Your suitcase may look clean, but think of all the sidewalks, bathroom floors, and baggage carousels it’s touched during your travels. Photos from Shutterstock.
For years, I had the same packing routine: Pull my hard-shell roller suitcase from under my bed, toss it on my bed, and fill it with clothes. Once I checked into my hotel or Airbnb, unless a luggage rack had been set up somewhere convenient, I’d throw my luggage onto the bed again and pull out the things I needed for the night before chucking it all on the floor. But that all changed last winter.
After Netflix released Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, we tapped the organizing expert for her packing tips. At the end of the interview, Kondo said whenever she returns from a trip she unpacks immediately and wipes the wheels of her suitcase before returning her luggage to her closet.
As I read those words, my mind spun. While I’ve tried (and failed) to unpack as soon as I get home, I have never wiped down the wheels of my luggage. I immediately thought of all the places my suitcase had been since I bought it three years ago. Its wheels have touched New York City and New Orleans sidewalks, rolled across London Tube platforms, and been dragged into countless airport bathroom stalls.
It wasn’t like I was rolling it through mud and toxic sludge, but when I finally cleaned my suitcase with Clorox wipes I was appalled. It took about two or three wipes each to get all the dirt, gunk, and unseen germs off of four little wheels.
Why didn't anyone warn us (well, besides Marie?)? I'm certainly not the only one throwing my suitcase on a bed. A recent search for “packing suitcase” on a stock photo site delivered nearly 38,000 results. Of the roughly 100 images on the first page of results, 31 photos depicted travelers—businessmen, young women, families, and elderly couples alike—packing a suitcase on top of a bed. Only 11 photos showed people—including one pregnant woman—packing a bag on the floor.
This is why you should always use the luggage rack in your hotel room. It’s unclear exactly when they were invented, but they likely became popular in the late 19th century, when travelers started carrying hand-held suitcases rather than hefty trunks. Until wheeled luggage was invented in the 1970s, porters typically handled suitcases, ferrying them from point A to B. What once was a handy way to access your clothing without having to sit on the floor—or completely unpack your bag into a hotel room dresser—is also now the best way to keep your germy bag away from the place you’re sleeping. And as bedbugs become more of a global issue, keeping your suitcase on a luggage rack reduces your risk of encountering those little life ruiners.
If a luggage rack isn’t set up when you arrive in your room, there’s typically one in the closet. (Shout out to the Yotel San Francisco: Because of the pod-sized rooms, there are no closets to store luggage racks. But during a recent stay, I loved using the handy built-in luggage shelf that makes accessing your bag easy without needing to put it on the bed.)
Once you're back home, there are a few alternatives to packing your bag on the floor. If you use packing cubes, it’s easiest to lay out what you want to pack and fold it all into the cubes on the bed. Then just organize the cubes in the suitcase on the floor. If you want to avoid the floor entirely and don’t mind the extra laundry, throw a spare towel across the bed and pack your luggage on top of that.
Amazon also sells a variety of luggage racks for $40 or less; you can keep one in your closet and pull it out when you pack. It also doesn’t hurt to get one for your guest room: It’s easier than getting into an argument with your mother-in-law about why you don’t want her suitcase on your white comforter.