How to Not Lose Luggage

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While most of my family’s trip to Turkey went smoothly, Turkish Airlines forgot to load their luggage onto the plane in Istanbul.  That meant they were without their belongings for a few days.  Even though their luggage was delayed and not actually lost, hiccups like this are annoying and can throw you for a loop.  I’ve got a simple approach on how to not lose luggage (as best as possible) and what to do if your luggage is delayed.

3 Easy Steps: How to Not Lose Luggage

Pack a Carry-On

Whenever possible, I pack carry-on only.  I’ve packed as much as two months worth of items into a carry-on suitcase without issue, but I recognize this isn’t always an option.

If there’s even a slight chance you’ll be letting someone else handle your bag, pack a carry-on that will hold enough essentials to hold you over for a day or two.  Keep your valuables, medications, keys, and a change of underwear with you and/or cross pack with a companion.

My carry-on suitcase: a Delsey Helium Sky

Document Your Belongings

If you’ve ever filled out a form for missing luggage, you’ve probably seen the agent sigh a little as you explain that your bag is a nondescript black suitcase with wheels.  A picture is worth 1,000 words, so before you leave on your trip, snap a quick photo with your phone, making sure to get any identifying details in the picture (such as a colorful ribbon or baggage tag).

>>>>> Related Post: How to Identify Your Luggage at Baggage Claim – Fast!

If you have anything even remotely valuable inside the bag, you may also want to photograph that as well or maybe write down a packing list.  Usually bags are only delayed and not actually lost or stolen, so hopefully you won’t need that information to make an insurance claim, but you never know.

Check It Smartly

If you have to check a bag, make sure you arrive at the airport with enough time to check the bag without employees having to scramble to make sure it gets on the plane. Double-check that your address tag is securely attached to the bag, and better yet, throw a business card or copy of your itinerary inside the bag just in case the external tag comes off.  Confirm the barcodes and routing to ensure it’s coded to go to the right place at the right time.  That won’t solve all issues, but may help you catch something ahead of time.  Hold onto your tracking receipt (or valet ticket stub) just in case you need it later on.

Lost Luggage? Here’s What to Do

Report Your Bags Early

Even when you do everything right, some bags still end up delayed, and it’s usually at the most inconvenient time.  I know you just spent 21 hours trying to get home, but deal with the issue ASAP instead of waiting until later.

Remember that anyone working at the baggage office has probably spent all day dealing with upset customers and is possibly just as frustrated as you.  It helps to remain polite, pay compliments when appropriate, and avoid getting confrontational because it’s not their fault.  As with all customer service requests, there’s an art to balancing sternness and friendliness which can work wonders.

If you flew with multiple carriers on one ticket, speak with the airline on the last segment of your trip and they will mediate with the other airlines if necessary to track it down.  No matter what, make sure you get a tracking number for your claim before leaving.

Know Your Entitled Benefits and Compensation

Many airlines will offer token amenity kits or small amounts of cash reimbursement to hold you over if your luggage is lost for a few days.  However, their definition of “necessities” may be little more than the basics (a toothbrush and change of underwear, for example).  That’s why it’s always worth having an overnight bag as your carry-on.

Travel insurance is probably your best bet, since it will give you an allowance to buy what you need until your luggage is found and delivered.  It will also reimburse you for anything that’s officially damaged or lost in transit.  Policies vary, so it’s worth reading up on your benefits before buying anything.  That said, I always use RoamRight because I can count on their benefits and customer service.

Brand new to travel insurance?  Here’s all you need to know:

The Bottom Line

My personal experience (and second-hand stories) has been that airlines are usually pretty good at finding bags and getting them on their way to you without too much effort on your part after the initial claim (though it will feel like an eternity while you are waiting).  However, if your bag isn’t found and/or delivered quickly, be sure to follow up every day or so using the claim number you received.

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6 thoughts on “How to Not Lose Luggage”

  1. I have not hacked a bag in some years. Of course, doing so this month en route to Manaus it ended up being delayed in MIA (named with good reason) . I had a bad feeling so brought a couple of days of clothes in carry on. Glad I did. Agree with the worry point above.

  2. What we do is:
    1)put a big piece of paper on top inside our luggage with information on where we will be staying and the dates we will be staying there

    2) I put some of my clothes in my husband’s suitcase and he puts some of his clothes in my suitcase. if one of our bags are lost or delayed, we will have some clothes to wear

    3) I bring a zipped tote bag from LL Bean to put meds and essential things in. I don’t bring a carryon bag since I don’t want to have two bags I have to wheel through customs, on trains, etc. The tote bag can go over my shoulder or over the handle of my suitcase.

    1. @Grant, If you prepare even the tiniest bit, you can mitigate how bad it would be if you were to have a bag delayed. It only happened to me once, and that was on my way home.

      @Levy Flight, I usually don’t either but sometimes with camping equipment, I have no choice.

      @Jane S, It sounds like you are preparing for the worst. Hope it never happens to you though!

  3. There is nothing worse than finding out after a long day of travel that your bags didn’t make it. Last year in Rome I found out that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure certainly applies when it comes to getting your misplaced luggage returned. Okoban tracker tags are equal to way more than a pound of cure in my book. They allow the airline or anyone else who finds your bags to immediately contact you by email or text (without revealing your personal information) with a pickup location. I got mine at It worked like a charm for me and I ended up getting my lost bag back in less than 2 hours.

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