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Advice About Luggage and Locks When Travelling

What You Need To Know

I can spend hours researching for my next trip and get great satisfaction hunting down the best deal or learning something new about a destination I am considering travelling to about some travel gadget or accessory that will make my life easier or more comfortable. In my “travels” I have also learned some interesting things that most people haven’t tried or don’t know about. In this week’s post I’ve got some helpful insights into luggage (using carry-on and not using packing cubes) and locks that you might not know about.

TSA Locks Can Be Easily Opened

For many years I would use TSA (Transportation Security Administration from the US; in Canada it is called CATSA–Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) approved combination locks not just to secure my luggage when flying, but also to lock up my belongings in the hotel room. I was astonished to discover that these locks are not so tough to pry open. A while back I was fiddling with one of my locks and changed the combination. Unfortunately, the number that I changed it to did not work, so I was left with a lock that wouldn’t open.

TSA lock carry-on luggage packing travelling France Europe

TSA lock


YouTube to the rescue! I did a search and discovered that the lock can be easily opened with a penknife in the space where the TSA master key would go. I tried it and, voila, it opened in less than 10 seconds. So, there went my “secure” way to keep my belongings safe. What do I do now?

  • I will use TSA locks if I have to on flights to the USA, although most often I bring carry-on luggage
  • I only use NON-TSA locks when locking up my luggage in my room. That means there isn’t any key or TSA key space. If the thief really wants to get into my luggage, they’ll have to cut the lock.

Travelling To Europe: How Much To Bring

All I can say is: Do carry-on!

One of the best reasons to do carry-on, particularly for trips to Europe is the following: Do you really want to lug your 70 pound suitcase up 5 flights of stairs? Not all hotels in Paris have elevators and of the 13 apartments or houses that I have rented in France, Italy, and Spain, only TWO had elevators!!!

Even though I do carry-on I STILL pack too much. There have been trips where I did not wear some of the clothes I bought. Yet, I was able to do carry-on in 2010 when I travelled for 6 weeks to France, Italy and Morocco. The temperature ranged from 12 degrees C to 28 degrees C. Layering works. Granted, by the end of the 6 weeks I didn’t want to wear any of those clothes again. Here are my top suggestions for packing:

  1. Wear your heaviest items on the plane
  2. Download books onto your tablet. You will save a LOT of space and weight. If you insist on bringing a tour book, rip out the sections that you will use. Don’t bring the entire book!
  3. Do NOT pack a hair dryer. Most hotels/apartments have them.
  4. Test Run: Do a test run on how much shampoo/conditioner you will really need. 50ml can last me weeks! Most hotels will supply shampoo and even if you have to buy some, it will be cheap
  5. Essentials with you: If you do check your luggage, be sure to pack your essentials in your carry-on bag, JUST IN CASE they lose your luggage. Essentials include anything you would desperately need if they lost your luggage, such as the following: contact lens solution, glasses, toiletries, 1 pair of undergarments, important documents/travel confirmations, medicines, electronics (the last few are givens, as you should never pack anything valuable in checked luggage).

    Helpful hint,SA lock carry-on luggage packing travelling France Europe

    Luggage in Duct Tape

  6. Packing Cubes: I know there are a lot of bloggers/travellers who LOVE these packing cubes; however, I don’t. Yes, you get to organize your clothing into categories and everything is in one zipped-up container; however, I did a test and discovered I could actually pack MORE into my suitcase by NOT using the cubes. Here’s the problem: your clothing cannot fit in the nooks and crannies that are available in your suitcase, particularly when the telescopic handle takes up some room. Rolling your clothes and putting socks or whatever in shoes is one of the best ways to pack.
  7. My final piece of advice—-DUCT TAPE!!! It is a lifesaver. Just ask my friend Laurie whose suitcase fell apart during our trip. Duct tape saved the day and enabled her to get home without having to buy a new piece of luggage in France.

Carry-On Luggage: Baggage Size Limits

During my last trip, I packed to only bring a carry-on bag. Nowadays more and more people are doing this because they don’t want to pay the checked luggage fee of $25 or more. As I proceeded to my gate, the Air Canada rep stopped me and said my bag was too big. My bag was packed quite full and it would not fit into the sizing device. So, I moved to the side, took a few things out of my bag and put them in my knapsac and proceeded to the gate. At the gate, upon boarding, no one stopped me. Lucky? Maybe.

I was also stopped in San Francisco a few years back and they put my carry on luggage in the cargo bin because it was too big but they did NOT charge me. Lucky again I guess.

Just be forewarned that the airlines are really clamping down on the size of your carry-on. I have been shopping for new luggage and I always bring along the Air Canada and Air France carry-on requirements just in case. The measurements are different and my advice to others would be to check all airlines that you will be flying and don’t assume one airline is the same as another.

For those travelling via Air Canada, here are the size dimensions for carry-on baggage for all destinations:

Allowance: 1 Standard Article + 1 Personal Article

Standard Article:
23 cm x 40 cm x 55 cm (9 in x 15.5 in x 21.5 in)
Wheels and handles included.
Maximum weight: 22 pounds (10 kg)

Personal Article:
16 cm x 33 cm x 43 cm (6 in x 13 in x 17 in)
Maximum weight: 22 pounds (10 kg)

Check out the Air Canada website outlining the rules and baggage size limits.

If you’re wondering if it’s safe to travel to France, check out this post Are You Scared To Travel To France?  

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  • Reply
    January 17, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks for tips. Now I never lock my suitcase and have never had a problem.

    Your comment about so was size is so true. I just bought a new carry on and had to check it three times

    • Reply
      December 16, 2021 at 6:15 pm

      My sister had things, usually gifts taken from her luggage a couple of times, so has our neighbors who travel a great deal, we use any locks, if they want to get in it, they will.

      • Reply
        December 17, 2021 at 4:03 pm

        Sadly, that’s so true.

  • Reply
    The GypsyNesters
    November 16, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Good tips, thanks. We try to carry on most trips too, but no matter what we always abide by our one trip rule. We must be able to carry everything in one trip. No leaving unattended bags anywhere. Can’t say that we ever use locks though.

    • Reply
      November 16, 2015 at 10:47 pm

      I think I’m getting paranoid as I get older….about thefts, etc. Good for you for sticking to your rule! I’m still having a tough time packing a carry-on bag, but I eventually make it work.

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    November 18, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Great tips Jan! I have to say I’ve never used a luggage lock and rarely check bags. But duct tape can definitely save the day. We’ve also had trouble with those expandable handles getting stuck in the upright position. One time a rep at the American Airlines lounge in Heathrow used a stapler to beat the thing until it submitted to her will. Priceless.

    • Reply
      November 18, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      I rarely check bags either; however, I do like to lock things in my luggage in hotel rooms. I laughed out loud when I read your comment about the stapler. Hilarious!

  • Reply
    Karen Warren
    November 19, 2015 at 9:16 am

    I try to travel with hand luggage only – it’s easier to carry when you get off the plane and saves a lot of time hanging about at the airport. Much easier now that I’ve got the Kindle, so I don’t have to take any books. And I never take shampoo etc as I can buy it when I arrive.

    • Reply
      November 19, 2015 at 11:32 am

      Love my iPad too for reading and totally agree with hand luggage only. As for shampoo…..hmmmm….I’m working on that 😉

  • Reply
    Irene S. Levine
    November 19, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    Thanks for the helpful tips, Janice! Any lock can be picked but they do serve as deterrents. It’s easier to open a suitcase without one. And they are useful if you are in a hotel room without a safe.

    • Reply
      November 19, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      The lock on my suitcase and/or using a Pacsafe pouch is definitely my back up when there isn’t a safe. I think I read too many reviews of hotels where guests have been robbed. Sad times, but, on a positive note, there are many great hotels too.

  • Reply
    Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
    November 19, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    Hi Jan, I agree with you about the packing cubes. I think they are a pain! As for TSA locks, I had the same problem. I’m never sure secure baggage is really possible, but the good news is honest folks still are in the majority ( I think!!) ~ Ursula

    • Reply
      November 20, 2015 at 12:25 am

      I just do the “rolling clothes” procedure when packing. I can get more in than with the packing cubes.

  • Reply
    August 5, 2016 at 7:26 am

    Would love to know your carry on packing list to survive 6 weeks at the temp range of 12-28 degrees C!
    I aim to use just a carryon for 3 months at temps ranging from 28 degrees down to 6 degrees.
    Any tips please?

    • Reply
      August 5, 2016 at 8:04 am

      The longest I have travelled is 6 weeks and the temperature was mainly 12-28 with a few nights near 0 in Morocco. Haven’t done 3 months. My list changes constantly. My only advice is: layering and washing clothes as I travel so that I don’t have to pack so much. I have been fortunate to usually have a washing machine in the place I rent, although I would do hand laundry too. I also found that when I was in Paris in December/January, there wasn’t a real need for boots. The temperatures weren’t so low that I needed them.

  • Reply
    September 10, 2017 at 7:53 am

    Those suggestions and tips are so helpful. I really like the idea about using another type of lock when you leave your luggage in a hotel.

    • Reply
      September 10, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      Glad it helped.

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