Picture this: you’re standing at the airport baggage claim after a long flight, waiting anxiously for your suitcase to come rolling down the ramp and onto the conveyor belt, black bag after black bag that looks identical to yours but in the end none of them actually are yours. And those "helpful" airport attendants? They're even scarier than your (now lost) luggage.
Most of the time, the suitcases eventually return from their worldly detours. But for left-behind, lost or "missing" bags, there's a very different final destination: an airport auction. Here, other people's unclaimed stuff is put up for sale, but the catch is that bidders can't look into the suitcases until after they buy. It's a bizarrely fascinating event -- and, as luck would have it, the subject of a new reality show on the Travel Channel called "Baggage Battles."
The series follows bidders around the world as they attend these specialized auctions. We caught up with one pair of expert treasure hunters, husband-and-wife duo Lawrence and Sally Martin (who sell their finds at their store, Studio Antiques in El Segundo, California) to get the full scoop on the occasional strange finds, great deals and, more importantly, how you can prevent your luggage from meeting them.
First, we wondered, who shops these auctions? According to the Martins, bidders tend to be those who buy with intent to re-sell. Think pawn dealers, antique shop owners and dedicated eBay-ers. With such an expert audience, competition is fierce for the most promising lots. And by "promising" we mean "expensive-looking."
Or, treasures can be in more humble lots. Sally once paid almost $1300 for a plastic bag filled with what appeared to be a jumble of jewelry. Inside, she unearthed a genuine gold Rolex. Other finds are valuable, but a little quirky, like "oriental carvings, fishing poles and a bronze statue left behind in Miami."
But in any situation where you essentially have to guess what you're paying for, there can be many, many disappointments. The worst? "I did pay $300 for a bag once only to find out it was completely filled with oatmeal cookies."
Cookies or Rolexes, how can we prevent our goods from going MIA? Lawrence and Sally can't emphasize enough: ID everything. "On the outside and the inside of your bag...most people don't ID at all, or only on the outside, but it's a good to have some form inside the bag just in case the outer ID falls off."
If you're traveling this spring or summer, you might want to take these extra precautions while packing. Otherwise, Sally and Lawrence might end up with your favorite pair of Louboutin's or your precious vintage jewelry. Here are a few more of their tips:
1.) If there is a service that will wrap your bag with clear wrap, use it. Miami International Airport is a location where you will see nearly everyone's bag wrapped. Great for securing your baggage as well as keeping intruders out.
2.) If plastic wrap is not available, a strong strap will help to keep your baggage together if any damage occurs.
3.) Be certain to follow TSA and customs guidelines when packing your carry-on baggage so as not to lose anything.
4.) If packing fragile items in your checked baggage make sure you use adequate wrapping material such as bubble wrap. Use your clothes to make a solid cushion and wrap your item in other clothing for extra security.
5.) When traveling through security, place your metal and expensive items in a closed pocket, either jacket or carry-on BEFORE you go through security. This will help you to avoid leaving your valuables behind.
6.) Put your shoes through security first with your valuable items last. That allows you to get through security and keep an eye on your valuables.
For more tips on packing and holding on to your clothes, jewelry and bags while traveling -- and to see inside world of airport auctions -- you can check out “Baggage Battles” on the Travel Channel on Wednesday April 11th at 10 PM.
Below, a sneak peek of the new show.