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Random Thoughts on Packing & Luggage

cat dozing in suitcase

Technically, travel is any activity that takes us from one place to another. Thus, we travel from home to work, or school, or even the grocery store. But, generally, when the word travel is mentioned, it means the destination is somewhere more exciting, and possibly a distance of time and space away from home. We also assume it will require taking some of our belongings with us in something larger than a purse or briefcase.


There is a fantasy popularized by younger adults, possibly even ourselves, that we can fit everything we need for a summer tramping around Europe or Asia in a backpack. In the fantasy, the backpack looks more like a day bag than a true backpack.

Whether we ever went backpacking or not (I didn’t), the packing principal remains the same.

Travel Light

I try so hard to travel light, but every time I hoist my carry-on into the overhead bin, or pull my checked bag off the baggage carousel, I mentally berate myself. Surely I don’t need all this stuff. And, possibly I don’t.

While perusing the web and thinking about summer travel this year, I came across a useful formula


packed carry-on bag

Take ONE hat;

TWO pairs of shoes;

THREE bottoms — these can be shorts, trousers, or skirts;

FOUR tops – long sleeve, short sleeve, T-shirt, sweater;

FIVE Paris of socks,

and SIX pairs of underwear.

On Day Seven, do laundry.

The method is a useful organizing tool, but it doesn’t solve the problem of which bottoms, or tops, or shoes. More investigation of a surprising number of videos on the subject reveal the truth that every item should do double duty. A sweater, for example, is not a good choice because it takes up too much space, but layering a long sleeve top over a short sleeve shirt creates three outfit options. Don’t take swim wear if you probably won’t swim anywhere. Wear the hooded jacket on the plane. Choose footwear for more than one occasion. Don’t take anything just in case.

These are good ideas — they don’t make packing selections any less time consuming.

square suitcase

Then There’s the Issue of Luggage

The first suitcase I ever traveled with looked a lot like this. It was awkward, bulky, and heavy. And that was before I put anything inside. It came out of the crammed storage closet, and despite my desire for a new suitcase that a gorilla could jump up and down on, I was informed that it was perfectly serviceable. Which, technically, it was. It just didn’t have any zing, or even zang.

[If you’re curious about a gorilla jumping on luggage, check out the American Tourister commercial at the end of this blog.]

I imagine someone, somewhere may still use that original suitcase, but in general, luggage is getting lighter, smaller, and smarter. Many cases weight as little as six pounds, leaving forty-two pounds of packing space.

Luggage, Women & Spinning Wheels

baggage handler

I came across an interesting story about the invention of rolling suitcases. Today no one would buy a suitcase without those little wheels that make it so much easier to move a case through airports, train stations, or even the driveway. But not that many years ago either the traveler or a porter had to move suitcases.

suitcase that can be pulled

In 1970 Bernard D. Sadow was lugging two heavy suitcases through an airport on his way home from vacation when he noticed a worker moving a heavy machine on a wheeled skid. Ping! Sadow went home, took casters off a wardrobe trunk, and attached them to a large suitcase. He then attached a strap and pulled it. Not a perfect solution, perhaps, but a definite improvement.

Surprisingly, Sadow’s invention was not an instant hit. When Sadow took his invention to department stores in New York, buyers declined to order the new case, because men would not accept a suitcase on wheels. A real man carried his own luggage. He also carried his wife’s luggage.

rolling suitcase

A woman, on the other hand, could use a suitcase with wheels because she didn’t have to prove how strong she was. However, she usually traveled with a man who would carry her luggage. Finally, Macy’s took a chance, placed an order and ran a marketing campaign for the “Luggage That Glides.”

It was a good solution, but not perfect. If not in balance, the suitcase had a tendency to tip. This hazard annoyed flight crews in particular. Enter Robert Plath, a pilot for Northwest Airlines. In 1987 he shifted the case to a vertical position, and attached two wheels and a long telescopic handle to the suitcase so the case remained upright. Passengers struggling with their unstable straps envied flight personnel with their stable luggage. And a new industry was born.

Fifty Years Later, Luggage is Smart

Smart Luggage is any bag with features that do more than store personal belongings. Such features can include removable batteries for power, built in scales so you know exactly how much the bag weighs, and motors that can actually move the suitcase so it can follow you through the airport. Locks can be powered by Bluetooth to remotely lock and unlock the bag, and bags may feature proximity alarms to notify you if the bag is left behind. Not to mention GPS smart tags that will track your suitcase so you won’t lose it, no matter where the airline sends it.

Nevertheless, I wonder if we’ll soon hear this announcement over the airport public address system —

“Attention Travelers — We have a lost bag. It is blue with rip-stock polyester sides. Please retrieve your bag from Lost & Found.”

American Tourister & the Gorilla

As promised, here’s a 1970 advertisement for American Tourister luggage featuring a gorilla in order to demonstrate the abuse luggage takes. The campaign was a huge success, though many people thought it was for Samsonite. As it turned out, the confusion was prophetic. in 1993 Samsonite acquired American Tourister.

🧳 🧳 🧳

Backpackers by Leedsdoggod.

Bag packed for vacation by Images.

Belber Vintage Striped Suitcase by Sandrine Z.

Woman using mobile phone walking with her suitcase by Matthew Hurst.

Luggage porter by John Bastion.

Illustration from the patent for rolling luggage by Bernard D. Sadow.

Joe Sharkey. “Reinventing the Suitcase by Adding the Wheel.” New York Times. Oct. 4, 2010.

Karthika Gupta. “How to Pack Light when you’re only traveling with a carry-on.” Conde Nast Traveler. Jan 6 2023.

“How to Pack Light for Traveling.” REI Expert Advice.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.

2 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on Packing & Luggage

  1. Hi Sandra,
    I loved the story about the invention of rolling suitcases (and am grateful I’ll never need to lug a suitcase across an airport again). Thanks for including my photo in your post, and giving me credit as its photographer; per the Creative Commons terms, would you please also add a link to the original photo (the “Share-Alike” provision) . Thanks in advance – this provision helps me continue to share my photos for free so writers like yourself can find creative uses and adaptations – kind of like when Sadow first pulled those casters off the trunk!


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