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My Favorite Faux Pas: Think Twice Before You Check Your Bag

May 23, 2015

When I think back to my first job out of college, I can’t help but flinch a little. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and it was trial-by-fire every day. How I managed to make so many missteps in so little time, I’ll never know. But nothing trumps the incident of the shredded Vera Bradley bag.

A few months into the job, my boss (the founder of the company) picked me to come on a business trip with him. I felt pretty chuffed, sitting up in business class (Champagne in a tiny plastic cup! Warm nuts!), and as we left the runway, I thought, “I’m pretty damn big-time.”

At some point during the flight, I revealed to my boss that I had checked my bag. I was traveling on to Chicago after our meeting in St. Louis, and I had brought a week’s worth of stuff that never would have fit in a carry-on.

He stared at me blankly, as if to say, “What kind of businessperson are you?”

After an agonizingly long beat, he simply said: “Never check your bag.”

never check your bag

We got to St. Louis without fanfare, and later that night, I went on to Chicago on my own. It was there that I realized the folly of my ways. Not only had I checked my bag yet again, but I had checked a Vera Bradley duffel bag. You know—one of those puffy, quilted things that your grandmother carries when she visits Nantucket. If you’re trying to come off as a jet-setting businesswoman, it’s probably the last possible bag you should be carrying. So naturally, that’s the only bag I owned.

As I waited at baggage claim, something caught my eye: Coming down the conveyor belt was a clear plastic garbage bag containing an explosion of stuff. My stuff. I ran over and pulled it from the stream of sensible-looking suitcases, and inspected the contents of the bag. It was all there: my rumpled clothes, my chargers, my hairdryer—and the Vera Bradley bag itself, which had somehow been severed into two distinct pieces.

I swung the garbage bag over my shoulder Santa-style and, toddling on my sad little kitten heels, approached the claims desk.

I presented my case: “Your airline sawed my suitcase in half and then threw all of my things into a garbage bag.”

The woman at the desk was neither sorry nor impressed. She took down my information.

“How am I supposed to carry my things?” I asked her. I was, after all, a business traveler. An unsightly garbage bag would not do.

She radioed her colleague. A few minutes later, he arrived and handed me a cardboard box.

An hour later, I pulled up to my fancy hotel. When the porter came to take my bags, I pointed sheepishly at the cardboard vessel that contained my worldly belongings. The thrill I’d felt at takeoff that morning was sufficiently negated by this unceremonious arrival. To say I’d been humbled by life on the road is a vast understatement.

The next day, I bought myself a sensible Tumi. Carry-on sized, of course.

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Illustrations by Mai-Dea

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Tory Hoen is the author of the novel The Arc. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Vogue Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. Read more of Tory's posts.

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