Carry-On Suitcase

Because I was born at the tail end of the 1970s, I can remember a time when the default settings for luggage didn’t involve wheels. Instead, you had to carry your suitcase by a handle.

And the valise, to use a grandparental term, would be constructed out of sturdy materials that made the item weigh, no matter the size, a minimum of 45 pounds even before anything was placed inside. Thick metal buckles opened and closed the suitcase, and the sides would be covered in coarse fabric or artificial leather in tan, burgundy, or light blue.

Basically, every piece of luggage resembled the interior of a 1985 Buick LeSabre, the crucial difference being that nobody expected you to move a Buick without the benefit of wheels.

I don’t recall when, exactly, the whole world finally came to its senses and switched to rolling suitcases, but it was one of those no-duh phenomena where we were all like, Well, that was obvious—what took so long?

To tell you the truth, it was a lot like when I came out of the closet. 

My older sister’s Barbie dolls lived in one of those old-timey suitcases (carry-on size, light blue) when we were children. The suitcase was no longer used for travel. I believe the luggage once belonged to my mother. Some of the dolls in the collection were hers from when she was a kid.

When my sister let me join her Barbie playtime, though, we never had much use for the dolls from the ‘60s. With all due respect to my mom and the good people of Mattel, the outmoded clothes and hair-helmet bubble cut of the Bay of Pigs–era Barbie struck us—well, me—as less glamorous than the doll’s more recent iterations of the ‘80s.

We hardly ever sent ‘60s Barbie out on the town for dates with Ken (speaking of being in the closet). All she ever did on a Saturday night was back-comb that bubble cut at home. And for what? She never got any suitors at the suitcase.

I know Barbie now leads a rewarding life filled with diversity and inclusion and high fashion and STEM research and Instagram influencing, but her options were pretty limited back in my sister’s bedroom in Springdale, Arkansas.

These days, all my suitcases have wheels and none of them serve as dollhouses. When my husband and I aren’t out on the road, the luggage we currently own isn’t used to store anything but more luggage.

We have three suitcases in three sizes—small, medium, and large—and most of the time we keep them in our closet, with the large suitcase housing the medium, which houses the small, which holds weekender and overnight bags.

Actually, now that I think of it, that sounds like nesting dolls, so I guess ol’ ‘60s Barbie’s got herself a legacy after all.

Since I work in travel media, I have to take flights by myself a fair amount. To avoid having to check a bag at the airport, I prefer the smallest suitcase because I can carry it onto the plane with me. I’m not very organized when it comes to packing, though, so I usually require the assistance of my spouse with that task.

If I ever pack by myself like a big boy and find that everything is fitting perfectly, that usually means I’m forgetting something major. One time, for instance, I arrived at my destination only to find that I had forgotten to pack pants and would therefore need to go shopping, wear the same jeans I was wearing every day for a week, or go bottomless like Winnie the Pooh.

Honestly, sometimes I think it’s a wonder I’m allowed to retain my own power of attorney.

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