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.
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.
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
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:
For cold weather (life at minus 27 degrees, anyone?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
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