Gear Planning Tips

13 Luggage Hacks for Avoiding Travel Baggage Fails

Epic Packing Fails and How to Avoid Them
Written by Kirstie Pelling

13 Luggage Hacks for Avoiding Travel Baggage Fails

Are you the master of your luggage or is ensuring your bags get from A-B without disaster the most stressful part of a holiday? Either way, you might appreciate some of these tips on how to keep a handle on your cases while in transit. From personalising luggage to searching for potential weapons in toddler pencil cases, experienced travel bloggers share their baggage disasters, near misses and luggage hacks for getting your suitcase or backpacks to your destination…   

Luggage hacks and travel hacks

Read our list of hacks to avoid baggage fails while travelling

Even practiced travellers have luggage fails

Our most recent airport baggage fail was bike related. We spent the evening before my son’s flight from Istanbul airport this summer coating his bike in bubble wrap and sellotape. He was travelling alone for the first time and we didn’t want him to arrive at Manchester with a damaged bicycle. It was only when we were hoisting the bike onto the scale at check in that we thought about the tyres. An emergency operation then ensued, as we held up the queue to pop bubbles, break a hole into the excessive packaging and find the inner tube valves to let the air out. Left unchecked, the tyres would have undoubtedly exploded from the change in air pressure, rendering his bike and transport home useless at the other end. Disaster averted. Well, it would have been if we’d remembered to give him a pump to inflate them the other end. Let’s just say it’s a long walk home.

Clingfilm wrapping preparing bikes wrapped for transport in Istanbul hotel room

Getting bikes wrapped for transport in an Istanbul hotel room.

Frequent travellers share their travel luggage hacks

Do you sabotage your own travel by careless packing and unmanageable cases? Do you have baggage disasters and luggage fails on a regular basis? Has the worst that could happen ever happened? If you are ever only one packing list from disaster this post is for you as over a dozen of our favorite travel bloggers offer their wisdom and travel hacks on how to take as much care transporting your luggage as you do transporting your family.

M-24 Recycled Bags

Read on for some golden luggage hacks

1 Make your cases stand out from the crowd

Hands up who has purposefully lifted the black case off the carousel and loaded it onto their trolley to discover it belongs to someone else? Imagine trying to fit into their pants for a fortnight! Cathy Winston from Mummy Travels cringes when she remembers a recent near miss on a train, and offers a colourful solution:

“One packing fail almost saw me becoming a luggage thief recently – travelling with a group, we were trying to make a fairly tight train connection, when one of the others helpfully handed my small hand luggage suitcase down to me on the platform. Except… I already had my case. She’d spotted an almost identical black one on the rack with ours and had assumed it must be mine. Fortunately we managed to get it back onto the train (and leap off again to catch our own) before it pulled out of the station.”

Travel hacks and luggage fails

Customise your luggage with a unicorn horn?

Cathy’s tip for instantly recognisable baggage:

“Because so many suitcases do look the same, I had even attached a bright orange ribbon to mine, as well as my own luggage tag, to try to avoid the problem. Even better is finding an unusual or bright design – over the years I’ve had apple print, zebra stripes, polka dots, a bright pink backpack, and currently yellow and turquoise suitcases. Steer clear of red as that seems as common as black, and if you do find yourself with a less than unique one, like my bargain black hand luggage case, straps, stickers, tags, ribbons, even brightly coloured tape mean people are less likely to walk off with it by accident. And you’re less likely to accidentally grab someone else’s!”

2 Pack overnight essentials in your hand luggage

If you have connecting flights or a cramped budget airline seat, it can be tempting to put everything in the hold and waltz on to the plane with just a latte and your passport. Globetotting’s Katja Gaskell advises against this, especially if you have kids in tow:

“Several years ago we were on our way back to Mexico City, where we lived at the time, after Christmas in London. Over the years we tried various routes and this time saw us fly via New York. Only, when we arrived in JFK there was a major blizzard, grounding all flights and much of the city. After hours spent in the airport we finally managed to secure a hotel room for the night and headed out into the snow to get a transfer bus in subzero temperatures with two small children dressed entirely inappropriately for snowmageddon. We didn’t have any coats with us (we were heading back to the sunshine, why did we need coats?!), or anything useful like toothbrushes. To make matters worse, while we were waiting at the airport to try and find out what was happening to our flight, my daughter – who never, ever had accidents – did. Cue me washing and drying her clothes in the airport toilet.”

Suitcases for packing

Even princesses need to pack for an unscheduled visit from the Ice Queen on route

Katja’s tip for avoiding being left out in the cold

Always pack a toothbrush and a spare pare of pants for everyone in your hand luggage and bring a warm coat if you’re transferring through somewhere cold!”

3 Remember to check your luggage works

Double check your bags as well as clothes and accessories a couple of days in advance. Pay particular attention to straps and wheels says Erin Ek from Yorkshire Tots.

“We packed two Trunkis as carry on for the kids this summer and forgot to bring the straps. This meant the kids couldn’t ride them and be pulled. They made for the most unpractical things to lug between long international flights as the kids then had to walk while the adults carried two really heavy Trunkis along with the other hand luggage. We had a very long walk between planes in Germany and my husband was ready to bin both Trunkis as we raced (or tried) through the airport to catch our flight.

Don’t forget the straps, handles and wheels!

Erin’s tip to save you backache:

“Your luggage is only as good as its’ weakest part.. I will always be sure to check all straps, handles & wheels before setting off from now on!”

4 Communicate with each other – especially if one of you is Dad

For Helen Wills who blogs as Actually Mummy double checking luggage with other family members is key.

“We once had an amazing plan for getting through immigration at Orlando fast, to avoid the queues. We left Jason to grab the bags while we got in a queue, and were through in 20 minutes. With someone else’s suitcase. It took 3 hours to sort out, and we only just caught the last shuttle to our resort. That poor other family! That was the holiday we started writing a book called Duffer Dad. He also walked past our hire car in the car park and said “Oh look, they’ve got exactly the same car seats as us!”

Family with luggage at the airport

Get everyone to have a good look at your luggage and check they recognise it before heading for the bus

Helen’s baggage tip is about teamwork:

“Not everyone is the world’s best baggage spotter. Have a system in place for checking each other’s actions. Split into pairs at the airport for efficient luggage retrieval.”

5 Keep an eye on crafty kids

“I really don’t know why I haven’t learned from this packing fail, but I’ve done this one no less than three times and all in the space of six months,” says Jenny Lynn of the TraveLynn Family.

“We have two young boys (now aged 3 and 4) and when we’re travelling I always pack some crafts in their carry-on bags – paper, pens, glue, stickers and… toddler scissors. As we used to live in India, we flew frequently between Bangalore and London, and Indian customs take security VERY seriously. Blunt toddler scissors are an absolute NO. I of course know this, but always forget that they’re in the boys’ pencil cases. I felt awfully guilty watching my youngest have a total meltdown at his zebra scissors being confiscated; and the officious security guard certainly wasn’t going to give in to his demands!

Childrens Craft at Childrens Festival Iceland

Kids hard at craft on their travels – careful they don’t sneak those scissors in

Jenny’s Tip for crafty parents

“Always check your carry-on for any prohibited items. This includes blunt toddler scissors. I hope I’ve finally remembered for next time.”

6 Make a checklist for the kids

Laura Hitchcock from Have Kids Can Travel trusted her then-7yr old to pack her own bag for the drive to the south of France.

“Not her clothes, but her personal entertainment for the holiday. In my rush to pack everything else I forgot to check what she’d taken. On the ferry to France we established she’d packed 12 picture books for toddlers, a pad of paper with no pencils/pens, two pretty necklaces and her bed buddy soft toy. Oh and a torch with no batteries. Supplies on a ferry are limited and expensive – she had a VERY boring two-day car drive, and our first supermarket shop involved a scour of the bargains in the the toy aisle!”

Singing Camel Toy

Are you really going to need all those singing camel toys for a ferry crossing to Calais?

Laura’s tip for organised toy packing

Laura advises providing a neat checklist with the essentials on; water bottle, tablet & headphones, DS & games, pad & pencils, age-related small imaginative play toys (Playmobil, Maileg Mice, Sylvanian Families etc.).

“She ticks off these, and if she has spaces in her backpack to fill, then I don’t mind what she adds. It’s worked perfectly since!”

7 Take your packing responsibilities seriously

For Nell Heshram’s 40th birthday treat, her partner got the grandparents to look after the kids so they could get a train to the outskirts of St Albans, go on an 8 mile hike into the town, then stay overnight in a nice hotel.

“It had been a tough year, and we were meant to be going to Amsterdam together, but our son was quite ill, so St Albans was the next best thing. He had all my nice clothes, make-up, underwear etc in his bag. He left it on the train. Cue eight miles of very stony silence.”

Swiss train en route to Lausanne

Beware losing her underwear on route!

Nell’s tip for keeping yourself covered while on the move:

Nell, who blogs as Pigeon Pair and Me says her top tip would be:

“Make sure you know where your spare underwear is and do not let your partner have responsibility for looking after it.”

8 Claim for lost luggage on your credit card

Claire Hall from Tin Box Traveller became a fan of credit card travel when her luggage got lost by an airline and she paid the price.

“On a girls weekend in Prague my luggage never left Stansted. I had to buy more than £150 worth of bits and pieces to get me through the next four days. When I tried to claim it back from the airline I sent off my receipts and then they went bust. I never saw a penny. I had bought everything on my credit card but because I didn’t have the original receipts I couldn’t claim anything through my credit card company or travel insurance either.”

Waiting for a plane at Savai'i in Samoa

Don’t trust an airline to sort you out if it ll goes wrong

Claire’s lost luggage lesson:

“Always claim back through your credit card provider or insurer as they are less likely to go bust than a budget airline!”

9 Watch out for that blast from the past

Emma Raphael from Bavarian Sojourn recommends going through any old bags to check for leftover items from your youth. Or your partner’s youth.

“My other half has a definite track record when it comes to accidentally packing ridiculous things in his carry on luggage – like the sharp barbecue thermometer that accompanied us on a trip to Italy for example (but didn’t come home with us again). And I will never forget the day we moved to Copenhagen. Having waved off the removal lorry, it was time to head to the airport.  That’s when he produced the briefcase – something I didn’t even know he owned (apparently his Gran had given it to him when he started University?!) but he thought it ideal for keeping our  documents together as we embarked on our new life. As I tearfully made my way through security having said goodbye to friends and family, I realized my husband wasn’t with me. He was being detained for having a set of darts in the inside pocket of the brief case. Something I also didn’t know he had, and he had forgotten about since University! His latest feat? A Swiss Army knife accidentally left in the bottom of a back pack and found by unimpressed security as we made our way to visit The Reichstag (German Parliament Building) in Berlin.”

Double check the pockets before lugging that old rucksack to the airport

Double check the pockets before lugging that old rucksack to the airport

Emma’s cheap and more expensive security solutions:

“If your partner has similar forgetful tendencies, do double check their luggage won’t you? I have started doing this, and I am seriously thinking of investing in a mini security x-ray to avoid any future incidents.”

10 Check your hand luggage is as innocent as you think

For Lisa from Travel Loving Family an innocent party accessory became an embarrassing incident:

“We once got stopped at security as my mum was carrying a huge bag of party poppers in her hand luggage. (We were going away to celebrate New Years Eve!) Security were not impressed with her highly flammable party accessories. I was also singled out by a sniffer dog when arriving into the USA for carrying through a banana in my luggage. I was completely embarrassed as people were walking by, staring at me as if I was a drug smuggler!”

Childrens Party Plastic Rubbish

Watch out for dangerous accessories. You can’t go wrong with a book about party poppers?

Lisa’s top tip to avoid a security situation:

“Eat your five a day before getting on the plane and check hand luggage accessories for potentially hazardous objects.”

11 Be creative with your solutions to baggage problems

Karen Beddow from Mini Travellers tells a disaster story that was rescued with a bit of quick thinking.

“On a wet and rainy weekend in a motor home I let the girls pack their own clothes for the weekend in their new bags. I reportedly told them I would pack knickers which I then somehow forgot to do! When it came to the inevitable mishap (they were only 4) and we needed a spare pair of knickers we didn’t have any.”

Be creative if you get caught on the hop

Be creative if you get caught on the hop

Karen’s tip is to think outside the box:

“I suggested they wore their swimsuits under their clothes and the story has gone down in family legend with the girls triple checking I’ve packed their knickers before we go on any trip!”

12 Take a good look at your luggage before check in

Gretta Schifano from Mums Do Travel recommends getting to know your own luggage before a trip; she’ll never forget being in denial about hers as she began her honeymoon in Mauritius..

“We waited in the baggage hall for ages for my case to arrive, until there was only one suitcase left on the luggage carousal. I didn’t recognise the case and nor did my husband. We assumed that someone had taken mine in error. A patient member of airport staff started asking me questions and filling in a long form with details of what my case was like, and what was in it. But I couldn’t remember exactly what colour it was, or precisely what was in it, because I’d packed it about five days beforehand, and since then we’d had a big wedding, a lot of wine and not much sleep. While I was trying to remember what I’d packed, beyond a bikini, another member of airport staff strolled over to the luggage carousel, picked up the lonely suitcase and looked at the luggage tag. It was mine.”

Bikes in bike boxes on the runway at Christchurch Airport

Is this your luggage madam? Er…maybe?

Gretta’s tip for luggage memory lapse:

“Before you load the cases into the taxi or car, take a good look at what you have in front of you, You may not have used those cases for a while. or they might be new. (Or a wedding present!) If you are likely to forget, take a quick snap of them on your phone.”

13 Don’t forget to pack your valuables for the journey home

Cathy Winston volunteered to share a bonus tip from her last trip, from another traveller who shall remain nameless.

“If you’re going to put valuables into your hotel room safe, make sure you take them out again when you leave! It was only when we checked in to hotel no 2 that she realised her passport (and, it turns out, her keys and wallet) were still safely locked up at hotel no1. Fortunately there was one more train across the island later that day, and she’d discovered in time rather than at the airport, so they managed to transport it to her in time as we were flying home the following day.”

Wyndham Hotel Berlin

Take one shoe off to remind you to pack your safe valuables

Cathy’s tip for remembering to empty the safe:

“The best tip I was given for avoiding that is to put one of your shoes that you’re wearing the day you leave on top of, or in, the safe. You can’t leave with one shoe on, and hunting for it will remind you to get everything else. But it has to be the one you’re planning to wear otherwise you lose a shoe as well as your passport.”

Want more Hacking the Packing Tips?

If you value your baggage and packing and want to ease your journey by getting it right you may want to check out some of our other hacking the packing posts.

Hacking the Packing Tips for Active and Outdoor TravelHacking the Packing Tips for Active and Outdoor Travel
Hacking The Packing: Teach Kids How to Pack Light and RightHacking The Packing: Teach Kids How to Pack Light and Right

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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