Choosing the Right Luggage (Without the Baggage!)

A man pushes himself in his manual wheelchair with luggage on top his lap at a Swedish train station
A seasoned traveler shares his secrets for selecting luggage that won't slow you down.

In her frequent travels, both domestic and international, MIUSA CEO Susan Sygall never checks luggage. "I just put my backpack on my wheelchair and I'm off!"

For those of us who aren't such light travelers like Susan, but don't want to be bogged down with awkward baggage, we rounded up some of our favorite tips and products that you can use before you pack for your next trip.

Luggage Secrets of a Wheelchair Traveler

As a world traveler, wheelchair user, and author of the Rolling Rains Report, the late Scott Rains documented many of his tips over the course of his lifetime. Take it from him:

Get the right gear.

  • Your luggage doesn't have to be pretty, according to Scott. "I prefer using old, ugly luggage because it's easier to identify and discourages theft."
  • Look for lightweight luggage with a good handle or handles, with at least one flat side to orient toward your lap.
  • Avoid slippery outer materials that makes stacking difficult.
  • Choose a carry-on with a large pocket on the outside for easy access to tickets. Zippers with a large pull are easier to grab.
  • Luggage that can nest inside each other is helpful for the return.

Have the right moves.

  • Placement is everything. "It is often easiest for me to load luggage onto my lap and roll."
  • Maximize your space. For Scott, this meant always having a large leather backpack on the back of his chair.
  • Practice how you will lift your stuff. To get the luggage onto his lap, Scott would do a forearm curl with his elbow planted on top of his thigh. "My trunk muscles don't allow me to bend and pick anything up. This means that it is painful to pick up hard-sided luggage as it presses against the outside of my forearm in the curl."

And if you have money to burn...

Check out some of the slick products on the market that use the latest technology. Scott reported that one brand of luggage manufactured in the UK uses flat motor technology built into the suitcase wheels, as well as an "anti-gravity handle system" to help relieve the user of part of the burden. Such features may be helpful to someone who has difficulty pulling heavy loads, although they might also be expensive or hard to find.

Our Advice

Try experimenting before making a new luggage purchase to see what is most comfortable to transport on your own or what is best to protect your equipment when others handle it. People with other mobility-related disabilities can also find custom solutions for storing items. Small necessities can be carried in bags, which are designed to attach to crutches' handles or mount to the sides or front of a walker for lighter items. Those who use wheelchairs can maximize their chair's carrying capacity by:

  • Slinging backpacks or duffel bags with strong straps over the back handlebars
  • Storing smaller items in a net under the seat
  • Mounting a small carrier to the front of the chair to help carry boxes, equipment, luggage, and other packages
  • Pushing a suitcase on wheels with an extending handle that locks in front of you.

Also search for useful luggage and bags to carry equipment such as power wheelchair batteries, ventilators, portable shower chairs, and more. Examples of places to find these items are listed in Related Links.

MIUSA does not endorse these companies products, nor does it consider this an exhaustive list of resources.