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Learning Travel Zen from a Lost Bag, a Canceled Flight, and Karl Knausgaard

Everything went wrong. Flight.

The New York Times magazine relaunched on February 18, 2015. The cover featured a globe. The second issue, the March 3 issue, featured Karl Ove Knausgaard, the beautifully self-aware scribe from Norway. He smoked a cigarette, hair flying around his face. Knausgaard wrote the feature article in the magazine, a piece called “My Saga, Part 1”. He starts with this: “I lost my driver’s license over a year ago. I lose stuff all the time. Credit cards, passports, car keys, cash, books, bags, laptops. It doesn’t worry me, they usually turn up eventually.” I read the article as we sat on the tarmac in Newark, winter snow falling in thick sheets outside. The wings were laid plain with white. I checked the time. A connecting flight at LAX slid farther from our grasp.

“If we don’t take off before I finish this article”, I told my colleague, “we’re fucked”. He nodded. I went back to Knausgaard; the oracle provided advice. “There is a saying in Norway that he who loses money shall receive money, and I think that’s true, because when you lose things, it means you’re not on your guard, you’re not trying to control everything, you’re not being so anal all the time — and if you aren’t, but allow yourself to be open to the world instead, then anything at all might come to you.” I tried to channel the Scandinavian austerity, the calm acceptance of the way things will be.

In the story, Knausgaard’s lost driver’s license ends up causing problems. He can’t rent a car. He gets stuck in Canada. He has to reroute and ends up in Detroit at the whim of a youthful chauffeur (the story’s assigned photographer, Peter van Agtmael). The trip is all documented in a Knausgaardian stream of consciousness that Jeffrey Eugenides recently described as “viewing his life in extreme close-up” and “treating everything that happens to him or passes through his mind with equal importance”. The consequence of which, Eugenides purports “is that in dwelling so intensely on his own memories he restores — and I would almost say blesses — the reader’s own.” In my situation, the intensity of documentation that Knausgaard employed didn’t simply bless my current fate, it began to form it. I finished the article, and outside the snow kept falling. The connecting flight flew away, and my journey of loss had only begun.

“Saga” became the unwanted motif of our non-departure to New Zealand. The flight was cancelled. The customer service line stretched longer than the length of the moving sidewalk. We stayed overnight at the Ramada Plaza Inn, Newark. Memories from the night include: chipped paint; zebra wood veneer cabinets; 7 Start Me Up Cocktails; pillow (lumpy), bed (leans right). It was a long night.

The Bags that Made the Journey


I partnered up the Tegra-Lite Medium ($795) with the Dalston Stannard Small Duffel ($295) and had no troubles with TSA, the airline or the bags. Through the Add-A-Bag feature, the duffel sits neatly on top of the packing case. The Dalston features oversized zippers which open cleanly and never grabbed. The fabric is element resistant, and even after sloshing around in the mud, a simple rinse restored the fabric to like-new conditions. It’s built for durability. The Dalston Alvington backpack ($345), which I kept close to my body, features a laptop sleeve and enough compartmentalized storage for day tripping around. I found the smaller side pockets especially helpful. Once the carry-on was returned to me, I tossed the Alvington on top of the Tegra-Lite Carry-On ($595), a combo that allowed ample storage while still maintaining portability.

I like to abuse luggage, and all the whipping around I’ve thrown at the Tegra-Lite, it’s taken in stride. I yank the hell out of the telescopic aluminum handle, and so far it hasn’t flinched. I’ve also stuffed both the Medium and Carry-on pieces full, sat on them, and pulled the zipper shut. It seems that’s how they’re supposed to be used. The Tegris polypropylene thermoplastic composite material flexes a bit and shows use, but it’s durable and doesn’t break. In travel, I expect my luggage to take total abuse. Tumi, thankfully, is engineered accordingly.

Next morning travel looked up. There were blue skies. We’d lost a day, but the clear view now promised unfettered travel. But it didn’t take long for the Viking’s curse to strike again. At baggage check, the lady at the counter slipped my bag on the conveyor belt sans tag, and it slid behind the wall unmarked. She turned to me and delivered the prognosis: “It’s gone.” It was. Down into the bowels of checked baggage without a label and with slim hope of redemption. A baggage man was assigned to venture down into the inferno of checked baggage and find the lost piece. I texted him a photo of the bag, asked him to text me if he found it. As we took off, I checked with him. “Still waiting”, he wrote. I replied that our flight was taking off — that hopefully the bag was on the plane, or could be on the next flight to LAX. His reply: “Okay I am trying my best to find that bag”.

He didn’t. In Auckland International Airport I spent 20 minutes watching the carrier circle. No bag. “It doesn’t worry me”, Knausgaard taunted, “they usually turn up eventually.” And this, after a 24-hour delay and a 21-hour flight. If I would only relax, Knausgaard whispered, “then anything at all might come to you.” So I dropped the restlessness and accepted my fate. The bag would arrive — or it wouldn’t.

Eventually, as Knausgaard predicted, the bag turned up. Two days later, in Wellington, we returned to our room and the bag, bedecked in tags, sat upright in the room, peaceful. It bore the marks of its journey — scuffs on the case, wheels dirtied, hardside corners scratched — but everything inside sat intact. I have no faith in the airline baggage system, but my faith in Knausgaard’s system is strong. What is lost will return to you. What is taken away will be given back.

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