I don’t check luggage. I can carry enough stuff for a three-week trip in a rollerboard and carry-on duffle. On my last trip I took eleven flights; I wince to think how much time I would have wasted waiting for my bags after each one.

That said, I know sometimes you have to check your gear. It’s bad enough to have to wait for it. It’s downright awful when it never shows. Here are some tips on how to avoid your bag becoming one of the 26 million that go missing each year from airports around the world:

Don’t check your bag at the last minute.
A baggage handler told me an hour is the minimum you should allow to ensure your bag has time to make it onto the plane. And close connections mean while you may be able to sprint and make your next flight, your bag won’t.

Use a luggage tag.
This sound obvious, but according to a gate agent I asked, about a quarter of the bags go through without one. Seriously? Buy—the airline paper ones tear off—a luggage tag and use it! I use leather ones like these on my carry-ons but there are a zillion options out there. Make sure you choose one with a sturdy enough strap.

Label the inside of your bag.
Even the best luggage tags can be torn off, so put your contact info inside the bag, too. Either print out your info and put it on top of your clothes or tape a business card to the inside of your bag.

Include an itinerary in your bag.
On a round-the-world trip, or one with many stops over a relatively short period of time, include an itinerary in your bag. (Print it out and put it on top.) In the event the luggage is lost, it will better help the airline reunite you with your suitcase.

Double check the tag for the correct airport code.
Ask (politely), “My bag is going to [destination], right?” to get the gate agent or outside baggage handler to double-check the bag’s destination matches yours. Better yet, know the airport code for where you’re going so you can read the tag for yourself.

Put a ribbon, decal, or strap on your luggage so it doesn’t look like all the others.
Sometimes luggage makes it to the correct airport but is claimed by the wrong person. Or you can’t spot your bag among the 100 black suitcases coming off the conveyor belt. Use a sticker or a colored strap to make your luggage easy to spot and distinctive. But, please, don’t go overboard. (Luggy squeeze, anyone?)

Buy a luggage tracker.
Drop the device into your bag. Then use your phone to monitor the location of your bags. There are quite a few choices out there. Some use GPS, others GCM, still others, Bluetooth. Most charge a monthly fee or allow you to buy coverage for a certain number of trips. Trakdot, Tile, and LugLoc are three of the better-known and better-reviewed ones. (I’ve used Trakdot to keep tabs on skis; worked great!)

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