I have been living out a gear bag for more than half my life. No matter how glorious it seems, it gets old really fast.
Learn the Rules
I’m traveling this weekend for our first class of 2019 down in Florida. I get asked this all the time; what do you do? Well, it is really not complicated. What I have learned over the years continues to guide me going forward. Most of these tricks are not really tricks, but experience. The most often asked question I get is how do I travel with firearms and ammunition. Simple, know and follow the rules. If you haven’t visited the TSA’s website, stop reading my article and go read up on their files. You cannot be surprised if you have an unpleasant experience when you are ignorant. Here is the flip side, you can do everything by the book and still get jammed up. My best advice is to be nice. Be nice, if you studied the rules, packed smart and arrived early to the airport then smile. I almost positive I’m the smartest person on this subject in the airport. I don’t flaunt it, I just smile.
Ounces to pounds
Everyone has probably has a horror story to share about a bad airport experience. I have my fair share and if I was smart I’d switch professions to be a paid consultant to the airlines. When it comes to packing, my game is strong. I invest in quality and rugged luggage. The days of having the super sized “dead hooker bags” are over for me. All they do is attract unwanted attention and extra fees. You are restricted to 50 pounds on just about every air carrier. If your bag or box weighs 20-25 pounds or more you will end up skimping on the gear you really need. You are looking for something with comfortable handles, big wheels and a sturdy frame. Also, you should expect about a two year shelf life no matter the manufacture. On my first trip with my current roller bag still with the tags still attached, I lost a buckle. So, don’t get too attached.
One of One is None
When it comes to your firearms they will need to be secured in a lockable hard sided case. There are a lot to consider, but you have to remember their weight mentioned above. I have two different load-out methods; one for handguns only and the other for rifles and handguns. For my handguns only I take a smaller hard sided case and lock it in my checked luggage. This case is just large enough to secure both of my handguns. Then save yourself the hassles and use TSA approved locks. In addition, pack a spare set and consider these to be consumable. The worse case scenario is on your outbound flight your locks get lost. Don’t ask, it happens more than you think. This will save you time and money trying to find a set for your return flight.
OCD to the Rescue
When it comes to supporting equipment my suggestion is to pack them in individual smaller bags. For this task I have come to rely on the Danka bags from Magpul. I have an assorted collection of sizes and colors. One bag for my holsters, one for my magazines loaded with defensive ammunition, one for my medical gear and my junk bag. I like to be as discrete as possible. Keeping all this other stuff under wraps helps. Then there is my compulsive need to be organized. Keeping equipment separate in different bags makes it super easy to throw stuff into my larger roller bag. On the off chance I have a lot to pack I get technical, like a game of Tetris.
Pack Smart and Go Lite
I’m big on weight because I am done paying extra fees. Part of my experience has helped me to pack smart. Bring quality gear that is rugged and light. Think about items that can fulfill multiple roles and choose them over specialized items. In the beginning invest in a hanging scale. I’m usually lighter coming home because I burn ammunition. Going out I am spot on to a pound. Partly because I’m a creature of habit, but also because I weighed my bags every trip. In the off chance I screw up, I pack a small duffle bag I can quickly use as a second carry on to avoid overweight fees. Remember, the bigger the bag…the more stuff you will pack. After a couple of trips ask yourself if you really needed all the items. Eventually you will find the sweet spot. As for packing my carrying on bag, I have the bare essentials to teach. My schedules, rosters and supporting classroom material. Fortunately, most are digital. Then the minimum personal safety equipment such as eye/ear protection and a small medical kit.
I enjoy traveling, don’t let a sour opening fool you, it is more my lifestyle than a vacation. Give some thought to these lessons learned. That’s right, everything above is there because I had to learn the lesson.