What Should Never Go In Checked Luggage

What Should Never Go In Checked Luggage

No-one wants to carry too much stuff with them as cabin luggage on a long-haul flight, but which items simply can’t be consigned to the hold?

It’s reassuring to know that pop stars aren’t always as stupid as they make out. Last week, pop singer Calvin Harris revealed that he had not, in fact, been so idiotic as to put a hard drive containing the only copy of his latest recordings into checked baggage.

Harris made global headlines back in April 2008 when he claimed that the newly recorded-music went missing as part of the massive chaos associated with the opening of Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport. That sounded entirely plausible, as thousands of bags were misplaced due to a combination of bad planning and human error.

However, in a recent interview with Popjustice Harris confessed that while some of his luggage had been misplaced by British Airways, the hard drive wasn’t amongst them. The whole thing was a ruse designed to buy him more time to produce a follow-up to his first album:

I should make it clear that they did in fact lose our bags – that is fact – but it was not true that the album was in them. I would never check a hard drive in luggage.

I mention this story because it goes to show that it never pays to make assumptions about what people will be stupid enough to put in their hand luggage. We’ve run a number of guides before on carry-on essentials for business trip packing, ranging from non-obvious but useful items to technology packing essentials. But none of these lists focus on an equally crucial category: stuff that you can’t pack into your hold luggage because there’s too much risk of it being damaged as it comes bouncing down the carousel.

Delicate electronics probably make up the most obvious constituent of this list. The two items which I absolutely refuse to put into checked baggage are my notebook PC and my digital SLR. The former, of course, can be useful in flight or at stopovers; the latter is far too delicate and expensive to put elsewhere even though I’m unlikely to touch it. Portable entertainment electronics (MP3 players and consoles) are another likely candidate, though this is probably as much for their time-filling value as for the risk of damage.

External drives are another potential candidate. While flash-based drives are more resilient, you might want to keep them with you for another reason: unless they’re encrypted, they probably contain a lot of data you wouldn’t want other people getting hold of. Indeed, you can make a case for keeping one backup drive in your pocket: in the unlikely event that your plane gets evacuated, you won’t be allowed to take even carry-on luggage off in the first instance.

Finally, don’t forget that there’s some stuff you’re not supposed to pack at all, hand luggage or otherwise. Qantas has a handy checklist of dangerous goods that’s a useful starting guide. The key tip you might forget if you’re not a seasoned traveller: Australian domestic flights are a lot more liberal about liquids (such as bottles of water or containers of shampoo) than most other countries; as a good rule of thumb, skip the liquids for any international flight.

What can’t you comfortably put in the hold? Share your tips or horror stories in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman has risked putting his Eee PC in checked bggage, but feels silly about it now. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • Luckily this never happened to me, but take heed of these two words: RED WINE.

    Friend of mine carefully wrapped bottles in bubble wrap and spare clothes, only to be called in the airport because the baggage handlers had smashed them to pieces.

    • Zane, bud luck for you friend, Our method is to POST IT back Home. Most post offices have the pre-packaged cases that fit most bottle shapes with ease … costs a bit but you get home to the surpise of the wine you have purchased on your holiday and NO BAGGAGE disasters! KeithC

  • Don’t put mobile phones in checked-in luggage. The ground crew can see it in the x-ray when they scan your bags, break your lock and steal the phone. They can normally walk out of the secure area with a phone in their pocket because they would think that it is his.

    I’ve had this happen to me at Singapore airport. I had bought a new mobile phone there and left it in the original box in my checked in luggage. When I got home, I noticed my lock missing and the phone box broken and only the phone missing. They left all the accessories and manuals. The Airline didn’t want to hear about it, they just said contact the insurance company to get paid.

  • Seriously people, use some common sense. If you cant afford to lose it, don’t check it. Take 2 carr-ons, do whatever you need to keep your stuff secure and stop being lazy about it.

  • I tend to split my carry on into “Must carry” and “prefer to carry”. The second lot (larger cameras etc.) travel in a Pelican 1510 rolling case that meets carry on regs, but can survive being gate checked.

    I’ve checked it a number of times on the often oversold LAX-SYD leg and it’s survived every time, even with booze inside. If the plane is packed they’ll often limit carry on to one piece (or strictly enforce weights) or ask that larger items get checked. The upside is that if it’s gate checked it goes straight on the plane. Downside is that it still goes through the trained gorillas at the other end.

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