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Oh! The Luggage!

by Ruby Bayan

Everyone has heard of luggage horror stories; suitcases stranded in airports; baggage re-routed to another continent; folks missing connecting flights because their bags were the last to appear on the baggage claim carousel. And how many times have we seen travelers getting special attention at the boarding gate because they had one too many, if not too large or too heavy, carry-on bags?


As every frequent flyer would attest, traveling light is the only way to go. Of course, I learned that lesson after I spent two weeks nursing a sprained shoulder from having to drag four suitcases between terminals in Europe. So, when the company sent me flying again, to visit three clients in separate corners of the United States, I made sure I wouldn't go home with another sprain.

Only What You Can Carry

Traveling with minimum luggage has many advantages. If you can travel with at most a couple of carry-ons, so much the better. With no bags to check in, you don't have to be at the airport an hour before the flight; you can breeze through, straight to the boarding gate. But most of all, you won't have to worry about your expensive suitcase getting ripped apart by conveyor equipment, or your baggage boarding the next plane to Timbuktu.

Carry-on luggage, however, doesn't mean just any bag you can manage to carry onto a plane. All the airlines, whether international or domestic, have their specific restrictions about the luggage passengers can bring into the cabin.

With limited space in the overhead bins and under the seats, carry-on baggage must conform to size limitations. Most departure areas have a carry-on measuring device, a sort of metal frame where you can slip your bag into to see if it conforms to the prescribed dimensions. The standard for most airlines is 45" total linear inches (for example: 9" x 13" x 23" or 8" x 16" x 21"). If you are buying bags specifically as carry-ons, look for brands that state that they are "allowed as carry-on luggage". When in doubt, measure.

Aside from the size restrictions, carry-on luggages also have weight limitations. It doesn't mean that any carry-on sized bag will be allowed into the cabin. Most airlines have a 70-pound total carry-on weight limit. Some restrict to 40 pounds per bag. And a few do not have weight restrictions at all. Be sure you are aware of the regulations enforced by the airline you choose to fly with. Remember, too, that a 40-pound carry-on bag will not be easy to lift onto the overhead bin. And flight attendants are not supposed to lift them for you.

Aside from the size and weight, the number of carry-ons is also subject to certain airline restrictions. Most airlines allow two carry-on bags per passenger. A few allow only one. However, this does not include small handbags, purses, coats, child seats, or items to assist the disabled. Try to limit your bags to the barest minimum. This way they will be easy to manage and keep track of.

Pack Right, Pack Light

Even if all your traveling bags are equipped with wheels (highly suggested) it is still best to pack only the lightest versions of only the most essential travel items. Every excess/unnecessary gram adds to the weight you will have to pull, and lift when you heave your bag on and off the car, the security scanner conveyors, and the plane's overhead bins.

Plan your outfits (clothes, shoes and accessories) well; pack those that easily mix and match. Consider doing laundry at your destination. Bring small toiletry containers or repack from your family-size bottles into travel-size containers -- just enough for the duration of your trip. Consider buying toiletries at your destination or using the hotel amenities. Bring only one book or magazine. Don't forget your first aid and personal necessities but pare down to the barest minimum.

Over-packing, considered one of the biggest travel mistakes, is caused by the fear of the unknown. Resist the urge to pack something that "may come in handy". Pack only what's important; it will save you a lot of energy and aggravation.

Travel light, be comfortable, and enjoy your trip.

[First published at, 2000]


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