Using a CPAP machine for sleep apnea was a life changer for me. I found I could drive more than 20 minutes at a time! I found I could live life so much more fully, wide awake with a clear head. But lugging that CPAP bag around an airport was a pain. It wasn't so much heavy as awkward; although for little me, it wasn't light, either. Finally, my doctor said, "Take it without the humidifier." That was a help. Still there was that awkward bag, even if it was now a little bit lighter.
So I started looking for other solutions. As someone who is 5 feet short, and whose family lives all over the country, I kept looking for the perfect solutions to lugging my luggage (is that why they call it that?).
I finally found it! Well, nothing is perfect, but this is really close (pictured above), and I'm happy!
What works for me might not work for you, and what has worked for me so far with Delta and Southwest might not work the same for me with another airline. Also, I do not use my CPAP on the plane. For someone who does, it might be a different ball game....or luggage game. (My disclaimers. :) ).
How it Works
Enter the Core Bag (my name for it). I got an "underseat" carry-on bag, one that's only 14 1/2" X 14" X 9", so it fits under the seat of smaller planes (at least the smaller planes that I have flown so far with Delta and Southwest). I now carry my CPAP machine and CPAP supplies, along with some other essentials, in my "Core Bag", which is the darker blue quilted bag on the right in the picture above. I can wheel it through the airport, and I can carry it for short periods of time, such as through the plane, if the aisle is too small to wheel a bag (which I often find to be the case). It's not light but the "trip" through the plane is not long.
Inside my Core Bag, I keep my CPAP machine in a small soft padded lunch bag (the supplies...hose, cord, etc. are not in the small lunch bag; only the machine itself is in the little "bag within a bag"...with the humidifier detached and left at home). There is just room in that little lunch bag to add my quart bag with a few toiletries. So, my machine is protected by padding; and, when I go through security, I can just take out that one little lunch bag in order for them to check both my machine and my toiletries.
For cleanliness, I also wrap the machine in a clear plastic food storage bag...the kind of plastic bag that you can tie with a twist tie, although I just fold it over. I put it in there because I don't want my machine on the conveyor belt, in one of those trays that gets re-used all day long, without at least a tiny bit of protection from germs. If security wants me to take it out of the plastic, I can, or they can, if they wish.
What else do I carry in my Core Bag? A change of socks and such, and also a pair of shorts and a sleeveless shirt...which, in a pinch (if my other bags got separated from me), I could wear to sleep or wear to do laundry.
In the inside, side pockets, I put my CPAP hoses and cords. I also pack cell phone chargers; a little packet of silverware designed for travel (with no knife); back-up (printed) phone numbers and itinerary; toothbrush, hair brush, and a few other things. Last but not least, I put a small cloth purse, with a few little convenient things in it (nothing valuable or irreplaceable), into my Core Bag. This is my "carry-on bag" and it's smaller than airline allowances for carry-on bags. (I carry my wallet and cell phone on my person.)
I also carry a small backpack as my "personal bag". It's the Swiss Gear backpack that is pictured on the left in the picture above. Many backpacks would probably be too big to fit the allowance for a personal bag, but this is what I call slimline...which also means that carrying it isn't burdensome for me, even though I'm small. I mostly just put additional clothing in this bag; although I have a small flashlight and a few empty quart size bags in each of the two bags that I carry on. (If I buy a sandwich and can only eat half, I can put the other half in one of the plastic bags to eat later.)
And I know that some passengers don't like people putting a small personal bag in the overhead but hey, I have my carry-on under my seat...and I'm pretty oblivious to people judging me. I know that I'm not putting that up there in addition to a carry-on, but in place of it.
I used to use an old 22" carry-on as my checked bag (too large for some airlines now, but of course works as a checked bag).
A year or so ago, because of a family emergency and a flight delay, I hit the ground running. To get to the rental cars, I had to run down a stair case (I was not going to wait for an elevator). This was before the "perfect solution", so I was carrying my machine in an oversized lunch bag strapped over my shoulder, wearing my Swiss Gear backpack, and I had been wheeling my 22" bag. When I picked up that 22" bag to carry it in addition to everything else, it took all I had to get down the stairs (probably clinging to the hand rail to keep my balance).
Later, we took a train trip with the same luggage, and I had to carry all of it from one moving train car to another on a crowded train, lurching through the aisles. This was not fun!
Not too long ago, I again went off with this suitcase, stacking my new Core Bag on top of it. That worked fine except that the two together weighed ridiculously too much for me, in my opinion. Even wheels can only do so much. My husband took over for a while, but I need to be able to travel alone sometimes. So, I was on a quest again for the perfect bag, and it occurred to me that I needed the stacked luggage to be shorter (like me, right? ;) ).
So I searched boarding bags and laptop bags, but I wasn't finding just what I wanted. Finally, I found the answer: another "underseat" carry-on bag, only I wouldn't carry it on; I would check it. This one is 17 1/4" X 14 3/4" X 8". It makes for a small suitcase, but I've always liked to travel light. It's the medium-blue one in the center in the picture at the top. I use it mostly for more clothing, if I'm going to be gone more than two nights. It has wheels but it also stacks neatly on top of my Core Bag (with a sleeve in the back to attach it).
Best of all, my Core Bag and my checked bag are easy to roll together. My checked bag also comes with a shoulder strap, which I think will help if I ever need to take it on stairs along with my other bags. So far, I've been pretty comfortable taking my wheeled Core Bag on an escalator with the other bag strapped on top of it. If you knew me, you would know that "pretty comfortable" on an escalator is saying a lot! But it's small enough at the base to balance. So I can more easily manage getting all my luggage to a car rental counter or a shuttle.
Below is a picture of one of my previous CPAP bags...an oversized lunch bag or cooler.
Later, I got a smaller, easier to carry L. L. Bean lunch bag, pictured below with my Swiss Gear backpack. One of the problems with that set-up was that my machine was in one bag (the lunch bag) and my supplies (hose, cords) were in the other (the Swiss Gear bag). If for any reason I can ever carry on only one bag, I want that bag to have all my CPAP items together!
So, as much as I loved both of those items, I prefer my new plan, which entails carrying on a heavier bag (and using up some of my leg room), but enables me to carry a little more along with me, and includes wheels to transport much of it through the airport. I have spent a lot of time in airports and the less I have to carry, the better.
I hope something here might have given you an idea for your own needs, whether it's an underseat bag like I use now, or a lunchbag, or whether something here may have just triggered an idea of your own...whether you use a CPAP machine or whether you just want to tweak your luggage for your own travel needs.
Thank you for reading, and happy travels!