Regular readers:  I assure you I haven’t gone to the dark side.  I abhor checking luggage, and can easily travel for 5-7 days with a single bag (or single bag + a laptop/daily bag.)  Having said this, I do recognize that some folks still check baggage out of choice or must check baggage (an extended vacation, golf clubs, etc.)

How then to minimize the chance of your baggage traveling to a destination other than your own?  And if the worst happens and in fact your baggage is lost, how can you minimize the pain?  That’s what this post is about…


1. OK, painfully obvious, but:  use really sturdy luggage tags. If you’re relying upon those reinforced paper tags the airlines provide, God bless you.  When I check my golf clubs I use heavy duty plastic luggage tags and in addition to their standard lanyard, I add two reasonably heavy duty wire (or “zip”) ties to secure the tags to my bag.  They aren’t coming off.

Make sure that your information on the tags is correct and up to date, and make certain your cell phone # is clearly indicated.

2. Remove all old airline tags from your bag! I assume you do this, but if not, please don’t leave old tags on your bag – you’re just increasing the chance for confusion and lost luggage.

3. Put a copy of your itinerary and contact information – including your cell # – INSIDE your bag. If your luggage tag gets pulled off, your airline’s baggage personnel will be able to easily get in touch with you.

4. Make your bag stand out on the luggage carousel. Use brightly colored luggage tags or put some really bright (phosphorescent orange??) tape on the handles or sides of your bag.  Face it, a lot of people have black bags that look just like yours.

5. After your bag is tagged to its destination, make certain it’s headed to the correct destination – before you leave the ticket counter or luggage check-in area.

6. Avoid really tight connections, particularly during the winter or seasons noted for stormy weather.  If I’m traveling with my clubs, I’ll look for a layover of at least 75 minutes.  Best of all?  Fly direct if at all possible!!

In a similar vein, get to the airport early and check-in your luggage at least 90 minutes before scheduled take-off. If you check luggage late in the process you increase the risk of your bags not clearing security and getting to the aircraft in time.

7. NEVER pack anything you absolutely positively MUST have with you upon arrival – or the next day – in a bag that will be checked.  Prescription medications, a critical presentation, your car keys (!), jewelry, laptop, travel documents, digital camera, and so forth.  If you’re making a presentation the next day, pack appropriate clothing in your carry-on. (See # 10.)

8. A terrific tactic: If traveling with a companion and you both are checking luggage: cross-pack.  Put some of your clothing in your spouse’s/partner’s bag, and in turn have her/him do the same.  If one bag is lost, neither of you is totally SOL.

9. Wear clothing that you could wear for a day or two and pack extra underwear and an extra shirt in your carry-on.  Versatile clothing (including shoes that work for both casual and semi-dressy wear) is key.

10. Use a packing checklist and leave a copy at home.  If your luggage is irretrievably lost, you’ll have an exact record of what you lost.  Bringing a digital camera along? – take a quick pic of the contents of your bag before closing it, and then take a quick picture of the bag itself. It may help the baggage personnel locate your bag. You’ll have the picture with you because you aren’t packing your camera in your checked bag… are you? ;-)

By the way – put the checklist you used to pack in your bag – you can use it for the return trip in order to make sure you don’t leave something behind.

Do you have any strategies for minimizing the chance of losing your luggage that I’ve missed?  If you do, please join the conversation by commenting.

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4 Comments on Top 10 ways to avoid lost luggage – or survive if the worst happens

  1. Michael W. says:

    Even if I am checking luggage (as I need to do for my upcoming jiu jitsu training camp) I still carry on all my essentials (extra clothing, bathroom kit) – I just pretend I won’t have a checked bag at all, when I’m busy packing my carry-on.

    This means I just use a checked bag for sports gear I couldn’t comfortably carry on-board, and some extra clothing. Certain difficult to replace items of sports gear (molded mouthpiece, for example) come with me into the cabin. I only check items that I can borrow, buy, or rent at my destination.

    When I am checking a bag, as well as carrying one on, my lightweight, but basically ugly, back-up clothing comes with me in the cabin, and my good-looking, but basically heavy, clothing goes into my checked bag. My strategy is that if push comes to shove, and my luggage is lost, I can always wear my superlight, but dorky, nylon travel pants while the hotel cleans and presses my slacks. I’m also a big believer in the current generation of stain and wrinkle resistant treatments – sometimes you don’t even need to touch up the travel wrinkles with a hotel iron before going out to dinner in them, even after a grueling flight.

    I customize my “baggage tag” information with my current flight information and destination hotel phone number, so my itinerary and contact information is right on the tag, which is likely to be the first thing checked by airline personnel. I’d rather have my bag delivered to me at my destination than shipped back to America. Placing an itinerary copy inside the checked bag is of course also a good idea, but if your bag gets an extra security inspection, the itinerary might get buried – they repack they do after a post-check-in inspection is pretty sloppy – or even accidentally left out – as happened to me once.

    BTW, I am drifting back to the “dark side” of checked baggage as a modification of your fairly strict “one-bag” carry-on philosophy.

    I think “one-bagging” it, as a strict discipline, works best for travelers who will be doing a lot of post-destination travel, like the Rick Steves crowd trekking through Europe, unable to use wheelies on cobblestones and up steps. Or for business travelers who travel so frequently the extra time of waiting for a checked bag just adds up to way too much dead time (and that was before “checked baggage fees” cropped up).

    For me, traveling to SE Asia once or twice a year with little-to-no subsequent in-country travel, I like checking a bag for my “luxury items.” That also allows me to “downsize” my carry-on, since it doesn’t have to do all the work, which keeps me out of trouble with 21″ wheelies with protruding wheels that take it beyond 21″ (the article you linked to a few posts back), or soft-sided luggage that is so heavy it’s going to give me back problems, or knee-cap someone as it swings through a narrow aisle. Thankfully though, you’ve gotten me completely paranoid about lost luggage (it only happened to me once, years and years ago, and on return, not at destination) and I DO follow all the tips you gave above, religiously.

    Thanks for another great travel article. When are you going to be making some recommendations on ‘netBooks? – I am sorely tempted. The laptop I ordered from Dell in October is so darn large and heavy I sold it to my kid to use as her bedroom computer. All I need is something to pay bills on-line and read the NY Times when I am overseas….


  2. Kevin says:

    Michael –

    Thanks for the comment – as always, well thought out points.

    The netbook: I really want the Asus Eee I put on my Amazon store. Our older Dell Latitude laptop is trying our patience: it’s currently festooned with duct tape, the AC adapter cord is reinforced with electrical tape, and its ability to correspond with our wireless network is somewhat tenuous. (My work ThinkPad works just great on my home network – it must be the Dell’s wireless card.)

    I will get one. Eventually. From what I’ve read – for me – it looks like the Asus is the one to go for (the one with the 160Gb hard drive and the 6 cell battery.)

    When I get it I’ll have to do a full review. Thanks as always for being here and commenting. K


  3. Petro says:

    1) My daughter, when she was about 15, decided to make sure her generic luggage was easily noticed. So she painted it using stencils and spraypaint. Not the neatest job possible, but it was clear which was her luggage.

    2) Netbooks: Most of them seem to have pretty much the same configuration (same processor and memory configurations), so the difference is in the price and the keyboard (and some really geeky bits like which wifi card is onboard etc.). I’m leaning towards the MSI Wind, which I just bought said daughter. One thing is that if you are going to *mostly* use it plugged in, don’t worry about the battery size, you’re going to ruin it in short order anyway. Buy one battery for use plugged in, and an extra (long life) for when traveling.

    My thinkpad battery is clearly not doing well despite frequent cyclings. Of course, I suspect it will be pretty trashed by the time I’m done with this trip (Living in Baghdad for a year).

    3) Check a firearm. They will NOT lose your bag :)


  4. Name Tags says:

    Avoid and survive are the operative words there. I’ve had my luggage lost three times before and its been such a hassle each time. Thanks for these great survival tips. I like your cross-packing tactic especially, very wise move.


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