Travel Tips: What NOT to Pack in your Checked Baggage, via

What NOT to Pack in Checked Baggage

There are some things – like medicine and passports – you should never pack in checked luggage.

Recently, an elderly couple was denied boarding on their “cruise of a lifetime” because they didn’t have their passports with them. Oh, they had taken their passports, but had left them in their checked bags. And that’s a problem.

Short Story: the couple’s luggage had already been taken on board while they went to check in for their cruise. This is standard procedure, and cruise lines do remind passengers on international cruises that they need their passports for check in. In this case, it’s just something the couple forgot about. Workers tried to find the luggage, but the ship sailed – without the elderly travelers – before they could be found. Compounding the trouble, the pair was stuck in LA while their bags went on the cruise.

While the cruise was just following their rules by not allowing the couple to board, they eventually refunded the couple’s cruise fare, and invited them back for a complimentary cruise of their choice.

We realized there are several things that should never be put in checked bags, that we might not think about. That’s especially true when we’re excited – or worried, or tired – and trying to pack.

Free Download: What Not to Pack in Checked Bags

At very least, don’t pack anything you couldn’t bear losing. Be sure at least one change of clothes is in your carryon, and anything you’ll need on the first day. For example, your bathing suit when you’re on a sunny cruise!

This is the handy list we made as a reminder for us, our friends and family. Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

Travel Tips: What NOT to Pack in your Checked Baggage, via

It should go without saying that you should not pack anything that’s on the TSA’s prohibited list, like explosives or flammables. It’s worth checking the list for other items that you might be tempted to pack. (Did you know cooking spray is prohibited?)

See also  Frequently Flying with Pets

Luggage Pros

Why Not Pack Everything in Checked Luggage?

We’ve all heard stories of lost luggage and checked bags getting on the wrong flight. You might not know that you and your luggage are not always on the same flight. If your flight gets diverted, that could be a problem. Potentially worse, thieves have been known to operate at airports, rummaging through checked baggage looking for valuables, including black market gold like passports and credit cards.

On ships, you surrender your bags until they magically appear in your cabin…which could be the next day. (To be fair, cruise lines do remind you to keep anything you might want on your first day in a bag with you.) While they generally do a great job matching luggage with the cabins they belong to, if they have a problem identifying your bag, it may end up at someone else’s cabin, or not being delivered at all.

One more thing to consider: Airlines and cruise lines have contracts that limit their liability in certain cases. For example, many “contracts of carriage” exempt carriers from any liability for missing or stolen items. On US domestic flights, airlines have a total limit of liability of $3,300 per passenger, per flight (even less on international flights). So if your $5000 lens goes missing, for example, you may not get anywhere near that in compensation.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with carryon bags – rigid, soft, or somewhere inbetween. What’s your favorite style, and what are your tips for flying with carryon? Feel free to share your favorite flying tips, too. We’ll re-post the best tips, so be sure to include your Twitter handle and a link to your blog, if you have one. Or click for more #Travel140!

40 comments on “What NOT to Pack in Checked Baggage

  1. Remember not to put Li ion batteries in your checked luggage. You will most likely lose them if you check them in at an airport. They are on that list of forbidden items that you may see at the airport check-in queues.

    • That’s a great reminder! We think about not putting our laptop in there – although, probably not because of the batteries – but any Li-Ion battery is a no no. Thanks Rhonda!

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  3. Some great travel tips! The days where you’re stuck in transport are always so stressful, it is handy to have this list as a reminder! Glad the experience ended up being okay for that couple in the beginning, it really could be a nightmare.

    I’m searching for a new carry-on (mine is so worn and battered from years of traveling), but I think it’s important to have wheels that swivel in all directions (makes it easier to maneuver in tight spaces), with a soft-ish exterior (so you can shape it to your needs, depending on space), and a couple pockets on the outside so that you can easily have access to things like chargers, medicine, etc.

    I’d also recommend triple-checking your airline’s policy with regards to carry-on, I’ve noticed that many airlines are becoming super stingy and instead of the usual 1 carry-on + 1 small personal item (such as a purse), they’re only allowing the carry-on and charging if you try to bring a purse. I had a super bad experience on my last flight with Level, they charged me an extra $200 for bringing a personal item (on top of the money I had already paid for an extra piece of luggage). There was no way I could incorporate the two bags, everything was stuffed to the brim because I was moving abroad. I had no choice but to pay the ridiculous fee. I’ve also heard that some airlines are starting to charge extra for the overhead cabin space, so sometimes you have to bring a carry-on that for sure would fit under the seat in front of you.

    Thanks for all of the great information! 🙂

    • Hi Jessica – Another thing to check is the size of carryon your airline will allow. It’s frustrating that they seem to vary from airline to airline. You’d almost have to be using Barbie’s luggage on Ryanair! That $200 fee definitely seems extreme. It’s those sort of fees and rules that keep us away from the budget airlines. In the end, it’s no savings and way more frustration. That’s another example of why it’s time the industry got reigned in, and why it’s important for us to spread the word and let everyone know who to avoid. Meanwhile, we completely agree on the spinner wheels. We think that’s the single best improvement in luggage…ever, maybe? Thanks for the kind words, and for sharing your thoughts!

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  5. Very good advice Rob, checked luggage can be a convenience or a nightmare, so it’s never good to have anything vital in there. Last year my Dad got back from an overseas work trip and his luggage that got lost on the way there got back to him 3 weeks after he returned! Luckily he had everything important with him. These kinds of posts are great reminders because even when you think something is common knowledge, it’s not always as common as you think! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Exactly, David! It never hurts to have a reminder, too. I had to give my dad a lecture once about packing medication in his checked luggage…which never left his own airport! Thankfully, we could just run to the drugstore but I can imagine if he was visiting someplace in the middle of nowhere. Sadly true – common knowledge isn’t always so common. Thanks for your comment!

    • Good for you! Now if only we could get more carry-on space in these new generation airplanes…they seem to be going backwards in that regard. 😉 Thanks for your comment, Kelly!

  6. I agree with what you wrote: do not check anything you do not want to lose. I do not check luggage at all but do not pack essential things on pieces of luggage that are going to be away from me during the trip (upper compartment on the place, for example). I keep with me cash, credit cards, travel documents and essentials to me like glasses and allergy medication. I think this is important to take into consideration. I know people who have been too much time away from medication and things turn up difficult.

    • Yeah, unfortunately, things can go bad really quickly when something as important as medicine is out of reach. Good for you for going all carry-on! We’re not quite there, unless it’s a short trip. It’s a challenge, and the airlines don’t seem to be making it any easier – with carry-ons or checked bags! Thanks for your comment, Ruth!

  7. Great tips. My bags have been lost once and delayed quite a few times so having a stick of deodorant and a change of knickers never hurts. The cruise thing too when you don’t see your bags for forever is a fab point too.

    • We’ve been lucky in not having a bag get seriously lost, but we’ve had a few delays, too. But we were surprised at how long it can take for bags to arrive on a cruise! Of course, we weren’t in our room most of that time, anyway – hello pool bar! 🙂 (Thankfully, swim suites were in our carryons. #Smart) Thanks for your comment Shona!

  8. Great idea to approach this subject from this perspective, Rob: what NOT to pack! As a rule, I don’t pack anything I care about in my checked in luggage. I was lucky so far because I never lost any luggage. A couple of times my suitcase didn’t arrive with the same plane, but they delivered it to me the following day. Good advice!

    • That’s our rule, too. If we can’t live without it, we keep it with us if at all possible. It makes those times when bags are delayed at least a bit less stressful. Thanks for your comment, Anda!

  9. There are some things which it is easy to forget you can’t put in checked baggage. Recently David and I were called to open his bag at Saigon before boarding our plane because he had one of those mobile phone recharger batteries in it – Ooooppp! Luckily we had only just joined the very long queue for immigration control.

    • Hi Lyn – That’s a whole other list, isn’t it? All of those things one airline or another says you can’t put in your luggage. It’s hard to keep up with! Thankfully, yours was easy to fix. Whew! Thanks for your comment, Lyn!

  10. It is surprising what people pack in their checked luggage. Simple mistakes that can lead to a nightmare but your packing checklist will stop that happening. Great post. #feetdotravel

    • Thanks guys! You’re right – one simple little thing can be such a nightmare. Glad you like the post, although you are pro enough that this is all second nature, we’re sure. Thanks for your comment!

  11. we are going on a cruise soon and these are great tips! Since we are staying in a hotel the night before, I will back a duffle with what everyone needs for the first day(we can wear our suits to the boat).

    • Now that’s a serious pro-cruiser move – Board the boat in your swimsuits! Glad you liked the tips, and it sounds like our timing is perfect! Have a great time on your cruise, and thanks for your comment!

  12. Favorite Travel Tips not to pack in my checked baggage is my swimsuit all year round. Takes to long to replace. Rather use time for an adventure. @1adventuretrave #travel #traveltips #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Definitely swimsuits! Especially if you’re going on a cruise or on a beach getaway. Although, I think Ann’s secret(ish) strategy is to pack her swimsuit so she has a reason to go shopping if the bags are lost! She’s sneaky that way. 😉 Thanks for your comment, and all of your support Steph!

    • Hi Neha – That’s what we thought, too! I’m sure those of us who travel routinely have our own mental lists of what doesn’t get packed, but we thought it might be helpful to share. Glad you liked it!

  13. My then-boyfriend packed my engagement ring in checked luggage. Our flight got cancelled and we had to rebook on another airline. When we arrived at our destination, he flipped out when his bag didn’t arrive. It was very uncharacteristic for him to get so upset. LIttle did I know… bag finally arrived. That was 23 years ago and he has since learned his lesson (and perhaps a post I need to write on my site)… good tips here.

    • What an awesome story! At least, since it worked out okay – might be different if that bag never came. Boy, it only takes one incident like that to change the way you do things! Glad it worked out. Also glad you liked the tips! Thanks for sharing your story, Lori!

  14. Great points! I have had my luggage lost before and really wished I had a change of clothes with me. I just never have enough room in my carry on bag for everything. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • We know how you feel, Anisa! It’s hard sometimes to fit a change of clothes plus gear and other necessities in there. With carry-on space getting harder to find, and competition for it being worse than ever, that’s doesn’t help things. A change of clothes became more of a priority after we did suffer a bag delay. Although we have insurance that pays handsomely when it happens, it still isn’t fun. Thanks so much for your comment – and we hope you don’t have to go through the lost luggage routine anymore!

  15. Yes, it is definitely important never to check important (medicine, passports) or super valuable items unless necessary (e.g., regulation/law). We have had to check some of our expensive camera equipment a couple of times due to security saying it needed to be checked, but sometimes you don’t have a choice if you want to board a flight. Country-specific regulations can be subjective at times 😉

    • That’s a good point, Jessica! There are some regulations out there that put travelers in no-win situations. Granted, things usually don’t get lost or stolen from bags, but it’s hard putting your faith in the system when it’s your livelihood – like your cameras – or something you depend on. A good corollary to this list would be Why You Need Travel Insurance for your luggage. Even that doesn’t always cover expensive gear, but it’s usually a whole lot better than what the airlines do. Thanks for the reminder, and your comment!

    • So there’s a place called the Unclaimed Baggage Store. It’s full of things from luggage that was lost or never claimed, and you’d be shocked at some of the things they’ve had. I mean, really expensive jewelry, wedding dresses (which I guess wouldn’t go well in carry on), collectibles…things that make you wonder what they were thinking when they packed that. Despite all the stories about lost luggage, I guess some people don’t think it would ever happen to them. Thanks for your comment, Lolo!

  16. I’ve definitely fallen victim to leaving my car/house keys in my checked bags after a long trip… Poor. Life. Choices. Fortunately, we have family near by so my mom was able to come pick us up and help get us home… but that would have been a very expensive mistake otherwise! Two years ago, our luggage was lost for 4 days when we arrived in Rome. My jacket was in my checked bag… that was another uncomfortable mistake, lol. A change of clothes is always useful. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Keys – that’s a great addition to the list! We’ve done something similar…only even more stupid: locked the keys to the luggage locks in the luggage. Yep. Don’t try this at home, people. We’re professionals. 😉 Luckily, we haven’t lost luggage on an international trip, but we have when coming home. That would be bad if car/house keys were in there! (Hope we didn’t just jinx ourselves.) Thanks for your comment, Sara. Totally using that tip when we do a 2nd Edition!

  17. Such great tips! Once my dad was travelling from Australia to Malta – about 24 hours including stop offs etc. His friend spilled a cup of coffee all over him. Since then he’s carried a spare set of clothes in his carry on. I’d never even thought to bring spare clothes in my carry on before that. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • A change of clothes can be so handy sometimes! Even if you don’t need it, the peace of mind helps make travel just a bit less stressful. Thanks for your comment, Katherine!

  18. This is a great list. I am proud to say that since the beginning of our travel adventures, I’ve always made sure that the things on your list were in my carry-on. I used to check at least three times. However, once when I traveled with a baby and a toddler overseas, I ran out of a change of clothes for the baby on the flight. Yes, I did remember to pack one change for her, but she went through both long before we landed… babies can be very messy; so she ended up in a diaper, wearing my extra shirt and wrapped in a blanket when we arrived. After that I made sure I had at least two changes of clothes for little ones. Thanks for posting the list as a reminder for travelers.

    • Yeah, I think all bets are off when it comes to babies. Although, the idea of a baby wrapped up in mom’s shirt and a blankie is adorable! They don’t care about what we do or don’t pack, do they? Thanks for your comment, Emese!

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