, and other effects directly into the bag, which will be more sanitary than the bare pocket. Plus, when it’s time to deplane, it’ll be harder to forget your seat pocket contents if you just grab the bag when you leave.

Pack a light, empty shoulder bag in your carry-on. I seldom hit the road without a multi-pocketed vest or, while traveling on business, a travel sport coat with secure interior pockets. However, it wasn’t until a recent business trip that I realized that not only was it too hot for the sport coat, but that the shoulder bag would have made my essential belongings more accessible.

If I can help, it I never check my luggage or fly on business with more than one bag. But the next time I hit the road, I packed in my carry-on a foldable, lightweight messenger bag that I used only in the destination for my wallet, phone, notebook, map, and other stuff. My actual carry-on and computer sleeve (both of which I have used uncomfortably in the past as destination day bags) stayed in my hotel room. When it was time to go home, the empty messenger bag went back in my carry-on.

Pack an empty water bag. Okay, it’s not a bag per se, but these foldable plastic water bottles I wrote about a few weeks ago support the concept: tuck one of these empties into your carry-on, and you can fill it at airports, hotels, and attractions whenever necessary, folding it back up and packing it away when you’re done.

Incidentally, if you too find yourself holding a vomit-filled Ziploc bag one day, attempt to flush its contents at your next opportunity rather than lobbing the bag wholesale into the first public trash receptacle you see. Same thing goes for dirty diapers, but that’s another story.

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