Checking Out of Checking In: Why Older Women Still Check Their Luggage and What to Do Instead

Yep, we all know that carryon luggage is the way to travel—no waiting in line to retrieve bags, no items stolen in the airport’s back rooms, no lost luggage or baggage fees. So why doesn’t everyone just carry on?

My guess is that some pack their carryons so heavily they can’t heave them up into the overhead bins, and so they direct their luggage to the belly of the plane, their suitcases then vulnerable to sky pirates looking for loot. And older women, unless they’ve been doing weight training, may find it especially hard to lift and shove 40 pounds of gear—the usual US weight limit for carryons—into the overheads, which may not even be empty above their seats. Someone else got the space first. Then too, people over 50 are shrinking in height, sometimes considerably, so the push upwards can be harder than ever.

A Modest Proposal.

Get a luggage makeover. Go small. Go low. Go under the seat in front of you. Luggage manufacturers now make small rolling bags that will tuck under a seat. No lifting and much lighter.

Well, you may say, a child could live out of such small bag for two weeks, but it’s not for me. Well, I used to have that Marie Antoinette attitude—I must have all my frills and accoutrements—but then I discovered L.L Bean’s Carryall Rolling Underseat Bag—five colors, free shipping, $129. (You can see below that I picked the plum color.) Paired with a tote/handbag that slides over the handle of the underseat bag, here’s what I now pack and this list does not include the clothes I travel in—jeans, wrinkle-free jacket with an iPhone in the pocket, comfy shoes and wrap for the plane’s cool air.

Roller bag ‘n tote

 What Can a Canny Woman Stuff into an Underseat Bag?

Almost the kitchen sink. Into my bag go five tops including a sleep-in tee/beach coverup, one pair pants, one pair capris, one caftan, one pair soft slippers, a rain jacket, socks, bras, panties, folding aluminum hanger, soap leaves, sink stopper, necklaces, scarves, sandals, swimsuit and folded Rick Steve’s Ciivita Day pack.

Most everything is rolled and stuffed into eBags Slim Packing Cubes so that like stays with like items. The whole bag packed with these things weighs in at under 15 pounds and that—ta-dah!—is the limit for carryons for many international airlines, so I’m good to go pretty much anywhere without checking luggage.

And What Goes in the Large Handbag?

Into the travel tote/large handbag goes a wallet, passport, tickets, iPad, Kindle, eBags Portage Jr. toiletry case, the required bag for small liquids, hair brush, 2 chargers, ear buds, water bottle, snack and sunglasses. I use an old PacSafe tote, but there are newer options out there, some by baggalini and Lug Life.

Note What Isn’t There

         I leave behind my laptop, hair dryer, anything that wrinkles, anything bulky, any valuable jewelry, books (love those e-readers), big bottles of shampoo and conditioner, bulky shoes, dressy clothes. I try to leave all my troubles behind too. It’s the psychological baggage that one always pays for.

Tips and Tricks

         If you are a fashionista who wants a different outfit every day and who wouldn’t dream of washing out her travel clothes on the road, then this system is not for you. If, however, comfort, ease of travel and the security of your stuff are high priorities, you might adopt the underseat strategy. A few airline seats have equipment under them in which case you can easily lift 15 pounds into an overhead bin.

The trick to getting all these items into one small case is to select lightweight clothes that are hard to wrinkle. URU makes great silk tops that you can throw in a washing machine, place under a sitting elephant and they will still look good. Ditto for the black Misook knit pants and jacket that will take me anywhere dressy with the aid of a scarf or necklace.

I can’t go anywhere without jeans—color me 90 and I’ll still be wearing them—but they are bulky and so the tip here is not to pack them, but wear them on the plane.

One way to encourage clothes to dry overnight is to wring them out, wrap them in a towel and stomp on the towel. Some wash their travel clothes by wearing them in the shower, but too icky sticky for me.

So, before your next trip, take a look at for their rolling underseat bag and visit for slim packing cubes, toiletry kits and totes.

See ya, but not in the baggage area.

This entry was posted in Mel on Huffington Post, Travel, What to wear. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Checking Out of Checking In: Why Older Women Still Check Their Luggage and What to Do Instead

  1. Susan Klee says:

    Yaay! Mel! Travel Lite is my motto, too. I can travel for weeks with a wheelie-on. The requirement? A very high boredom threshold 😉 We are going to wear the same thing over and over and over again.
    For a suitcase to fit “underneath the seat in front of you,” it must be no more than about 8″ deep — yup, that’s all.
    I have never (never) been refused help to hoist a suitcase into to the overhead bin when I ask a man or younger woman with long arms.
    Altho I have tried the packing cubes, I find I can get more (very light) clothes into my 21″ x 14″ x 8″ suitcase by laying everything flat.
    What takes up the room in my wheelie-on is toiletries. Yes, I put everything into tiny bottles and re-fill them wherever I go. (It’s fun to look into “foreign” drugstores.) Still . . . foundation, concealer, lipstick, shampoo, gel, spritz — it takes up room! And remember: the liquids and gels must go into a one-quart transparent Zip-loc baggie. Is that why many women prefer to wait at the carousels after their flights: they can pack larger units of liquids & gels in check-through luggage?
    Thanks, Mel! Great travel advice.

    • melwalsh50 says:

      Hey, Susan, I’ve seen that rollaboard suitcase you travel with. Very cool design. I also remember that you travel with Foxcroft shirts, no iron, quick dry.
      What I am discovering is that it makes sense to travel the same light way by car—say visits with kids and grandkids. Maybe I’ll add one light garment bag with a hanger or two of clothes. So much easier than struggling with a lot of stuff up their steps and cluttering up their houses with it.
      Toiletries—that’s a tough one. Am down to foundation, lipstick, eyeliner, lotion, shampoo and conditioner. My hair is getting long enough for the dreaded scrunchy. I don’t know why the characters in Sex in the City make such fun of it or why the media do when Hillary wears one. Such a good way to hold the hair back and doesn’t pull out hair like a rubber band. I guess I’d rather be dorky than straggly.
      Thanks for writing,

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