Some things should never go in checked luggage.
If it's vital, valuable or breakable, take it onto the airplane and keep it close at hand.
I'm referring to items such as travel documents, prescription medicine, high-tech items a baggage handler might steal.
(A saleswoman in the luggage area at the Bay told me about flying to the U.S. with her elderly father. He put his medication in his checked luggage. The airline mislaid it. It took phone calls to the pharmacy back home to sort that one out.) Even the stingiest airline allows at least one carry-on per person. It might be a purse, briefcase or tote bag. Maximum dimensions vary, but at Air Canada and WestJet is 16 centimetres x 33 x 43 (6 inches x 13 x 17).
Plan on putting it under the seat in front of you so its contents are handy. If you opt for a tote, make sure it isn't so big that there's no room for your feet.
I use an old camera bag. It's padded, has three separate zippered compartments, a handle and a sturdy shoulder strap.
Here's what I put in it:
- a toiletry kit with spare comb, nail clipper (file removed), sewing needle and thread.
- a small medical kit with Band-Aids, throat lozenges and a tube of Polysporin, an antibiotic ointment.
- prescription drugs in their pharmacy containers (take extra in case of trip delays).
- over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin.
- a camera, extra batteries and an instruction manual travel documents, including my itinerary and airline tickets.
- a paperback.
- spare ballpoint pens.
On working trips I sometimes pack a sandwich.
I also wear a fanny pack containing my bifocals, a small trip notebook and a couple of pens.
If you intend checking your main suitcase, here are a few things you might want to put in your carry-on:
- Enough toiletries to get you by should your checked bag go astray.
- A change of socks and underwear, for the same reason (It's been 20 years or more since a checked bag of mine was delayed but I remember both occasions: trying to buy a toothbrush and toothpaste in a strange city late at night and feeling grubby wearing the same socks and briefs a second day).
- Something to help pass the time - books, Sudoku puzzles, crosswords, a favourite electronic gadget.
Here are some other items that might come in handy. None of them takes up much space:
- A converter and an adapter for travels abroad. You'll need them if you carry curling irons, hair driers, electric razors.
- A ziplock plastic bag. Useful for packing a snack for the plane or for stashing socks or undies that didn't quite dry overnight.
My passport and a credit card go in a zippered pouch that hangs around my neck, inside my shirt. Boarding passes go in a shirt pocket for easy access.
A tip about your wallet: Before you go, strip it of anything you won't need at your destination. My pocket was picked in Rome several years ago. It took weeks and a lot of money to replace things that never should have been in my wallet for that trip -- driver's licence, OHIP card, Social Insurance card, birth certificate.
Two pieces of paper I do recommend carrying -- a copy of the prescription for your eyeglasses and a list of prescription drugs. Pharmacies usually attach a personal medication history to prescription receipts.
Doug English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail c/o London Free Press, P.O.E. Box 2280, London, Ont. N6A 4G1.