Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Traveling Tips - Packing Smart by Denise Devine

A few years ago, I visited a friend who was packing to go to Hawaii. Like most women, she couldn’t decide what to take so she packed two large suitcases full of clothes and shoes. When I arrived, she was trying to close the second one. It was so full she had to stand on it to get it zipped.

Sounds like a cute scene in a movie, but in reality, it’s a prescription for disaster. I worked for the TSA for 9 years in the Training Department. I also worked PT as a baggage screener (for the first 2 ½ years). I saw a lot of strange things go through x-ray (like the trunk filled with S&M items—never mind—that’s an article for another time!). I had some scary experiences as well, but I learned some useful packing tips.

Back to the full suitcases. Let’s say one alarmed going through the x-ray machine at the airport. That bag would get pulled off the line and searched. Most experienced screeners can tell exactly where an object (that sets off the alarm) is located so they don’t have to tear the bag apart to get to it. However, if the bag is over-filled, some of the contents might spill out.

Do you want your undies landing on the floor of the TSA’s bag-check room?

No. I didn’t think so. (I’ve seen this many times!) So, here are a few simple things you can do to avoid getting your bag searched.


Don’t bring food in your suitcase. Buy it once you get to your destination. Crackers and bread will probably make it through, but boxes of chocolate bars, peanut butter, syrup, dressing, jam, catsup and mustard, steak sauce, etc. are thick and will alarm. The same thing goes for bottles of conditioner, body lotion, etc. Buy them at the drugstore when you get to your destination and throw them away before you leave. Or use travel sizes.

Bulk Mass

Anything larger than a 12 ounce Coke can might alarm. Avoid bringing large bottles of cosmetics, cans or bottles of pop, wine or liquor. Two smaller containers side-by-side that amount to 12 ounces or so can create the same effect, so avoid storing smaller jars together. Again, travel sizes are best.


Anything the x-ray can’t penetrate is a shield and will have to be examined. Magazines, brochures or
conference schedules with shiny paper can alarm so put them in the large outside pocket of your suitcase. That way, if they do alarm, the screener doesn’t have to go into the suitcase to check them. Better yet, put them in your carry-on bag. Also, don’t stack books in your suitcase. I always place my books end-to-end around the inside wall of my suitcase or line the bottom in a single layer. I’ve never had them alarm. Never put a laptop in your suitcase. It will alarm and could get dropped during the testing process.

Common Sense Advice

Don’t overfill your suitcase. If the zipper breaks during a bag search, the TSA will secure the bag with shrink-wrap, but you could lose items. Make sure everything is zipped shut and secured with twist-ties. Don’t use zip-ties. Once they’re cut, they’re gone. Don’t pack your stuff in an expensive designer bag like Louis Vuitton, even if it’s a knock-off. People steal fancy bags right off the carrousel at the airport.

Always put a personal luggage tag on every piece you take (even your carry-on). I’ve seen instances where the airline’s destination tag got ripped off a bag as it passed through the slats of the rubber curtain on its way down to the baggage area. Any bag without a destination tag goes straight to the “Lost Baggage” area and it will sit there until you claim it.

Put all your liquid cosmetics in Ziplock bags as the caps can unscrew and empty out in the suitcase. Same for all your unmentionables. Ziplock bags will separate, seal and keep them from being handled if your suitcase is searched.

Don’t put ANYTHING of value (or of value to you) in your suitcase. Put it in your carry-on baggage and drag it on the plane with you. TSA screeners work under multiple security cameras, but often baggage handlers do not and they steal things.

Going through the checkpoint, stay aware of your belongings. People leave many items behind (phones, cameras, laptops, ID, envelopes of money) that are never recovered because another passenger coming through behind the owner steals them right off the belt. Yes, it happens and it’s all caught on tape on the security cameras, but by the time the tape is reviewed, the thief is long gone.

I hope these tips are helpful to you. Have fun in your travels this summer!

If you’re a romance writer, see you in New York City at the end of July!

~     ~     ~

Coming in August!
Denise Devine is a USA TODAY bestselling author of romantic comedy and she also loves to write inspirational fiction. She wrote her first book, a mystery, at thirteen and has been writing ever since. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers. She writes about true love, happy endings and stories that touch your heart.


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  1. What great tips for traveling! I'm seeing mistakes I've made in the past, and will reform in time for RWA. :)

    I've really tried to cut back on total loads, though...and have been ending up with around 33# the past couple instead of my old 48# --even when we go to Europe. Though my goal is to figure out and emulate how our kids can go to SE Asia, South America or Mexico for 2-3 weeks with just a backpack. :)

    Thanks for the great post!

    1. Looking forward to meeting up with you at SRR events at RWA.

  2. Oopsie. meant to type "the last couple years*

    1. It's tough to go on a cruise without a full bag, too. Just too many activities and events that require fancy dress.

  3. Wow, Denise. Thank you for all the great tips!

  4. Great tips! I don't have travel on my schedule anytime soon, but it's good to have notes on hand when it's time to pack.

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