How to Run “The Suitcase Race!”

Bonnie Roberts

“I don’t know what to pack!”  “Can I bring my own shampoo and hairdryer?”  “So does it rain a lot?”

Most of my trips involve a large portion of first time travelers, especially first time out of the state much less the country.  They are excited but nervous about the details of how, when, where, not just the overall trip.

One activity I do closer to departure time is the “Suitcase Races and Survival Marathon”.  Prior to this gathering I have the students write a list of everything they think they should bring with them in their suitcase and carry on.  Then I get a few suitcases and I pack them with EVERYTHING on the list….. and a few surprises.

At the meeting I meet the group in my classroom which is on the second floor.  I have a few brave volunteers select one of the suitcases.  Then I propose a race from my room to the tennis courts at the other side of the student parking lot, about the distance via traveling sidewalk from Concourse A to Concourse B at the Atlanta Airport.  I usually have a prize of some sort for the winner.

In addition to the suitcases I hand one racer a cup of coffee, no lid.  To another I hand a huge camera (non-working…learned that on the first race….sigh).  I hand a huge carry-on bag to one of the guys, calling it the “Girlfriend Bag”…. it’s full of magazines, a make-up bag, brush, iPod, snacks, and a HUGE water bottle. Assorted purses, umbrellas, large coats, and other travel props are also available.

The suitcases are a challenge unto themselves. One is missing a wheel. Another has a broken handle. Others have added weights in them…. up to and just over the 50lb limit. (Ok, one actually has a dumbbell weighing 50lbs PLUS all the stuff on the packing list they made up.)

The racers take their marks at the door of my classroom.  Then I tell them that although there will be a winner, ALL of them have to make it to the finish line in 5 minutes so that the group doesn’t miss their “connecting flight.”


And they’re off! Wheels come off, the handle breaks completely, the girlfriend bag keeps falling off the shoulder, coffee is spilled. In one race, a young man’s suitcase fell apart and he finally hefted it above his head running to try to “make the flight.”  Everyone is laughing and breathless by the end.

Afterwards we have a great discussion and infomercial about what is really necessary, what needs to be in which bag and how each traveler is going to be responsible for their own suitcase getting where it needs to go. Travelers start talking with each other about what they can share, what can be consolidated and that pony tails make a great travel fashion statement!

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