How To “Lost Luggage” Proof Your Trip

By Abi King | Travel Hacks

May 22

Dealing with Lost Luggage

No matter how bright and sunny a disposition you usually have, losing your luggage is an immense irritation.

You can have all the perspective in the world, knowing full well that millions of others have worse things going on in their lives, but it’s still an event that carries a high PIA factor.

Travel far enough and long enough and it will happen to you. Some airlines even advise you to prepare for it (this happened to me while island-hopping in the Grenadines.)

So, when Money Supermarket approached me to take on their “Lost Luggage Challenge” to a city of my choosing, I felt more than ready to rise to the occasion. I also had the foresight to choose a relatively easy destination for this: the Eternal City of Rome.

When Money Supermarket approached me to take on their "Lost Luggage Challenge" to a city of my choosing, I felt more than ready to rise to the occasion.

There’s more on that trip coming up over the next few months. But in the meantime, the experience taught – or reminded me – about several tips and tricks for handling what to do if an airline does lose your luggage so that you can still have a good time on the road.

And it’s not all doom and gloom. Airlines usually do manage to track down your luggage, in my experience, and reunite the two of you once more.

So, often, it’s usually more about surviving those first few days – and for that, there’s plenty you can do.

Let’s go!

Before You Go: The Pre-Emptive Lost Luggage Strike

Carry essentials in your carry on

You probably don’t need to be told this, but it may be worth pausing to really think about it for a while.

Essentials are not a toothbrush and a clean pair of pants. These are easy to replace, should the worst happen.

Essentials are anything specific to you that would leave you feeling ill or supremely uncomfortable if you were without them for even twelve hours. They are also often difficult to replace

Some examples:

  • prescription medication including antimalarials
  • contact lenses & glasses
  • snacks if you have dietary restrictions
  • prescriptions or letters that explain why you have to have these things with you!

Watch out for a change in weather

If you’re heading to somewhere similar to where you came from, you can muddle on through in the same clothes you’re wearing for a day or two while you sort yourself out. You may feel icky beyond the threshold of ick but you can do it.

However, if you’re heading somewhere much hotter or colder then life can quickly become miserable and you can even cause some permanent damage.

So, for hot weather, in your carry-on make sure you have:

  • a mini tube of sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • a hat
  • flip flops or other lightweight shoes that can help you cool down yet still squeeze in
  • bug spray if there’s any hint of insect-borne disease

For hot weather, in your carry-on make sure you have these essentials.

For cold weather (life at minus 27 degrees, anyone?)

  • carry your ski jacket onto the plane, with the pockets filled with the following
  • gloves, hat, scarf/snood, thermals
  • wear your heavy snow shoes
  • squeeze any salopettes into your cabin luggage
  • still remember the sunscreen and sunglasses

Those are really the only true essentials but here are a few more tips I’ve learned over the years that can make life more pleasant once you arrive without adding much bulk to your packing.

Blister protection

Travel often brings about more walking than you are used to, in a different climate and often in different shoes. Blisters abound.

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that discovering Compeed changed my life (alright, it is but it’s a nice phrase to get the point across.)

These second skin stickers cover the blister nicely and best of all, you can fit three easily into your passport holder so that you always have them ready on the road.

This is even more important if you’ve lost your luggage and have to tackle new/poorly-fitting shoes in a new climate. Sorted.

A scarf or pashmina

This one is a little more feminine, but if David Beckham can pull off a sarong then so can you, guys.

A scarf not only keeps you warm on a breezy plane, but it covers hair on streets, shoulders in temples, and can double as a skirt for the day if your luggage disappears en route to somewhere bright and breezy.

You may need this more than you think: even in Rome, it’s necessary to cover up in order to enter the Vatican and Swiss Guards are on standby to check you have the right attire.

A fold-flat bag

These are useful for so many reasons. They’re handy to carry about town, once you’re on the aircraft you can use them to separate the things you actually want on the flight from all the other equipment you needed in your carry on.

And if you lose your luggage and have to shop for more things, at least you already have a bag to put these things in to.

It takes up next to no space but leaves you with plenty of options.

Brilliant.A fold-flat bag is useful for so many reasons. They’re handy to carry about town, and if you lose your luggage and have to shop for more things, at least you already have a bag to put these things in to.

Book your first night in a top hotel

If there’s an option, have the first night of your trip in a nice hotel fairly near the airport. You can be more adventurous after that.

Not only is it just easier to arrive somewhere you know will treat you well when you’re tired but if your luggage is lost, this will make life so much easier.

First of all, top hotels have a huge range of toiletries and kit available for you to use or borrow while you’re waiting to sort things out. Everything from toothbrushes and toothpaste to umbrellas, toiletries, spare plug adaptors and more.

Secondly, you can leave the concierge details on your lost luggage form. Often, airlines will only deliver to addresses where someone can accept your incoming luggage. This is impossible if you’re staying in a guest house or AirBnB unless you cancel a day of your trip to sit indoors, hoping and praying that your luggage will reach you.

In a top hotel, you can head out for the day, and your luggage may well be waiting for you when you return.

What’s more, top concierges often know the airlines and procedures well and can take over the phone calls and chasing up that’s required. Another headache removed.

Banyan Tree Seychelles Overlooking the Sea via @insidetravellab


Make friends with your phone

Take a photo of your luggage before you travel – it’s so much easier to get the details from this to fill in those lost luggage forms.

While you’re at it, take a photo of all your important travel documents, too, and back those up in the cloud.

You can also download guidebooks, apps, books, magazines, films, TV shows, everything. These can be a great help while you wait in the airport, queuing to fill in your forms, and also once you finally get out and about if you were relying on paperwork stored in your luggage.

Buy travel insurance

There are more important reasons to have travel insurance, for sure, but it can help for lost luggage claims too. Clearly, you will need to have bought your policy before the luggage went missing, though…

On the Road

Accept Your Fate

If it’s gone, it’s gone. The likelihood is that you’ll get it back at some point but you may not. Once you’ve done your due diligence and filled in the paperwork at the airport, called your travel insurance company and activated your back up plan (called home for anything they can help with) there’s nothing more to be done.

Easy to say and harder to do, but the most important thing you can do now is make the most of the trip you have anyway.

Maybe you don’t have insurance. Maybe you never trusted the airline. Maybe you’re only finding this blog post now and haven’t done a single one of the things I suggested above.

You won’t be the first, nor the last. Most of life’s greatest lessons are based on experience and it’s just too late to do anything different now.

So, embrace it.

Turn your lost luggage experience into your own lost luggage challenge. Challenge yourself to see just how good a time you can have despite all of this and take it from there.

And with all of that said, here are a few more tips of how to compensate for missing things once you’re on the road.

Google the phrase for “I’m sorry but the airline lost my luggage” in the language you need. Restaurants, colleagues, even brides will und

Focus on the essentials

This could also, ahem, be called “lower your standards.” No make up, no hair dryer, no business suit? Frustrating if you have a special event to go to, but definitely not life threatening. Borrow and buy what you can and explain away the rest.

Further Reading

Google the phrase for “I’m sorry but the airline lost my luggage” in the language you need. Restaurants, colleagues, even brides will understand.

Wash clothes in the sink, wear clothes that don’t really match, embrace the way you’re not weighed down by your heavy camera and books and console yourself with the knowledge that at least you have a reason as to why you’re not looking your best.

Make replacing any prescription medication a priority, as this is likely to be a multi-step procedure.

Check out the small print for your airline and travel insurance. You may be able to make a claim but you probably can’t wait until you get back home to get started.

So, there we are. My guide to a relatively stress-free lost luggage experience.

Disclosure – MoneySuperMarket sponsored my trip to Rome so that I could take part in the challenge. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, there’s just no point.

Brown Suitcase Image Credit: Shutterstock

Any other lost luggage tips? Let me know in the comments!

Further Reading

On The Telegraph, they talk about your rights when your luggage goes missing and how to claim compensation.

Could you survive on holiday if you lost your luggage? Money Supermarket asked five travel writers to head off on an adventure trip without any luggage.

Independent Traveler discusses various scenarios regarding lost or damaged luggage, and what your options are.

How to lost luggage proof your trip: tips and advice via @insidetravellab


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Really good tips – I always try to squish as many things into my hand luggage as possible just to make life easier (after one experience trying to track down contact lens solution in Madagascar…), either the basics to get me through the first days or the irreplaceable/hard and expensive to replace. I like the idea about staying in a nice hotel for day 1 too – clever!

    • Abi King says:

      I think it was a similar contact lens misadventure in Switzerland that made me realise that I could easily ditch the toothbrush – but not the lenses and their paraphernalia! And that was Switzerland and it was hard. Good to hear that great minds think alike on this ;-) Happy travels!

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