614: Luggage

A Thousand Things to Talk About
614: Luggage

How much do you pack for a weekend away?

Full episode script

When you think about going away for a weekend- down the street or across the globe – what gets packed up to go with you probably varies a lot, but is likely to stick pretty closely to at least the 40 or 50 pound weight limit of an airline bag. But the way we pack — and the way we lug around what we do pack – is something that has shifted and changed very significantly as the way we travel has changed. Around 1153, a wheeled case was created to carry weaponry was created for those fighting in the Crusades. But that was largely the biggest development in the history off how we pack until 1596, when the term “luggage” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, defined as inconveniently heavy baggage.


And there’s a great reason why it got that definition. Quoting from a 2018 article in the Telegraph:

It was standard therefore common for first-class passengers on 19th century cruise ships to bring 20 pieces of luggage each, according to  professor Susan Harlan, containing four changes of clothing per day. For practicality, trunks that stayed in the cabin folded out to resemble portable wardrobes with hangers and drawers.


When travel became more accessible, the trunks started to give way to suitcases, which were lighter and more portable. Quoting from a Smithsonian article:

As trunks went out of style, suitcases took on not just practical but also cultural significance. By the 1920s, suitcases featured in books such as The Hardy Boys and such films as The Woman in the Suitcase, as a literary symbol for both mobility and mystery—perhaps filled with gold, photographs, or simply a stranger’s possessions. During the Great Depression, farmers who worked fields away from home were called “suitcase farmers.”


It was in 1938 that exact weight of luggage became a much more important consideration, when the first baggage rules were put into place by the Civil Aeronautics Board. Those rules restricted coach passengers to 40 pounds for domestic flights and 44 for international. It wasn’t until 1981 that a budget airline decided to start trying to charge passengers for luggage, with a $3 charge on PeopleXpress airlines.


Today, there’s a huge variety of not only luggage available, but approaches to what is charged for on various methods of travel. So how do you deal with the question of what to bring along?

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.