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.
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.
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.
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.
With shoes and 3 pair of pants, we’re already at 8 bottles in the bag.
Now I can use shirts to wrap 1 bottle each.
This brings us to 10 bottles for the bottom layer of the 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.
I keep doing this across the top layer of the bag and I am now at 21 beers.
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.
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.