As mentioned in a previous post, not all luggage arrives safely to it's original owner. Losing luggage is an unfortunate and traumatic experience that will probably happen at some point in your life if you travel often enough. Below is my list of suggestions to help prevent the experience from happening or at least to help it be less traumatic.
1. Let's start with first things first. There are two types of luggage, carry-on and lost. At least that's what Peter Greenberg says, and I tend to agree. My number one suggestion is to carry-on instead of check. I bring only a carry-on and backpack almost every place I travel, all over the world. This includes all of my camera gear! If I can do it, so can you. (My number one exception to this rule is a ski trip due to all of the extra gear).
2. If you can't handle losing an item because it's too expensive or too sentimental- don't bring it on a trip and pack your most precious and expensive items in your carry on.
3. Get travel insurance! I recommend Travel Guard as I have always had excellent luck with them. I have talked about them previously in this post about my favorite travel essentials. Not only will Travel Guard help reimburse you for lost or stolen luggage, but if it's delayed you may also be entitled to compensation depending on your policy.
4. Use multiple, multiple, multiple luggage tags. Have so many tags on your bag that it would be impossible to ignore where it's supposed to be going. Also, make sure they are updated with all of your current contact info.
5. Have a picture of your luggage or a really good description. The more descriptive you can be about your luggage, the easier it will be for the people searching for it to actually find your bag. Did you tie a red ribbon on it? Does it have a bright yellow luggage strap? What brand is it? All of those are things that you should be prepared to explain in great detail.
6. This has less to do with lost luggage and more to do with theft: Use those crazy luggage plastic-wrap stations. It may cost $15, but if you lost your lock, forgot a zip-tie, or are traveling to an area with a lot of theft (think places like Mexico City and not places like Greenville, South Carolina) then take advantage of this service. When I was traveling through Mexico City on my way back from Cuba and didn't have anything to lock my bag, I sought out the luggage wrapping stations. Although highly unlikely, the last thing you want is to leave a sketchy city accidentally smuggling drugs across the border. Additionally, this will obviously prevent people from snatching your new Jimmy Choo's out of your bag. Wait!? Why are your new Jimmy Choo's in your checked bag? Didn't you read #2 of this list?
7. Did you know that some airlines allow you track your bag by using their app to see where your bag was last scanned. This will not only help you have peace of mind, but it can also help you assist the baggage counter.
8. They make GPS luggage trackers for the very paranoid traveler, and yes I have considered buying one. They only work where your bag would have cell reception, so they aren't completely fool-proof yet.
9. Always, and I really do mean always check to make sure the ticketing agent has tagged your bag with the proper code for your destination. This would mean that you want to familiarize yourself with the three-letter airport code for your destination. (ie. Albany, NY = ALB ... Los Angeles = LAX ... Shanghai, China = PVG) I can not tell you how many times I have had to politely (okay, more like frantically) correct the ticketing agent who mixed my bag tag up with someone else's who was going to a completely different city or country. For a complete list of all airport codes, you can go here.
10. If you use a skycap to check your bag at the curb and to avoid lines inside, be sure to be extra nice and to tip them. One time I actually saw a sign that said "This is a tipping service" at the skycap check in. It is a tipping service, and they have the ability to send your bag to Timbuktu if they want to, and yes that is an actual place- so be nice and tip!