Because we all know trouble is a rule, not a possibility…

Always plan for the unplanned adventure…. The lost luggage edition.


Street sign near our hostel. Edinburgh, Scotland. Summer 2013.

Whether it happens on your trip or during the later parts of planning, it’s an almost unavoidable rule that somewhere, something is going to go wrong—I don’t care how well prepared and calculated your plans are. So let’s look at a few possible bumps in the road to be a bit more prepared and smooth out issues before they arise (as much as we can at least).

Probably the biggest obstacle most travelers come across and the hurtle they face the fastest is lost luggage. Anyone who has traveled by sea or sky has probably faced the panic of not seeing their check-in bag(s) on the conveyor belt as quickly as they expect, or, for the unlucky few, at all.

So how do you prepare?

Well first off, you can ask yourself if you even need a check in or if you can make due with a carry on. If you find that a check in is necessary, it’s all about correctly packing your carry on with as much emergency gear as you can. Most airlines allow you to carry one carry on and one personal bag on board, and using both of these to your advantage will give you the best chance of not letting travel-lost luggage disrupt your trip to badly (though you’ll seriously need to be ready at security—the more you carry in, the longer it can take; we’ll cover this and all your packing needs in a later post).

If your bags are lost or temporarily misplaced by the airline/cruise line/ ferry line/ect, there are a few key things to have prepared to quickly and easily get the important information to the parties that need it to quickly and reliably find your bags:

First, always have a well organized file or folder with all your travel information clearly organized and accessible in you carry on. This includes the luggage tag sticker you are given at bag check (really important because they can scan this to see where you bag was last scan right away), flight numbers and any lay over locations, the address and contact information for where you are staying (the first place if you are planning on moving around and how long you plan to be there), written and detailed description(s) of your bag(s) (size, style, brand, color, distinguishing features) and something (or a few things) inside that makes it easily recognizable as yours.

Next, always have your check in baggage tagged with the information tags you get at the check in counter or those you can buy and fill in at home. If your name is on your bag, along with your contact information, there is a lot less guess-and-check on the finders end.

If you can schedule it, plan to stay in your first location for a few days. If you are constantly changing your baggage’s destination, you are just making it harder for them to keep track of where to go or, worse, your bags will get to your earlier location after you have already left it. On that note, however, always remember to call, email or contact those in charge of looking for your bags if you change where your luggage is supposed to end up.

Contact your insurance (and it’s a good idea to pay for travel insurance for this exact reason). Letting them know is important because (at the very least) they can reimburse you for at least some, if not all, the money you may spend replacing emergency items from toothpaste and bathroom essentials to replacement clothes.

Finally, be polite to those trying to help you. It’s not their fault your baggage didn’t make it and they do the best they can to find it as quickly as possible. It’s okay to be flustered or frustrated but being a dick to those trying to help doesn’t do anyone any favors. Plus, if you’re nice, they sometimes give you some money to grab food while you wait and see if your bags are on the next flight in!

It’s not always during major travel that things get lost, however. Being human, it’s possible and even common to forget your bag somewhere or, worse, have something stolen. It’s a little harder (or much harder in most cases) to recover from these incidences, but here’s a few ways to try:

If you leave a bag in a restaurant or an attraction you were visiting, your best bet is to either call or back track to where you think it is. Talk to security or lost and found and hopefully that’s all you’ll need.

If you were out in an open area, again, backtrack, but the chances of finding what has been lost diminishes quickly, so go quickly. I mean run. Now.

If you move onto a new city and on the way or once you are unpacked you notice you’ve left something behind, call and see if your former housing has found it. Then see if they can forward it to your new location. If not, consider whether or not your lost item(s) is/are worth it—and you are close enough—see if they’ll hold it for you to make a quick return trip. If they aren’t worth the trouble, see if the place will donate them to other travelers that can find a use for them (this is something hostels do a lot with books—take one, leave on).

If the problem is you’ve been pick pocketed or had something stolen, all you can do is report it to the authorities (whether at the location or official local/city police). If it’s something like charge cards or money, report it to your insurance and your bank right away. They’ll close any of your cards down before anything can happen and should be able to help you come up with a game plan on how to move forward. Also, have an emergency contact that can forward you some money; you’ll owe them but at least you’ll have a plan.

My biggest tip for lost luggage (no matter how it gets lost) is to never pack anything that can’t be replaced. It’s simple. If you can’t live your day to day life at home without it, give it a break and keep it safe at home. It’ll be there when you get back. Double this if you can’t replace it.

Travel smart; it’s a lot more fun, I promise.

More travel battle plans for common hurdles to come, but until next time,

I’m Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Because we all know trouble is a rule, not a possibility…

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