Traveling Light Done Right
Choices Abound for Lightweight Travel Bags
It should come as no surprise that the second most prominent answer to the question “What are you going to do when you retire?” is “travel.” (The first being – usually – “Spend more time with the family”). After all, isn’t that what you worked all those years for?
Ah yes – travel. To see Old Faithful erupt at Yellowstone, to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, to have a stranger take your picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, reenact the Jack and Rose pose from Titanic on the bow of a cruise ship or knock back Coronas on the beach at Cancun.
Travel is the stuff retirement dreams are made of, yet it’s not just for retirees. Long-term employees fortunate enough to be grandfathered in on generous vacation policies find themselves with accumulated weeks of paid vacation time on their hands, and so, off they go to see the sites.
The travel industry loves seniors. On average, retirees spend over $11,000 per year on travel. Now that may seem like a lot, but it includes gas purchases and automobile expenses, in addition to the various fares, lodging and dining associated with travel. And in this application, travel is anything from trips to spend the weekend with the grandchildren to overseas flights.
It’s no secret that travel has changed drastically since the days of the loaded station wagon with kids asking, “Are we there yet?” Interstate highways criss-crossing the country make long trips much easier, and improvements in the safety, comfort, convenience and fuel efficiency of cars have been game-changers. Travel by plane is markedly different, thanks to ever-tightening and invasive security measures and absurd handling fees for luggage.
Less is More
One of the biggest changes in travel in recent years regards, no so much the travelers, but the things they bring with them. The key word here is light. Less carry-on luggage, less checked luggage, fewer bags, less weight, less stuff to pack in the trunk and less stuff to haul through airport concourses and hotel lobbies.
While seniors should – and many do – embrace this trend toward minimalism in travel, it does pose some logistical problems. Seniors own more “stuff” in general than younger trekkers, and are more inclined to insist on bringing it all with them, because they tend to be worriers, and conjure up potential situations where they might need that steam valet, that all-purpose little black dress or a jar of Metamucil. But if you’re traveling light, what do you do?
The simple answer is, you don’t take it with you. Pry your fingers from that pair of low heels, or your favorite after shave or that white sport coat. You can survive this trip without them. Either that, or pay the price in terms of bag fees, valet fees or porter tips, not to mention the hassle of keeping up with multiple, heavy suitcases.
If you are committed to the less is more philosophy when it comes to luggage, then you may find some solutions in the following list of luggage options, a list that also includes backpacks. Backpacks for seniors? Yes. Millennials don’t know everything, and they don’t have exclusive entitlements to backpacks.
Choosing Lightweight Luggage
Ya gotta have the wheels. Whether it’s a collapsing-handle carry-on bag or a full-sized suitcase, wheels are a must. Once a clever novelty to show off to other travelers at the baggage claim carousel, now a standard piece of equipment, suitcase wheels are what put the “mo” in mobile. There’s no reason to buy a suitcase that doesn’t have wheels.
Big wheels keep on turnin’. Carry me home to see my kin.– Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sweet Home Alabama
There are two basic types of wheels on rolling suitcases, if you don’t count the fact that there are a variety of styles and materials used. There are locked-in, straightforward-only wheels, like the back wheels of a shopping cart, and there are multi-directional, spinning wheels like the front wheels of a shopping cart. The trend seems to favor multi-directional wheels, but since the suitcases featured here are all light weight, the straightforward wheels will cooperate just as easily.
Since light is the name of the game, it needs to be pointed out that some rolling suitcases are heftier than others. While they might be sturdier, heavier suitcases can really cut into your airline weight limit for carry-ons. The list we’ve put together shows products that offer the best of both worlds.
The products shown below are all sized to be carry-ons. Nearly all the manufacturers make larger suitcases, but this list is limited to carry-ons.
Airline Weight Limits
A word about weight limits: airlines vary considerably as to weight limits for carry-on bags, ranging on the low end at 15 pounds to the high end at 51 pounds. Some airlines don’t even have a weight limit for carry-on bags.
Here are some popular airlines and their carry-on weight limits:
- American Airlines: 40 lbs
- British Airways: 51 lbs
- Delta Airlines: No limit, except at certain Asian airlines.
- El Al: 17 lbs
- Jet Airlines: 15 lbs
- Jet Blue: No limit.
- KLM: 26 lbs
- Southwest Airlines: No limit.
- United Airlines: N/A
- Virgin Atlantic: 25 lbs
5 Best Lightweight Travel Luggage for Seniors
Weighing in at less than five pounds, this suitcase will not likely contribute to any weight limits. One thing to keep in mind is that while some airlines have generous weight limits, or even no limits, they generally don’t have Olympic weight lifters on board to help passengers lift their bags to the overhead storage compartment. So, buying smaller, lighter suitcases and not stuffing them with clunky, heavy items makes a lot of sense.
A telescoping ergonomic handle helps users grab and hold in tight quarters and in situations where you have three minutes to get to a gate a quarter-mile away.
The wheels twist in any direction and are rated among the toughest in the industry. The outer fabric has a unique design – making it easier to find on the baggage carousel – and it comes in four colors.
Foam padding on the top, sides, back and front shield against impact – a concern for frequent flyers who may sometimes choose to check this bag and turn it over to the brutes posing as baggage handlers.
Small enough to be carry-on, but large enough – with a four-liter expansion – to hold an amazing amount of personal items, this could be the one-bag-fits-all solution to a lot of travelers’ needs.
With aluminum handles and rotating wheels, negotiating this through a maze of counters, turnstiles, other people and their luggage is a snap. It comes in three colors – black, a nifty tartan blue plaid and a bird’s-egg blue with black trim.
A lot of pockets and compartments-within-compartments allow organized packing.
This is a very popular model, and easily pairs with larger suitcases and accessories by the same manufacturer.
This is a five-pound dynamo. Virtually indestructible and amazingly light weight, this is a great choice for frequent flyers, and anyone who needs a suitcase that is as worry-free as this one is.
It’s not a bargain basement flasher, but over the life of this suitcase, it’s well worth the money. Constructed with super-reinforced *Curv® material, this is possibly the most impact-resistant carry-on bag on the list. It’s also scratch- and scuff-resistant, so it won’t look like a World War II ammo box after a few years.
The handle is strong tubular aluminum that resists bending and twisting.
Double-wheeled spinners can roll in any direction with the least amount of encouragement. Inside, a mix of large and small compartments make packing easy, and offer peace of mind to those with delicate cargo.
The side handles are genuine leather, reinforced for strength and durability.
*Curv® is a trademarked name for a polypropylene sheet material that is reinforced by a matrix of composite materials, forming an incredibly strong, yet resilient product.
Champagne or chocolate? Those are the color choices on this pretty fashion statement with a chevron pattern and vegan leather trim. It’s as light as it looks (4.5 pounds), yet holds a surprising amount of cargo.
Velvet-smooth padding inside and tight stitching keeps everything secure. Zippered pouches and shoe pockets are handy.
Turn-anywhere wheels and a fast-acting telescoping handle makes quick get-aways possible.
This may not be a bag you’d want to check, especially the champagne one, because of the possibility of acquiring dingy scuffs in the plane’s cargo hold.
This has a backpack look to it, yet it’s a rolling suitcase. It has a lot of appeal to the Starbucks and Birkenstock crowd, but what makes this a good choice for them also makes it a good choice for seniors.
Pockets abound in this well-made product, yet they’re configured in a way that allows the user to put “quick-grab” items near the top where they’re easy to get to. It’s well padded against bumps and drops, and reinforced mightily at common stress points. The exterior is water resistant. (Not waterproof, however.)
The Load Warrior has two straightforward wheels, which are over-sized, smooth-rolling and strong. The ergonomic grip is firm. It’s a wee bit heavier than some of the other, but still under five pounds.
Choosing a Travel Backpack
For seniors in good health and average strength, a backpack can be a fantastic travel companion, but less so for seniors who overestimate their abilities or get worn down over the course of a long trip.
The big advantage of a travel backpack, of course, is that it goes where you go. The big disadvantage of a backpack is that it goes where you go.
While the idea of having all of your worldly goods – travel-wise – hanging from your shoulders and thus freeing your hands is inviting, the constant weight and bulk of a backpack can drag you down, and you might wish the thing would sprout wheels so you can roll it for awhile.
Backpacks are great for those long walks from terminal parking to the departure gates, and getting on escalators. Backpacks tend to raise more eyebrows among security personnel than in the past, but they are still allowed on flights, as long as the weight limit is not surpassed. Airlines have size restrictions as well, generally in the 21-23 inch (height) range. Unless you try to board with a Himalayan-sized behemoth with climbing rope trailing behind, flight attendants won’t be overly concerned, as long as it seems to be around the same size as everyone else’s and fits in the overhead storage compartment.
If the idea of carrying an additional 20-30 pounds doesn’t faze you, then a backpack makes sense. In addition to being physically fit enough to tote a backpack around, a user must have good balance, and not suffer from vertigo, which is common among older citizens.
Backpacks need to be three things above all else – comfortable, strong and convenient. Otherwise, why bother? With backpacks, you have more room for your things than with a rolling suitcase, but be careful – you can easily cram so much in there you’ll be overweight.
Pockets, pockets, pockets. The best models are studies in cleverness and organization, with zippered pockets and pouches, elastic straps, Velcro® fasteners, hooks and ties to keep personal cargo snugly bunched and conveniently stored.
An inconvenient backpack is a nuisance.
Padded layers protect against bumps and impacts and the internal framework keeps the various compartments where they belong. The better backpacks have a suspension that gently bounces the weight with each step to lighten the load for the wearer.
5 Lightweight Travel-Friendly Backpacks for Seniors
This handsome backpack comes in Volcanic Gray, Jasper Red and Caribbean Blue, and it sits on top of a lot of “Best Of” lists among hiking, camping and traveling experts.
With plenty of straps, zippers, pockets and sections, this is a trail master’s dream, even if it never gets beyond the flower beds outside the airport terminal. Padded shoulder straps for the user and internal padded straps for the cargo make this a very comfortable piece of equipment.
Osprey has a lifetime repair-or-replace warranty on the Farpoints 40 for any defect.
This is the “female” version of the Farpoints 40 for men. It’s lighter, smaller and comes in Challenger Blue, Vestal Gray and Gamma Red.
With “anti-gravity” suspension and an adjustable hip belt, this will be a perfect fit for a lot of women. Clever pockets and compartments should please even the most fastidious backpacker.
Most of the working features mimic the Farpoints model, with a slight downscale in size.
It’s a backpack with its own backpack! The most distinguishable feature with this model is the small, zip-out “day pack” that attaches via a U-shaped zipper in the back. Sweet! But here’s this about that – you will probably have to detach the day pack to make the main pack fit in the overhead storage compartment on most planes. If you’re allowed two carry-on items, no problem. Just don’t forget to grab both packs when the plane lands.
Storage capacity is a whopping 55 liters, but watch your weight. There are document pockets at the front to make the ticketing, security and boarding process go smoothly.
Heavy duty nylon construction makes everything secure and comfortable.
Many backpack makers address the issue of user comfort with the goal of mitigating the weight pressing on the body, and don’t think about comfort in terms of temperature. The framework on the Kelty Redwing is designed to allow a cooling airflow to pass through, providing relief for the wearer on sweltering summer days, or in situations where the crush of fellow passengers at the boarding gate generates a wave of body heat.
There is a back panel that allows generous air flow, as well as mesh shoulder pads.
This backpack can be loaded from the top or side, and there is a host of zippered pockets and handy compartments to keep everything in its place.
It comes in black and two shades of green.
The pricey Macbook 15” laptop that you want to keep an eye on at all times will be at home in this backpack, with its laptop pocket right up front. It’s designed to go through security scanners without the need to remove the laptop and run it through separately.
This laptop features water resistant tarpaulin material in case you ever travel to Seattle. Or London. While it won’t keep everything dry if it’s dropped in a water puddle, it can handle a light sprinkle or even heavy downpour.
There are removable document pouches that keep your papers organized.