I was more than excited to receive my first set of luggage: two suitcases and a train case – all with a blue, pebbly finish. The high school graduation gift made me feel quite adult and almost cosmopolitan in anticipation of my future, scheduled to begin at Otterbein three months later.
Luggage was not what I needed for my move into the dorm, however. We headed to Westerville instead with a motley collection of boxes and cartons – and my laundry basket – stuffed with the stuff of a college gal, as well as hanging clothes swathed in dry cleaner bags.
It was not until the trip to Germany my last year of college that my luggage was pressed into legitimate service. As it turned out, lugging around a suitcase was not such a big deal. Initially, our professor’s friend ferried baggage for our group through central and southern Germany in a VW bus. I then spent four months living a fairly stationary life with my host family in the suburbs of Stuttgart.
When I “gypsied” through Europe with a friend two summers later, I traded in my luggage set for one soft-sided suitcase in a floral design. Yes, it was a pain to tote. But as we punched our Eurailpasses for Copenhagen, Rome, and destinations in between, sleeping every third night on the train and stowing our bags in train station lockers allowed us complete freedom to gaze up at the Eiffel Tower and across the French Riviera.
And I had no particular dislike of luggage during the first student trip I organized in the early 70’s. We had far worse problems in Paris with our sorry lack of French and the short shorts the girls mistakenly chose to wear. But when our exchange program began in earnest a few years later, I became a confirmed baggage Grinch!
It was the unwieldiness of suitcases that bugged me back then. They could only be carried – by hands leading to arms and shoulders that rapidly grew weary. There must be a law of physics somewhere that describes the direct proportion of suitcase weight to the number of rest breaks requested and the decibel level of student whining.
Although I worked hard to enforce airline weight limits, there was usually someone who showed up on travel day with an extra heavy suitcase. And it was always that someone who complained the loudest on a sidewalk in Munich as we trudged hotel-bound.
Part of the problem was that fathers or kid brothers carried luggage to the check-in desk, leaving the traveling student to fully realize the combined weight of suitcase, carry-on, and purse only at a baggage carousel somewhere in Europe. Thus, I began convening a luggage meeting several days before departure, complete with scales for weighing and a fully-loaded walk from my classroom out to the road and back.
Parents eventually began purchasing luggage trolleys. The idea was to place a suitcase into the metal contraption and roll the whole thing around. The invention somewhat lightened the load but was awkward and could not be checked with its suitcase.
The next improvement was a suitcase equipped with wheels all around and a strap on one end. Although such bags provided somewhat easier transport, there were downsides. Besides looking like we were taking the dog for a walk, any movement other that straight forward caused the whole bag to fall over.
Wheeled suitcases, even the current version with all-directional capability and telescoping handles, provide no solution for mass transit – namely trams and trains. My yearly nightmare: a mound of twenty suitcases and twenty carry-ons stowed on overhead racks to be frantically unloaded at the Hanover train station – with no rolling even possible.
Luggage often invited other difficulties. Fitting everything back into suitcases for the trip home invariably posed problems: it seemed that just one arrangement of souvenirs and underwear allowed for successful bag closure. And busy customs officials added further complications. After all, it was not their job to repack suitcases totally discombobulated during random inspections.
And the scourge of modern travel: lost luggage. Actually, for the number of groups I led, we had relatively few problems, the worst being the night all our luggage remained in Pittsburgh while we flew to Dayton. My idea, having the wayward bags delivered to the high school at an hour appointed for pick-up, was not accepted by parents who preferred home delivery. That solution necessitated providing a list of addresses to an unsuspecting driver who wandered the back roads of the Graham School District for the next three hours.
At this time of year, I truly miss traveling to Germany with students. I loved watching them discover a new culture, hearing them put their classroom lessons into action, hoping their budding friendships would continue for years to come.
However, I know that I do not miss the new fees and current baggage regulations. It is also a relief to no longer mentally multiply by 25 whenever I pack a bag. Believe me, I am overjoyed there is no longer any need to remind kids – for the umpteenth time – to clear the middle of the sidewalk so that Germans can get to work or catch the bus. And I certainly live quite happily without the numerous frustrations that prompted me to yell more often than I care to remember: “I hate luggage!”
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.