You might think only insurance companies or people who work in the travel industry hear the horror stories of the unfortunate traveller. Well, as someone who works at a bag and luggage shop, I deal with a whole range of different travellers – from newbies to the regulars – and they come with a whole lot of horror stories. I decided this would probably be a good thing for the public to know, so I’m going to share with you my top five tips for avoiding the same horror stories!
1. PROTECT YOUR CARDS AND PASSPORT
The scenario: “I went to Europe and had my money/identity stolen!”.
Probably the worst non-violent thing that can happen to you overseas. What sucks the most is that you won’t know it has happened until it’s too late. You feel vulnerable, violated, and powerless as you can’t control anything that’s happening. What happens is that any of your cards or newer passports that have paywave or chip readers can be scanned by thieves, kind of like the tap and pay you use at the supermarkets. They take a small bit out here and there before they start hitting you with the big stuff, so you wont notice until you’ve returned home. Or perhaps they take your identity and use it in a crime and you have to go through all the trouble of proving your innocence.
How to avoid it: RFID protection! Things that can block the signals from your cards/passport. You can get this in the form of slip-covers that you put your cards into and they can still go in your wallet (these are the cheapest at my store). You can also get little plastic covers that sit in front of them in your wallet (though I find they tend to fall out easily and are more expensive). Alternately, a bunch of backpacks, neck/waist pouches, travel and even normal wallets all feature RFID protection now (most expensive but you obviously use them for other things). There are plenty of different options, just look for the RFID protection symbol, or ask someone for assistance.
2. THE TSA LOCK
The scenario: “I went to the US and when I got my suitcase back from customs, they had broken my luggage locks!”
Probably the most common, but not serious story I hear. If you didn’t know about the USA’s super strict border security before you go, you need to do a bit more homework. In the United States, they are allowed to open your bags without you being present, so if you have an old padlock and key they will cut it.
How to avoid it: A TSA lock is a lock that has the ability to be opened by a ‘master key’ held by the authorities in customs. You can get them with keys of your own, but a three digit combination lock is the most common type I sell. Some also feature indicators to tell you whether or not your bag has been opened. TSA locks have a white hexagon sticker on them with a 3-D red cube inside. Or, again, just ask the assistant to point them out to you. Most of the suitcases you can buy come with built-in locks that are all TSA approved now, and they’re so handy – if you have one but don’t use it, learn to.
3. SAFETY > FASHION
The scenario: “I want to buy a bag to take overseas but I want it to be stylish but also be slash-proof, scan proof, and lockable.”
The lowdown: I know when you go overseas you want to look stylish while still being safe, trust me I know. But the truth is, we can’t always have the best of both worlds, especially if you have picky tastes. If you’re looking to buy a slash-proof, it’s going to be made like kevlar, not leather. Same for lockable (unless you buy a padlock and do it manually). They also scream: ‘HELLO YES I AM A TOURIST’ in their tacky designs. But, if you want safety – that’s what comes in the package I’m afraid. Alternatively, you can get a stylish bag and use a neck pouch to put your valuables in and hide it under your clothes. It’s up to you, but if you’re going to a country where theft and pickpocketing is common (e.g. Italy or France), consider a safe bag or an alternative.
4. INSURANCE & WARRANTY
Hopefully you’re all smart enough to know to get travel insurance when you go abroad. However, for this section I’m talking about luggage warranty vs. flight insurance. We have had many people come in with their broken luggage and demand we send it off to get fixed because their 10-year warranty is still very much in date and it was the first trip they’d ever used the bag for. But here’s the thing – baggage companies dazzle you by giving you 10 year warranties but it doesn’t mean they just fix every broken case (come on, they’d all go bankrupt!). What we as resellers are told is that the companies (especially Samsonite, Antler, and American Tourist) only cover the handles, zippers and wheels and it is ONLY manufacturing damages. What that means, is that if one day the wheel just falls off, or the handle randomly comes out, it probably hasn’t been made correctly, and so it’s their fault for providing you with a faulty bag. It does not mean if you buy a four-wheeled bag, drag it like a two-wheeled bag and find that the back two wheels have worn down but the other have not, they will replace those two wheels. This is because you have been using the bag incorrectly, and caused the damage yourself. They can tell the difference between incorrect usage and manufacturing damage, so even if we send it off and they determine it’s not a manufacturing issue, they could simply send it back unfixed.
The scenario: “When I got home from Bali, the baggage handlers had broken my suitcase.”
How to solve the problem: If an airline damages your bag, which is the most common form of damage, it is also not covered under warranty. If this happens, you need to go to the airline information counter BEFORE you leave the airport and report what happened. A tip: take a photo of your bag before you check it in with your plane ticket so you have proof it was fine before you left. Depending on the airline will depend on what they need from you to pay for the damage, and sometimes you can use your flight or travel insurance to cover you for a new bag. My worse customer with this was a lady who was trying to get Jetstar to pay for her bag, and they required her to get two price checks of the bag. The problem was that the luggage was a brand only sold in our particular store and so she literally couldn’t get a second one anywhere. Not only did she have a right ol’ bitch about our ‘horrible service’ when we explained that to her, but her bag was like five years old so we didn’t even sell it anymore. It ended up being worth about $50 despite the fact she paid nearly $100 for it. So, if you have an old bag, expect the same problem as well – you’re better off buying a new bag. I mean do you complain when your 6 year old computer becomes super slow and heavy? No, you look at a newer, faster one.
5. CHOOSE THE RIGHT LUGGAGE
I left this one until last because I fear it will be the longest section. Choosing the right luggage is one of the most important things to consider when getting ready for your trip. In light of this, I hope this will be a good guide for you to help with choosing a bag.
The scenario: “I’m going on a two month trip around Asia and I want your cheapest bag, but it needs to not get ruined.”
Okay, let me just stop you there. I don’t know where you got it in your head, but luggage IS NOT CHEAP. If you’re going on a two month trip, you need a durable bag that will fit all the stuff you want/need for two months. Now you don’t have to spend $400 on a Samsonite case for a decent bag. Both Antler and American Tourist have light weight and sturdy suitcases. But ultimately, it depends on a number of things.
Things to consider:
1. How long are you going away for?: this will help you determine the size of bag you are looking for. If you’re going overseas or interstate for a few days, you might consider a medium sized bag rather than a large (most suitcases are sold in small, medium, and large size). If you’re going to your Grandma’s for a week, maybe just a carry on (small) sized bag as you can do washing there. Two months? You’ll probably want to consider a large bag – remember all the souvenirs you’ll want to bring home!
2. What sort of trip are you going on?: this will help you decide not only the size, but also what kind of luggage. If you’re backpacking around Asia for two months, you might want to get a large backpack that you can carry rather than drag. I travelled Japan for two weeks, and though we moved around a lot, we only had to take our bags to the train station and back, so suitcases were fine. If you’re holidaying in Hawaii and you don’t plan on moving between places, go for a large suitcase – fit all the stuff you want in!
3. Weight of the bag: here’s how it works, long trip = light bag. Actually, probably best to go light bag with every trip. My professional luggage selling tip: avoid hard-shell cases. A large hard-shell suitcase weights around 5kg, so if you’ve got 20kg allowance on the plane, there’s a quarter gone before you put anything in it. I know what you’re thinking, “oh but hard shells protect my stuff better”. Legit, a good soft case bag will do the same thing. Unless you pack the suitcase too the top, your stuff is still going to rumble around inside, but now instead of a cushioning soft case, it’s hitting a hard shell. Plus, if another bag sits on top of it, chances are unless it’s like ROCK HARD, it will still bend beneath the weight of other bags and crush whatever you were worried about.
4. Capacity of the bag: a lot of people ask me how much a bag can fit. Well, the bag-making companies give us the capacity in LITRES not KILOGRAMS, so that’s usually all we can give you. Our biggest case is 120 litres, which I tell people can fit like 30kg comfortably (though I have no idea what the conversion for litre -> kgs is…). The thing is though – you probably won’t fill it up with 30kgs unless you fill it with books or bricks, so don’t worry so much! I have a large suitcase and though I filled it to the top and even opened the extender, it only came to 15kg out of my 20kg limit, and that was before souvenirs! You don’t have to fill up weight limit to fill the bag.
My recommendation: when people ask me my opinion on a good bag, I recommend them an American Tourist. We have an excellent range called the Applite (pictured above) at the moment, and it’s my number one go-to seller. Not only is it light (3.2kgs), but it is also one of our largest bags (120-125ltr), and it is excellent quality (American Tourist is made by Samsonite). To top it off, we sell it for $179AUD, so compared to a similar Samsonite bag for $300, it’s a bargin. However, I would also recommend an Antler as well, as they are also very light (though that makes them a bit more expensive – around $200).
I hope these tips might help you in your future travels! There have been many changes and new technologies have become available for travellers in recent years, so even though you might think something seems like it will be difficult, do a quick google search first to see if anyone else has encounter the same problem. Feel free to leave a comment with any other travel-gadget questions if you like!
[Original post: here]