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How to Pack for Air Travel. The right luggage and the best packing tips.

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How to pack for air travel depends on you, your destination, the journey, and what you’re going to be doing there. The key to a smooth journey lies in careful preparation, and that’s certainly never more true than when travelling by air. Preparation, planning, and packing for a long trip away will prevent frustration on arrival when you find you’re missing essential items that are expensive to replace at your destination. 

Choosing the Right Luggage: Bag and Suitcase Types

For every type of trip there’s an endless choice of luggage.  For some people, as with their clothes and accessories, luggage is a combination of practicality and fashion statement. In case you need a reminder, here are a few examples of the various bag types:

  • Rolling suitcases: These suitcases come with wheels and are easy to manoeuvre, making them the most popular choice for air travel. Opt for a 4-wheeled version for enhanced mobility. Aerolite luggage is a popular brand and Samsonite is top tier in this respect.
  • Duffel bags: Duffel bags are a versatile choice, ideal for short trips or as a carry-on option. They’re lightweight and easy to carry, but may lack the structure and protection a suitcase provides.
  • Backpacks: Backpacks are perfect for adventure travellers, offering hands-free convenience and the ability to carry your belongings on your back. Look for one with a padded back panel and adjustable shoulder straps for maximum comfort.
  • Travel totes: These large, open bags are great for storing items you need quick access to during your journey. They’re best used as a personal item or supplementary carry-on, but check your luggage limits for your flight.

How To Pack For Air Travel: Tips and Tricks

Once you have bought or otherwise acquired some luggage, it’s time to pack.  What type of packer are you?  Throw it all in at the last minute or carefully iron and fold every piece of clothing days ahead?

  1. Create a packing list: Before you start, make a list of everything you’ll need on your trip. This will help you stay organised and ensure you don’t forget any essentials.
  2. Check airline baggage rules: Familiarise yourself with your airline’s baggage allowances and restrictions. This includes size, weight, and the number of bags you can bring onboard.
  3. Pack strategically: Place heavier items at the bottom of your bag and lighter items on top to maintain balance. Roll clothes to save space and avoid wrinkles.
  4. Use packing cubes: These handy organisers will keep your belongings organised and make unpacking a breeze.
  5. Bring travel-size toiletries: Save space and weight by packing travel-size toiletries. Remember to pack them in a clear plastic bag for security checks.
  6. Leave some room: It’s always a good idea to leave a little extra space in your luggage for souvenirs or unexpected purchases.
What And How To Pack
Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

Carry-On Essentials

Packing your carry-on luggage wisely can make your in-flight experience much more comfortable. Here’s a list of essentials to consider packing in your carry-on:

  • Travel documents (passport, boarding pass, itinerary)
  • Wallet (cash, credit cards, ID)
  • Electronics (phone, charger, headphones, tablet or e-reader)
  • Any medicines you’re currently taking or might need (prescription and over-the-counter)
  • Snacks and a reusable water bottle
  • A change of clothes, in case your checked luggage is delayed or lost
  • Valuables (jewellery, camera, laptop)
  • Travel pillow and eye mask
  • Personal hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, face wipes)
  • Entertainment (books, magazines, puzzles)

Checked Luggage: What to Put in the Hold

When packing your checked luggage, keep these guidelines in mind:

  1. Avoid overpacking: Overpacking can lead to overweight baggage fees or difficulty closing your suitcase. Stick to your packing list and prioritise necessities.
  2. Pack liquids securely: Store liquids in leak-proof containers and wrap them in plastic bags to prevent spills.
  3. Avoid prohibited items: Familiarise yourself with the list of prohibited items for checked luggage, as outlined by your airline and destination country. Common items include aerosols, flammable materials, and sharp objects.
  4. Label your luggage: Ensure your luggage has a luggage tag with your name, address, and contact information in case it gets misplaced.
  5. Remove old tags and stickers: Remove any outdated tags or stickers from previous trips to avoid confusion during baggage handling.

Luggage Security: Tips to Keep Your Belongings Safe

To ensure your luggage remains secure during your journey, follow these recommendations:

  1. Use a TSA-approved lock: These locks can be opened by security personnel using a master key, preventing damage to your luggage during inspections.
  2. Choose luggage with secure zippers: Opt for luggage with sturdy, puncture-resistant zippers to deter thieves.
  3. Personalise your luggage: Adding a colourful luggage strap, ribbon, or unique identifier will make your bag stand out and be less attractive to opportunistic thieves.
  4. Keep your valuables to hand: As a general rule, keep your valuables (jewellery, electronics) in your carry-on luggage.  Personally, I keep my passport in my pocket as things can fall out of bags, or be taken by pickpockets.

Lost Luggage Procedures: What to Do If Your Bag Goes Missing

Despite best efforts, sometimes luggage does get lost or delayed.Thousands of bags are lost or mislaid every year.  If this happens to your luggage, here are a few things you can do::

  1. Report the loss: Immediately file a report with the airline’s baggage services office at the airport. Provide them with your contact information, luggage tag number, and a detailed description of your bag.
  2. Keep your receipts: If you need to purchase essential items while waiting for your luggage, keep your receipts for reimbursement.
  3. Stay in contact: Follow up with the airline regularly for updates on your luggage’s status.
  4. File a claim: If your luggage is not found within a specified time frame (usually 21 days), you may need to file a claim for compensation with the airline.
How To Pack For Air Travel.  The Right Luggage And The Best Packing Tips.
Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

Unclaimed Luggage: What Happens to Lost Bags

In the event that lost luggage remains unclaimed, airlines will typically hold onto the bags for a certain period (usually 90 days) to give the owner a chance to claim them. After that, unclaimed luggage may be:

  • Donated to charity
  • Sold at auction
  • Sent to a facility that specialises in handling unclaimed baggage, such as the Unclaimed Baggage Centre in the United States

To avoid the stress and inconvenience of lost luggage, always pack a change of clothes and essential items in your carry-on, and make sure your luggage is clearly labelled with your contact information – but not your home address.  Just put your name and phone number on there.  You don’t want people to know you’re away from home or where you live!

Stress-free air travel starts with thoughtful preparation and packing. By choosing the right luggage, packing efficiently, and taking steps to secure your belongings, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a hassle-free journey. 

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