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On my last work trip, which happened just before the pandemic, I was scheduled to be away for two weeks over four legs to three different destinations. I packed my biggest bag with every favorite belonging and article of clothing because I was going to be away for so long.

I departed from City 1 (midwestern US) on Airline A. When I was checking in, a youth choir was practicing an angelic, multi-part song in the lobby, and I remarked on it to the gate agent. He said it was making him sad, because basketball star Kobe Bryant had died that day in a helicopter accident. He gave me a stub from the bag tag and sent me on my way.

I transferred in Chicago to Airline B, arrived in City 2 (Germany) overseas, and no bag. I filled out a claim and detailed everything that was in the bag, to the best of my recollection, and went to the hotel to wait for it to be delivered. In the meantime, I took a shower but the curtain didn’t fit well so the few clothes I had with me got soaked on the bathroom floor, and I had to drape them on the room’s radiator to dry. Still, I managed to be presentable at my meetings.

Several days later I traveled to City 3 (Scandinavia). Still no bag. I called and filled out another claim with Airline A for good measure, again detailed the very many things that were in my bag. I spent the weekend in City 3, but the many hours spent talking to airlines ate into my planned tourism time, as well as shopping for ten-packs of socks and undies, and trying to use Google Lens to figure out which bottle at the store was shampoo and which one was conditioner.

During one of the airline calls, we surmised that, based on the number on my bag tag stub, my tag had got mixed up with someone’s who was flying to Panama City, Panama. I contacted the airport in Panama City directly, and they replied with the kindest email, and a photo of my bag. It was found! I emailed them my complicated itinerary and hotel details, and they plastered the bag all over with thorough and highlighted instructions. Hooray! Maybe it was on its way?

After the weekend, for the second week of my trip, I left City 3, giving lots of instructions to the hotel to hold onto the bag if it arrived there because I would be back in a few days, and few to City 4 (Germany), checking my previous carry-on and buying a tote bag (covered with pictures of Moose!) at the airport to carry my new belongings. I was awakened in the very middle of the night by a call from someone from Airline A baggage services in Newark, New Jersey, and tried to make as much sense as I could in my sleepy state, to confirm that it was my bag and where I would be.

Returned from City 4 (Germany) back to City 3 (Scandinavia), still no bag, but now, when I tried to look up my case number or new bag tag number, my bag was not in the system at all any more, it had fallen off the face of the earth after New Jersey. I made do, hand-washing my new belongings, and realized how very much less stuff you actually need when you’re traveling. My colleagues praised me for my calm, because at this point I had become resigned to my reduced circumstances.

I returned at last to City 1, and amused everyone with the story and my resilience. I thought the incident had turned into a funny travel story from my past and had moved on, accepting that all those favorite clothes and belongings were no longer part of my life.

The next week, like magic, my bag appeared at my house! Newark had shipped it by FedEx, which is why it dropped off all the airline tracking sites. Airline B had a reimbursement program, so I even got some money back for my 10-packs of this and that which I had to buy. And that Moose tote bag and the one sweater I bought in City 3 are still some my favorite things I own. But I now pack much, much lighter and will never, ever check a bag again, no matter how long I’m going for! And I will always remember what day Kobe Bryant died.

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