baggage claim 1Lost luggage. The very idea can haunt you while you fly. Who hasn’t stepped up to the baggage carousel and felt that nagging sense of dread?  And if your bag doesn’t turn up, your vacation is off to a very stressful start.

While losing your luggage can be just a matter of bad luck – just three out of every 1,000 bags are lost, with a 98 percent return rate – there are some preventable measures you can take that will help your bags meet you when you land. Here are some ideas, along with a couple of extra tips for securing what’s flying with you.

How to keep your luggage from getting lost…

1. Arrive at the airport early.
This is often the single most important factor in ensuring that your luggage doesn’t get lost. Arriving early allows the airport and baggage handlers to properly label and organize your bags for the correct flight. In an interview, an airport baggage handler confessed that the number one way customers lose their luggage is when they check-in at the last minute.

2. Make as few connections as possible.
We know that no one loves laying over, especially if they can fly direct for a similar price. Still, it has to be said that the more times your luggage changes hands, the more likely your bags will get lost.

3. Decorate your baggage.
Many suitcases look alike: dark, rectangular, with wheels. Bedazzling your suitcase with a bit of decoration or color helps it stand out on the luggage carousel so you can retrieve it quickly, for sure. But it also has another benefit: it prevents a stranger from mistaking your suitcase for theirs. You could write your name on your bag’s interior and exterior, tie on a few ribbons, or attach a life-size picture of your face to your suitcase. Whatever you think is best.

4. Hide stray straps, and replace old luggage.
Straps, zippers, and other stray parts of your luggage can catch or snag on conveyer belts. As soon as that happens, you run the risk of damaging your bag. Worse yet, if your bag causes a hold-up, you can bet that it’ll immediately be removed from the conveyer belt, thus increasing the odds of it getting misplaced. And if your suitcase is an old clunker that’s likely to cause trouble on the carousel, it might be time for a new bag. Every small step counts.

5. Track your luggage on your own.
Feeling super paranoid? You can ensure that your bags are never off your radar by placing a small tracker  in your suitcase. For example, Trakdot is a pint-sized GSM tracker to pack in your luggage, and it reports its location, in real time, to any mobile device. Even though your luggage may not be in hand, you can quickly access its location.

And other tips…

How to Prevent Tampering: Seal your suitcase.
Afraid of someone stealing your stuff while your bag is in transit? Seal your luggage. Suitcase sealing, which essentially means tightly wrapping your luggage in plastic at an airport kiosk for a fee, can reduce the risk of theft or smuggling. Not only is the wrap off-putting to potential thieves — it’s not a quick process to unwrap a bag — a wrapped bag that’s been tampered with will show obvious signs. While TSA maintains the right to remove the seals in order to inspect bags, the seal generally protects your bag until you reach your arrival destination. Companies like Secure Wrap and TrueStar operate out of many airports in the U.S. and abroad, and Amsterdam’s Schiphol even has its own bag wrapping service.

How to Avoid the Hassle Altogether: Ship special items to your destination.
If you have any special items like a guitar, golf bag, or a surfboard that you want to take on a plane, a FedEx delivery to your hotel may be a safer, less damaging, and less expensive. Airline fees for these kinds of items can incur fees as high as $150, whereas services like Lugless can ship them directly to your hotel for under $100. Plus, you’ll avoid the unruly TSA inspection process, and sticky fingers.

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