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  1. #1
    Forum Member
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    Travelling light = problems with U.S. Customs?

    Fellow light travellers, has this ever happened to you? The last two times I entered the U.S., I was carrying my standard travel setup: WF and a medium-sized handbag. Both times I was stopped while exiting Customs because I was carrying too *little* luggage! At least that was the agent's initial line of questioning.

    At ORD, I was stopped and then taken to the search area where my bags were meticulously inspected, inside and out, by agents and a dog. At SEA I was not searched but was asked a lot of questions about my travels.

    I hate the thought of light travel raising a flag with anyone at an airport. Please share your knowledge and experience!

  2. #2
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    I've never been detained as you describe but I have had a couple of odd interactions with US CBP.

    A similar scenario has played out a few times: The CBP officer at the customs check tries to convince me that I have to wait at the baggage carousel for my checked bag and thinks that I don't understand how international arrivals work when I tell him/her that the Aeronaut or Tri-Star is "everything". I have to slowly explain that I left home (America, that is) with just one bag and a briefcase and now I'm coming back with the same two bags!

    I have had my bag "searched" (just sent through the scanner) by CBP once but that felt like a random check. They seemed mostly concerned about agricultural goods in that instance.
    ~Adam
    ~~~~~~~~
    Bags: Aeronaut, Tri-Star, Super Ego, Buzz, Pilot, Large Cafe, {Small Cafe & Synapse - Controlled by Wife!}
    Computer Protection: Brain Cell Size 4Z & 6X, Cache Size iPad & MacBookAir, Cork Pouch for Nook (holds Sony Reader)
    Accessories: Backpack packing cubes (aeronaut, tri-star), Various Packing Cubes, Passport Pouch, Absolute Straps, QAM, Various Other Pouches, Freudian Slip, Side Effect (hanging inside S.E. for computer accessories)

  3. #3
    Forum Member brucep's Avatar
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    My only experience with Customs was one occasion of coming home on military leave, which was an uneventful process.

    However, only two of us in our group were traveling with one bag. We went on ahead while the other had to wait for their bags. For some reason, our next flight — the last of the night — was leaving early. The two of us were rushed on board, and we looked out the window for our friends as the plane taxied and took off. After a moment of feeling sad for their imminent disappointment, we congratulated each other for packing light enough to make the flight on time.

  4. #4
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    My guess is they're looking for anything "unusual". Single bag international travel probably qualifies.

  5. #5
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    I moved to Berlin for 2 months and only carried an Aeronaut 45 and a Co-Pilot (only checked the A45 on the return trip since I had acquired some souvenirs and needed two carry-ons to fit all of it). No questions asked.

  6. #6
    Forum Member bchaplin's Avatar
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    On my trip to the Middle East two years ago, I brought home an animal's jawbone I'd found on a hike in the hills of Jordan. I decided to declare it, and plunked it in front of a Customs agent to ask if it was all right to bring into the United States. (Surprisingly, it was.) So I think I'd be on some sort of list of suspicious people, just based on that.

    However, I've never been hassled, even when carrying only the Aeronaut and a small bag. Perhaps if I start traveling even lighter I will be stopped. It's probably up to the discretion of the agents. I believe that joining the Global Entry program helps, as I get to skip the live person these days in favor of a kiosk, and go through a dedicated lane when exiting via Customs.
    Last edited by bchaplin; 03-24-2015 at 01:09 PM.
    ----
    Please bring back the Portable Culture patch!

  7. #7
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    Usually it is random when they pull you aside. Sometimes it depends on where you are coming from and what is going on in the world at the time. I've had my bag checked by agents inside and out. At that time they were pulling aside women travelling alone and checking their bags. The flight was coming back from the Netherlands so I assume they were checking for drugs. A few months ago my brother and I were travelling together with one bag each and he was pulled aside and had his bag checked. They just let me pass through. This was in Singapore. I wouldn't worry about it.

  8. #8
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    The longest questioning I had was at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam in preparation for a departing flight. I can't remember exactly where this happened, but it was before boarding. It took several minutes for the agent, who was professional and polite throughout, to establish why I had been in Amsterdam for just one day after a long trip to another country, why my spouse was staying behind (work conference), etc.

    I have lived overseas and I enjoy traveling, but I must say that a warm "Welcome home" upon re-entry at US Customs is a pleasant thing and a privilege!

    Maybe I am naive, and I am sure there are exceptions, but I think the customs agents are generally doing their best. I figure it's like getting pulled over by the police - general courtesy from both parties goes a long way. The last time I got pulled over, it turned out one of my lights had burned out, and I was issued a ticket and instructions on how to rectify this. An inconvenience, but ultimately for my safety during night driving.

  9. #9
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    It's happened to me a couple of time when I was younger because they didn't believe I was carrying so little. I just stood there and smiled as they searched. (Since it was a carry-on sized bag it didn't take long.)

    A lot of it has to do with your nationality, age and where you are coming from.
    Editor--One Bag, One World: News, Reviews & Community for Light Travelers. http://www.1bag1world.com

    Aeronaut(2), Tri-Star(2) Cadet , Large Cafe Bag, Travel Tray, Travel Money Belt, Absolute Straps(3), Side Effect, Clear Quarter Packing Cubes (2), 3D Organizer Cubes (4), Aeronaut & Tri-Star Packing Cubes, Clear Organizer Wallet, numerous Organizer Pouches,, Guardian Dual Function Light, Vertical Netbook Cache, Nexus 7 Cache, RFID Passport Pouch, numerous Key Straps.

  10. #10
    Forum Member kathryn's Avatar
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    Coming home from Belize with my A45 and a small messenger bag, I had a staff member (CBP? airport?) physically block my path as I passed the luggage claim and demand that I stop and wait for my luggage. I explained that all I had was what was on me, and she looked really baffled and kind of grumpy. I think she still didn't quite believe me, but she let me pass.

    I have Global Entry now, and though I didn't actually time it, I estimate that it took me 90 seconds to clear last time I came home with just my S25. No questions asked about luggage by the CBP gentleman who took the little printout the machine gives you--just "Welcome home, Ms. Anderson"

    I suspect it depends on the staff you interact with at any given airport, but I have also worried about this in the past, so it's interesting and useful to hear the experiences others on here have had.

  11. #11
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    I have been politely directed to the baggage claim area in Canada at least 3 or 4 times. The agents were confused when I told them the only bags I had were on me. They asked me where I am staying, what I will be doing in Canada, etc. But my bags were not searched. Now that I think about it, I was ignored the last few times I travelled that way. Do they have notes on me and my bags?

  12. #12
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    Just because they pull you aside and check your bags doesn't meant they keep notes on you. It's only if you lie to them, break the rules, or try to get away with something, and get caught, do they start an official investigation. If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.

    I've been stopped numerous times for a search when entering the U.S. yet I easily got Global Entry.
    Editor--One Bag, One World: News, Reviews & Community for Light Travelers. http://www.1bag1world.com

    Aeronaut(2), Tri-Star(2) Cadet , Large Cafe Bag, Travel Tray, Travel Money Belt, Absolute Straps(3), Side Effect, Clear Quarter Packing Cubes (2), 3D Organizer Cubes (4), Aeronaut & Tri-Star Packing Cubes, Clear Organizer Wallet, numerous Organizer Pouches,, Guardian Dual Function Light, Vertical Netbook Cache, Nexus 7 Cache, RFID Passport Pouch, numerous Key Straps.

  13. #13
    Forum Member Pokilani's Avatar
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    When I returned to the U.S. (ORD) the customs agent asked me where my bag was and then congratulated me when I pointed to the A30 on my back. But, like Frank II, I have global entry.


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  14. #14
    Forum Member snowbot's Avatar
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    This has happened to me, but it was upon attempting to check in for a flight from Germany to the U.S. I was traveling with a backpack a little larger than a Western Flyer and a small purse-like object. This was in early August 2001. I was subjected to number of increasingly leading questions regarding my (limited) baggage and who and where I had visited on my trip (I wasn't departing from the same airport I had arrived at). The whole experience left me with a very strong impression that if I hadn't had a middle eastern name, I wouldn't have been hassled nearly as much.

    I've travelled with similar amounts internationally since. I have been searched by customs upon entering the U.S. a couple of times since, but it has been plausible that the searches were random in those cases. In one case upon returning from Brazil, the agent complimented me on the way I packed my Tri-Star. He didn't even open up the packing cubes.
    Last edited by snowbot; 03-25-2015 at 08:11 PM.

  15. #15
    Forum Member Ms. Ferret's Avatar
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    I did my last international trip with a Synapse 19 + Co-Pilot, and didn't have any issues with Customs when I came back to Seattle. I think the agent did note my lack of luggage, but he seemed more amused than anything else.

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