Lost bags, damaged bags, stolen bags, broken contents…
Any of the above can really put a damper on your vacation. It’s important to take out some travel insurance to cover your baggage, but sometimes it’s smarter to avoid the problems in the first place.
Here’s a guide to help you keep your baggage with you and intact…and avoid filing baggage claims!
Before you go
1. Put ID tags on your bags; inside and out
Pretty basic here, but make sure you tag you bag properly with your name, address, and contact information. Use the outer tag holder so you can check it quickly. It is also a good idea to put a piece of paper on the inside with the same information. In case the outer tag gets torn off, airport personal can still find out who it belongs to.
If you are a frequent traveler and will get a lot of use out of it, invest in a good quality tag (and annual trip travel insurance)
2. Keep a copy of your itinerary inside your bags
If you do part ways with your luggage, this will make it easier for the airline to find you. The faster they find you, the faster they will get the bags to you.
3. Take a photo of your luggage contents
This is a fantastic tip, it even makes packing easier. When you are preparing to pack, lay out all your items on a bed or sofa and take a few digital pictures. Not only is it easier to review your entire packing list, but the digital record of your possessions will help if there is a loss and you need to file an insurance claim. (see photo right)
4. Take a photo of your bags
Along the same lines, when you are finished packing and have everything zipped up, arrange all your bags so you can snap a picture. In case of a problem, you can provide the airline with a “missing baggage” photo. (by the way…upload these pics to Flickr so if your stuff is stolen, they don’t go with the camera)
5. Protect your luggage contents with zip-top bags
From the “avoiding messy disasters” department, take some measures to protect your luggage contents. Buy some zip-top bags in 2 sizes; 1 gallon and 1 quart. You’ll need the 1 quart size for your 3-1-1 carry-on rule (3 oz liquid containers, 1 quart zip bag, 1 bag per traveler), but you can also use them for packing along with the larger 1 gallon size. There are 2 strategies here: seal the liquids in plastic bags, or protect your clothing with plastic bags. Some travelers like doing both, especially when the baggage inspectors need to look through your underwear.
Using the Right Gear
6. Buy sturdy, high-quality luggage with a warranty
When shopping for luggage, overestimate the amount you will use it and spend some extra money on a quality bag. Some people figure they only travel one or two times a year, but investing in a good bag now is a smart buy for years and years.
Buy a good, sturdy, well rated piece that will be versatile and long lasting. Get an idea for how much you tend to pack, and look for a bag that will accommodate this. Bag size is rated on a cubic-inch basis, but shape and construction also matter. For example: a 2500 cubic inch duffel bag and a 2500 cubic inch roll-aboard hold the same amount, the the hard sides of the roll-aboard might make packing a little trickier. Many bags have expanding compartments that allow for extra versatility.
Look for luggage companies that have great warranties for construction, zippers, wheels, etc. A well known, reputable luggage company will have a good warranty.
7. Replace worn or damaged luggage
Even great quality bags eventually wear out. When your bag starts wearing, fabric might tear and open, zippers could fail, or handles could be ripped off. If your bags are in the million mile club, it might be time to upgrade.
8. Use bags with pocket-style tag holders
There are 2 types of luggage tag holders. One is an actual tag itself, usually leather or plastic. You slip your written information inside of this holder and attach it to the bag handle. This type will easily be ripped off, leaving your luggage without any exterior identification.
The better style of luggage tag lies flat against the bag itself, like a pocket. You write your information down and slip it inside, where it is much more protected. Use a bag with this style of tag.
9. Buy TSA-approved locks
All checked baggage is subject to inspection, and if you are using a regular luggage lock you might find it cut off when you reach your destination. They will place the broken lock in your bag with an informational card explaining that your bag was chosen for inspection, and they needed to remove the lock off with bolt cutters.
To avoid replacing your lock every time you fly, invest in a TSA approved luggage lock. The TSA has a “skeleton key” for these approved locks, and can simply unlock it instead of breaking it off. Here are some funky ones and some locks and general travel accessories.
10. Make your bags stand out somehow if they are standard black
Guess what? The you like simple black luggage, and so does everyone else. From spotting it on the carousel to putting in a missing bag report, it helps if the bag stands out somehow.
Identify your bags with an easy to see, yet unique marking such as colored duct tape or a colored strap.
11. Ship your bags to your destination
This is a growing trend with travelers seeking hassle-free adventures. There are several companies that specialize in baggage shipping. They will pick it up, take care of transport, and have your bags waiting at your destination.
They charge a modest fee for this; but what do you get for your money? 1) You save time and aggravation by skipping the baggage check lines, 2) With many airlines charging for everything these days, you can potentially skip extra baggage fees, porter tips, and 3) There is less risk of losing your bags.
12. Carry spares of essential items
Pack a day’s worth of clothes, toiletries, and medications in your carry on. If there is a problem, you can at least get by until the airline finds your bags and gets them to you.
13. Arrive at the airport & check in on time
Believe it or not, the most common cause of lost baggage is the late check in.
Even though we get annoyed sometimes waiting for boarding, take-off, the baggage carousel, etc., the airline industry pulls off a miracle every day. They coordinate thousands of travelers, trips, connections, bags, employees, and countless other responsibilities. If you check in 15 minutes before take-off and barely make it to your seat, how is your bag supposed to make it with you?
Get there early, check your bags, go to the gate, and relax. Travel should be fun.
14. Don’t check items that shouldn’t be checked
Make sure you are checking bags that are sturdy enough for the airline luggage handling system. No trash bags with half a roll of duct tape, crushed boxes tied with string, or shopping bags with the top stapled shut. If you expect your checked items to make it through the system, be smart and check the right bags.
15. Don’t check a broken bag
If your bag has broken wheels, straps, zippers, handles, latches, or locks, there is a greater chance of getting stuck and torn apart in transit to the plane. Picture this: You settle into your seat and start thumbing through Sky-Mall, just in time to look out the window and spot your thong collection leading back to the hanger like a trail of erotic breadcrumbs.
Refer back to #17, it might be time to get a new bag.
16. Don’t check bags that won’t close properly
If it needs extra straps, layers of packing tape, or a web of bungee cords, it probably won’t make it through. After your bags disappear down that check-in chute, they see conveyor belts, scanners, electronic sorters, human hands, and that little train car that take them to the plane. An overstuffed bag that isn’t latched properly is just begging to burst open.
Be smart, take something out, and secure the bag properly.
17. Don’t check bags that should be carry-ons
Some bags are meant to be checked, some aren’t. Small bags, laptop bags, briefcases, plastic garment bags, and even the ubiquitous promotional swag bag are not meant to be checked.
18. Don’t wrap gifts when traveling during the holidays
During the busy holiday travel season, many fliers hit the air with gifts for friends and family. If these gifts are wrapped and ready to go, they might not be when they get to your destination.
With all luggage being subject to inspection, a wrapped gift is likely to be unwrapped when you get to your destination. Skip the wrapping and do it when you get there.
19. Don’t check your most valued items
This one’s simple. If you couldn’t stand to lose it, don’t check it.
Use your carry-on bag for items like laptops, cameras, jewelry, cash, travel documents, and anything else that you couldn’t stand to see bumped around or even lost.
20. Verify your bags are checked all the way through to your destination
On connecting flights, make sure the agent checks your bags all the way through to your final destination. This should be done anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to double check and make sure your bags don’t stay behind in your connecting city.
21. Double-check your luggage claim checks before you leave the counter
Mis-tagging is one of the most common reasons for lost baggage. Before you leave the ckeck-in counter, double check to make sure your bags are heading to the right place.
22. Arrive at the baggage claim carousel quickly to avoid stolen bags
When you get off the flight, skip the stop at Cinnebon. The more time your bag spends doing laps on the carousel, the better chance of a thief grabbing it. They look for lonely, owner-less bags going round and round.
23. Avoid expensive looking luggage
I know you’re in love with it, but the Gucci luggage set screams “Take me, open me, I’m full of good stuff!”.
If your bags stand out, they stand out for everyone, including thieves. Your best bet is to use simple, quality luggage that doesn’t catch the attention of thieves.
24. Do not use a business card for your luggage tag
When a thief sees a luggage tag with “CEO Initech Corp.” on it, they start to salivate. A thief will look for high profile professions where they have a better chance at the bigger score.
25. Don’t put gifts in your bags during the theft-popular holiday season
During the holidays there is a surge in theft, usually from the baggage claim carousel. During Christmas and other gift-giving holidays, thieves know there is a better chance of a better score. Either carry on your gifts or ship them ahead.
26. Travel Light
The less you take, the less you have to lose. Don’t check bags, and go minimal on the packing (budgeting to buy essential items as you go will help with this).
The best way to prevent losing your checked bags is to not check them. (This is the “abstinence solution” in the world of lost baggage).
27. Be sure you take your own bags at the carousel
“This must be my black Sampsonite. Let’s get outta here!”
Mistake or not, it’s not good for anyone to take the wrong bags from the carousel. Check your bags, check your tags, and make sure you aren’t part of the problem.
I did everything on this list, but I still lost my bag
(Bonus Tip) Complete lost baggage forms immediately after an incident
Ok, so you followed every piece of advice and your bags still didn’t make the trip. Seek assistance right away and fill out any necessary forms. They will need your flight information, claim tickets, and a bag description (aren’t you glad you took a picture…see #3)