We all know the luggage nightmare at airports: Hundreds of suitcases – spots of color in a sea of black. And it’s not just Canada. From London to Dusseldorf to Amsterdam, travelers passing through international airports abroad also face airport chaos.
Marybeth Bond spent a month this spring traveling to four different countries in Europe without having to worry about the hassle of baggage checking, and she just flew from California to Connecticut for a July 4th family celebration with her husband — again with only carry-on luggage .
“What a difference that makes,” said Bond, the author of a dozen travel books and one of the bloggers behind GutsyTraveler.com, in a phone interview Monday.
“Hand luggage is the only option, because then you bypass the baggage check. When you step off the plane, you are the first in line, quickly exiting the airport. And it’s chaotic out there.”
You may not have control over the nightmare of long lines and canceled flights, but you can have some control over whether you spend the first few days of your vacation with or without your travel essentials.
From Bluetooth trackers to choosing the right suitcase, here are some tips and tricks on how to minimize the risk of an airport luggage disaster.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT LUGGAGE
Some people might recommend going with a lightweight hard case to minimize the temptation to overpack, but Bond and CeeCee Chilanga, a Toronto-based style expert and founder of Dapper Style Mint, both recommend using soft luggage for its flexibility and expandability . They’re also equipped with exterior pockets for quick and easy access to items that may need to be pulled out at security checkpoints.
“The soft luggage you can stuff in and it expands … and then I usually make either a backpack or a holdall as my second personal item,” Chilanga, who rarely flies with checked baggage, said in an interview with CTVNews.ca.
“I hate waiting in line for luggage when I don’t have to.”
She says handbags are a waste of space, and instead keeps her wallet and passport in a fanny pack or small shoulder bag that she can tuck into the side of her duffel bag or fit under her jacket.
If you decide to get a holdall instead of a suitcase, consider one with wheels so you have the option of wheeling it instead.
Bond’s favorite suitcase styles are lightweight four-wheel “spinner” styles that can be easily pushed rather than pulled.
Always check the carry-on size restrictions for the airline you are flying with and remember that domestic and international airlines may have different requirements. Bond points out that Europe has weight restrictions that can be difficult to comply with.
For $40 and up, these battery-powered trackers can be placed in your luggage to help you find your luggage in a crowd of suitcases.
Originally known as a way to track misplaced keys, wallets, and even pets, Bluetooth trackers like Apple’s AirTag, Samsung’s SmartTag, or Tile send information to your phone so you know exactly where they are. They don’t use much power and typically have a range of around 100 to over 300 feet, depending on the strength of the Bluetooth signal between the tracker and your phone. They can also sound an alert to help you find the missing item. If the item is out of Bluetooth range, many of the models will display the tracker’s last location.
Some models only work with certain devices, brands and operating systems such as iOS and Android. The AirTag, for example, only works with the iPhone. But it works with Apple’s Find My system, which helps track your item across the company’s network of devices. This allows your AirTag’s location to be updated frequently, even when you’re out of range, and allows for more accurate tracking.
Some trackers use GPS, which offers much wider coverage than Bluetooth but requires a subscription, and not all countries use the same cellular network technology.
As PC Magazine wrote in its review of trackers, “Think about how you want to use a Bluetooth tracker…some models are better suited to certain applications than others.”
PACKING LIGHT: DOES IT CONFIRM THE TEST?
An important trick to packing light is to bring easy care clothes that you can layer, mix and match. And start early—don’t wait until the night before, advise Chilanga and Bond.
“You just have to be mindful of what you’re actually carrying and what’s just weight,” says Chilanga, who always checks the weather before packing in case the temperature isn’t right for the time of year.
Starting early means taking the time to consider what you need and what you don’t. Chilanga wants to get three to four different combinations out of every garment she brings to minimize the number of pieces to pack.
“So I prepare things ahead of time and make sure that when I grab a top, I know how many ways I can maximize it with different outfits,” she explained.
“Remember, if you wear the same thing every day, other people don’t notice – only you do,” Bond added. A white shirt with a different scarf for three days in a row and people think I’m wearing something different, she says.
Chilanga and Bond also avoid fabrics that require special care, such as anything that requires dry cleaning or ironing. Bond checks that the item passes the wash, dry and wear test.
“There’s now all these wonderful fabrics that you can get where you can wash them out and they’ll be dry in a couple of hours and you can wear them again, wrinkle free,” she said.
Bond also suggests avoiding expensive jewelry and books, which can be heavy; Bring e-books instead. The heaviest item you pack should be your shoes, and wear the bulkiest on your feet if you’re bringing more than one pair. Makeup and other toiletries can also add up quickly in terms of weight and space, so grab what you need and pack it in smaller containers instead.
TRAVEL WITH CHILDREN?
When you have children in tow, it can be difficult to travel ‘light’. Their clothes may be smaller and take up less space, but they often need other essentials. When they’re old enough, Bond says, letting them pack and not let them take too many toys and books is a good lesson.
Chilanga says if there’s easy access to a Walmart or similar store, consider buying bulky items like extra diapers at the destination rather than packing a week’s worth of what they need.
NO WASTE OF SPACE
Both Chilanga and Bond roll up their clothing to ensure every single corner of their luggage and bag is maximized.
“I roll things up and put them in my shoes, put them in my hat, in every little corner that I can put things in. So normally, even for a five-day trip, I could probably get away with a carry-on,” says Chilanga.
Some experts have recommended using “packing cubes” to organize and store clothes in luggage, but they can take up more space. Another packaging method is bundling, which helps reduce wrinkles and creases. Garments are wrapped in layers around a solid core item – say, a bag of socks and underwear – until you have a bundle of clothes. Some travelers use compression bags or waterproof dry bags, which are popular for camping, as an organizational and space-saving alternative.
And in case the airline decides at the last minute to let you check your carry-on luggage, always make sure there is at least one outfit, underwear and other essentials in your second personal carry-on backpack or duffel bag. Make sure you have your ID both inside and outside of your luggage and that it looks exactly like it did on the plane ticket, advises Bond.
“Always carry on with what you can’t live without — it’s always your passport, it’s always any medication you take,” she said.
“Some things you never leave home without – your patience and your sense of humor. Because things will go wrong. You just have to laugh about it.”