If you like something, set it free – by packing it in your checked bag.
Meaning: You may never see it again.
Flying with checked luggage is a gamble this summer, especially if you’re traveling abroad. Airport staff shortages during a summer of subdued travel demand have not only delayed and canceled flights, but are conspiring to derail planned journeys of suitcases containing all our favorite things.
“I would say to travelers flying or connecting through major airports like London Heathrow, Amsterdam and Paris that you can flip a coin if your bag is going to get where you’re going,” said Kyle Potter. , editor of Minneapolis-based Thrifty Traveler.
Social media is filled with horror stories about bags that have disappeared forever, been sent to remote areas or reunited with their owners weeks after returning from their vacations. In May, nearly six out of every 1,000 checked bags were “mishandled” — or lost, damaged, delayed or stolen — according to the most recent federal data available.
While that doesn’t sound terrible, “it doesn’t really show the start of the summer travel season,” Potter said, “and it also doesn’t show how bad things have been in Europe.”
Earlier this month Delta sent a plane from London to Detroit with zero passengers — but about 1,000 pieces of lost luggage, which were then sent where they were supposed to go.
The advice travel experts keep giving this summer is to pack only what you need in one carry-on. If you can pull this off, you’re a deity in my book. Aside from the period in my 20s when I was backpacking around Asia and washing my socks in hotel sinks, I tend to prepare for every eventuality when packing my suitcase. It’s even worse now that I have children because I fear moral judgment if I’ve failed to plan for the impossible.
I asked Potter and other handy crusaders for their tips on minimalist packing. Here’s what they said:
Carry larger items on the plane
Space-saving sandals fit in your bag, gym shoes on your feet. Also wear thicker clothing such as jackets, sweaters, hoodies or jeans during the flight. While packing, choose quick-dry clothing from outdoor stores like REI that can fit in your carry-on.
Rotate your clothes
My friend swears by twirling her clothes, army style, like little Twinkies. You can also purchase TSA-friendly compression packing cubes that can help you squeeze more clothing into your bag, or at least help you stay organized.
Evaluate your clothes relentlessly
Another friend says she interrogate any piece of clothing. Can it be worn many times, in many ways? Items that cannot be “team players” stay at home.
Potter, who admits to being a “pretty simple dresser” by nature, opts for versatile outfits – basic T-shirts and quasi-athletics that work just as well on the trail as they do in the pub. “People have this impulse to bring as much as they can,” he said. He encouraged me to think about the last time I checked my bag “and take a mental inventory of everything you packed that you never wore.” Eek.
There is no better gift than money
I have childhood memories of my mom packing her suitcase with containers of Pond’s ice cream to give as gifts to relatives on overseas trips. Sorry, aunty – you’re getting cash this time.
When Gatachew Teklu, owner of Admas Travel, flies back to Ethiopia to see family, “I just give them money instead of buying all this stuff at TJ Maxx and Marshalls,” he said.
Make the most of your personal belongings
Don’t waste the space under the seat in front of you on a small bag. A medium bag or backpack with multiple compartments can store electronics and headphones, a fresh set of clothes, and airport essentials. Just measure the dimensions and check the airline restrictions to make sure you can fit it under the seat.
You can always do laundry
No matter how long your trip is, pack only one week’s worth of clothes. When choosing your lodging, consider an Airbnb that has an on-site washer and dryer or a hotel that offers a laundry and folding service, Potter advises.
Traveling with children
When Allie Hawley March of Oakdale travels, each child takes their own backpack. E-books are a must. If your child is old enough to use a booster car seat, consider inflatables like the BubbleBum to save space. On her last family trip, Hawley March said, “The booster seat literally went into my glove compartment, along with all my clothes, and it was in my bag under the seat in front of me. There was no overhead bin or checked bag. It was amazing.”
How’s that for winning the bonus round?
“I don’t want to try to wrangle kids AND a rolling suitcase,” said Hawley March, who hasn’t checked a bag in 20 years. “I want both hands free to be able to carry the little people — so a backpack. And then if the kids all have backpacks, they can be responsible for their own gear.”
If you need to check a bag…
- Be sure to keep the essentials in your luggage: medications, toiletries (travel size, bien sûr!), clothing and shoes, valuables, contact lenses, and any clothing you plan to wear on special occasions like a wedding.
- Apple AirTag or similar wireless tracking devices “are very close to an absolute necessity right now,” Potter said. It won’t prevent your bag from getting lost, but it can help you get it back faster as you’ll be able to pinpoint its location. I found them on Amazon selling for $27.50 each, or $89 for a set of four.
- Buy your plane ticket with a credit card that includes baggage protection, which can reimburse you for changing clothes and toiletries during your trip if your baggage is significantly delayed or lost. While airlines may be on the hook for some of these costs, resolving them could take time, Potter said. Be sure to get documentation from the airline for your lost luggage and keep receipts from your purchases.
- Another option is to purchase independent travel insurance. But be sure to read the fine print and make sure your policy includes baggage coverage.
Keep calm and carry on?
Converted yet? Potter said most travelers have their own routines and don’t want to be told there might be another way. But he’s confident that in this unpredictable and potentially stressful travel season, some of us can open our minds — and our luggage — to the beauty of packing light.
“The only thing worse than going somewhere for two weeks and not having all the clothes you want is going somewhere for two weeks and not having any clothes, period.”