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TRENDSPOTTING

The newest thing in luggage: leaving it at home

To cut stress, more travelers are shipping their gear, renting clothes, and having what they need delivered to their destination

People waited for their luggage at an American Airlines baggage claim at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston in August. To cut down on stress, some people are just leaving the luggage at home instead.Brandon Bell/Getty

KEY WEST, Fla. — All wicker and pastels, the 24 North Hotel — named for the tropical latitude of this far-flung, southernmost escape — radiates Key West cool.

It’s the kind of place where footwear more formal than sandals is a fashion faux pas, but where getting up from the pool to go and fetch some just seems too much work.

No matter; you can order handmade Key West sandals and the hotel will have them waiting for you at the front desk, or deliver them within an hour to your room.

The sandals-in-an-hour service is just a toehold on a much bigger trend that’s changing the way some people travel: without luggage, ordering their clothing and accessories to be waiting for them at their destinations, or shipping them ahead.

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“The world is becoming so much more convenient for everything,” said Lee Sheehan, the 24 North’s director of sales and marketing — who is, of course, wearing sandals. “You can order anything on demand, right to your door. Why not this?”

Many other trends have been converging to create this one, in addition to that expectation of convenience in an age of easy online ordering and same-day delivery.

First, dragging luggage through security and fighting for space in the overhead bins keeps getting tougher. Fees for checking bags are going up in seemingly inverse proportion to how long they to take to somersault onto the conveyor belt at the other end of the trip. Meanwhile, the cost of sending them ahead is going down, thanks to the increased capacity of shipping services propelled by Amazon and others.

Some people prefer to not bring or ship their stuff at all. If they’re traveling from one climate to another, they can now have someone curate their wardrobes when they get there, or borrow them from one of the growing number of high-end clothing rental services that are finding a niche in teaming up with hotels. Instagram encourages them to wear unique fashion — specific to their destinations — to show off to friends. And being on vacation is like having permission to dress in ways that people never might at home.

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The result, said Sheehan, in the morning quiet of the 24 North’s lobby: “People are packing less and acquiring their vacation style once they get to where they’re going.”

Even if they don’t actually plan to do this, one in six travelers forgets to pack something, and one in 10 forgets shoes or articles of clothing, according to a survey by Minimus, a New Hampshire company that specializes in selling travel-size products.

Hilton is adding Amazon lockers in some of its hotels for guests to pick up orders. And a whole industry has capitalized on the awkwardness of traveling with kids by renting car seats and strollers in destinations nationwide.

The Weekapaug Inn in Rhode Island, which encourages all-seasons nature walks around its two salt ponds, keeps a “borrowing closet” of Hunter boots and waterproof outerwear so people don’t have to carry those bulky items with them. “Those are the things that are hardest to pack,” said Mark Bullinger, who was the Weekapaug’s in-house naturalist when the perk was added. “We try to make traveling to the inn really easy and seamless.”

W Hotels has teamed up with Rent the Runway, which lets guests order four pieces on rotation that are unpacked and hanging in their rooms when they arrive. The service is for women only (Rent the Runway also offers kids’ clothes) and is being piloted in Aspen, Hollywood, South Beach, and Washington D.C.; it starts at $69 per stay, and includes a “destination-curated” selection of fashion, tailored to each location. Customers can drop off their items at checkout.

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Begun as a special-occasion rental service, the company found that people were having their clothes for weddings and other events delivered to hotels so they wouldn’t have to carry them, said Rent the Runway chief operating officer Anushka Salinas.

“We saw people doing this already, before we even had a partnership” with W, Salinas said. “People are so accustomed to delivery to their door. It’s the ultimate convenience and luxury to be able to travel with just a handbag and not have to drag the luggage and the nail-biting of waiting to see if there’s room in the overhead bin.”

Other companies are trying to one-up even that, by offering same-day hotel delivery of destination-appropriate clothing for travelers to rent or buy. At some hotels in Miami Beach and Waikiki, guests have been invited to browse and buy designer swim and resort wear and accessories to be delivered the same day.

People who plan to wear their clothes more than just on their vacations are increasingly shipping them ahead. The cost of having luggage picked up and delivered has steadily come down, even as the cost of checking it — now $35 a bag on JetBlue, for example — goes up. Passengers collectively forked over $5.8 billion in airline baggage fees in 2019, the US Department of Transportation reports. (The figure fell to $2.8 billion last year, but only because travel declined so much during the pandemic.)

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“Consumers are starting to recognize that there are other alternatives and that checked baggage is no longer a monopoly for airlines,” said Tim Derdenger, associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

The average price of shipping golf clubs, for example, has dropped from $99 to $59 since the company ShipSticks started doing it in 2011. ShipSticks last year acquired LuggageFree, whose typical charge for sending a conventional bag is $50 and falling; since prices are based on distance and speed, and most people aren’t in a rush to wash their dirty clothes at the end of their vacations, they can send them home more slowly and cheaply.

But it isn’t just about the price, said ShipSticks and LuggageFree CEO Nicholas Coleman.

“Think about the level of anxiety that people have in traveling, and in going to the baggage claim and wondering, ‘Is my bag coming?’ We’re in an on-demand world and people want things when they want them. They’re looking for frictionless experiences.”


Jon Marcus can be reached at jonmarcusboston@gmail.com.