I had to travel for my day job last week and found the Transportation Security Administration had added a bag swab and a line of dogs to the usual indignities. And I have Pre-Check!

The easiest way to avoid getting hassled by the TSA is simpler than you would think. First, put everything you want to take with you on vacation in your suitcase. Then, put a toothbrush, a deodorant stick, your laptop, and some books in your carry-on bag. Then, take your suitcase and your carry-on, put them snugly in the trunk of your car, and drive to your vacation destination. Have a wonderful time.

TSA agents, like teachers and meter-maids, have nearly unlimited power to enforce rules and face very little downside for being unpleasant about it. I’m sure many of them are very nice off-duty—well, not meter-maids—but when you give a certain type of person this level of control over others, something bad usually happens. Combine that with the fact that the rules they enforce are made by people who do not themselves have to enforce those rules, and you will begin to appreciate the anguish behind many of Yakov Smirnoff’s jokes.  

Planning ahead can minimize the potential for irritation:

  • Nothing makes you sound more like you have just left the farm for the first time than saying to your fellow traveler, “Since when do we have to take our shoes off?” and yet I still hear this plaintive cry occasionally. Answer: Since Richard Reid, the man who looked like a cartoon terrorist, attempted to give himself the Ultimate Hotfoot fifteen years ago. So unless you’re a senior, yeah, you have to take your shoes off. (Seniors vote in large enough numbers that here, as everywhere, they get special treatment.) Don’t expect this rule to ever be lifted, just accede to reality and wear flip-flops.
  • Toiletries are widely available and inexpensive on the other end of your flight. Shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream…if you aren’t checking a bag, your life will be made nicer by buying them on the other end of the flight. (Or using the ones provided by the hotel.) If you must bring your own personal goat placenta and honey shampoo, check it in your suitcase and when they charge you $50, remember that you chose this path.
  • While packing your carry-on, keep in mind you will have to remove your laptop, tablet, and toiletries. Acting as though the demand that you feed these onto the conveyor separately is an unwelcome surprise because you put those items at the very bottom of your bag under your neatly folded clothes and the presents for your grandchildren makes you look ridiculous, not the agent enforcing rules that he did not make.  
  • As long as you’re willing to feed your lunch through the x-ray, and it isn’t liquid or paste, you’ll be fine. I’ve brought cheeses, baguettes, charcuterie, and fruit through security without a problem.
  • That said, understand that if they say “No,” there is no appeal or argument in the world that will get a government employee to break a rule, so you want to be emotionally detached from your airplane picnic before you try to bring it past the checkpoint.  
  • On airlines charging for bags: Stop whining. The airline has not put this price into your ticket for a reason – bringing a bag is your choice. You might as well express outrage that you have to pay for your seat.  Furthermore, this is not a secret surprise fee that goes undisclosed until you get to the airport. Stop acting like they put pay toilets on 727s.
  • Pro tip for the frequent flyer: If you have a regular route, pay attention to security on both ends.  I know who the mingy nitpickers are at the two airports in which I spend the most time, and I avoid their lines.

We are often told that the TSA is the price of freedom. This is true, but not in the Constitutional sense. The TSA is part of the price of the freedom to travel. If you want to get on the plane, you have to pay money to the airline for the seat. If you want to check a bag, you have to pay extra money. And if you want to get on the plane, you have to obey whatever safety policies the TSA adopts. Take a deep breath, empty your flask before you have to put it on the conveyor, and enjoy your trip.

(And be glad Richard Reid packed that C-4 into his kicks and not his keister. There are worse things than shoe removal.)