How to make sure your luggage is safe while travelling (and what to do if it gets lost anyway)

Ever notice that when you’re on a trip, you’re a more fabulous version of yourself? You’re calmer, happier, have better skin and are even better dressed. It makes sense when you go on a big trip (for work, leisure or otherwise), you want to bring those special pieces you own, like your Chloé lace-up boots or your The Row backpack. When loading up your suitcase, you think to yourself, “I’ll pack this into my carry-on – that way there’s no risk of it getting lost or stolen, right?” That’s what I thought. Until my Chanel purse (packed inside my Heys, stowed above the row in front of me) was involved in a carry-on mix-up that left me with nothing more than another woman’s jean jacket and faux leather sandals.

I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not our items are actually safe when we travel. CNN analyzed lost property filed with the U.S.’s Transportation Security Administration to reveal the following numbers of claims for personal items between 2010 and 2014: 4268 claims for lost jewellery and watches, 4151 lost clothing claims, 1667 purses and luggage, 2342 cases of lost cosmetics, and 1053 lost or stolen money claims.

I never did get my Wallet On A Chain back, and the police have labeled it as theft. And since this is a fashion crime I wouldn’t wish upon an enemy (even the woman walking around with my Chanel WOC like it’s her own), I’m going to share with you what I learned from this whole ordeal: how to travel with luxury items, and what do if your stuff gets lost or stolen.

Keep reading for the 10 tips I’ve picked up.

1. Don’t pack everything
You want to bring your bag and shoes, and I get it. I’d never restrict a fashion girl her right to bear arms. But there’s a smart way to do it. Leave the branded dust bags and certification cards at home (this only ensures that your stuff is real and sellable). And if the person with your property suspects any cheap fakery, they just may return it. That’s what the sales person at Chanel told me. But I had my certification card inside in my bag. Big mistake.

2. Identify your bag
With your carry-on, there’s no tracking system from the airline. So be sure to put an address tag on it, as well as pack your business cards, travel itineraries, hotel information, anything that shows someone who took your bag how they can contact you. Although I did do this, the baggage claim guys at the Vancouver airport urged that I do this every time. Most of the time, they said, carry-on mix-ups are just that – mix-ups. And people want their own stuff back…most of the time.

3. Copy. Copy. Copy
Just like you have a photocopy, phone snap or scan of your passport, keep a log of the receipts, serial numbers, description, prices (especially the inflated prices of investment pieces – my bag went up almost $500), and anything else you can think of. If your carry-on is stolen, this will make dealing with the airline, insurance companies and the police a snap.

4. Track your bag yourself
When this whole thing happened, I wondered if there was such thing as a smart luggage or a luggage location app, like Find iPhone. Turns out there is: Raden luggage and it’s equipped with the coolest tech functions. By just downloading its app and syncing it to your phone, you will not only be able to track the exact location of your checked-in bag, you can also find out how much it weighs by just lifting the handle. Did I mention you can charge up to two of your smartphones?

If buying a new luggage isn’t in your budget, download a mobile app like The Tile. It’s a GPS that can let you know where your lost luggage can be found. You just slip the square inside the pocket of a pair of jeans you packed and you’ll know exactly where your luggage is.

5. Put your carry-on where you can see it
Carry-on theft is a thing, so much so that the Government of Canada recently released tips on how to protect yourself in the not-so-friendly skies. The one that stuck out to me is where to put your bag on the plane: “Stow your carry-on bag in an overhead compartment directly across the aisle from your seat. Then you can see right away if anyone tries to get into it.” With all the new carry-on limitations on flights, not everyone can get a spot for their bag near their seat, so board early. Be one of those super eager people who stand and wait for the line to begin, even before boarding starts. If it means you can see your carry-on from your seat, it’s worth it. And any items that are smaller (like my bag would have been), put them under the seat in front of you.

Photography by Peter Stigter

So, you did all of that and your stuff still got stolen. Now what?

6. Call the police – now
Even though the airline or airport security tells you this happens all the time and it’s always resolved, call the police. I didn’t call the police until two weeks later, when the baggage claim finally admitted defeat. The RCMP officer on my case said it was too late to request airplane security footage and seating assignment list (it’s gone after 24 to 48 hours because the plane numbers—like AC1124—are used again the next day). Don’t forget to contact baggage claim, airport security and insurance, too.

7. Write everything down
Log the content of your belongings right away, and be specific. Keep adding to the list as you remember. This will give the airline and the airport the ability to identify your bag, even if your address tag was removed or fell off. And when giving the value for your items, insurance packages may only give you the depreciated or paid value for your items. But luxury items, like Chanel bags and Rolex watches usually appreciate. Forget eBay, call the store. So find out the current value of your lost or stolen item. And don’t forget to list certification numbers, too. The RCMP officer told me that by giving her this serial number, anyone found with this Chanel bag would be arrested immediately for being in possession of stolen property.

8. Go through your #ootd posts
Your outfit selfies aren’t in vain. They are proof you owned these expensive pieces. And insurance will require proof, whether in the form of receipts or photos, that you did in fact have a pair of Nicholas Kirkwood loafers. My insurance claims adjustor was happy to receive my Instagram posts.

9. Triple-check your insurance
I learned the hard way that the person who organized my trip didn’t include travel insurance. There are three types of travel insurance: 1) flight cancellation, 2) medical, and 3) baggage. You can buy these three as bundle deals, generally for about $100 or so. House insurance covers you for theft, even if it’s not your house that’s been robbed. And you might want to consider getting a rider on your investment pieces. A “rider” is like an extra insurance that will cover more expensive things you own that your regular package might not cover. So say, you have a Balenciaga bag that costs about $5000 or a Hermès bag that’s closer to $10,000, you could get a rider that would cover you for about $50 to $100 per year or $100 to $200 per year, respectively. That might cost you a pair of shoes, but at least your purse is insured.

10. See if you can buy it back
The police told me to search for my items online. So I went to the usual suspects: eBay, craigslist and Kijiji. But I also went to some fashion consignment sites, such as local stores, as well as Fashion Curator on Facebook. The fashion community is very supportive and empathetic for situations like these, especially if they think one of their own might be selling stolen property. Also check out Unclaimed Baggage and its highly stylized Instagram account.

Although the risk of getting your bag stolen isn’t worth getting freaked out about, be smart about how you pack and where you put your bag on the plane. And if someone is awful enough to steal your stuff, being organized and internet-savvy can help you get it all back (or at least buy it back).