Leaving On A Jet Plane: Airline Travel Is Not What It Used To Be

As we prepare to go to Cuba next week, I can't help but wonder what has happened to the airline industry and to us in the almost 50 years since we backpacked all over Europe for eight weeks. Back then, we threw a few changes of clothes and a handful of toiletries into our bags and were off. Now, for an eight-day trip, we have been packing and making lists for over two weeks.

Life was simpler and travel easier back in 1968.

Of course, a large part of this is being older. We need more stuff to sustain us. Medications. Shoes that don't hurt. Sunblock. Insect repellent. Enough clothing to wear for eight days (no way I'm washing underwear in a hotel sink like I did back in 1968). And for me, makeup. So yes, we need more than a backpack each to get by for over a week.

We decided to travel to Cuba with a group called Road Scholar. The former name for this organization, back in the days when my parents used it, was Elder Hostel. Our hope is that, because it caters to seniors, Road Scholar will take good care of us. So far, we have received reams of information, all emphasizing that Cuba is basically a third world country. No cell phone service or Internet except maybe in our hotel. No handrails and lots of stairs and uneven pavement. No place to buy anything we have forgotten to bring. And if we get hurt or sick, we will need to pay cash for medical care.

Road Scholar provides lists suggesting what we need to bring. We are told to pack these all toiletries and medications, along with a change of clothing, in our carry-on bags in case our luggage is lost. But here's my question: How do we cram all of this stuff into the airline allotment of one quart-sized baggie each for all liquids, gels, aerosols, creams, and pastes? And while we are at it, which of the things I need to sustain me fits into these categories?

I shop for the smallest travel size of shampoo, conditioner, face cream, sun block, foundation, hand cream, and hand sanitizer. My husband needs to add under-three-ounce sizes of contact lens supplies. But I'm still unsure if lipstick and mascara are liquid, despite reading the airline TSA rules. No matter how you slice it, those baggies are really hard to zip lock shut.

Then there are the medications, which we are told have to arrive in Cuba in their original containers, accompanied by prescriptions. Back in 1968, maybe we brought a bottle of aspirin and a few band-aids for injuries. But now, we both have morning and evening pills to pack. Even sadder, without putting them in a pill sorter for travel, I'm pretty confident I will forget something. But rules are rules.

Here's what keeps me up at night when thinking about this trip: The domestic flight to Miami has one set of rules. The flight from Miami to Cuba has different rules. I guess we repack when we get to our hotel in Miami. Maybe that's why Road Scholar has an orientation meeting and dinner to prepare us for traveling to the airport at 3:15 am for our flight to Cuba.

Back in 1966 when John Denver wrote 'Leaving on a Jet Plane', air travel was so much simpler. Here's how old I am. I remember the Chad Mitchell Trio's recording of the song from 1967 and Peter, Paul and Mary's 1970 version. So wish me luck on my Cuban adventure and, as the song says, "Tell me that you'll wait for me...'Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane... Oh babe, I hate to go."

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