The Importance of a Well-Packed Knapsack #KidLit #Traveling

If there’s one thing we learn from Elmer Elevator in My Father’s Dragon (1948), a children’s novel by Ruth Stiles Gannett, it’s the importance of a well-packed knapsack. In fact, for a recent trip, my youngest daughter advised me to take what Elmer packed for his travels, including:

  • Chewing gum
  • Two dozen pink lollipops
  • A package of rubber bands
  • Black rubber boots
  • A compass
  • A toothbrush
  • A tube of toothpaste
  • Six magnifying glasses
  • A very sharp jackknife
  • A comb and a hairbrush
  • Seven hair ribbons of different colors
  • An empty grain bag with a label saying “Cranberry”
  • Some clean clothes; and
  • Food

It’s not a bad list, I guess, except for the jackknife, which I have no reason to carry and could result in an enormous headache for me if I tried to get it through airport security. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, prohibits a long list of items in carry-on luggage, including knives. The prohibition on sharp knives in carry-on luggage may seem obvious, but it’s a relatively new ban. Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, private companies were responsible for airport screening, and the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines permitted passengers to carry blades up to four inches long onto planes (See the 9/11 Commission Report, page 84; PDF).

Since 9/11, for many of us, airport screening has become increasingly inconvenient and invasive. When I was regularly traveling between Philadelphia and Boston for law school, I was singled out for pat-down searches almost every time I flew. I switched to traveling by train, where I’ve also been searched, but not as invasively. More recently, my experiences with airport security haven’t been too bad, but that could be because I pack very lightly. I pay close attention to the TSA list of prohibited items, and I try not to fill my carry-on bag, if I take one at all.

Does it help? I have no idea, but perhaps it makes it easier for screeners to identify items by X-ray without having to search my bag manually, exposing my personal belongings to the world. The increased density of carry-on luggage–a byproduct of the imposition of higher fees for checked luggage–is an issue DHS Secretary John Kelly raised in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News while discussing potential TSA policy changes.

One of those changes would target a demographic to which most, if not all, of us belong (if you’re reading this blog): Readers.

In May, the TSA required passengers at a small number of airports to remove books from their carry-on luggage to be X-rayed, apparently to find thin, flat explosives hidden between the pages. This search might not seem like a big deal if you’re reading the newest James Patterson available at every airport or a classic Jane Austen, whose books I often carry with me. But what if you’re reading books about sensitive topics, such as books about surviving sexual abuse? What if you’re reading books in Arabic or books that oppose Donald Trump? Considering the TSA has previously detained a student (who was then arrested) because he had English-Arabic flashcards, I wouldn’t want to encourage them to routinely assess passengers’ reading material.

Thankfully, the TSA has decided against implementing this policy nationwide at this time (see the ACLU’s update here). I hope it stays that way.


*Thanks to @MyBookStrings for recommending Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon, the first of which is My Father’s Dragon. We really enjoyed this book.

*The image is a portion of the cover of the 50th Anniversary edition of Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon (Random House).


  1. “Thankfully, the TSA has decided against implementing this policy nationwide at this time (see the ACLU’s update here). I hope it stays that way.” Me too! The TSA is already a nerve-wracking experience as it is. I do understand why it is so intense now because everything that has been going on, but they are so invasive. If a policy like this was implemented, I think it would deter me from bringing books on my carry on altogether.

    1. It would deter me from bringing book in my carry-on luggage too. I can’t even imagine how dreadful a flight would be without reading material!

  2. I’ve only flown twice (round trip) and one of my carry-on bags was searched one time. It wasn’t a big deal. The lady didn’t even take everything out, she just sort of poked around. But I was still angry and felt violated the whole flight home. I have no idea why other than someone who has power over me gets to tell me what to do. I can’t image being searched every time I fly, and I’m very sorry this happens to you, Amal.

  3. OMG!! This book search business is so reminiscent of the book 1984. So scary!!! When a large democracy starts behaving like a dictatorship, it’s time to be very very scared!

  4. Six magnifying glasses? Why would one need six?

    As for the TSA, I heard about the book thing too and saw the ACLU update on it. thank goodness they have decided against it at least for now. Between shrinking seats, no legroom, and the TSA, flying these days is worse than going to the dentist.

    1. Ah, you’ll have to read the book to find out why Elmer needs six! 😉

      Yes, flying is much worse than going to the dentist. That’s a good way of putting it.

  5. TSA drives me crazy. The best thing we ever did was get on the Pre-check list. It’s a total money making scam, but most of the time it allows us to leave everything in our bags and get through security pretty fast.

    This being said, I was always the one picked out for extra screening. I was leaving the U.K. to move back to the U.S. and I was in tears and yet they still searched me and everything I had. They even tried to recently after a trip she came over and was like I have to randomly select someone for an intensive search and she picked me, but then when she saw I had pre-check had to go pick someone else. I almost laughed in her face because of the situation.

    1. I’m sorry you were selected so often for intensive searches. It’s the same way for me (though it was better on my most recent trip). I’ve considered doing pre-check, but I don’t know if it’s worth it to pay the money and spend the time when I don’t travel by air all that often. Maybe it is. I feel like TSA’s pre-check program is essentially an admission that the invasive searches aren’t effective. If they were effective, they’d make everyone do them and they wouldn’t have a loophole like the pre-check program (which anyone can do, even someone with bad intentions who just doesn’t have a suspicious criminal record yet).

  6. The TSA is a ridiculous construct. People flew before it existed with almost no difficulty. I recently read you won’t be allowed to keep your laptop or tablet if you’re coming into the country. That would have been very hard on a friend’s fiancee, a writer from the UK, who moved to the US to marry. Our country is devolving into fascism, and it scares me. How long before we aren’t allowed to cross state borders without being searched? *shudder* You can’t fight a “war on terror.” It’s a sound bite, a rallying cry, but nothing concrete. Innocent people are getting chewed up by this nonsense.

    1. It’s awful. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that these types of searches make us any safer, but that won’t stop our government from invading our privacy as much as possible when we travel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s