Leaving on a Jet Plane

Let’s start to discuss the challenges involved with collecting bottles.  One of the great joys of my job is that I get to do a reasonable amount of travel.  This allows me to gather beer from around the country (and rarely around the globe).  When I do this, I want to maximize the amount of bottles I can collect (because, let’s face it, I have a hording issue that just can’t be stopped).  I typically fly (rather than drive) when I’m on work travel, so I had to figure out ways to get bottles and cans back home considering they will be subjected to travel on a plane.  I’m going to spell out very specifically the process that I use.

Disclaimer:  Every time I travel with full beer bottles or cans I do so at risk of dealing with broken bottles.  I understand and accept this risk.  I am not recommending that other people follow this procedure.  If you try the same methods I use and you wind up with broken bottles, I take no responsibility as you are now accepting the same risk that I have already accepted.

Step 1.  Any beer I drink while on-site can travel in my carry on luggage.  If I am going to be somewhere for, let’s say, 3 nights and I manage to get to a store on my first day.  I can plan to drink 2 beers per night while I am there and get 6 bottles or cans in my carry on luggage.  This let’s me buy more than just what I plan to get packed into my checked bag.

Step 2.  Cans travel far better full than empty.  Cans are smaller than bottles and have been brilliantly engineered to sustain all sorts of pressure and impacts when full.  This means I can fit more cans than bottles in my checked luggage.  However, once the cans are empty, all bets are off.  I’ve tried every method I can think of to wrap and protect empty cans in my carry on bags.  None of them work.  Without pressure inside, it’s like trying to protect a tube of paper.  They are going to get crinkled at best.

Step 3.  I bring the right sized luggage.  Let’s look at my travel bags.

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Empty travel bags

The checked bag is only 24 inches tall.  I once tried a giant sized carry on bag and found that it went over weight really, really fast.  When packed properly, my 24 inch bag will come in just under the 50 lb (23 kg) weight maximum allowed by most airlines.

Step 4.  I pack light on the way there.  I will take a checked bag and a descent sized gym bag and pack them half full with clothes for the trip.

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Bags packed to allow room for beer
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Bag with lots of room

This allows plenty of room for the bottles on the way back.  Having the half full gym bag as a carry on also makes for a more enjoyable flying experience (for example, airlines don’t force people to check bags this small when the overhead bins start to fill up).

Step 4. I pack any empty beer bottles/cans in the carry on bag.

Step 5. I use clothing as packing materials for the checked bag.  On my trip back from The Netherlands, I managed to pack 21 full bottles in my checked bag.  Let’s take a look at how I can get that many in there and still somewhat protect the bottles.  I start with the shoes.  They are great protection and hold a bottle each.

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Bottle packed in shoe

With pants I start with one bottle, wrap the pants around it and still have plenty of pants left to get a second bottle wrapped up.

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Single bottle wrapped in pants
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Second bottle wrapped in pants

With shoes and 3 pair of pants, we’re already at 8 bottles in the bag.

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8 bottles packed

Now I can use shirts to wrap 1 bottle each.

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Bottle wrapped in shirt

This brings us to 10 bottles for the bottom layer of the bag.

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10 bottle packed in bag

To use socks, I put a bottle inside a sock, fold the sock over and then put that inside the second sock of the pair.  So, 1 pair of socks will wrap 1 bottle or can.

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Bottle in first layer of first sock
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Bottle in second layer of first sock
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Bottle in pair of socks

I keep doing this across the top layer of the bag and I am now at 21 beers.

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Bag packed with 21 bottles

Coming back from The Netherlands, this bag weighed 22 kg.  This put me in quite a panic for a minute as everything at Schiphol airport was automated and I was too tired and stressed out to calculate how many pounds that was in my head.  Fortunately, I noticed a plaque that indicated the maximum was 23 kg.  I got to the airport quite early, so I imagine my bag was low down in the stack of luggage that got put on the plane.  As you can see in the picture below, I think the stacks of luggage were pretty high.

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Plane being packed with cargo

I don’t use any more padding than wrapping the bottles and cans in clothing.  I don’t put additional layers of clothing on the top or bottom of the bag.  I simply wrap bottles up in clothes.  I cannot begin to grok how this system works and why I have yet to return to a beer soaked piece of luggage.  I think that, like many occupations, we often give airline baggage handlers a harsher rap than they deserve.

OK.  This was a long post, but I get asked about this a lot.  In addition, it is a critical challenge in collecting bottles.  I’m interested to hear if there are other people out there doing the same thing and what their solutions might be.  Let me know.

Author: UsedHair

I am a labeorphilist (one who collects beer bottles) looking to discuss the adventures often involved in obtaining the bottles and the challenges that accompany the hobby.

6 thoughts on “Leaving on a Jet Plane”

  1. Have you considered one of those hard shell suitcases? If you were to use one of those with the empty cans and find a Rubbermaid or Tupperware of the right size that you could close inside the hard shell tightly, so the movement would be limited, that might stop any damage. I don’t know how worth it to you it would be, however, to go to such lengths for cans, but it’s an idea at the very least.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I have had a hard time finding actual hard shell suitcases. The ones they make now are mostly “firm” at best. They still flex quite a bit. I had an old, old Samsonite true hard shell suitcase for a while, but the handle eventually broke. The best I could hope for is a Pelican Case. I just can’t afford one.

      1. RIP your blue checked bag… You should update this post with pics of your new suitcase in action! The only thing I’ve seen that my friends use to protect electronics when they -must- check them is that weird foam rubber stuff. It’s customizable (i.e. you can hollow it out to suit the specifics of your valuables), but it would probably require a separate checked bag, and what with airlines totally screwing you with add-on fees… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=um30Lbu6-nc

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