Friend Maker and a Not So Cautionary Tale

by Sandra Foyt on August 29, 2010

in Travel Ideas

Disembarking the American Airlines jet in Miami we came to a halt behind a woman who stood stock still, staring at a pair of silver doors. Expecting to exit into the terminal, she looked confused, unsure what to do confronted by this barrier. Her son searched the wall around the doors, looking for a sign or an elevator button.

I looked at her, I looked at him. They weren’t moving forward, and they weren’t moving back. I didn’t know what to do either, but I surged forward anyway, and lo and behold, I must have triggered a sensor because the doors opened as if by magic.

In travel, as in life, sometimes it pays off to go ahead, even if you don’t know exactly what to expect or even when your expectations are grim.

Before this last trip to the Virgin Islands, I deliberated over what to pack. With the current American Airlines baggage guidelines, it can be very costly to check luggage. According to the airline’s online charts, I could expect to pay $25 for the first checked bag, and $35 for a second.  Also, any luggage over 65 dimensional inches would be considered oversized, and should incur a $150 fee.


My daughter wanted to pack a skimboard, and my son and I wanted to bring our boogie boards. Typically, these can be checked separately, each incurring its own fee, which given that they are oversized, could have been as high as $150 each way for each item. I happened to own a duffel that could accommodate all three boards, as well as our snorkel equipment. All together, it’s quite light (under the 50lb maximum), but it’s still oversized.


I took a chance anyway because I  knew how difficult and expensive it is to procure this gear on the island, and we lucked out. On the flight to St. Thomas, I was only charged $25, for all three checked bags. On the return, I was charged for two checked bags, but no oversize fee.

In our carry on luggage, we also brought all of our electronics: laptops, iPods, cameras, and all related chargers. Now, you might think that electronics are not necessary for a Caribbean vacation, and you might be right, except that I needed mine for a book writing project. And, the kids needed theirs to finish a school project and for the distance learning portion of their scuba diving certification.

There was another added benefit to bringing the electronic gear. With so many components to be charged, I packed a surge protector so that we would have sufficient electrical outlets. This turned out to be a lifesaver when we were waiting at the airport, needing to charge our cellphones, but having to compete with other travellers over the few available outlets. Our surge protector quickly became a friend maker as we shared our extra outlets.


Now, I’m not recommending packing everything including the kitchen sink, but we found an upside to packing the “nonessential” items that were important to us. In addition to making new friends with the surge protector and even with the beach gear, these items made our stay infinitely more pleasant and enjoyable.

| Sandra Foyt is a storyteller, photographer, and road trip junkie. A veteran of six cross-country road trips, she drove Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the fossil freeway, the extraterrestrial highway, and even “the loneliest road in America.” Find her on, an award-winning destination guide to extraordinary travel in and from Northeast USA, on her portfolio site at, and in freelance gigs on Family Travel 411, Minitime, Huffington Post, and Matador Network. Email:, Twitter @SandraFoyt.

Debra August 30, 2010 at 12:52 am

We had the SAME dilemma when we were going back east for three weeks this summer and opted for the “kitchen sink.” The problem was not clothes and such, because we had access to a washer and dryer. The problem was the gear – baseball bats and gloves, footballs, swimming stuff, etc. We wound up fitting it all in one suitcase per person, but I had to keep my fingers crossed that we wouldn’t be overweight. The electronics I managed to fit into carryone, between my camera and laptop bags and the guys’ backpacks.

We did not, however, take a surge protector. I’m adding that to next year’s list, if for no other reason than the extra outlets.
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Sandra Foyt August 30, 2010 at 2:51 am

I can’t remember where I got it, may have been the Target travel section, but I have a handheld scale for weighing luggage. This was very helpful for keeping each bag under the limit!

Dawn Bishop August 30, 2010 at 6:49 pm

The other tricks we have learned as we frequently run into overweight issues:
1. When airlines don’t charge for the first 1-2 bags, carry an extra duffle bag for the return flight. We typically accumulate enough books, souvenirs, etc. to reach the max weight.
2. If you check in car seats that are inside of car seat travel bags-use them to store additional items. They typically have quite a bit of room inside and we have found it useful for items like shoes, dirty laundry bags, hydration backpacks, etc.
3. If you purchase enough items that may cause you to be overweight, consider mailing them back. Quite often I have mailed back all the additional cords, books, etc that we don’t need as we are departing. A large box through USPS is far cheaper than an overweight charge.
We always depart within a couple of lbs from the overweight limit, and yet somehow, fill that gap on the departure! Purchasing a couple of jars of jam, foods, clothing items, gets you to that limit quickly!

Sandra Foyt August 31, 2010 at 4:02 am

Great tips! We don’t usually mail packages while traveling, but this time we had to as my husband purchased several gallon jugs of hot sauce. They definitely tipped the scales past overweight status!
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