I arrived in Vietnam, but my luggage didn’t. As the crowd around the carousal gradually thinned out, I recognised several people from the first leg of my journey from Bali to Singapore. It didn’t take a genius to work out that somewhere in Singapore airport sat a crate with all our luggage in it that hadn’t managed to make it onto our connecting flight.
This was at about 5pm. I was reunited with my bag by 2.30pm the next day, so as far as travel mishaps go this was more of a London drizzle than a tropical hurricane. I had also thought that, flying as much as I am, this was bound to happen at some point so was in the habit of keeping a few extra bits and bobs in my hand luggage. But, it is not until you actually have to go a night without your big bag that you work out exactly what it is you need most.
You’ll never get it completely right though, and it will always be a bit annoying, but there are a few things you can do to make it more of an itch rather than a pain. There is also the chance that you might be separated from your big bag for a lot longer than a night, in which case no amount of planning is going to make that easy, and you would probably have to do some serious shopping.
My carry-on rucksack was actually the lightest its been all trip. As I’ve shed belongings all over South East Asia (most on purpose, a few not) my big, although still only 40l, rucksack has been able to accommodate more and more of my stuff, and there were a few things that would normally not have been in it but were which did niggle somewhat!
Anyway here are some lessons I learnt, and some thoughts on what is a good idea to keep with you:
- You need to think about not just what you would struggle to do without, but also what would be difficult to get your hands on if you needed to. So for instance basic t-shirts and cotton trousers can be bought pretty much anywhere in SE Asia, especially near backpacker guesthouses and hotels, but an iPhone charger cannot.
- Check your travel insurance straight away. I was entitled to £150 per 12 hours my luggage was delayed up to £450, with receipts and a letter from the airline confirming the delay. As I only ended up purchasing a tube of toothpaste this didn’t really seem worth claiming, but it was good to know (I have Virgin Backpacker Black Insurance – expensive, but it covers everything and insurance is one of those things that I just don’t think is worth scrimping on).
- I carry a little plastic wallet with me at all times with my essentials in it: about a week’s worth of contact lenses (the one thing I would be really screwed, and blind, without), medication and drugs I take regularly or tend to need (the pill, anti-malarials when I need them, Neurofen, anti-histamines, sleeping and motion sickness tablets), my mooncup, a small thing of sunscreen, tiger balm and lip balm. I don’t wear much make-up anymore, but it does also have my mascara in it which was actually very nice as it meant when I felt disgusting the next day at least my face looked decent! The only toiletry I had to buy was toothpaste, as my hotel owner gave me a toothbrush and my bathroom had soap and shampoo. If you are staying in hostels it might be worth keeping a thing of soap with you but then again that is very easy to get hold of. The only thing I’m going to add to this bag is my facial moisturiser as my skin gets very dry and as its so sensitive I can’t just use whatever I find. I also thought that had I been in a mosquito-y area I would have need spray which can be tricky to get hold of. Something to bare in mind.
- I always have all my expensive electronics with me – laptop, iPad and iPhone – but I only had a lead which connects my iPhone or iPad to my laptop, not my main MacBook charger. This was a mistake as although it meant I could charge my dying iPhone I had to be careful as I didn’t want to rinse the battery on my laptop. This will now go with me, along with an adaptor. My Kindle and camera were charged but not fully, and if I had had to wait longer for my bag this would have been an issue. As they both have a long battery life I think I’m just going to be more careful about making sure they are charged before flights rather than carrying all the leads which me.
- Clothes were actually the least of my worries. If I’d had to wait any longer I would have just picked up a fresh t-shirt and pair of trousers on the street. I always travel in layers so had quite a bit with me anyway – cotton trousers, t-shirt, chambray shirt (the most useful thing I have with me), a fleece, and my sarong as a scarf (I ended up wearing it around my hotel room while my clothes dried (I got drenched going from the taxi to my hotel, just what I needed!), and then to sleep in). I also almost always have a spare pair of knickers with me, a lifesaver as it meant I could change them as soon as I got to my hotel, and then wash the pair I was wearing so they were clean and dry for the morning. While I felt gross putting my sweaty t-shirt and bra on again the next day, the only thing that really annoyed me was that I had just my hot and still damp trainers with me. I’m going to keep my flip-flops in the outer pocket of my carry-on rucksack from now on (where they used to live before my main bag emptied out a bit).
- Before I left back in February I meticulously photographed everything I was taking with me, but six months later those photos bare only the slightest resemblance to what I have with me now. I’m going to take fresh photos next time I pack so I have a more recent record of the contents of my bag. I’m also going to take a photo of the outside of my bag and send it to my email address so I can always access it – it would have been handy to have been able to show a photo of my bag to the lady at the counter.
- Make sure your bag has a distinguishing feature to it, I’ve got a green luggage tag on mine which was a helpful way of describing it to the lost luggage department. And try to remember what is on the top of your bag as they will ask you for a few contents to check its yours.
- Ask for help! When I arrived at my hotel, the very stylish and inexpensive Tripwriter, I told the manager what had happened. He wrote down the two phone numbers on the form I had been given, and promised to call them the next morning on my behalf. When I came down to breakfast he had already called, and told me my luggage was now in Ho Chi Minh and he just had to call back up at 10am to arrange for it to be delivered. He then took my form which was needed as a receipt for delivery so I could go and explore Ho Chi Minh, and my luggage was waiting for me in my room when I returned later that afternoon. I think this proves the value of staying in small hotels and friendly guesthouses!
So that’s what I learnt. Have you ever been separated from your bag on a flight? What did you need?
Cover photo by Thong Lo via Upslash.