05/24/2012 03:35 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2012

Checking Out of Checking In: Why Older Women Still Check Their Luggage -- and What to Do Instead

Yep, we all know that carry on luggage is the way to travel -- no waiting in line to retrieve bags, no items stolen in the airport's back rooms, no lost luggage or baggage fees. So why doesn't everyone just carry on?

My guess is that some people pack their carry ons so heavily that they can't heave them up into the overhead bins, and so they direct their luggage to the belly of the plane, making their suitcases vulnerable to sky pirates looking for loot. And older women, unless they've been doing weight training, may find it especially hard to lift and shove 40 pounds of gear -- the usual U.S. weight limit for carry ons -- into the overheads, which may not even be empty above their seats. Someone else got the space first. Then too, people over 50 are shrinking in height, sometimes considerably, so the push upwards can be harder than ever.

A Modest Proposal

Get a luggage makeover. Go small. Go low. Go under the seat in front of you. Luggage manufacturers now make small rolling bags that will tuck under a seat. There's no lifting and they are much lighter.

Well, you may say, a child could live out of such a small bag for two weeks, but it's not for me. Well, I used to have that Marie Antoinette attitude -- I must have all my frills and accoutrements -- but then I discovered L.L Bean's Carryall Rolling Underseat Bag. It comes in five colors and goes for $129 -- and comes with free shipping. Paired with a tote/handbag that slides over the handle of the underseat bag, here's what I now pack -- and this list does not include the clothes I travel in: Jeans, wrinkle-free jacket with an iPhone in the pocket, comfy shoes and a wrap for the plane's cool air.

What Can a Canny Woman Stuff into an Underseat Bag?

Almost the kitchen sink. Into my bag go five tops, including a sleep-in tee/beach coverup, one pair of pants, one pair of capris, one caftan, one pair of soft slippers, a rain jacket, socks, bras, panties, a folding aluminum hanger, soap leaves, a sink stopper, necklaces, scarves, sandals, a swimsuit and my folded Rick Steve's Ciivita Day pack.

Most everything is rolled and stuffed into eBags Slim Packing Cubes so that like items stay with like items. The whole bag packed with these things weighs in at under 15 pounds and that -- ta-dah! -- is the limit for carryons for many international airlines, so I'm good to go pretty much anywhere without checking luggage.

And What Goes in the Large Handbag?

Into the travel tote/large handbag goes a wallet, passport, tickets, iPad, Kindle, eBags Portage Jr. toiletry case, the required bag for small liquids, hair brush, two chargers, a water bottle, snack and sunglasses. I use an old PacSafe tote, but there are newer options out there, some by baggalini and Lug Life.

Note What Isn't There

I leave behind my laptop, hair dryer, anything that wrinkles, anything bulky, any valuable jewelry, books (love those e-readers), big bottles of shampoo and conditioner, bulky shoes, dressy clothes. I try to leave all my troubles behind, too. It's the psychological baggage that one always pays for.

Tips and Tricks

If you are a fashionista who wants a different outfit every day and who wouldn't dream of washing out her travel clothes on the road, then this system is not for you. If, however, comfort, ease of travel and the security of your stuff are high priorities, you might adopt the underseat strategy. A few airline seats have equipment under them in which case you can easily lift 15 pounds into an overhead bin.

The trick to getting all these items into one small case is to select lightweight clothes that are hard to wrinkle. URU makes great silk tops that you can throw in a washing machine or place under a sitting elephant and they will still look good! Ditto for the black Misook knit pants and jacket that will take me anywhere dressy with the aid of a scarf or necklace.

I can't go anywhere without jeans -- color me 90 and I'll still be wearing them -- but they are bulky and so the tip here is not to pack them, but wear them on the plane.

One way to encourage clothes to dry overnight is to wring them out, wrap them in a towel and stomp on the towel. Some wash their travel clothes by wearing them in the shower, but that's too icky sticky for me.

See ya, but not in the baggage area.

Mel Walsh is a gerontologist, author and columnist. Her book, HOT GRANNY, is available at Amazon. Visit Mel at