How to avoid luggage headaches amid air travel chaos

We’ve all seen the luggage nightmare at airports: suitcases piled by the hundreds – specks of colour in a sea of black. And it’s not just Canada. From London to Dusseldorf to Amsterdam, travellers going through international airports abroad are also facing airport chaos.

Marybeth Bond spent a month this spring travelling to four different countries in Europe without dealing with the hassle of checking any luggage, and she just flew from California to Connecticut for a July 4th family union with her husband – again with just carry-on luggage.

“What a difference that makes,” Bond, the author of a dozen travel books and one of the bloggers behind GutsyTraveler.com, said in a phone interview on Monday.

“Carry-on is the only way to go because then you bypass the luggage check. When you get off the plane, you’re the first in line to get out of the airport quickly. And it is chaotic out there.”

You might not have any control over the nightmare of long lines and cancelled 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 picking the right suitcase, here are some tips and tricks on minimizing your chances of a luggage disaster at the airport.

PICK THE RIGHT LUGGAGE

Some people might recommend going with a lightweight hardshell suitcase to minimize the temptation to overpack, but Bond and CeeCee Chilanga, a Toronto-based style expert and founder of Dapper Style Mint, both recommend going with soft luggage for its flexibility and expandability. They also come with outside pockets for fast and easy access to items that may need to be pulled out at security.

“The soft luggage you can stuff it and it expands… and then I typically do either a backpack or a duffel as my second personal item,” Chilanga, who rarely flies with checked luggage, told CTVNews.ca in an interview.

“I hate standing in line for luggage if I don’t have to.”

She says purses are a waste of space and instead, puts her wallet and passport into a fanny pack or a small cross-body bag that she can stuff on the side of her duffel or fit under her jacket.

If you opt for a duffle bag instead of a suitcase, consider one with wheels so you have the option of wheeling it instead.

Bond’s favourite suitcase styles are light-weight, “spinner” styles with four wheels that can be easily pushed instead of pulled.

Always double check the carry-on size limitations for the carrier you will be flying with, keeping in mind that domestic and international airlines can have different requirements. Bond notes that there are weight limits in Europe that can be challenging to meet.

BLUETOOTH TRACKERS

For $40 and up, these battery-powered tracking devices can be placed in your luggage to help you find your baggage in a crowd of suitcases.

Originally popularized as a method of tracking misplaced keys, wallets, even pets, Bluetooth trackers like Apple’s AirTag, Samsung’s SmartTag, or Tile send information to your mobile phone so you know exactly where they are. They don’t consume a lot of power and typically have a range of about 100 to upwards of 300 ft, depending on the strength of the Bluetooth signal between the tracker and your phone. They can also emit an alarm to help you locate the missing item. When the item is outside the Bluetooth range, many of the models will show the tracker’s most recent location.

Some models only work with specific devices, brands and operating systems, like iOS and Android. The AirTag, for example, only works with the iPhone. But it operates on Apple’s Find My system, which helps track your item through the company’s network of devices. This allows the location of your AirTag to be updated frequently even if you are out of range, and allows for more precise tracking.

Some trackers use a GPS, which offers much greater 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 plan to use a Bluetooth tracker…some models work better for certain applications than others.”

PACKING LIGHT: DOES IT PASS THE TEST?

A key trick to packing light is bringing low-maintenance clothes you can layer, mix and match. And start early – don’t wait until the night before, Chilanga and Bond advise.

“It’s just really being mindful of what you will actually wear and what is just weight,” says Chilanga, who always checks the weather before packing just in case the temperature is unseasonable.

Starting early means giving yourself time to consider what you need and don’t need. Chilanga aims to get three to four different combination possibilities out of every clothing item she brings in order to minimize the number of items she has to pack.

“So preparing things in advance and making sure if I grab a top, how many ways can I maximize it with different outfits,” she explained.

“Remember, other people don’t notice if you’re wearing the same thing everyday – only you notice,” Bond added. A white shirt with a different scarf three days in a row and people think I'm wearing something different, she says.

Chilanga and Bond also avoid fabrics that require extra care, so nothing that needs to be dry cleaned or ironed, for example. Bond checks if the item passes the wash, dry and wear-it-again test.

“There are all those wonderful fabrics now you can get where you can wash it out and it’s dry in a couple of hours and you wear it again, wrinkle free,” she said.

Bond also suggests skipping expensive jewelry and books that can be heavy; bring e-books instead. The heaviest item you pack should be your shoes, and wear the bulkiest ones on your feet if you are bringing more than one pair. Makeup and other toiletries can quickly add up in terms of weight and space as well, so take what you need and put them in smaller containers instead.

TRAVELLING WITH KIDS?

If you’ve got kids in tow, travelling “light” can be tricky. Their clothes may be smaller and take up less space, but they often need other essential items. If they are old enough, Bond says it's a good lesson to have them pack, and don’t let them take too many toys and books.

Chilanga says if there is easy access to a Walmart or another similar store, consider buying bulky items like extra diapers at the destination instead of packing a week’s worth of what they need.

NO WASTED SPACE

Both Chilanga and Bond roll their clothes to make sure every single corner of their luggage and bag is maximized.

“I roll things and put them inside my shoes, put them inside my hat, any little corner I can fit stuff in. So typically, 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 help organize and contain clothes within the luggage, but they can take up more space. Another packing method is bundling, which helps reduce wrinkles and creases. Garments are wrapped in layers around a firm core object – a pouch with socks and undergarments for example – until you have a bundle of clothing. Some travellers use compression bags or waterproof dry bags popular with camping as alternative organizational and space-saving options.

And in case the airline decides at the last minute to make you check your carry-on, always make sure at least one outfit, underwear, and other essentials are in your second personal carry-on backpack or duffle bag. Ensure you have your ID both inside and outside your luggage, and that it appears exactly as it does on the plane ticket, Bond advises.

“Always carry on 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 a sense of humor. Because things will go wrong. You’ve got to just laugh at it.”