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Packing Tips That Help If You Have Delayed or Lost Luggage

If you follow travel news, you’ve probably heard tales of lost luggage, especially in European airports this summer. It’s, unfortunately, become common enough that it’s important to strategically pack to make sure you are prepared if your bags are lost or delayed.

I had heard so many stories of lost luggage that I spent quite a bit of time before we left trying to be prepared. Knowing how often luggage was getting lost this past summer, I would have preferred to travel with just carry-ons (although those can sometimes be lost also). However, we were going to be gone for eleven nights, and I just couldn’t pull that off, despite my best attempts.

Preparing in advance did take a little bit of extra time as we were packing. However, when our bags were left in Paris while we were in Portugal, I was glad to have planned for it. While we still were missing some items, it could have been much worse.

Here’s what we did to put us in the best position in case our bags were delayed or lost.

Teal roller suitcase in front of window with water park in the background

Packing Tips That Help If You Have Delayed or Lost Luggage

Packing carry-on only may be the best option to avoid lost bags. However, I have lost several carry-on bags over the years – there wasn’t enough room on the aircraft, and they were taken but not placed in the luggage hold. I did eventually get these back – one took one day and another took three. Luckily both of these occurred on my way home.

Be sure to pack some underseat luggage (your personal item) with essentials. Medications, retainers, necessary paperwork, contact lenses, and eyeglasses should all be in your personal items so there is no concern for losing them.

Because we were going to be gone for so long, we had to check bags. We packed two large rolling carry-on bags in addition to two checked bags. Our carry-on bags were filled with clothes and other personal items for each of us, so we had clothes for a few days even though our larger checked suitcases didn’t arrive.

Stack of colorful packing cubes packed

Using Packing Cubes

We were visiting four hotels on this trip, so I used packing cubes with outfits (along with underwear) organized for each hotel. This did take some extra time because I packed the specific outfits I would wear for each leg of the journey. I packed the first of these packing cubes (for the first hotel) in my carry-on so I had all of the clothes I needed for the first few days with me when my bags were eventually delayed.

Although there were four of us, and we had four bags (two carry-on bags and two checked bags), we spread out all of our belongings among the bags. That way, if we lost just one or two bags, we would all still have some things in the remaining suitcases.

There were some clothing items, like bathing suits and pajamas, that we had packed in the checked bags. While we didn’t need the swimsuits for the first few days, you may want to put them in your carry-on bag if you are visiting a beach destination and will want them as soon as you land. I’d also recommend putting pajamas in your carry-ons if possible.

Packing Toiletries

Packing toiletries exclusively in your carry-on bag can be tough with the TSA requirements for liquids. While many of our toiletries were in our carry-on, there were a few essentials, like deodorant, sunscreen, and hair products, that were in the checked bag. We had to make a trip to a local pharmacy in Portugal to replace these items during the baggage delay.

It’s worth packing a bag of toiletries per person in each carry-on bag. Those are the types of items you’ll definitely want at your destination.


Apple AirTags have become very popular in the travel community. As I spent the summer reading tales of lost luggage, I purchased a set of four AirTags and four cases to attach them to our luggage. Setting them up on your iPhone is easy – just be sure to do it before you leave.

We tracked the bags a few times. Although they did appear to be loaded onto our second flight in Paris, they must have been left in a rack right outside the aircraft. Once we landed in Portugal, we were easily able to see that they were still in Paris. This saved us time because we didn’t wait to be told the luggage had all come out and therefore, we were able to be at the front of the lost baggage line (which grew to be very long – probably over an hour long).

If you don’t use an iPhone, there are some similar products available for other phone types.

Getting Our Bags

We were told that because of operational issues, we needed to retrieve our luggage back at the airport (delivery to our hotel would take days). Once we were alerted that our bags had cleared (24 hours later – although they were received at the airport just a few hours after we landed), we took Uber to the airport to get them.

Finding our luggage in the rooms and rooms of lost luggage at that small airport took some time. It was comforting to track them with the AirTags and know that they were there. You can also play a noise that can help you find them if they are left among many other bags.

Small blue roller bag on top of pink roller bag

Making It Easier to Claim Your Bags

While I was able to get in front of the lost luggage line, it was still frustrating to make a claim. There was a bit of a language barrier, and the employees are so overwhelmed that the process took a while. Unlike other times I lost my bags, this time, I had to describe in detail what the bag looked like – exact color, approximate size, and type of bag (roller, soft-sided, hard-shell).

After experiencing that, I think it would be a good idea to take a quick picture of your bags on your phone before you leave your house. That way, you could just show the employee the photo, especially if you are in a foreign country with a language barrier.

If You Do Lose Your Bags

If your bags are lost, you’ll want to know what type of delayed or lost baggage coverage you have. This might be offered through the airline, your credit card, or your travel insurance. If you do have coverage, you should be sure to save all receipts of anything you purchased due to the loss or delay. Since receipts can get lost, especially if you are on vacation, it’s a good idea to take photos of these receipts.

Also, keep calm. The staff manning the lost luggage counter aren’t responsible for your lost bag but can be very helpful in retrieving it.

Have you lost your bags? Do you have additional tips?

More Packing Tips Resources: Looking for more packing tips and recommendations? Here are all of our posts including packing lists, product recommendations, and ideas for specific trips.

Teal suitcase in front of hotel window with water park in background

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