How much baggage do you take with you when you go on vacation? Do you haul around four piece luggage sets, or suitcases half as tall as you that you can’t lift?
I used to do that, but not anymore. Now I travel with a small backpack, a travel vest and a jacket with very deep pockets. Today I read a survey concluding that 66% of airplane travelers, when faced with emergency airplane evacuation, would attempt to rescue their baggage before exiting the plane. Let’s think about what we place in our suitcases. Some clothes? Shoes? Soap? Is this stuff really worth our lives?
I decided to write this post after I aided a luggage laden American baby boomer and her daughter at the metro. I spotted them hauling their massive suitcases up the stairway and looking lost. They were at the wrong station, so back down the stairs I sent then, dragging their suitcases behind. I felt badly that I could not help the ladies with their baggage but several months ago I injured my arm doing this exact same thing, hauling bags that were too heavy. I wanted to warn them, especially the baby boomer, about the potential threat to the enjoyment of her vacation that can be caused by taking on too much weight. It wasn’t my place to lecture her, but to my readers I will say,
Heed this warning! Human arms and shoulders are not designed to drag excessively weighted items behind us. Do not wait for a disaster. Change your luggage style now!
Luggage has come a long way since I was a international backpacking 20 year old youth hosteler in the 1980’s when I went on a European trip with my sister. Do you remember the old suitcases that you had to pick up by the handle and carry? That’s what my sister had. Can you imagine hauling that around Europe for 2 months? Soon after we returned from Europe, a Northwest Airlines pilot invented the modern rolling suitcase in 1987. He first marketed them to crew members and soon, the traveling public embraced the concept. The result was that suitcases became easier to manage but also became much larger and heavier. That’s the part that got me into trouble.
Through experience, we learn how much weight we can lift. I knew my limits, then last year, out of the blue, my shoulder started spasming after carrying something that wasn’t really very heavy, so beware!
This is the story of my progression from traveling internationally with a full set of luggage to traveling with a small daypack and my reasons for this transition. You don’t have to read the whole post to heed this advice:
You do not need a gigantic, massive suite of suitcases. Hauling luggage that is too heavy has the potential to result in injury which can ruin your vacation.
Up until now I’ve been traveling with a single 2 wheeled suitcase that I bought back in the 1980’s when rolling suitcases were the new thing. When I began traveling full time 2 1/2 years ago, I was so excited to purchase my first ever four piece set of matching luggage that I brought all of them with me. The first destination on my international travel journey was Vietnam. It only took one day of hauling my 4 pretty purple suitcases over cracked uneven streets to vow never to bring them all again.
I have been traveling full time since 2016. Every year or so I return to the USA to visit family and friends. Each time, I drop off another piece of that four piece matching set of luggage.
Two years pass and I’ve pared it down to 2 pieces, but these were too heavy and resulted in a debilitating disaster which occurs when using one arm to drag heavy items behind us.
In 2015 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recorded that 84,000 people were treated in emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and clinics for injuries related to luggage.
The suitcases were really cheap and did not move well. Although rolling suitcases are certainly an improvement over old school luggage that we had to carry by hand, human arms are not constructed for dragging heavy items behind us, especially when you latch that extra bag onto the handle putting all the weight at the very top. Because of this action, while dragging luggage over curbs and cobblestones in Turkey, I began to feel a slight tenderness in my triceps muscle, which I ignored.
Sports Medicine Physician David Jewison, MD, said the injuries often occur as people haul their luggage behind them, resulting in a shoulder injury. Therefore, he says it’s better to push your luggage than pull it.
Maybe you are like me and never been concerned with muscle fatigue. I used to be a ski instructor and my thighs would be burning, pushing myself for one more ski run, then the next morning they felt fine. 30+ years later, muscles don’t heal as quickly and this tenderness persisted for 2 months. It was minor and I figured it would go away eventually, so I continued to ignore it. Big mistake! Please head the warning signs!
For 2 more months I continued to drag around my overweight baggage, then one day I carried some plastic bags full of groceries over a quarter mile. They were heavy, so my arm was in a fully extended position, and the next morning I awoke with a full blown incapacitating muscle spasm for which I required medical treatment. I found out later that I had blown out my shoulder, a common ailment associated with rolling suitcases. At the time, I was a month into my 3 month stay in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, so had no choice but to seek help from the local doctor. Being from California I can speak rudimentary Spanish, but certainly not language related to medical terms. We communicated through a series of gestures and screams of pain. I have no idea about the diagnosis, but the doctor gave me several injections of I-don’t-know-what, but I didn’t care because I just wanted the pain to go away. He also gestured that I should wear a sling. I had already decided that I needed to lighten up my luggage load and the last thing I needed was more stuff to haul around so made my own sling out of a shirt. This was of course inadequate, so I returned a few days later for more injections and purchased a sling as ordered. That was 9 months ago and I still can’t fully extend my right arm
Needing medical treatment due to pulling wheeled suitcases was the straw that broke the camel’s back and after 30 years of traveling, my baggage has come full circle and I have returned to carrying a backpack.
Actually, it not even a full sized backpack. Since I am not hosteling like I did 30 years ago, I do not need a sleeping bag and pillow, so I fit everything into a small day pack. The whole thing weighs less than 20#. It contains my bathing suit, a couple tops and bottoms, and two pairs of lightweight Crocs shoes. Add in a few medications and cleansers and what more do you really need? There are 2 more “germaphobia fighting” items I also carry which are a high quality blow up pillow that weighs about an ounce and a cheap swimming pool air mattress. The air mattress also comes in handy when confronted with spending the night in one of those notoriously hard beds that prevail in Asia and Mexico.
An added benefit of carrying light luggage is the choice of purchasing airline tickets at “backpacker rates”, a new type of ticket allowing under seat carry on only.
Here is some luggage handling advise from an expert. While on a travel break to visit the United States, I visited my physical therapist and asked for advise on luggage. She suggested that carrying a bag over one shoulder is the worst thing you can do, dragging suitcases behind you is second, and backpacks are the least dangerous, even with an injured shoulder. The backpack works for me, but if you want to pull the suitcase, buy quality luggage which moves well.
We may be budget travelers, but our health comes first!
What items do you consider a must have for your international travels?