As I wandered the racks of Unclaimed Baggage, a shopping wonderland where lost luggage goes to find new homes just outside of Huntsville, Alabama, I marveled at the number of Kindles, laptops, cameras, and yes, even diamond rings, in the display cases. Who were these people who were packing up their valuables in their checked bags? Didn’t they know the TSA rules? There are just some things you should never pack away and risk never seeing again. While some are obvious, or so you would think, others aren’t as obvious, so let’s start with the basics.
Any item of value should never be checked into the belly of a plane. Small digital cameras, DSLR cameras, video cameras, laptops, Kindles, iPads, cell phones and even portable hard drives are all included in this category. If you would be sad to lose it, don’t check it. Carry it in a backpack or purse onto the plane.
If you have these items in your carry-on suitcase and you are asked to check it, take them out. I once unpacked half of a carry-on suitcase into a backpack because I was forced to check my bag. I tried to explain that it was filled with camera gear—the flight crew didn’t care. I always pack an Eagle Creek Packable Day Pack just in case I need an extra bag on the road. It has come in handy more than once at the airport.
While you may think you should just throw your makeup bag in your checked bag, and you can, but if you have an expensive makeup kit that you don’t want to part with, pack it in your purse. This is especially important on international flights or if you have multiple connections. Items that aren’t easily replaced (i.e. that mineral powder it took you two years of research to finally settle on) should always be carried on your person.
Costume jewelry aside, if it has some bling, make sure your jewelry stays with you. Never, ever take off your diamonds at TSA security and put them through the security screener or these precious gems may go missing. These items will not set off the metal detector. You are safe to wear engagement rings, diamond stud earrings, tennis bracelets, necklaces, what have you.
Most recently, the team at Unclaimed Baggage found a seven-carat diamond ring in a lost checked bag. Someone actually packed a gorgeous, very pricey diamond ring that they were never able to find again. Don’t be that person. We can only assume a guy was about to propose, and was trying to keep it a secret. It’s amazing how many diamond engagement rings find their way to Unclaimed Baggage via checked bags.
The lesson here—bring your valuable jewelry with you. Even if it has no value to someone else, but it has value to you, pack your jewelry in your carry-on bags. Grandma can’t come back to give you another broach that has been passed down through four generations.
Prescriptions are one of the top things the airline asks you to take out of your carry-on bag when they ask you to check your bag. This is for good reason. In the cargo hold, these medications can get too hot, too cold, or they may get lost in transit. Many people travel with prescriptions they must take every day. It’s up to you to make sure you have them, not the airline. Keep them with you at all times. The airline cannot separate you from your medications if they are in your smaller carry-on backpack or purse.
Oh, those beloved animals or snuggly lovies our children adore. If your child has a “Froggie” like mine, the world would end if it was lost. Although we have two, if we arrived at our destination without one, our trip could be ruined and no one would sleep that night. Froggie is a member of our family. You don’t check members of your family in cargo. You carry them with love onto the plane. Pack those special friends in your child’s backpack, diaper bag or your own bag so you always know where it is. Our extra “Froggie” is always in my purse for emergencies, while my son carries his own for emergency snuggles during takeoff, landing, and naps on the plane.
6. Baby Gear
Diapers, baby formula, wipes, as well as any other necessities should be thrown into the diaper bag or backpack, and you will want enough to last you at least 24 to 48 hours. Delays happen. Airports don’t always have baby items available in the shops. Even worse, the shops may be closed by the time your flight is cancelled.
Formula and pacifiers are very specific to each child. Don’t get stuck because you checked everything you need for your little one in your checked bag. The airline won’t always give your bag back just because your flight got delayed or cancelled and you have to sleep in a hotel overnight. If you pack smart, you won’t be stuck with a soggy child and even crankier parents.
7. Change of Clothes
Speaking of soggy babies (and their parents), always pack a change of clothes for the entire family when you fly. You just never know when you will have diaper failure, a juice box explosion or someone will experience a bit of air sickness on that flight. For every parent who thinks they have a child who is the best traveler, there is another parent across the aisle grinning and saying “I told you so” when that perfect kid is throwing up all over their father (it’s true).
No matter your child’s age, accidents happen. From the time my boys were three months old I have been peed on, pooped on, spit up on, and had entire cups of water/apple juice/ginger ale dumped on me. If you can’t stand to overpack, at the very least pack an extra shirt. My husband, who has gotten the worst of all accidents in flight, packs a complete wardrobe change after multiple pants being dumped on in transit. We still pack outfits for both children, too.
Best case scenario, you never use it and you have extra clothes at your destination. Worst case scenario, you have to use that outfit because of an accident. Aren’t you now glad that you had it and no one is sitting in a puddle of something you have to explain to the flight attendant?
8. Lithium Batteries
Have you ever wondered WHY you need to take uninstalled lithium batteries out of your checked bag, or that power pack out of your new fancy suitcase? It’s pretty simple—fire. There is a risk that a lithium battery could combust. According to ConsumerReports.org, “the potential for a battery with unprotected electrodes to come in contact with a loose metal object and short out, causing it to ignite” is the actual problem. Although installed batteries are also a risk, as lithium batteries can heat up, they are still technically allowed to be stowed in the cargo hold if they are installed in your laptop. However, we suggest you pack all valuable electronics in your carry-on bag whenever allowed. It’s just good commonsense.
Keryn Means lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her husband, two boys and one fluffy little pup. She is an award-winning travel journalist with bylines on Thrillist.com, Travel Age West and more, and loves to talk travel on ABC’s Good Morning Washington. You can find Keryn dragging her two boys around the DC area most days and across the globe several times a year. Follow along on their adventures on WalkingOnTravels.com and on Instagram.