Before you pack for your next trip, check out these Luggage Tips For Checked Bags, like adding a tracker and packing your itinerary in your bag.
For more help, check out all of our travel posts.
I am the queen of stuffing everything into a bag that will fit into one of the overhead compartments in an airplane. It’s mostly because I don’t want to deal with paying for checked baggage then waiting around baggage claim to pick it up. No thank you.
Let me fit everything into my free bag, carry that with me at all times, then my vacation can start as soon as we deplane.
However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes you just have too much stuff and need a checked bag. Sometimes, the overhead bins are full by the time you board and the airline makes you gate check your bag. And sometimes, you’re flying internationally and you get offered a free checked bag.
Whatever the case is, if a checked bag is in your future, you need some tips. I tried to keep these in order of when you would actually check these tips off, as if it were a checklist so you’ll be prepared for your next flight. But they’re not in an order of importance. Every tip is pretty helpful.
There’s also an FAQ section about checked luggage at the end. Those answers can vary per airline, per flight path (domestic flights or international flights), so be sure to use the TSA’s website for additional information.
If you’re reading this, it’s most likely because you’re going on a trip soon. And that means packing. So, a good idea would be to check out The Ultimate List Of Packing Lists for packing tips and tricks to make sure you’re being efficient.
10 Luggage Tips For Checked Bags
Affiliate links are included in this post and Drugstore Divas may make a small commission if you use them.
Purchase colorful luggage.
When I bought my luggage set, I made sure to pick out a beautiful purple luggage set. Of course, purple is my favorite color, so that made sense aesthetically. But it also makes sense from a practical standpoint as well.
So many people have black, gray, or charcoal colored luggage. Those are pretty standard. So, when everyone’s luggage is coming around the conveyor belt, it’s hard to spot your black luggage among everyone’s black luggage. If your bags are a bright, stand out color, you have a better chance of noticing it before it passes you by.
Pack your liquids in bags.
Baggage handlers are as careful as possible with your bags. But sometimes, accidents happen. Your bag may get a couple bumps and bruises in travel. It would be terrible if you had a shampoo bottle that popped its top while it was getting loaded onto the plane. Or worse, a soda or beer that got shaken and then exploded. You would open your bags to a wet, sticky mess.
Save yourself the potential headache and pack liquids in ziptop bags that seal. You can even go as far as I do and tape your bottles closed. That way, if they do open, the mess is self-contained.
And you can pack as many ziptop plastic bags as you want. Carry-on luggage must abide by the 3-1-1 rule (“3” ounce containers or less, all placed in “1” quart-sized bag, and “1” bag person). Your checked bag doesn’t have to follow this rule.
Don’t pack valuables or electronics in your checked bag.
Sometimes, your luggage gets lost (like me, last year). And sometimes, you’re not reunited with it (luckily, not me last year). That’s a possibility. So imagine if you had your valuables, or incredibly sentimental items, in that bag. You’d potentially never see them again.
So when you’re packing, keep any valuable items in your carry-on bag or personal item. Jewelry, wallets, things like that. That way, they’re always with your person and almost eliminate the chance of losing them.
Also, this goes for electronics like laptops, cameras, and phones too. Don’t pack them in your checked bag. Sure, it feels safer and it’s easier to run through an airport to your connecting flight without being weighed down by a laptop. But, if your luggage is lost, electronics are not reimbursed. So, you’d have to buy a new camera, laptop, tablet, phone, etc. with your own money. Plus, you’d lose all your saved documents, photos, etc. if you never got your bag back.
Trust me on that last tip. Carry your electronics with you. Or, at the absolutely very least, put your camera’s SD card in your wallet and carry it with you. That way, if your camera gets lost or damaged, at least you’ll have your photos.
Put a copy of your itinerary in your checked bag.
The Orlando Airport gave me this brilliant tip that I had never thought of: Print out a copy of your itinerary and put it in your bag.
That way, if the outside tags are damaged or lost between transfers, there will be further identification and route connections so your bag will get to its final destination.
And, it’ll be a good way to identify where your bag originated in case it gets tagged incorrectly (like mine did) and they need to track down where the issue occurred, seeing your itinerary is an easy way to do that.
Weigh your luggage before you go.
There is a weight limit for checked bags that varies by airline and class. An overweight bag will incur additional baggage fees. So definitely find out the baggage allowance from your airline before you finish packing your bag.
When you’re done packing, weight it. If you don’t have a scale specifically for baggage (most people don’t, but many hotels do so you can borrow it outbound), the best way to check your bag’s weight is just weigh yourself. Then, weigh yourself holding the bag. The difference is the weight of the bag.
Of course, that system isn’t entirely perfect, so leave yourself a little wiggle room between the weight of your bag and the airline’s weight limit. That’s especially important if you plan to pick up any souvenirs to carry back on your return trip. You’ll have to pay a fee if your bag exceeds the weight limit and that fee can be pretty hefty.
Also, while we’re talking about it, make sure to check the size limits of the bag as well. You’d think those were standard, but they can vary per airline. You don’t want to worry about an extra cost for an oversized bag.
Use TSA approved locks.
You want to lock your luggage so no one goes through it, and I get that. But keep in mind that sometimes, TSA may see something through the X-Ray that they want to take a closer look at. And to do so, they need to get into your bag.
If you don’t use a TSA approved lock, the TSA does reserve the right to break your lock. And that would be a bad surprise to see when you’re reunited with your luggage.
Remove any old tags.
Keeping old tags on your luggage may feel like a fun way to remember your past trips. If you want to do them, remove them and frame them.
When your luggage is getting sorted for a connecting flight, you don’t want anyone to have to check a million tags to assure your luggage gets on the correct flight — or accidentally put it on the wrong one. So do everyone a favor and take off the old tags.
Fun fact: According to my quick Google search, airlines call these “bingo tags,” which makes no sense to me but is awesome.
Speaking of those bingo tags, I got a tip about those from one of the frequent travelers I know. He said what you should do is take a photo of your bingo tag after it gets put on at the ticketing counter, just in case it gets separated from your bag during travel.
Make sure you have the right bag tag sticker on your ticket.
Here’s something I didn’t know until my bag got lost. There’s a sticker that comes off that bingo tag. That sticker is attached to the back of your boarding pass (or your receipt, if you had extra charges to check that bag). That sticker should have your name and bag tag number on it.
Before you walk away from the ticketing counter, flip your ticket over and check that sticker. Make sure that’s your name tag. Then, make sure your bag is actually tagged with the matching tag.
I know. This feels tedious. And it feels like you’re micromanaging the ticketing agent. But, when I lost my luggage, the agent helping me said it’s one of the most important things a passenger should do at check in.
Because here’s the thing. When my bag got lost, the sticker on the bag of my ticket wasn’t my name. And the agent helping me said that if the tag on my bag matched the sticker on my ticket, I’d be fine. But if it didn’t, my bag would be lost forever.
Use a luggage tag.
You want to make sure you have your name and contact information on your luggage in case it does get lost and the airline needs to get it back to you. The easiest way to do this is with a luggage tag.
Make sure your phone number is current on it as well because if your luggage does get misplaced, they’ll use that number to call you to let you know where it is. You want to make sure your home address is correct as well because the airline will offer to drive your misplaced luggage to you if you’re unable to go back to the airport to pick it up.
The Orlando Airport verified that as long as the luggage tag doesn’t hang past the width of the luggage, it is acceptable to use.
Don’t put ribbons on your bag. Use Velcro.
A huge, colorful ribbon or pieces of string sound like a great way to help identify your luggage from afar while you’re waiting at baggage claim. Unfortunately, that’s not really a great idea.
Ribbons or string may get stuck in the conveyor belt, and that could potentially damage the luggage handles or the airline’s equipment.
We have these cute Velcro handle wraps that say, “Just Married” and our wedding date on them. We’ve had them on our luggage since we got married. One got lost somewhere between New York and Japan, but the other has been going strong for over eight years.
The Orlando Airport said that my Velcro handle wrap was “a perfect choice,” so definitely pick up one of those if you’re looking for something to help you identify your luggage.
Pack an AirTag or Tile tracker.
I cannot emphasize this tip enough. Get an AirTag or Tile tracker for your luggage. When you’re packing, just throw it inside your bag. You’ll be able to precisely track your bag in case it does get lost.
If your luggage gets where it’s supposed to be, this feels like an unnecessary tip. But when you follow something like this Twitter thread, where the airline lied to a customer about the location of his luggage and he was only able to retrieve his luggage because of his AirTag, you realize just how necessary this is for piece of mind.
Just don’t forget to actually set up the AirTag or Tile tracker prior to packing it in your luggage. If you don’t do that, you won’t be able to actually track your bag.
Checked Luggage: Frequently Asked Questions
A standard checked bag size is usually 62 linear inches total. That’s length + width + height on the outside. Wheels and handles do count in this measurement.
Of course, you’ll want to check with the specific airline you’re flying as this can vary per carrier.
Yes, a backpack can be checked luggage. For the most part, though, a small backpack fits into the size allotment for carry on bags, so you might want to use it as a carry on (and avoid paying for a checked bag).
Of course, you can pack your clothing, pairs of shoes, etc. in your checked luggage. You already know that. I did want to list some common items that you may question.
If you want to drink wine on your vacation, you can. But you have to bring a corkscrew with a blade in your checked luggage only. Sharp objects cannot be brought in your carry on.
Gel heating pads
If you need a heating pad, and you use a gel heating pad, you need to pack that in your checked luggage. It’s not permitted in your carry on bag.
A rounded or butter knife is permitted in either bag, but knives with points must be in your checked bag.
Pocket knives must also be in your checked bag.
Your checked luggage is where you are going to need to pack any liquids that are over 3.4 ounces. This limit is also set in place for aerosols and creams (like body butter, pomade, etc.).
Things you wouldn’t consider liquids fall under the “creams” category. Like toothpaste. Jellies, jams, and peanut butter are also considered creams and cannot be brought in carry on bags.
Funny aside: I was going through security once, and a man was carrying a plastic grocery bag with a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly — presumably to make sandwiches. He was able to bring the bread onto the plane, but the peanut butter and jelly were taken away.
Drinks, like soda, must also be in checked bags.
Magic 8 Ball
Okay, honestly, I don’t think anyone is trying to bring this on a plane, but the description of this on the TSA’s website is amazing. Ready?
For Carry-on bags: We asked the Magic 8 Ball and it told us…Outlook not so good!
For Checked bags: We asked the Magic 8 Ball and it told us…It is certain!
If you want to bring scissors that are over 4-inches in length, they must be packed in your checked bag.
Things like ski poles, baseball bats, etc. must be in your checked bag.
Soda may explode in checked luggage because of the pressure in the hold. If you absolutely need to bring back a soda from your trip, pack it in a ziptop plastic bag that is closed completely. That way, if it does explode, the sticky soda gets all over the bag and not all over your clothing.
We’ve brought beer back on two separate flights, one domestic and one international. When we flew with a six-pack internationally, one of the six beers exploded but the other five did not. When we flew with beer domestically, it did not explode. Of course, those are anecdotal not scientific studies, but they’re worth noting.
What is restricted in checked bags?
There are a lot of things that are restricted in checked bags, things like gasoline that I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be packing anyway. To make it easier, we listed a few common items that you may be thinking of packing that are restricted in checked bags.
- Alcohol that’s over 70% (140 proof)
- Cooking spray (we’ve brought food and items to cook with to Japan, like the time my aunt packed American cheese, so this was worth noting)
- E-cigarettes/vaping pens (you can put them in your carry on)
- Lithium batteries with more than 100 watt hours (there are special instructions for these to be brought in carry on bags)
- Portable chargers, power banks, or power chargers containing a lithium ion battery (these can be brought in carry on bags)
- Matches (a book of safety (non-strike anywhere) matches are allowed in a carry on bag; strike anywhere matches are not allowed on planes)
- Samsung Galaxy Note 7
- Sparklers (so if you wanted sparklers for a wedding, you’d have to buy them at the ceremony spot)
What should I not pack in checked bags?
Just a little rundown of things that you should not pack in your checked bag, in case it gets lost or stolen.
- All your clothes (Pack an entire outfit in your carry on if you have the space. That way, you have a clean outfit in case you do lose your bag)
- Breakables (Any fragile items should be packed in your carry on)
- Electronics (Electronics, like laptop computers and cameras, may not be reimbursed if your baggage is lost)
- Keys (If your bag is lost, how will you get into your house if your keys are lost with it?)
- Wallet (with your cash, credit cards, and ID)
More Tips About Flying:
If you’re flying soon, we have a few other posts with helpful tips for you.
Check out our 5 Useful Tips For First Time Flyers and Things To Do At The Airport While You’re Waiting At The Gate posts.
Which of these 10 Luggage Tips For Checked Bags was the most helpful? Let us know in the comments.