A 2-stage launch

Steve and I generally eschew group travel. In fact, we sometimes joke that it took us decades to learn to get along with each other on the road. But we’ll have some close traveling companions for the first part of the adventure on which we’re now embarking. That part will take us to the remote Himalayan mountain kingdom of Bhutan (tucked in between India and Tibet.) The Bhutanese government limits tourism severely; it allows no independent travel, for example. All Bhutanese visitors must be part of a “group” (even if the group is only 1 or 2 people). To go there at all, you pay a hefty daily flat fee per person.

At some point when planning our Bhutan excursion, we started wondering if we might entice any friends to join us, thus lowering the daily costs a bit while increasing the fun. We thought of two individuals we’ve known forever and with whom we spend a lot of time. The idea of exploring Bhutan for a week did appeal to them; they agreed to join us.

At some point during the months since then, they decided to leave three days before us, in order to have some time in Bangkok (the city from which we’ll catch our Drukair flight to Bhutan). They also decided to follow our example and travel as lightly as possible. They bought snazzy new carry-on suitcases and packed them carefully. I gave them a ride to the airport, and when I dropped them off, they looked exultant.

I was surprised, then, when Howie called me an hour or so later with a cautionary tale. When they’d checked in for the flight, the gate agent had made them weigh their suitcases (even though the bags clearly met the requirement for carry-on dimensions). On the Japan Airlines scale, Howie’s rolling bag was 2 kilograms too heavy, while Donna’s was over by 4. Although Howie then shifted some of his stuff to his backpack and made the 10 kg limit, Donna couldn’t follow suit. She had been forced to check her bag.

Steve and I were shocked. Once in a while we’ve been ordered to check our carry-on suitcases (usually on small planes or obscure airlines with limited overhead bin space), but never have we ever had to weigh them. I checked the JAL regulations online, which confirmed a 10 kg (22-pound) limit. Our suitcases, fully packed, each came in around 25 pounds. I took several items out of my suitcase and crammed them into my backpack (the other object I carry onboard); made plans to wear my pullover and raincoat through the check-in process, even though the weather in San Diego has been sweltering. Once at the gate, we could repack, I reckoned, putting the extra 3 pounds (or more) back in the rolling bags. We had Elliot drop us off at the airport super-early, to accommodate this additional screwing around.

As it turned out, none of it was necessary. The friendly fellow at the check-in desk didn’t so much as glance at our carry-ons, let alone make us weigh them. We breezed through security; arrived at the gate more than 90 minutes before boarding. Of course that gave us plenty of time to transfer the extra weight back to the rolling bags.

And all the fiddling with our gear helped distract us from the grueling journey we were facing: San Diego to Tokyo to Bangkok (where we slept for a few hours in an airport hotel) before heading on to Calcutta (just to pick up more passengers) and finally Paro (Bhutan).

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