Checking your luggage is like gambling with your belongings. Something could break, get stolen or lost, and even when it works you often pay high fees. Here's how to almost guarantee you'll never have to check your luggage again and, if all plans fail, how to make the best of a bad situation.
Make the Most of Your Carry-On Bag
The easiest way to avoid the need to check your bags is to pack your bags efficiently. You may be surprised by how much you can fit with some smart techniques. Here's a look at a few.
Pack Well Most people check luggage for one of three reasons: (1) they're lazy and don't want to carry their bags around; (2) they've got too much stuff; (3) they're trying to avoid those fees. If you're lazy, get over it. Consider it exercise. If you've got too much stuff, that's generally a solvable problem.
Most people can't manage travelling with one bag because they don't pack efficiently. Taking some tips from a flight attendant, rolling your clothes saves a bunch of space and prevents wrinkles, too. Combine that with packing cubes and you'll have an incredibly well-organised and efficiently packed suitcase.
Leave Items Out -- You Need Less Than You Think On top of packing well, you'll need to consider what you don't need. This is an obvious step, but figure out what's easy to leave behind based on where you're going. If you're heading to a friend's house or hotel with a guest laundry facility, you don't need as many clothes. You can also find a laundromat nearby and pay to wash clothing once. Obviously this is not the most fun thing to do on holidays or for work, but it cuts down on what you need to pack.
Avoid Packing Pitfalls and Figure Out Your Most Efficient Packing Strategy You won't always get the choice of taking two bags on board. While you can usually take a main bag and a handbag, taking two carry-on bags is pretty rare on cheaper airlines, and some of them will even weigh your baggage to make sure you're not breaking the rules. If you do have two bags, careful planning is important.
When making your decisions, you'll want to figure out what belongs in which bag. Often people will place the stuff they want to use on the plane in a backpack or purse and standard items in the overhead-bound suitcase. This makes sense in most cases, but you may find that you're grouping like items together. For example, you might toss your laptop charger in your backpack with your laptop, but you're probably not going to need it on the plane. It might fit better in your larger suitcase and could provide extra room to accommodate an extra pair of pants you planned to keep with your other clothing. The idea is simple: don't assume items belong in the same bag just because that bag contains similar items. Sometimes mixing and matching will lead to a better space-saving strategy.
Overcome Common Carry-On Obstacles
There are lots of ways your suitcase could get routed to the plane's cargo bay once you're already at the airport, but if you plan ahead you can avoid it. Here's how.
Pack Items You're Not Really Supposed to Carry On In general, if you're trying to pack an item you're not supposed to take on the plane you should just not take it on the plane. There are times, however, where there are legitimate exceptions. For example, I once built a steadicam out of plumbing parts. While I'm not sure what this looked like to the TSA official checking my bag, I can imagine it looked like I was either planning on doing a little weightlifting on the plane or attacking the pilot with a series of lead pipes. I learned that day that the key to packing questionable items in your carry-on luggage is making them look a lot less questionable. In the case of the steadicam, the solution was to paint it and make it look like a professional product. It still caused confusion on the ride home, but since it didn't look like a plumber's torture kit I made it through just fine.
When Checking Your Bags Is The Only Option
If you absolutely have to check your bags, there are a few things you can do to help ensure their safety.
Pack Like a Secret Agent While this may not be how secret agents actually pack -- and secret agents probably don't check their bags either -- it's a good way to remember these tips. First, if you're concerned about theft, conceal your belongings. If you have an iPad sitting on top you're not helping you chances. Wrap it in clothing and pack it in the middle of the bag. Better yet, use the aforementioned packing cubes -- seriously, they're awesome even for electronics and non-clothing items.
Got any other ways to avoid checking your bags (or dealing with those few times when you just can't get around it)? Share your strategies in the comments.