Sometimes, when you’re preparing to take a vacation, it’s a good idea to stop and take a deep breath.
I’ve dealt with tons of travel headaches over the years. I’ve found myself repacking my suitcases at the baggage check-in desk after being told that I’m over the weight limit.
I’ve dealt with suitcases that constantly toppled over because I mistakenly crammed all the heavy bits and pieces into the top of the bag. I’ve even come uncomfortably close to spending two weeks in Spain with a bag full of an elderly woman’s clothes simply because we had the exact same suitcase!
Knowing the best tips and tricks for packing and traveling with checked suitcases is an absolute lifesaver. What’s more, airlines are constantly putting the squeeze on checked luggage allowances, so it’s even more important to prepare before your next trip. That’s why we turned to seasoned travel industry experts to find out all the best checked luggage hacks.
Wrap Your Jewelry
Like your Apple earbuds, jewelry just loves tangling itself into a mess the second you turn your back. Even if you neatly pack your necklaces, bracelets, and earrings into your suitcase, I guarantee you they’ll come out in a bunch by the time you land. But Tasia Duske of MuseumHack has found a great hack to separate valuables with cling wrap.
“Just place necklaces or earrings on one sheet of saran wrap, place the other sheet on top, and make a tight seal. Now when you arrive in your destination, your jewelry won’t be all tangled!” she explains.
I don’t wear jewelry, but my fiancée was more than happy to put this method to the test with her accessories on a recent flight to Moscow. The verdict? It works, and you can even use multiple stacked sheets to create layers for each type of jewelry you’re bringing with you. It’s also one less thing to worry about leaving behind when you’re emptying your pockets at security.
Repurpose Your Laptop Bag
When you’re flying, a laptop bag is essentially free storage space. Even the most stringent airlines that weigh your luggage to the last ounce generally won’t bat an eyelid at this sleeve. But appearances can be deceiving–you can fit a lot inside a laptop bag. It’s the perfect place to stuff those small, dense items that weigh down your checked luggage.
“Your laptop bag (…) is where the magic happens: you can put clothes, accessories, and even shoes in your laptop bag,” says Torben Lonne, a free online scuba diving magazine. “If your laptop bag is bulging, you can cover it with a hoodie or jacket draped over [your arm]. This looks perfectly normal to airline staff.”
Give Your Luggage Priority
One of the most tedious parts of flying, in my opinion, is waiting. Waiting to disembark the plane among a sea of standing passengers. Waiting at the customs and border security desks. Waiting for my luggage to come off the baggage carousel.
On my last trip, I snagged a seat with extra legroom near the front of the plane. I’m also pretty tall, meaning I speed-walked ahead of the rest of the passengers with ease, and I was one of the first through customs.
I was patting myself on the back until I reached the baggage carousel, which was showing a 30-minute wait for luggage. And while you can’t speed up the baggage handlers, you might be able to ensure that your bag is one of the first to sail out on the carousel by following this piece of advice from travel blogger Billy Read: “Request the ‘FRAGILE’ sticker for your checked luggage–this will mark it as a priority and it will be one of the first to appear on the baggage carousel.”
Skip the Baggage Handlers Altogether
While we’re on the subject of baggage handlers and that long wait at the carousel, why not cut it out of your journey altogether? No, I’m not just going to say “travel carry-on”–I know you know that’s an option, and this is a list of checked luggage hacks, after all.
Taylor Engert over at Lugless.com has shared this little gem with us: “As airlines continue to tack on extra dollars, door-to-door baggage delivery services are becoming increasingly popular to help travelers save money, time and stress (…) allowing travelers to ship bags to their destination in advance.”
Honestly, I had no idea that companies like this existed. Think about all the potential stress that comes with checking a large, unwieldy bag–or several. You’ve got to fit them in the car. You’ve got to lug them from your car to the terminal, and then you’ve got to stand in line to check them. You’ve got to hope that your bag won’t be that one exception that vanishes into the ether. And then you’ve got to wait at the baggage carousel at the other end, and then do it all again in reverse.
Wouldn’t you rather be sitting at your destination drinking a mimosa while everybody else is in line? Companies like Lugless will haul your bag from your home to your destination, and it might not cost you any more than you’d pay to check your suitcase on the plane. Now that they’re on my radar, I’ll seriously consider trialing this method next time I fly.
Know the Airline Loyalty Perks
A travel blogger named Suzanne uses her airline credit card to get free checked bags when she’s racked up enough points. It’s not so much a hack as making the most of company loyalty bonuses. But I can guarantee there are people out there who fly on a semi-regular or frequent basis and just let those points slip into the gutter.
Let’s take a look at American Airlines as an example: anyone who has an American Airlines credit card with travel credits and who has earned elite status. Gold, Platinum, and Executive tier members get 1, 2, or 3 free checked bags, respectively. Sure, you’ll have to fly frequently to build up those points, but if you’re already doing that for business or leisure, then you might as well be making the most of it, right?
Jazz Up Your Luggage
Let me tell you about the time I arrived in the Canary Islands back in 2018. I’d just bought a brand-new suitcase that was on sale at a big-name retailer. It’s a basic bag; deep red with cream wheels and not much else going for it. I didn’t affix any stickers or labels to “make it mine,” so it looked like any other suitcase off the shelf. You can probably see exactly where I’m going with this story.
When I hauled what I thought was my suitcase from the baggage carousel, it was wet. There were no liquids in my suitcase, so that was pretty weird. But thank goodness I saw that stain. When I opened the suitcase to check it out, I was greeted by underwear that appeared to belong to an elderly lady! I still have nightmares about the idea of two weeks in the sun without any of my belongings. And I still have (my) suitcase, but I’ve since covered it with personalized patches.
“Make it identifiable,” recommends David Adler, founder and CEO of thetravelsecret.com. “How many times have you been at the baggage claim and seen endless black bags go by that look exactly like yours?”
Have a Backup Stash
This is another tip from David Adler, who also recommends keeping a backup stash of your essentials in another bag. Not all of us will lose a suitcase on our travels, but it can happen more easily than you might think. Even if it’s not lost, your suitcase could be delayed for a day or two.
“If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where your checked bag is lost or delayed, you don’t want to be stranded without your essentials,” David says.
The idea here is to keep a spare batch of toiletries and any other essentials you can’t really be without for longer than a day or so. Heck, if the bag is big enough–remember that laptop bag hack?–you could even slip a change of clothes in there. That way, if the worst should happen, you won’t be left in limbo until your bag shows up–if it does at all! (And medications, laptops, and important paperwork should be in your carry-on, anyway.)
Choose Your Clothes Carefully
We’ve all been there; you’re packing for your holiday and start by adding the crucial bits of clothing. Those new jeans that fit in all the right places. That sweatshirt that keeps you warm when the temperature drops in the evening. And then you start throwing in the other pieces you don’t really need. A third pair of shoes that you don’t wear often, but might suddenly need. That huge, thick coat that you probably won’t need but hey — it’s a great brand!
“I always try to pack light by bringing light towels and light clothes and wear[ing] the heaviest clothes on the day of travel. That extra [sweater] is sometimes surprisingly useful when the airplane puts that air conditioning on full power again,” says traveler Maarten Cox.
The idea here is not only to cut out all those unnecessary impulse items, but also to really think about your destination. Beach holiday? Great; you won’t need those bulky sweaters that consume half your suitcase. If you do take anything large with you, try to wear it on the plane. Wear your largest shoes, the thickest and heaviest clothes, and so on. You might be a little warm on the plane, but it’ll be invaluable when you’re trying to stay within the weight allowance.
Make Sure Your Bag is Bottom-Heavy
This is actually applicable to both your checked luggage and your carry-on suitcase or backpack. Taylor Randolph of parkfellows.com recommends that you stuff your heaviest items to the bottom of the bag–and we don’t mean the bottom while it’s lying flat on your bed while you pack. Think about where the wheels are, and make sure your shoes, jeans, and anything else that weighs a ton is located at this end. The opposite applies to lighter items; stuff those into the top end of the suitcase.
“Pack shoes at the bottom. Shoes are the heaviest item in your luggage, and their weight will balance out your bag,” says Taylor. He also recommends utilizing space that’s often lost, like the inside of your shoes. You can easily stuff a few pairs of socks into that void or use it as a cushioned safe space for items that need a little extra protection.
Organize Everything Into Compartments
Jennifer Willy of etia.com, Sarah at cruisingkids.co.uk, and Amy Bloomer at letyourspacebloom.com all recommend packing cubes as a way to keep your suitcase from turning into a jumble when it’s bouncing around on the airport tarmac. They’re literally just cubes that seal with a zipper and fit together in your suitcase like a jigsaw puzzle.
“Packing cubes are wonderful space savers when packing for a cruise,” says Sarah. “We allocate every family member a different colour set of cubes and roll all clothes to save space!”
If you’re traveling alone, they’re still a great idea. Earmark a cube for each type of clothing: one for the socks and underwear, one for the T-shirts, and even one for things like cables, chargers, and other small electronics. If you’re traveling with a partner or family, even better. The color-coding stops any kids digging through your suitcase looking for that lost pair of underwear, and completely destroying your organization.
Traveling can either be stressful or stress-free (or, at least, partially stress-free) if you know how to pack you inanimate travel companions.
Whether you’re checking a bag or going full-on carry-on, there are ways to travel the way you want, with all you want, without having to break any rules or bust your suitcase zippers. Give these checked luggage hacks a try and let us know what you think!